§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I moved the motion formally now and reserved any remarks till the end of the debate. Therefore, I beg to move,That this House at its rising on Friday 23rd May do adjourn till Monday 9th June.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Usually, within the course of this kind of debate, when hon. Members argue against the proposal that has been made by the Leader of the House, the argument that we should not go away on recess until this or that matter has been adequately ventilated is little more than a formality; but in the case which I wish to put before the right hon. Gentleman and the House, which I believe will be echoed, supported and strengthened by many of my right hon. and hon. colleagues representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, there is a literal and direct reason for asserting that there is unfinished business which the House ought not to leave behind when it rises for the Whitsun Recess.
It was in the week in February when the present cease-fire, as it is called, started in Northern Ireland, that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), as leader of the United Ulster Unionist Coalition and in its name—though I have no doubt that what he said would have commanded the support of many others and of all the representatives of Northern Ireland seats—asked that there should be an early sitting of the newly constituted Northern Ireland Committee in order to examine in detail the statement which had just been made by the Secretary of State on the cease-fire and the consequential arrangements.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that considerable importance was attached by the Government to the establishment of this Committee, which, though not technically a Grand Committee, it was believed would be useful as a forum where there could be detailed examination and, if necessary, cross-examination of 255 important matters affecting Northern Ireland.
No matter could be more important for Northern Ireland than the cease-fire and its consequences, and no matter, as I shall seek to argue, called more for the kind of debate and the kind of elucidation which only consideration in a Committee of this House makes possible.
I am not complaining that there was any reluctance on the part of the Leader of the House to comply with our request. Indeed, had he done so, it would have been in accordance with his undertaking that the subjects to be dealt with by that Committee should be such as were desired by hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats. However, I have to say with regret that persistently and, I shall argue, ill-advisedly the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has from week to week and from month to month opposed the sitting of the Committee to consider this matter.
We did not contest this motion when it was moved before the Easter Recess. In retrospect we are inclined to blame ourselves for not having done so. Certainly with every week that passed we were vulnerable to the natural complaint of our constituents—who were not to know of the constant and persistent representations that we were making—that we were failing to use our position in Parliament and the opportunities deliberately provided by this House in order to debate matters which were of the utmost moment to them.
I shall return to the reasons for our reticence; nevertheless, we allowed February and March to pass, until, in the middle of last month, very regretfully, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South and his colleagues felt that, for our own protection and, indeed, in fairness to the people of Northern Ireland, we had no alternative but to let it be known publicly, after a final plea to the Lord President and to the Secretary of State, that it was not our fault that our repeated requests for the Committee to sit upon this subject had been refused.
It is in pursuance of that decision that this afternoon we are using our opportunity to demand—I think that is not an unreasonable word—that the House shall not rise until due and detailed consideration 256 has been given to the subject requested and to argue that it is in the interests of all concerned, and not least Her Majesty's Government and the policies which they are following in Northern Ireland, that such a debate shall take place.
In order to illustrate the nature and the urgency of our request I want to refer to a very recent incident—an incident which is horribly fresh in the minds of hon. Members with connections in Northern Ireland and to which reference was made in the debate in the House yesterday. Before I do so, however, may I make a point, through the Lord President, to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who had notice that this matter would be raised this afternoon. He will, I am sure, agree that one of the besetting difficulties in Northern Ireland today is the prevalence on all sides of mutual suspicion, fed by an almost incredible crop and aftermath of rumour. Rumour and suspicion are the atmosphere in which politics are lived today in Northern Ireland. It is the atmosphere in which Her Majesty's Government have to endeavour to bring their policies to fruition. Anything, therefore, which will assist the Secretary of State to break through that cloud of suspicion and rumour and to establish beyond all doubt or cavil the bona fides of Her Majesty's Government and the transparent sincerity and plainness of what they are attempting is in the highest interest of the Government as well as of Northern Ireland and, therefore, of the country as a whole.
I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be the first to say that we, on this bench, have gone to the utmost limit, time after time, in order to maintain his credibility in the face of those in Northern Ireland who, sometimes with very plausible arguments, have queried his good faith and good intentions. Both in this House—I could give many instances—and in public in Northern Ireland we have asserted and reasserted our conviction in the sincerity of his policies and the credibility of his statements. We have done so, not only because we believe that—for otherwise it would have been contrary to our duty to do so—but because in Northern Ireland the credibility of Government is absolutely vital to the restoration of peace and to a tolerable future for that Province.
257 Therefore, if the Secretary of State would go with me—and he must—so far as to accept my diagnosis and description of this background and then to admit—I am sure he would—that the motive of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself has been to assist and support him in making head against rumour and suspicion, may I put a proposition to him and to the Government? There is nothing and no means whereby any Government can so effectively make plain to the public what its policies are, its bona fides and its sincerity in pursuing them as debate in this House and in its Committees.
I understand—indeed, anyone who has held office will understand—the temptation of Ministers faced with a difficult and delicate situation to duck debate. That tendency is ever-present; it is implicit in human nature that one is reluctant to face debate. But it is a temptation which has to be resisted, for only when this House sees, and only when the public, through this House, sees, that the Government are not afraid to face the House, are not afraid of any question which can be put to them, are not afraid of the confrontation of words and actions which are apparently inconsistent, can confidence and conviction be restored.
It is because I believe that that is a well-founded principle of our experience, that that is one of the great functions of this place, that I am arguing this afternoon that we ought not to assent to the motion and ought not to disperse for a second recess since the cause of debate arose until this House has performed its function in this context.
I have before me the two news items, of yesterday and today—from The Times as it happens—relating to the murder of a policeman in Londonderry on Saturday, as an illustration, the most recent, of the disease which I have just attempted to diagnose. I want to quote one paragraph of the report from Belfast which we read there on the 12th—yesterday. It runs as follows:The first deliberate killing of a member of the security forces during the present ceasefire brought swift contact between government negotiators and Provisionals over the weekend.I am not, of course, attaching any official authority to the words which that correspondent, writing that dispatch from Belfast, used. However, I ask the 258 House—I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is acutely sensitive to this—what is the impact upon the people of Northern Ireland, all of them, when they read a report from Belfast that as a matter of course, following such a murder, the result was "swift contact between Government negotiators and Provisionals over the weekend"? They are told there that Her Majesty's Government are in negotiation—not merely in contact, not merely in communication, but in negotiation—with those presumed to be guilty of this murder. Quite suddenly they see the whole forest of their suspicions and agonising doubts over the last three or four months confirmed. Nor would that be altered when they read—I shall not refer to it in detail—the follow-up report in The Times of today.
That proposition, deeply damaging to the Government if it is false—as I believe it must be—and grave whether it is false or true, since it is important to all who are concerned for peace in Northern Ireland, is but the latest example of a whole sequence of such apparent contradictions between Government policy and Government action, largely unexplained, which have run through from January to this very day.
I repeat that it is in the highest interest of Her Majesty's Government, of this country, and particularly of Northern Ireland for us to recognise that the only means which can be used to resolve these contradictions and to banish those doubts should now, without further delay, be taken—that is, by accepting the offer deliberately made, and the opportunity deliberately created, by the establishment of the Northern Ireland Committee to clear up this whole topic by question and answer in a way which cannot be achieved at Question Time or on the Adjournment or in any other effective manner.
I have in my hand—but I shall not deal with them in any detail—the whole series of the statements which were made by the Secretary of State, from before the so-called ceasefire on 14th January to his statement on 11th February, when the cease-fire, as it is called, came into effect. Those statements were from the beginning puzzling. In the statement of 14th January it became clear that for some 259 reason a cease-fire would bring with it some form of formalised contacts between Her Majesty's Government and those whose abstention from crimes is misdescribed—for it is a very misleading term—as a cease-fire.
Perhaps I should quote only a phrase from the Secretary of State's statement—a statement made in Northern Ireland—on 22nd January, which included the expression,arrangements that might be made to ensure that any cease-fire did not break down".That phrase—and those words were again repeated on the eve of the event of 5th February—enables me to illustrate very briefly what it is that must be debated and must be explained.
The Government would not for a moment accept that there is a cease-fire in Northern Ireland in the sense that two combatant bodies of similar status have come to an agreement, one with another, upon terms to cease fire. That is the natural and, so far as I know, the only proper connotation of the term "cease-fire". Consequently, the mere use of that phrase in the context of Northern Ireland is already itself a propaganda success for the Provisional IRA. Let us however accept, despite that—as Her Majesty's Government do—that the element on the one side is the cessation of violence and that on the other side is the very proper modification of the behaviour of authority and of Government in the light of the diminution or cessation of violence. Let us take the position exactly as the Government assert it—that cease-fire means that, on the one hand, violence does not continue and criminal acts cease to be perpetrated, while, on the other hand, the Government adapt their behaviour, very naturally, rationally and properly, to an alteration in the security situation.
We then face the implication of the terminology of which I have reminded the House:the arrangements … to ensure that any cease-fire does not break down".What can be the meaning in the mouth of the Government of "arrangements to ensure" that violence is not resumed? The arrangements to ensure that violence is not resumed remain entirely in the hands of those who perpetrate violence. 260 Surely if any meaning lies behind such an expression, it can only be—at least so people argue in Northern Ireland, and I know not how to refute their argument—that there are known conditions, though kept secret from the public and this House, upon which the cessation of violence is dependent.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is a little misleading to speak of the cessation of violence and that there has been no cessation of violence in parts of the Province—for example, in County Armagh, where violence involving the Regular Army, the UDR and the Provisional IRA has continued?
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friend was right to interrupt me and to correct my expression. There has been no more than a diminution of most types of violence over the period which has been described by this extraordinary term "cease-fire". I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right and it is good that the House should be reminded of it.
I resume my point, which is that the continual references by the Government to arrangements to ensure that the ceasefire does not break down are such as to constitute, until there can be proper debate which elucidates what lies behind them, not merely an invitation but almost a compulsion to believe that, whatever the Government say, there is in fact a bargain with specific terms and that each side is policing the terms which the other side has accepted.
I am afraid that when, following the so-called cease-fire in the second week of February, the Government announced what those arrangements were—and I will not go into details of the extraordinary "incident centres" which were to be set up—the difficulty of acquitting the Government of having entered into terms with the men of violence in Northern Ireland became almost insuperable. In his statement of 11th February the Secretary of State, referring to the incident centres, said:There will be full consultation … with the security forces on these arrangements which will cover only incidents arising directly out of the cease-fire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1975; Vol. 885, c. 207–8.]261 Again, those are words which are very difficult to interpret, to which it is almost impossible to attach any meaning, unless the cease-fire, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, represented a series of concessions made in form by the enemies of the State in Northern Ireland to which there corresponded concessions or terms made in form by Her Majesty's Government—not just the natural assumption, which everyone would make, that if things get better the behaviour of Government would be modified, but specific terms.
So I come straight back to last weekend, and I will quote from the same report following the murder of a policeman in Londonderry the words which were put out on Saturday night, and of course faithfully reproduced by the Press, by the Provisional IRA in Londonderry:The killing"—that is, the murder of the policeman—was 'a direct result of breaches in the truce over the past two weeks when two houses were raided by the Army and one by a squad of plain clothes RUC men'.I do not treat the communiqués of the Provisional IRA as having a higher degree of credibility than those issued during the late hostilities by Dr. Goebbels. These statements are of course acts of war. They are meant to deceive. They are meant to cause confusion. They are indeed aimed at the Government, for they are aimed at shaking the credibility of the Government and the confidence of the public in the truth of what the Secretary of State says and in the honesty of the Government's intentions. So it is not my purpose to say that I believe what these criminals, for their own criminal purpose, put out and what was printed by the Press. The point is a different one. It is that there is only one way in which Her Majesty's Government, with the assistance of this House, can reassert their own credibility and destroy that of the Provisional IRA, only one way in which they can create the proper background for the attempt at a more lasting constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland. And that, I repeat, is debate.
This House exists for debate. This House performs its function by debate. This House does its work by showing, either proving or disproving, that Her Majesty's Government have to all questions that can legitimately be put to them, 262 to all arguments that can be advanced against them, a tenable, rational reply which ought to convince the citizen.
In opposing this motion this afternoon, therefore, my hon. Friends and I, unlike many of those who—very properly, I make no criticism of them—take part in this terminal debate, are in no way speaking against the interests of the Government. On the contrary, the representatives of the Northern Ireland seats are the best friends in the Northern Ireland situation that Her Majesty's Government have. We are pleading in their interest much more than in ours, because, as for us, our constituents will say, "They have done their best, they have discharged their duty as best they could, but evidently it was Her Majesty's Government which would not answer and presumably had not got an answer."
What we are saying is in the interests of the Government—that they should use the device which never fails to re-establish the credibility, to re-establish the bona fides, to re-establish the logic of the acts of Government. There is no way in which they can do it so well as by voluntarily opening up this debate in the Northern Ireland Committee, promised and introduced with such a fanfare, and by doing so at once—doing so before we go away to a recess which we hope will not be punctuated by deeds such as that from which I have drawn the immediate illustration.
It is a plea for the Government to do something in their own interest which we make this afternoon in opposing this motion.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I want to make a brief contribution to a very important subject before the House adjourns. I believe that the law relating to rape should and must be changed, and changed very urgently indeed, because the fact is that we now have cities living in fear.
There is a very curious dichotomy between public opinion outside the House and opinion inside the House. I have put down an Early-Day Motion suggesting that the law should be changed which has been signed by only 30-odd Members, yet I can assure the House that without a shadow of a doubt there are millions of people who are now appalled at the 263 state of the law regarding rape. I have received telegrams and petitions and letters by the hundred. In all my days in the House I have never known feelings to be as deep and as strong and I have never known people to be so profoundly disturbed. The reason is that people are now convinced that the law, as defined by the Law Lords, is such as to encourage rape and to discourage women from reporting it. I am utterly convinced beyond all doubt that the law must be changed, for three reasons.
First, the effect of the law as now confirmed by the Law Lords will be significantly to affect juries. Juries now do not simply have to decide that a woman was compelled to have sexual relations against her will. Juries must now decide whether the man who assaulted her genuinely believed that he was not assaulting her, no matter how irresponsible the grounds for that belief are. Those are the key and crucial words, "no matter how irresponsible the grounds for that belief are." We could have an absurd situation in which a rapist could appear before a court and the jury could believe the woman's evidence that she was raped but that same jury, if it believed that the man genuinely thought he was not raping the woman, however irrational the grounds for that belief, would be unable to convict.
What a crazy situation. What an absurd situation. What an impossible situation for juries. The effect on juries will be significant. What about the effect on potential rapists? Far too often men generally, with their deeply ingrained prejudices, tend to laugh at the subject because many men are very stupid about sexual discrimination. Many men are very stupid about rape. Many men are very stupid about the relationship of thugs to women. They tend to categorise rape as the kind of situation involving people who have played about with sexual relations and the man perhaps has gone a little too far. But rape is not like that.
Rape is a vicious, evil and degrading assault by a strong man on a woman. It is a victory for strength over weakness. It is villainy run riot. Any law which encourages this kind of thuggery should be changed. What will happen to women when they are assaulted? They will be far more reluctant to come forward 264 because it is not solely a matter of the women being faced by a defence lawyer. Instead they will be faced with their assailants who can accuse the women of wanting to be involved. That is entirely wrong. Women will be even more reluctant to complain to the police.
If women who are raped are not prepared to complain we shall never catch the rapists. If we cannot catch the rapists they will go on raping. The figures for rape have increased by 34 per cent. in four years. Over half the men who committed rape had no proceedings taken against them. Unless we change the law the rape figures will rocket, while the number of women reporting rape will drift downwards. We are faced with a situation in which law and order has gone mad.
So, the effect of the law, if it is not changed, will be first on juries, second on rapists and third on women. I urge the House to bring pressure to bear on the Home Secretary and on the Government to change the law. If it is not changed the effects will be catastrophic.
I return to the point about the dichotomy between public opinion outside and opinion in the House. I have the greatest respect for hon. Members but they do not fully appreciate how inflamed public opinion is on this subject. They do not realise the extent of the fears in the minds of women and in the minds of many men who are affected by the whole situation. For me, to receive telegrams, petitions and letters from student unions, trade unions, women's organisations, even Conservative associations and hundreds of individuals is a clear indication of the extent to which public opinion is alarmed.
The Government will flout public opinion unless they are prepared to take action. They ought not to refer the matter in a leisurely way to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, fine though that may be. That is a longer-term approach which would be acceptable to the House, but it will not solve the immediate problem. I beg the Leader of the House to make representations to the Home Secretary about a change in the law to ensure that any man who is accused of raping a woman is not allowed to advance a defence on irresponsible grounds. The law must be changed so that it is incumbent upon any man so 265 accused to base his defence on responsible grounds. That is what the law should be, and that is what I hope this House will recommend to the Government.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I do not think it would be right for the House to accede to the motion proposed by the Lord President without there being adequate discussion of the disastrous and declining economic state of the country.
Never in my adult life have I seen a situation in which the country has declined as rapidly as it has recently. This is a matter affecting all parties and all Members. The motion before us is that we should adjourn for a fortnight. I ask the House to consider what has occurred in the past fortnight. In the past 14 days, the pound has deteriorated to its lowest ever level. We have major strikes in many of our large industries. We have inflation at a rate which no civilised country has been able to stand for long. I do not think that any parliamentary democracy has been able to exist for an extended period with a rate of inflation such as that which we are now suffering. Yet it is proposed that we should adjourn without any adequate steps being taken to deal with the situation.
§ Mr. Edward Short
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman was not present at Question Time when the Prime Minister said that it was hoped next week to find time for a whole day's debate on the economy.
§ Mr. Hooson
I was present. I do not think that that is sufficient. There has been a steady deterioration in the state of the country. We have fooled ourselves that what happens to other countries cannot happen to us. We have read of the Weimar Republic and the way in which members of the Assembly there discussed irrelevancies when their economy was going to pot, creating the ideal conditions for a dictatorship. Are we to be in the same position?
We have recently been discussing the Industry Bill. Important or otherwise as that may be, the provision of £450 million in that Bill bears no relevance to the present situation because if inflation continues the whole of our economy will be undermined. If we have enormous 266 unemployment, which could be another consequence, that measure would be irrelevant. The truth is that to our electorate outside, much of what the House of Commons is discussing appears to be totally irrelevant to the situation facing us.
I was at a weekend conference last weekend at Ditchley Park at which there were some very distinguished representatives from many parts of the world, all very friendly to our country and representing a very wide spectrum of views. Universally they took an extremely gloomy view of our prospects. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that it is up to this country to put its own house in order. Whether we are in or out of the Common Market, it is what we do at home that matters. But the truth is that we are not doing anything.
§ Mr. Hooson
That is not true. The situation is deteriorating at a very great rate. The Lord President, from a sedentary position, seems to pay no attention to the fact that the pound is deteriorating at a rate at which it has never deteriorated before.
§ Mr. Hooson
May I tell the Lord President that if he is so remote from economic reality that he thinks that a speech from a back bencher in the House of Commons causes the pound to deteriorate so quickly, he is talking absolute nonsense.
The truth is that there are certain highly unpleasant things which the House as a whole has now to face. The time for playing party politics on this issue is over. We have reached a stage where it is too late to have a statutory prices and incomes policy. The Government are faced with the almost inevitable decision whether to have a total freeze in the next few weeks.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) can shout "Rubbish" but this country is dependent on foreign loans to the extent of 5 per cent. of its expenditure. We 267 have to consider the consequences if those loans are withdrawn, as they might easily be should the pound continue to deteriorate. What then? The hon. Member shouted "Rubbish", but the truth is that in this country at the present time we still have not faced reality. This applies to all parties. I do not exempt one party as against another in this situation. It is up to hon. Members, back benchers though we may be, to show that some of us are aware of the rapid deterioration.
The Secretary of State for the Environment spoke in the country on either Friday or Saturday on the question of local government expenditure. He said that there had to be a total standstill during the coming year. He was attacked yesterday by the General Secretary of NALGO, the trade union principally concerned. When it is appreciated that over 50 per cent. of local government expenditure is on salaries and wages, what does a standstill mean? If it means what it is stated to be—a standstill in expenditure—it means the cutting back rapidly of services. If salaries and wages are insured against the effect of inflation—and this is what the built-in provisions for automatic increases amount to—it means that the 50 per cent. will go up rapidly as a proportion of total expenditure, and the only way to maintain a standstill is to cut down on services. This situation merely illustrates the Government's failure to come to grips with the fact that it is the explosion in wages and salaries above anything else that is the present cause of inflation.
In the last few years we have seen the creation of a huge bureaucratic superstructure in our country, and the last Conservative administration was as responsible as any for this. Civil Service rates of pay are vastly in excess of what they were four years ago. Local government rates of pay have increased enormously, as have the administrative rates of pay in the National Health Service. These rates of pay are not for people in creative or productive industry and they throw a tremendous strain on this country. This is partly why we are living beyond our means.
The Government should put their cards on the table before this House and face the reality of the situation. Is there any way at the present time of restoring confidence 268 abroad other than the imposition of Draconian measures such as I suggest—a total freeze on wages and salaries while the whole situation facing the country is considered?
As Members of Parliament we should consider whether it is our duty to try to bury our differences as best we can and to agree upon a programme that will enable this country to survive. The alternative seems to me to be to lurch, as the Weimar Republic did, from one high degree of inflation into an even higher degree of inflation, until in the end nobody is prepared to take the steps necessary to put matters right.
Mr. Frank Hooky (Sheffield, Heeley)
The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to ignore the fact that it was not inflation but savage deflation that destroyed the Weimar Republic. Inflation occurred at the outset and had been long overcome. It was the fact of having three million unemployed, not inflation, that destroyed the Weimar Republic.
§ Mr. Hooson
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Weirman Republic took no adequate steps to deal with inflation and it was when it had allowed matters to drift for a long time that the savage deflation occurred, causing the country to become ripe for take-over by either an extreme Right-wing or an extreme Left-wing organisation.
I submit that it would be wrong for the House to agree to the motion to adjourn until we have had some guidance from the Government about the steps they are prepared to take. If the deterioration of the last fortnight is matched by the deterioration from now until 9th June, we shall by then be in desperate straits indeed.
I would join with right hon. and hon. Members in other parts of the House though perhaps on different grounds in resisting the motion.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham. South)
I do not think we should accede to the motion before the House until the Government have told us a little more about their intentions concerning some of the unfinished business. Before this House returns from the recess on 9th June, a great deal of business will have taken 269 place. That business is not unrelated to some 30 regulations which the Scrutiny Committee has recommended that this House should debate. Not only should that business be discussed, but there are also some unfinished matters relating to the 21 debates that this House has so far had on EEC orders, and matters related to them, since the middle of last summer. It may be surprising to some people that this House has had 21 debates. Very few of those debates have been reported in any sense at all in the Press, and hardly any on the radio or television, perhaps because they have been almost entirely late at night and cut by the Government to a maximum of one and a half hours.
The other matter to which I should like to refer is that hon. Members usually get representations from members of the public concerning White Papers, even draft Statutory Instruments, Bills, and so on. All these are readily obtainable, and pressure groups and members of the public are able to buy them, read them, and see how their interests are affected. But that is not the position concerning the regulations which we have debated and those which we have not debated. They are not available to the general public at Her Majesty's Stationery Office and, alas, they are sometimes available only just in time to hon. Members.
I pointed out, in the debate on 3rd December last, that I was not able to get a very important Government Explanatory Memorandum on the basic energy document of the EEC—R/1472/73—until 24 hours before the debate took place. Later in my remarks—and I have given notice of this to the Lord President and to the Minister of State for the Treasury—I wish to draw the attention of the House to a previous explanatory memorandum which I believe was wholly misleading and which may have misled even the Minister of State who opened the debate in question.
There are many other matters which have gone through this House and which are still technically on the Order Paper. On 3rd February 1975, this House discussed a motion to annul the Import Duties (General) Order 1975 which put up the rate of levy and tax on a great many imported foods. Unfortunately, fewer than 40 Members voted on that 270 occasion. It was put on the Order Paper again and it appeared for several days afterwards. It has become what is technically known as a dropped order.
It may be of interest to the Minister of Agriculture, who is currently making a great many speeches on food prices, to see the Answers to Questions on 1st May 1975 when his Under-Secretary admitted that levies on New Zealand cheese imports were no less than 28p per lb. If this House reactivated that order and debated it, I have no doubt that the Government would have to explain why, in answer to Questions—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I am being as liberal as I can, but the hon. Gentleman must address himself to whether the House should or should not accept the motion before it.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am addressing my remarks to the fact that the dropped order to which I have referred should be debated before we go into recess on the date proposed in the motion. If the Lord President feels that we should debate it before the motion comes into effect, I hope that he will put it on the Order Paper for next week.
My next request is that my right hon. Friend should do the same in respect of the EEC budget. We have had two EEC budgets since joining the EEC. Neither of them has been debated in this House. The Lord President put down matters relating to the budget for debate on 19th December of last year. Since that date, he has promised the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that we shall have a debate on the budget. However, it looks as though we shall not have that debate before we go into recess. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider a debate on the budget next week before the motion comes into effect.
I remind the House that the budget consisted of 10 lbs. of documents. It was put before us last December, and we have not yet debated it. My right hon. Friend knows that in this package there are many figures which would be of great interest to the British people in the coming weeks. For some of the figures which would interest them most, they might search in vain. In order to discover some of the facts about the budget, 271 it was necessary for me to ask Questions on 27th February about the guarantee fund. I shall not weary the House by going through them in detail. But, despite the 10 lbs. of documents which we have still to debate, the breakdown of the European Agricultural Insurance and Guarantee Fund does not appear in those documents, and I had to ask a Question on 13th March the Answer to which revealed that the EEC will give support to tobacco growing in the Community of some £70 million, which is about the sum that it spends on providing surplus grain to overseas countries in need.
The other matter which we should debate and which has been technically before this House is Command Paper 6033, the Report of the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce. This is of great significance to the House because it shows what money has been spent on behalf of the British public in this country in the last year, 1974, in respect of agricultural intervention. We read in Table K that £14 million has been spent on production subsidies on cereals used for starch, and so on. I should have thought that the fact that £14 million of public money had been spent in this country on the production of starch from cereals merited debate in this House and that, if the Lord President could arrange a debate next week before the recess, it would be greatly appreciated by this House and by the British public.
In answer to a Written Question on 6th May, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told me that the £14 million related to 746,000 tons of maize and 49,000 tons of wheat and wheat flour which were used for the production of starch and 41,000 tons of maize used for the production of maize grits for brewing beer. I do not suggest that the people who received those subsidies made money out of them. I am sure that the £14 million represented the difference between the cost of other raw materials and the cost of this foodstuff which was for human or animal consumption. However, the Minister of State added:It is not normal practice to publish detailed information relating to bodies or persons to whom payment of subsidies is made." — [Official Report, 6th May 1975; Vol. 891, c. 423.]So we have the situation where £14 million of public money has been spent 272 in providing subsidies to persons or bodies whose business is producing starch, brewers' maize, and a substance known as quellmehl, and we do not know who they are.
I have described this as public money. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell the House whether it is public money from this House or from the EEC. The intervention report bears the Royal Arms on the front of it, and the usual inscription, "Honi soit qui mal y pense"—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That may be so. It is not for me to say. However, the motion is to deal with the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to be clear about your ruling. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued a good case to say why this House should not go into recess until it had considered an important matter. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is doing precisely that. In order to do it, he has to refer to documents and information available to him.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am much obliged for the hon. Gentleman's help, but I must advise him that it is not the effect which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has upon him which is important at the moment. It is the effect which the hon. Gentleman has on me. I want to be fair to everyone, but I must ask the hon. Member for Newham, South to keep to the motion.
§ Mr. Spearing
I shall endeavour to do so. However, any decision about whether we go into recess on Friday of next week must surely depend on the business before us.
It is not within my knowledge that a speaker in a debate on which a Question is put need necessarily come down on the side of the "Ayes" or that of the "Noes". Hon. Members need to have the relevant considerations before them in order to decide whether to vote "Aye" or "No". It may be that some of my 273 arguments will reinforce the reasons for a number of right hon. and hon. Members voting "No" on this occasion. Therefore, I submit, in requesting the Lord President to arrange time for us to debate these matters of importance, that my right hon. Friend's reply will greatly affect our decision about whether we should go into recess on Friday week.
The final matter to which I refer is one of which I have given notice to my right hon. Friend and which I contemplated raising under Standing Order No. 9. It relates to a debate that we had on 12th March about the European Monetary Co-operation Fund. In the course of that debate, I did something which a number of hon. Members recognised as being relatively rare. I accused the Government of not being frank with the House and of not providing correct information. Since that date, the Committee on EEC Secondary Legislation has published a report which made it clear in Questions Nos. 213 and 214 in the Minutes of Evidence that it had taken on 25th February that the Minister of State at the Treasury had made statements which turned out not to be correct.
In my view, this matter should be cleared up before the House goes into recess. The point of issue is whether this country is bound by a certain ruling of the EEC concerned with economic and monetary union and a fund establishing a European monetary union.
I refer to Regulation 907 of the Council which states that the European Monetary Co-operation Fund is intended to achieve economic and monetary union and the progressive harmonisation of member States' economies. However, before that Select Committee the Minister of State in answer to a question about economic and monetary union, from the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said:I do not think anybody at this stage is thinking of this"—the fund—as a means to that particular end.When my right hon. Friend winds up the debate, will he either tell us that we can debate this subject again before we go into recess or, if he has obtained the information of which I have given notice, make it quite clear whether this country is bound to the objectives of the European 274 Monetary Co-operation Fund set out in the Official Journal of the European Communities of 5th April 1973 which concludes that,This Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I, too, believe that we should not adjourn, at least until we have had an economic package from the Government. I strongly support the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who spoke of this earlier.
I must first dispense with the sedentary remarks of the Lord President, that in some ways the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was damaging, that it threatened to bring sterling lower and that he should not have dared to raise this matter on the Floor of the House. The obvious answer to that is that the Lord President intervened in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech to promise a debate next week when all hon. Gentlemen would be able to say what they think, which clearly would be, under his own definition, damaging to sterling. But I pass that by. That is a point on which I do not wish to dwell.
I wish to make the fundamental point that the value of the pound is not determined by what people say in or outside the House or in the newspapers. It is determined by how many people wish to buy pounds and how many people wish to sell them. The supply and demand of currency is what will determine whether is goes up and down in future weeks. In truth, there is no difference between the value of the pound and the value of bricks, beer or beef. If there is an oversupply of these commodities, the price goes down. If there is a shortage, the price goes up. Therefore, the only factors which can influence the value of the pound are whether there is an over supply of pounds and whether there is a shortage of those who wish to buy them or, on the contrary, a surplus.
It must, therefore, be obvious that the reason for the fall in the value of the pound, which has been 4 per cent. for the last week or so, is not the result of anything that anybody has said. It has not been caused by the actions of speculators or noble Lords in another place making speeches. The Prime Minister in 275 his celebrated broadcast on Sunday used an extraordinary expression. He said that it was the fault of unknown persons' neurosis—neurosis in the City, neurosis in another place and neurosis in the Press and media. It is not the fault of neurosis. It is the fault of nobody but the Government.
For the Government to seek to ride out their responsibilities is to evade the trust which was placed in them by those who put them in office. They cannot seek to claim that we should not raise this matter and that we should not discuss it. It is right that we should not adjourn. We should not go into recess until the Government have announced what they will do, if anything, about their prime responsibility for the great economic damage that their policy, and their policy alone, might create for this country.
The value of the pound is determined by supply and demand of pounds. The basic cause of our problem is the supply of pounds due to the enormous borrowing requirement in the Budget. I make no party point. Other hon. Gentlemen will be able to endorse that I made the same criticism, to a lesser degree, of Budgets under the Conservative administration.
It is this growing propensity to spend what we have not got which is causing the deepening economic crisis in this country. On top of this we fear—and this is another reason why I do not want the House to rise—that the costs of the Government's industrial policies have not been included in the Estimates. The cost of the National Enterprise Board is £50 million in the Estimates. It is now to carry British Leyland, which might involve hundreds of millions of pounds in the coming financial year. There is nothing in the Estimates for the nationalisation of shipbuilding or aircraft. There is nothing in the Estimates for the Community Land Bill. There is nothing in the Estimates for the nationalisation of the oil royalties in the North Sea.
Nobody has confidence in the Chancellor's housekeeping. It has not been overlooked abroad that the Chancellor's forecast deficit of £2,700 million turned out, in the event, to be £7,600 million. With the additions that I have just mentioned, 276 what will be the outturn for the Budget deficit for 1975?
The considerations which give rise to the worry about the stability of our currency are the activities of the Secretary of State for Industry, including his wild attacks on the private enterprise system which keeps the economy afloat in this country; the profligate, rotten housekeeping of the Chancellor, who has allowed expenditure to get out of control; and the actions of the other spending Ministers who have allowed their budgets to get right away from them.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment, who at least has said that local authority expenditure must be curtailed, but he is the one who allowed housing subsidies to reach the staggering total of £3,900 million in the current year. However, the sinner who has repented is better than one who has not.
This is a problem which the Government must attend to. Yet here we are a few days before we rise talking about Clay Cross—I thought we had been talking about hare-coursing but perhaps that has been dropped—and about a whole series of trivia and things which are irrelevant to this major, fundamental and basic problem which faces the country, namely, the declining value of our currency.
There is only one thing that the Government, or indeed anybody, can do to put the matter right. There is only one thing that will have any impact on the situation, and that is for the Government—preferably the Prime Minister—to come to the Box and make a statement about the cuts that he proposes to make in public spending and, if necessary, the increased taxation which he proposes to impose.
There is one matter on which I do not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. He said that perhaps there should be a coalition of all those who hold the British economy dear, so that they could again impose a statutory prices and incomes policy. I am afraid that he is putting his head in the sand. If he believes that we can have a borrowing requirement of £9,000 million rising to we know not what, and bottle it up with a law, after the experience of the prices and incomes policy of my right 277 hon. Friends in 1973 and 1974 and of the Labour Government in the 1960s, he is doing damage to the very idea of a coalition by making it clear that if he is part of any coalition he will make sure that it cannot succeed. The measures that he advocated could never succeed in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Hooson
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech with interest. When he talks of curtailing public expenditure, he must realise that the biggest components of public expenditure are wages and salaries. The hon. Gentleman has not even indicated how he would deal with those components. That is what needs to be dealt with. I suggested that we were faced with a situation in which we would have to have a total freeze to see what could be done. This is the nub of the question. While people are insured against inflation by various means—even under the social contract—how does the hon. Gentleman propose to deal with these components of public expenditure?
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. and learned Gentleman would make a rotten doctor. He would be scratching off the spots and failing to observe that the disease was getting worse and worse. Any coalition which concentrates on scratching off the spots will do us a disservice. Any party which advocates that policy is doing us a disservice. There are no easy options. There is no easy, painless way out.
The answer requires massive cuts in public expenditure and higher taxation. It will cause unemployment, distress and a reduction in the standard of living—certainly, a reduction in the rate of growth of real incomes. That is the option which faces the House.
We should not pack up our bags and go on holiday until the Government have faced up to their responsibilities and done something to save the nation from the gloom which threatens it for the future.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I oppose the motion, but I assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I do not have sufficient energy to go to the Division Lobby to vote against it.
I listened with foreboding to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the 278 hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). We must make it clear from the Labour benches that there can be no coalition, no grouping in the House—not only now but for the foreseeable future—between Labour Members, elected on our manifesto, and Opposition Members.
I listened to those speeches with foreboding because I was disturbed to think that the Government could be pressurised and panicked into taking the type of Draconian measures which could make certain that we would not solve our economic difficulties. Draconian measures would perhaps work if people were not people. We must rely on the good sense of the British people and learn from the past that there can be no solution without their consent.
I was disturbed to hear the proposal for a statutory wage freeze. If there begins to be talk of such a freeze, present claims and settlements will be inflated in anticipation of it.
§ Mr. Golding
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. A great degree of moderation is being exercised because of the loyalty of trade union officials towards the Labour Government.
After a freeze, all the practical difficulties would arise again, with all the sense of injustice. As soon as the freeze was applied, one group after another, very often in the public service and the lowest paid, would come to hon. Members on both sides of the House to complain that they had just been caught and to argue their case. Hon. Members would pressurise the Government to make exceptions for such groups. In the middle of the freeze period, or towards the end, the whole policy would have to be reassessed because the Government would face the twin force of a group which both felt a sense of injustice and was industrially strong. Given those two things occurring together, there would be an industrial confrontation, and almost certainly the Government would be defeated. Then the policy would be in ruins.
The only hope is to get the support of working people and their organisations for a modicum of wage restraint. There can be no reliance on statutory pay policies 279 to achieve it, and there can be no immediate resort to Draconian measures, because such measures would be taken as a signal by the unions and working people immediately to increase their wage demands. Unless the people accept economic measures as being essential for the survival of Britain, the measures cannot work.
Because of technology and the closely-knit type of industrial society in which we live, some small groups of workers have a great deal of power, which must be taken as a reality. Against that background, talk of wage freezes and Draconian measures is theoretical.
I came into the Chamber to hear the advertised statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on industrial democracy. Why was that statement not made? I hope that we shall have an encouraging statement before the Adjournment, a statement that the Government will act as quickly as possible to bring about industrial democracy. When the Government do not have much money to spend, this is an appropriate time for us to deal with legislation which will not involve expenditure and yet could bring about an irreversible shift in the balance of power in favour of working people. Many of us on the Labour benches very much hope that my right hon. Friend will make a statement shortly and that it will contain no talk of inquiries of deferment, but only of action.
That leads me to my final question. Are we to have a settlement of the dispute between the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry before we adjourn a week on Friday? Again, this is a very important matter. When we were in Opposition we promised the steel workers that there would be a review of the proposals contained in the then administration's White Paper. That promise was also made at the election, and Lord Beswick carried it out on behalf of the Secretary of State for Industry. The review was certainly favourable to the workers at Shelton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant). Now the Government are said to have no legal right to issue a directive to the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation 280 to ensure that the jobs of the workers are safeguarded.
If the Government have no power, the promises should not have been made in the first place and the review should not have been undertaken. However, the review has been undertaken and the promises have been made. In view of the statements and the hope given from this House, quite clearly if the Government do not have the power to implement them, they must bring in legislation to take it as quickly as possible. They must legislate to enable them to fulfil the promises made to the steel workers and to implement the decision resulting from the review.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to satisfy me on these points. I hope that in the coming months the Government will keep their nerve and not give way to the panic measures that are being proposed by the Opposition. I hope that the Government will keep on telling the Conservatives that they will undermine confidence abroad with their talk of gloom and disaster, and I hope that they will continue to try to secure the full support of the British working people for the economic policies they are having to pursue.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I had a moment or two to prepare a short speech, and I propose to be brief. I hope that the Leader of the House heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and that he will respond to them. I do not go so far as to say that the law is as the hon. Member described it. I doubt whether what he said is correct. But there is undoubtedly much public anxiety on the matter and the hon. Member did nothing to allay that—in fact, I suspect that he has inflamed it. In view of that the Lord President should take the opportunity of making a clear statement of the law. If he cannot do that in concise terms, he should assure the House that a statement of authority will be made by one of the Law Officers in order to eliminate doubt and misplaced or exaggerated anxiety.
I want to do what I do not normally do on these occasions and that is to argue that the recess is not long enough. I have no particular quarrel with the date 281 on which it is to begin—it is essential that we should examine the economy in the debate planned for Thursday—but the Government, and the Leader of the House in particular, are expecting too much of us and of themselves in confining the recess to the relatively short period proposed in the motion.
The first and least important reason for my saying that is that I suspect that some hon. Members—perhaps even all hon. Members—will want to take an active part in the referendum campaign which will effectively be carried on during the recess. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who seems so fond of swinging from comma to comma in the Common Market regulations, will no doubt be taking an active part in the campaign. Other Members will no doubt be doing their best.
It will not be the kind of recess during which Cabinet Ministers will be able to refresh themselves in whatever way Cabinet Ministers in this Government carry out that practice. They will be hyperactive, I suspect, and they will not benefit from the recess in any way. They will be even more tired at the end of it than they are already—and some of them are fairly tired now.
The Leader of the House is not noted for his super-abundance of energy. The Government Chief Whip is so exhausted that he slumped down on the Opposition Front Bench just now before eventually finding his way back to his correct place. Of course, he has a lot to put up with. We are glad to see the Secretary of State for Employment back after a brief convalescence, but no doubt he could do with additional rest. Then there is the Secretary of State for Industry. Everyone would like to see him take a good rest.
The opportunity which should be taken by those who are running the country's affairs to recuperate from their exertions, recover their balance, see whether they can find their missing marbles, and do all the other things the recess gives them chance to do, will be denied them. The campaign for this unnecessary referendum will intrude into the recess, which should therefore be extended for a week. The Prime Minister, in particular, should have the opportunity to rest. The impression he left upon the country after his television appearance was that he was a tired 282 man and that our affairs were not necessarily in the best hands so long as they were in the hands of a man so tired.
I see no reason to believe that the moment the referendum campaign is over the Prime Minister's troubles will be at an end. He may regard a referendum vote in favour of the Government's recommendations as a colossal vote of confidence in himself, and being the Prime Minister that probably is how he will regard it. But there is more to it than that, and more to the consequence of the vote than that. Whichever way the vote goes, there will have to be a change in the composition of this administration. Should the vote go against continued British membership of the EEC, the matter could be forced upon the Prime Minister by the unwillingness of some of his colleagues to remain in the Cabinet. That will give him a problem of reconstruction and reshuffle which Parliament and the country would be most reluctant to see arising from present circumstances.
If the vote goes the way the majority of us and most of the country hope it will, the Prime Minister will still not be relieved of the responsibility of making a change in his team. He may need a week or so to do that. There is therefore good reason for giving him that additional period of grace and for providing him with time to come to the House with a coherent set of plans prepared to deal with the situation which should have been dealt with so long ago.
The crisis of confidence in the pound will not be swept away by the debate on Thursday. To do that will need action, determination and resolution on the part of the country's leaders, and they will not muster those qualities in six months' of sitting on the Treasury bench listening to debate. It will take work which should have been started long since and which must be started now. If those efforts are to carry confidence they will need to be presented to the world as being carefully considered and carrying all the conviction of a logical, sensible and non-political reaction to the desperate plight of the country.
The Secretary of State for the Environment used the expression "the party is over". It might have been more to the point if he had made the remark at the Cabinet table, because the party is over 283 for those who believe that this country can any longer afford the enormous inflationary pressures which are built into the Government's policies. There must be a change. The country needs leaders who will speak for Britain, and if an extra week's thought gets us any nearer that, as it could, the House should not begrudge itself the time for thinking.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I am sure that all those concrete prescriptions for dealing with our economic ills made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) will be of great assistance to our Treasury Ministers and others concerned with finding those solutions.
This morning, in the Court of Appeal, judgment was reached in the case of Hubbard v. Pitt. This was an appeal from a decision reached some months ago relating to non-industrial picketing, namely demonstrations by people other than in pursuit of a trade dispute. Picketing in furtherance of a trade dispute is covered by statute and is protected. But picketing or demonstrating, other than in pursuit of a trade dispute, is not so protected. It is subject to the common law, and the law, as is usual with English common law, is rather vague.
The result of the decision this morning is that it is now clear—it was previously unclear—that no one has a right to do anything on the highway, which includes the pavement, except to pass along it and to engage in restricted activities absolutely incidental thereto.
That decision means that many activities which are carried out every day of the week in the country under the very eyes and noses of the police, with police permission, full acquiescence and no interference, are clearly now unlawful. More seriously, perhaps, those who agree among themselves to carry out those demonstrations are, because the action is unlawful, guilty of criminal conspiracy. I can relate this subject to the recess more closely by saying that many hon. Members and their supporters on one side or other of the referendum campaign will, as a result of this morning's decision, clearly be engaged in unlawful activities in demonstrating their support for, or opposition 284 to, membership of the Common Market during the next fortnight. In arranging such demonstrations some of them at least will be guilty of criminal conspiracy.
The case which concluded this morning arose from an incident in my constituency, which is why I take a special interest in it. I was glad that Lord Denning dissented this morning from the majority verdict of two to one. It is encouraging that Lord Denning was able to find that even the law as it now stands, without statutory intervention, should permit a person to demonstrate on the highway provided that he does not obstruct the highway or cause a direct nuisance—other than merely by demonstrating—to other persons using the highway. This morning he seems to have demonstrated what is called in the legal profession judicial valour, or the extension of a precedent, the broadening of a precedent, rather than the narrowing of it from case to case.
As a result of this morning's decision, I think that it is incumbent upon the Lord President—I think of him as much in his capacity as chairman of the legislation committee of the Cabinet as I think of him as Lord President—to take an early opportunity to declare that the Government will attach a clause to an early Bill dealing with the civil and criminal law, or the nearest Bill to that subject which will come in the next year, so as to remove this subject from legal uncertainty and to provide for it by statute.
It is clear that some subjects about which there are demonstrations have nothing to do with trade disputes but are just as important as, or even more important than, a trade dispute. Anyone demonstrating in 1956 about Suez could hardly be said to have been demonstrating about an unimportant subject. Therefore, it is as important to protect the citizen's right to demonstrate on such matters as it is to protect his right to demonstrate in furtherance of a trade dispute.
There is a more serious aspect of the question created or confirmed by the decision of the Court of Appeal this morning. Throughout the country demonstrations are taking place every day of the week. The police permit them to 285 happen. The police permitted the incident in my constituency to happen. Therefore we have a situation in which the public do not know whether action will be taken against them by the police, because the police can, if they choose, take that action. The police have always had a wide discretion in bringing prosecutions. But we should limit that discretion to the greatest extent practicable because it is contrary to the rule of law and good democratic practices that the public should feel not only that they are in the grip of the law but that they are in the grip of a too wide discretion to apply the law which is placed in the hands of the police.
Therefore, I ask the Lord President in his capacity as chairman of the legislation committee to take note that there is clearly since this morning a need to clarify this aspect of the law by statute and to take the earliest legislative opportunity to correct the position adopted this morning by the Court of Appeal.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I submit that we should not adjourn on Friday week in view of the urgent and desperate situation of the inshore fishing industry.
I was glad to hear the Minister of Agriculture say in the House recently that he had acquainted the EEC Commission of the necessity to change its fisheries policy. That is to be welcomed. I hope that that will succeed. However, that is a long-range proposal.
I wish to mention the question of extending the fishing limit to 50 miles, which is demanded by the inshore fishermen. The reply on each occasion was that we could not take unilateral action. I investigated this matter in the 1960s when I was serving in local government. We asked the Government of the day to extend the limit to 12 miles. Invariably the reply was that the Government did not wish to take unilateral action. Britain was one of the last of the North Sea countries to extend the fishing limit to 12 miles.
It is no use the Minister of Agriculture replying that he might obtain a good agreement at the Conference on the Law of the Sea, as the end of inshore fishing, especially for herring, might be in sight 286 within weeks rather than months. It would be small consolation if at the end of that time a sound agreement had been reached at that conference.
The Government must be aware of the depredations made by foreign vessels. The Danes are the worst offenders, although the Norwegians and Russians also offend by fishing on an industrial scale and denuding the fish stocks. It will be a tremendous loss to our food supplies, as well as to the industry, if the fish disappear. The industry is going through a bad time. The Government should consider imposing a moratorium on the repayments for fishing vessels, which are very high—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if he would occasionally link his remarks to the motion about the recess it would be a great help.
§ Mr. Stewart
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For that reason, before the House goes into recess there is urgent need for a debate on this subject. If the Government do not place a moratorium on the repayments, they will be obliged to repossess the vessels, which would be an impossible situation. The fishermen are finding it very hard to make the repayments. I ask that we do not adjourn until we have had a debate on the fishing industry.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
I, too, appeal to the Lord President not to adjourn the House until we have had an opportunity to discuss the management of the exchange rate. We heard from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) his view of what determines the exchange rate of sterling. We read daily in our newspapers that the Bank of England, "authority", the Treasury or the Government broker has intervened or has not intervened in the market, has intervened slightly or intends to intervene, and so on.
Although I support the referendum and shall do all I can to persuade the people I know to hang on to their self-determination and vote "No", I feel reluctant to go home until we have had a debate on the mechanism of the management of the exchange rate.
287 This morning The Times referred to possible light Bank of England intervention to slow down the decline in sterling. Elsewhere I read that there was an intervention "for technical reasons". As a back bencher I feel the need to explore the executive control of sterling and the exchange rate. The way that sterling is managed has vital implications for our balance of payments and our economic strategy.
Some years ago there was much more direct intervention. Indeed, there was intervention on both spot and forward sterling. Then the pound was floated, and that was one price we had to pay for Common Market entry. We were told that the floating of the pound would enable Britain to become more competitive, but the 20 per cent. immediate devaluation of the pound when it was floated made a considerable contribution to our £2,400 million annual deficit with the Common Market countries. I am reluctant to go back to the beautiful city of Bristol while these machinations are going on.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury is not here, but I hope he will accept what I say in the spirit in which I say it. He insulted our intelligence when he insisted that the value of sterling was determined simply by supply and demand. Even when our exports and imports have been in a healthy position—in 1961 Britain's trade performance was extremely good—there has been ample evidence of the massive movement of speculative funds. Speculators felt that they could make a profit by moving into a market, thereby creating the downward slide of sterling, and then coming back into sterling and making profits—many would say obscene profits. Since the float, and especially in the last few weeks, it has almost looked as though there is no executive policy. At least, I find it difficult to discern any policy.
§ Mr. Hooson
Is it not a feature of the present situation that there is little evidence of speculation? Considering the state of sterling, how can any speculator have made money out of sterling recently?
§ Mr. Thomas
One finds, if one looks at previous speculation against sterling by British companies, multinational companies 288 and British banks, that we did not know about that speculation until after the event. We always get a post-mortem. I am convinced that speculation is going on at the moment and that when the speculators have driven the pound sufficiently low they will come back and make a good profit. I am not so much concerned with that as with the mechanism for controlling the parity of sterling.
In recent weeks it has been difficult to discern any policy. Towards the end of April, according to the Financial Times, the Bank of England was keeping its hand on the tiller. The custom is to use these naval metaphors—I do not know whether they come from the former Leader of the Opposition. At the end of April the banks or the authorities—we are never quite sure who—were deliberately intervening in the market and pushing up the rate. Since then, according to all the reports, the Bank of England has refused to intervene. It is now being said that the Bank of England is deliberately doing this and will continue to do so until the day of the referendum.
The Lord President should respond to that challenge and make clear whether that is so. Many of us are concerned that before long it will be suggested that the Bank has been told not to intervene, that sterling will move downwards until the referendum, and that those who wish to bring Britain out of Europe will be told that a vote against the market is a vote against sterling. There is plenty of evidence that that is happening.
It has been shown time and again that to allow sterling to float downwards is detrimental to our balance of trade. Our exports are not sufficiently sensitive to changes in price to enable increased prices to be charged to meet the reduction in foreign currency earnings, and the rapid increase in import prices has been the main cause of the increase in the cost of living at home. I should like to see a thorough-ranging debate before the Adjournment on these and related matters.
We can no longer leave it to the City of London to continue with its laissez-faire ideas. The limited invisible earnings of the City cannot justify a continuation of the laissez-faire approach.
289 In this crisis situation we need far more rigid controls over the export of capital, linked with strict and discriminating import controls. Those measures are essential if we are to meet the present economic crisis. Not least important is to move back from the policy of the floating pound and to impose direct measures for keeping the pound in reasonable parity with other currencies, with direct intervention as part of executive policy.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
The House should not agree to the motion for several reasons. If the House were to follow the advice given by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), it would find itself in a difficult situation. I would rather trust myself to the economists of the City of London than to the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman.
There are three other reasons for us not to adjourn. The first is that the Secretary of State for the Environment should come to the House and explain in more detail the reasoning behind his speech in Manchester last week stating that "the party is over". Is he supporting the interesting article in the Observer on Sunday by Messrs. Booker and Gray, who said, far more eloquently than anyone in the House, that there is sheer nonsense in local government housing finance when authorities such as the London Borough of Camden are building houses and flats at an economic rent in excess of £100 a week? I think that the Secretary of State should come here and say whether he intends to allow that sort of expenditure to continue or whether, at this late stage, he will say "No".
There are two other less world shattering and perhaps less contentious matters that I want to put before the Lord President. First, I hope very much that before the House rises an opportunity will be found for the Government to give their views on the Maxwell Stamp Report. There has been an appalling amount of waste of time and procrastination in the Home Office under both Governments over the report. It is most important that some decision is reached so that the public know that when they get into a vehicle it is safe, even if it is not a London Hackney Carriage. They should be 290 able to know that the vehicle is not driven by one of the pirates who wander round the streets of London in motor cars.
I say to the Lord President that there should be a statement before the House rises giving the result of the Government's consultations—consultations which have extended over some three years under both Governments. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be in a position to say that either a White Paper or a Bill will be introduced.
My second reason is more domestic. It concerns every Member who might find himself serving on a Select Committee. The Select Committee on Expenditure, and more particularly its Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, had a long-planned visit to Germany some three weeks ago. It was a follow-up of a visit paid some two and a half to three years earlier when, as a result of some of the observations which we made, it was found possible for the Ministry of Defence to make certain alterations, which the Government acknowledged made certain features of the Command more efficient and less costly. We went to follow that up.
After the date was fixed, along came the announcement that the committee was to be overseas in Germany on Budget day. From past experience, it is a fact that whenever Members go overseas and talk to the Services they are asked questions about what is happening in this country. That happens whether one goes on CPA visits to Jamaica or on Select Committee visits to Germany for evidence taking. I raised this matter, and I had a most courteous reception from the Lord President, but I do not think that he went far enough. I wanted the members of the Committee to be in a position to know enough about what had been going on in the House to be able to give intelligent answers, or at least as intelligent as if we had been in the House. I wanted that to be the position while we were in Germany for three more days after the Budget. All Members know that on Budget day a mass of documents are printed and are made available in the Vote Office the moment the Chancellor sits down. Those documents are printed at least 24 hours in advance.
I believe that it would be right for members of Select Committees who go 291 away on visits—they do not visit overseas countries for joy rides but on the business of the House, unlike other expeditions that occasionaly take place—to be in the position of having the correct documentation. I would have thought it possible in such cases for the documents received from the security printers to be bundled up and sent out either through the diplomatic bag or through the Commander-in-Chief, not to be opened until the Chancellor sits down. If it is said that there is a possible security risk, it means that the security printers are regarded as being more trustworthy than Members of Parliament or the Queen's Messengers, who carry diplomatic bags. I do not believe that that is a tenable argument.
On the assumption that on this occasion it was not possible for that to be done, I made inquiries whether the documents could be flown out on a Service aircraft. The answer was that there was no Service aircraft flying there at that time. I then asked whether they could go out on the civilian aircraft that takes newspapers to Germany to be made available first thing the following morning. I was told that that was possible but that there would be a charge of £8 for the package. However, the Accounting Officer of the House was not prepared to pay £8 as he had no authority to do so. I accepted that and I am not querying his right to say that. What I am querying is the principle that Members of Parliament who are abroad on Select Committee business should not be in a position to obtain such documents. In the case I have instanced, documents were not obtainable because the expenditure of £8 was not possible.
Before I can give my assent to this motion, I must ask the Lord President whether he will accept that Members who are abroad on the business of the House should have arrangements made for them to have such documentation as they may reasonably require. There are three ways in which that could be done. First, an item could be included in the House Vote which would make provision and which would give the backing that clearly the Accounting Officer, requires. Secondly, the Lord President might refer the matter for consideration. I accept that there may be more 292 than one way of considering the matter. The Lord President might agree to refer the matter either to the Procedure Committee or, more properly, to the Services Committee.
It is in that spirit, and not in taking up the suggestion that the Lord President is a tired man—if that is so he is probably too tired to take copious notes of the debate—that I would be satisfied if the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance that he will do one of those three things so that Members who wish to be conscientious and wish to be properly briefed when they are abroad on the business of the House may be put in that position. In that spirit I hope that I shall not find it necessary to vote against the motion.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I rise briefly to support some of the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I would not go all the way with him in asking for a limited debate of the cease-fire alone. I believe that Northern Ireland and all its problems should be debated not in Committee but on the Floor of the House.
It is quite some time since we had a debate on Northern Ireland. Many unfortunate and tragic things have happened since we last had occasion to debate the subject. It would appear from the remarks which have been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South that he is suspicious about what is connected with the present fragile cease-fire that now exists between the British Government and the Provisional IRA. I support him in his suspicions, because they are held by the whole community in Northern Ireland. Not only the majority but also many members of the minority population would like to know exactly what type of arrangement has been made with the Provisional IRA.
This matter has been brought to a head because of the brutal and callous killing of a young Belfast policeman—one of my constituents. That killing has brought the condemnation of the whole community in Northern Ireland on the IRA. It was an atrocious killing. That young policeman could not have been involved in any of the charges which have been laid against the RUC over many years because he was only 20 years of age. I 293 have no hesitation, as an individual, as the representative of that constituency, and on behalf of my party and the minority population in condemning unequivocally those responsible for the taking of that young life.
The House should be aware that although there has been a cease-fire of some description between the Provisional IRA and the British Army, for many families in Northern Ireland there has been no cease-fire. Quite a few people have been killed since the cease-fire came into existence. The vast majority, if not all, were innocent victims. Many were found assassinated. Others were killed in bars or shot at their own front doors. If the cease-fire ever existed, it certainly did not have any effect on those who lost their lives and left behind bereaved families.
We are inclined to think only of those who have lost their lives. We tend to forget that when there is an explosion many people—since the cease-fire came into operation I am sure that the figure must run into hundreds—have lost legs, arms, and suffered other injuries.
There is a serious need for Northern Ireland and all its problems to be debated in isolation from the cease-fire. Over the past few weeks we have seen many failing industries in Northern Ireland. They have had to be helped to stay in existence by the British Government. One gets the feeling that many more industries in Northern Ireland are in a precarious position. Of course the cease-fire is important, but many people in Northern Ireland who are trying to lead ordinary lives are also concerned about their homes and jobs. I ask the Leader of the House to treat this matter with the seriousness that it deserves.
There has been reluctance on the part of British Ministers to appear to be intervening in the Convention elections or in the Convention which is now sitting at Stormont. But that is not the right attitude. Sooner or later Northern Ireland and all its problems will have to be debated. If this House is given the opportunity to discuss Northern Ireland's social, unemployment and housing problems, those in the Convention will realise the seriousness of the position. Indeed, it may compel them to take a 294 more reasonable attitude, recognising all the divisions which exist.
If the British Government do not make clear their attitude to Northern Ireland and its problems, politicians—I am not limiting this to one section of the community may take hard line, rigid attitudes which will spell the failure of the Convention. In such circumstances we would have to debate Northern Ireland and the failure of the Convention on the Floor of the House. Therefore, it would be wiser for the British Government to allow a debate to take place so that we may be aware of all the circumstances. Certainly the cease-fire is important, but all the other problems should be discussed as well.
Sentiments have been expressed on a number of occasions by Unionist Members about the opportunity of discussing the Gardiner Report. We have been told that that report, which is of such importance to Northern Ireland, has been shelved. The whole community in Northern Ireland wants to know the British Government's attitude to detention and all the other issues contained in the Gardiner Report.
I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Down, South. But we should not discuss the cease-fire in isolation or Northern Ireland and its problems in Committee. The whole problem of Northern Ireland should be discussed on the Floor of the House as urgently as possible.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I wish to speak in opposition to this motion because there is a matter which I think the House should consider before going away for a two-week recess at Whitsun. It is in the best traditions of the House to consider urgently any matters which reveal injustice and inequity. I have in mind the working of the regulations for compensating the families of Service men killed in Northern Ireland and the working of the regulations for compensating Service men wounded in Northern Ireland and invalided from the Services.
This whole matter is governed by the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Northern Ireland) (Compensation) Act 1968. Starting with the soldiers killed in service, it seems that compensation for the next of kin in some cases is paid and in others 295 it is not. For example, the figures which I have taken from The Sunday Times of 9th February show that 110 next of kin have been compensated and 115 have not.
The question at issue is the amount of compensation paid to the next of kin of Service men compared with that paid to the next of kin of civilians. I am well aware that the governing principle behind the legislation is taken to be the loss of future earnings. Obviously the family of a man in business in Northern Ireland who has been rather successful could easily be shown to have suffered a serious loss by the number of years that he would have earned sizeable sums of money. However, the next of kin of a 20-year-old single soldier with no dependants would get a very small sum indeed.
I do not wish to detain the House unduly with a large number of cases but there is one case which shows the degree of inequity. It is the case of the bookmaker and the major. It sounds as though it has just been decided by the High Court, but it has not. They are two separate cases.
The bookmaker was Mr. Larry McMahon who left an estate worth £206,000 and his next of kin received a criminal injuries award of £100,000. It is easy to see how that sum was computed, and I am not arguing about that.
Major Richard Jarman of the Royal Engineers was blown up, like Mr. McMahon, by a booby trap. At 41, the major was three years younger than the bookmaker, and he also left a widow and four children. The Army was able to show that Major Jarman had a bright future. In fact, it was confidently predicted that he would have become a colonel by the time he reached 44 and probably a brigadier a year or so later. The report in The Sanday Times states:Armed with this information, the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Board—which is now paying personal injury awards totalling £6 million annually—calculated the Jarman family's loss. The board's recommended award was a mere £22,876.That was increased somewhat later, but, by any standards, it was well short of the sum given to the bookmaker's family.
I quote again from this article:When Trooper John Gibbons, aged 22 and attached to the Parachute Regiment, was killed by a border landmine on May 5 last year, he 296 left a widow aged 20 and a son aged two. Mrs. Gibbons was awarded just £1,000 by Armagh County Court.Two questions arise when we consider the matter of Service men who have been injured and invalided out of the Service. There is the question of the anomalies between what one person received and what another person received, and there is also the question of the considerable time lapse between the injury and the award of the sum.
I first became aware of this problem, as of many other matters—and I am sure other hon. Members have experienced this—from constituency correspondence—from a letter from a constituent who said that he wished to appeal against an award of about £2,000 given to him in Belfast. He had been told that he could appeal and instruct a solicitor in Belfast but that he would have to go to Belfast at his own expense. He was a lorry driver by trade. No doubt, he would have to stay several nights in Belfast while the case was heard. This was some 18 months or two years after the injury had occurred.
I should like to cite some examples of injuries that have occurred. The same article in The Sunday Times states:Typical judgments affecting less seriously injured servicemen include £12,500 to an Army lieutenant for the loss of a leg and £9,000 to a 23-year-old Royal Marine for a bullet in the hip which has crippled him for life and led to his discharge. These cases may fairly be set against those of three Ulster civilians compensated in the Northern Ireland High Court for the treatment they received after being arrested by security forces when internment was introduced in 1971. The three received agreed damages of £16,000, £12,500 and £11,250 respectively. Their only physical injury was chafing from handcuffs.Having cited these examples I do not intend to detain the House much longer. I assure hon. Members that these examples are not special pleadings. There are many more cases apart from the ones I have selected. I should like the House to press the Lord President for an early consideration of this matter, because there is great inequity and injustice here.
With all respect to the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, we are only too happy to see Service men doing our dirty job in Northern Ireland on our behalf. Let us be quite clear about this. They have to do that. However, as soon as they happen to be struck down by snipers 297 bullets we give the impression as a country that we turn our backs on them and tell them that they have to undergo the laid down procedure.
Another point to be noted is that the injury has to stabilise. In other words, according to the jargon of the Department of Health and Social Security, we have to assess how badly injured a person is. A chap may actually slightly recover. Goodness me, the nation might have paid £1,000 to someone who lost a leg and that person may be more cheerful than might have appeared at the time. We owe it to Service men in Northern Ireland to put forward some kind of scale so that we can say quite clearly "If anything happens to you or your dependants a scale is laid down and will be activated very quickly; there will be no time lag and any court proceedings you have to go through will be at Government expense".
Therefore, I hope that the Lord President will consider that this matter should be examined very soon.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I should like to suggest to the House that we should not adjourn until the Government have made a clear statement about how they see the evolution of the steel industry over the next two years in the perhaps, unlikely context of Britain's continuing membership of the Common Market.
I certainly need not impress upon the House the importance of the steel industry, which is one of the basic industries of this country, and its importance to the future livelihoods of many thousands of men and their wives and families. Within the last few days there have been some rather serious suggestions in the Press that many thousands of steelworkers—no doubt some of them from my constituency in Sheffield; certainly many people in Sheffield would be likely to be affected—might lose their jobs if some of the proposals which have been aired lately are put into effect.
Related to this matter is the power of the Government and of this House to affect and determine the development of the steel industry in Britain in the light of the commitments that we have undertaken under the Treaties of Rome and Paris, by which, depending upon the outcome 298 of the referendum on 5th June, we have to abide. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may possibly reply that the Government have set out their views on the White Paper on Membership of the European Community, Cmnd. 5999. I put to the House and to him that this document is vague, ambiguous and unsatisfactory. On pap, 7 it statesSteel is more difficult, partly for inherent reasons, partly because of action taken by the previous Government when they repealed Section 15 of the Iron and Steel Act.The White Paper goes on to say that repeal of that section of the Iron and Steel Act, which destroys the control of the Government and of this House over investment in the private sector of the steel industry, is unacceptable. It says:it is unacceptable that the private sector should be free to expand where it wants and by as much as it wants thus adding to the inflationary pressure on resources, quite apart from the location and regional problems, for example, in areas where steel men have been made redundant by technological change".However, the only remedy which this document proposes—and this is something on which the Government should say more before my constituents are expected to cast their votes on the 5th June—is that it might be necessary to ask for treaty revision if there is no other way of solving this problem. With great respect, I do not think that that is a satisfactory position in which to put 220,000 workers in this great and important industry or that it is satisfactory to say that the essential part of the control of invest-men, development and future of this industry may depend on the willingness, presumably of other countries of the Community, to agree to some revision of the Treaties of Rome and Paris.
In pressing for a statement on this matter I am entitled, before the House goes into recess and before we agree to this Adjournment motion, to remind the House of some of the powers which we have abandoned under the Treaties of Rome and Paris in respect of the steel industry.
We have renounced power to control investment in the private sector of that industry. The private sector is, of course, immensely important in Sheffield. We have also renounced power to give the British Steel Corporation directives on prices and directives on any complaint 299 from the private sector. In effect, the Government and the House no longer control the effective development of this important industry.
By contrast, the strength of the European Commission is immense. It is based on exclusive jurisdiction in a wide sphere of pricing and commercial policy, on its power to demand prior approval of certain investment projects and, of course, on the basic philosophy of competition enshrined in the appropriate treaties. The Commisison has control over specialisation agreements, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions. It has powers to fix prices and conditions of sale. It has certain powers in respect of loans from Community funds by which it can be selective and can steer development on the lines which the Commission, rather than the Government of the day or this House, considers desirable within the European Community.
In particular, there is a power under Article 58 of the Treaty of Paris for the Commission to impose a system of production quotas if there appears to be a crisis—the technical term is "manifest crisis"—in the production of steel within the Community. It is true that under this article, when taking a final decision on the question of production quotas, a recommendation by the Commission could be overruled or set aside, or perhaps modified, by the Council of Ministers. However, in these circumstances, since the application of Article 58 is now being discussed, and has in fact been invoked by one of the French Ministers, before any recess and before constituents in Sheffield at any rate, and probably in other parts of the country, cast their vote whether we should continue within the European Community, it is fair that the Government should make some pronouncement on the application of Article 58 of the Treaty of Paris. The Government should state whether we would accede to recommendations by the Commission if the production quotas involved the cessation of production or savage limitations on production in important steel producing plants in Britain, such as that in Scunthorpe or those elsewhere.
The matter has been discussed in the bulletin of the Community, in the document called Agence Europe. This points 300 out that there is not merely an economic issue here but a very important political issue—on which my constituents and the House are entitled to have the Government's views. Referring to the request of M. Jacques Ferry for the application of Article 58, this bulletin says:It is in fact thought in relevant Commission circles that on the one hand the short-term economic situation on the steel market has not yet become serious enough to warrant recourse to the measures laid down in the ECSC Article 58. These measures contradict the liberal policy which the Community is trying to promote at a time where the tariff negotiations are starting in the context of GATT. A limitation on imports … would in fact threaten to affect the Community's credibility in the field of trade policy and international trade which the Nine say they want to develop.As for the setting of production quotas, provided for in Article 58, the Commission's reticence may originate in the fact that there could be negative reactions in the United Kingdom where the opponents of Community membership could exploit the use of such power by the Commission which would be regarded as excessive and implying an abandoning of sovereignty during the campaign for the referendum on the maintenance of Great Britain within the Community.That is very fair comment.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
In relation to the case the hon. Gentleman is putting forward, is he aware of the large sums of money that Europe is advancing for the British steel industry?
§ Mr. Hooley
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to me, he would have heard me specifically refer to that fact. I also pointed out that by making these sums available the European institutions have certain powers to direct investment where they think fit, which may not be in directions which this House or my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet would think fit. The power to make loans gives certain powers to the lenders which may or may not be acceptable to this House and which, in the present context, are certainly not acceptable to me.
These articles and the proposals which are being floated are by no means academic considerations of treaty powers. In Sheffield we have already had a very unfortunate situation in recent months, when the European institutions intervened to prevent the British Steel Corporation from acquiring an important stake in the special steels sector of the Sheffield industry. This intervention aroused widespread resentment among the workers 301 involved in the firm concerned and consideration that Britain should think very carefully indeed before continuing within a treaty framework which so seriously limited the powers of the Government and of this House.
Finally, there is abroad a very serious suspicion that the very drastic and rather high-handed proposals of the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation for savage redundancies within the steel industry over a very short period and during a period of economic recession are not unconnected with our possible continuing membership of the European Community. It is believed that if the people of Britain do decide on 5th June that we should continue as a member of the Community, the British Steel Corporation will have powers to pursue its own policy on redundancy, investment and development, which this House and the Government will not be able to check.
In those circumstances I believe I am entitled to ask that before the House passes the motion for the recess, there should be a statement of Government policy on these matters.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
In opposing the motion, I intend to be very brief, but in being brief I would ask the Lord President not to underestimate the seriousness of the point I raise.
We all have many reasons for opposing the Adjournment motion. Mine is based on what I feel is the need to defend the reputation of the security forces in Northern Ireland, in particular the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Royal Military Police. I was horrified when I learned yesterday that three members of the RUC and a member of the Royal Military Police are having charges preferred against them arising out of their conduct in the course of duty. However, what caused me to be horrified was not the fact that charges were being preferred. It is right that charges should be preferred if there is a prima facie case to answer. The reason why I was horrified was the manner in which it was being done. We remember particularly the experience of a year ago when a member of the RUC was charged under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. There was fierce resentment in the 302 RUC that his case was being treated in the same way as that of a terrorist under laws and procedures designed to deal with terrorists. Indeed the RUC felt so strongly about it at the time that they withdrew their services from some aspects of their duty towards the courts.
This matter was clearly of concern to the Government at that time. It was duly considered by the Gardiner Committee. The Gardiner Committee has commented on it in paragraph 62 of its report. It is another of the incidents that makes one regret that we have not dealt with this very important report at a much earlier date. However, the Gardiner Committee felt that it should recommend to the Attorney-General that he exercise his discretion in certifying offences under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act when he considered it to be in the best interests of justice. I urge the Lord President to convey urgently to his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General the need to look at these four cases. I have heard from the Police Federation that their feelings are just as strong as they were a year ago, and no doubt the feelings in respect of the Royal Military Police are of a similar kind.
No one here is trying to evade the issue or to indulge in a cover up. What we are saying is that if members of the security forces have something to answer for, then their case should be heard in the ordinary way in the ordinary courts of the land, and they should be entitled to trial by jury. It may be a very small point, but it is one of very considerable importance to all of us. If we were asking our police and security forces to do what has already been referred to as a dirty job, it is up to all of us to see that they are fairly treated and that the full standards of British justice are applied to them.
I should like to refer briefly to another aspect of the Gardiner Committee's Report, and that is the special category prisoners. The Gardiner Committee had no difficulty in finding that the creation of such a category of prisoners was a serious mistake. Indeed, the Committee went so far as to say that it doubted the legality of the creation of such a status. That report was in our hands in January of this year, and to the best of my knowledge no consideration has been given to 303 remedying the serious mistakes, or to correcting what may be an illegality. Indeed, we seem to be just drifting, because the Price sisters, who were convicted of serious crimes under this jurisdiction, have now been transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland and have been accorded special category status. I find this quite extraordinary in the light of what the Gardiner Committee said.
I am concerned, too, from another aspect, because once the contents of the report became public quite naturally there was a great deal of discussion among prisoners about its import and among the families of prisoners. There have been suggestions from prison authorities and from Government sources that consideration has been given to the introduction of increased remission on a parole system similar to that prevailing in Great Britain. That naturally has built up hopes and anxieties in certain quarters, and everything is still in the air. It is a matter on which I feel we have a right to press for urgent action. We have a right to oppose the Adjournment motion. I hope that the Lord President will see that the necessary steps are taken without delay.
§ 6.04 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
I welcome what hon. Members from Northern Ireland have said on this question of the debate on this Motion because it seems to me that there are outstanding matters in Northern Ireland which will bear some sort of fruit over the next two or three months and which the House ought to be debating. I am a little concerned, however, that hon. Members, on the benches opposite at any rate, are again emphasising the security aspect in Northern Ireland rather than addressing themselves to the problem of unemployment, the problem of the economy in Northern Ireland and various other factors which the House ought to be debating in an overall consideration of the state of the British economy.
I will not deal with Northern Ireland in any depth. I will not deal with the question of world poverty, which is something this House never gets to grips with in an attempt to see how we can contribute to overcoming it. We touch on it in a peripheral way from time to time, 304 but we never get down to an appraisal of the issues involved. It would in itself be good grounds for delaying the Adjournment of the House if we were to have such a debate.
We could refer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) did earlier, to the lack of quality that appears to exist in some of the information we get from Government circles about the meaning and value of membership of the European Economic Community. It seems to me that some of the documents which do not see light of day have considerable significance in terms of allowing the people the maximum opportunity to decide "Yes" or "No" in the forthcoming referendum.
It is, one might suggest, a matter of lesser importance which I want to raise and which I think the House ought to debate before we go into recess, and it is not unconnected with the referendum on the Common Market. The Central Office of Information is a Government Department responsible for advertising and for giving notices to the Press from time to time about Government statements or Government policy. For example, if there is an increase in family allowances or a change in taxation, the Central Office of Information attempts to convey that information to as wide a range of people as possible.
In regard to the referendum, there is a postal vote available and it seems to me, and obviously to the COI, necessary to make known to the people the way in which they can apply for such a vote. All the national newspapers except one were used by the Central Office of Information for this purpose. The exception was the Morning Star
§ Mr. Thorne
The hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) says, "Surprise"; and it seems to me that that expresses in a word an attitude which I find completely unacceptable. What, in effect, is happening is that we are preventing the readership of the Morning Star from gaining access to information about postal voting in the referendum which we are prepared to provide for the readers of the Daily Express, The Times, and so on. In my view that is a form of discrimination 305 which is totally unacceptable in an institution which has always prided itself on its democratic status. If we are prepared today to accept this sort of discrimination, this sort of restriction on readers of the Morning Star, about whom tomorrow shall we be prepared to accept restrictions?
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Russell Kerr) says it will be the Labour Weekly. Quite possibly. It seems to me that our attitude towards a newspaper depends upon the sort of material it presents to the public. If it disseminates material which is critical of the establishment or of the values that seem to buttress our society, then it is regarded as open to question. I am trying to keep to the point.
§ Mr. Thorne
I will try harder, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The essence of my objection to the motion is that we should not adjourn on 23rd May but should stay in session in order to consider items of the utmost importance. I claim that discrimination against a national newspaper at a time when we are trying to provide the maximum information to the public on such a crucial issue is something we cannot tolerate.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
As Minister responsible for the information service, may I answer that point? This is a subject of interest to me as an ex-journalist. The difficulty with the Morning Star is not to do with its political view. The problem is that it will not give us its circulation figures upon which to judge the effectiveness or otherwise of its advertising. I can assure my hon. Friend that no newspaper, Left, Right or centre, receives any Government advertising unless it provides circulation figures.
§ Mr. Thorne
Is my hon. Friend prepared to make a further statement if I produce evidence to the effect that at 306 least three other newspapers with circulations smaller than that of the Morning Star have been used by the Central Office of Information to disseminate Government material?
§ Mr. Thorne
I rather suspect that they did. My hon. Friend seems to be saying that he knew that the circulation of those papers was smaller than that of the Morning Star yet nevertheless they were given advertisements. I do not know what the readership of the Morning Star is. The circulation is probably about 30,000, a small number. The number of people who read it might conceivably be 10 times that figure. That does not seem to be terribly important in relation to this issue, which concerns the fact that some people are being deprived of information which others will receive. It is on that basis that I urge that we should not go into recess until there has been opportunity to discuss the matter.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
Many of my constituents work in the city of Leicester and would be loth to see the House go into recess before a full statement is made by the right hon. Gentleman, first about the state of the knitwear industry and secondly about the state of the shoe trade, both of which are in a poor state. Many hon. Members have pressed hard for effective Government action. In answer to a Question put by me some weeks ago, the Prime Minister conceded that unfair trading was taking place and said that he intended to take action. No action has been taken so far.
It was said that working parties were to be set up. They have not been set up as far as I know. Letters have been going to and fro between various people in the knitwear industry, the Secretary of State for Industry and the Secretary of State for Trade. No significant action has been taken. Meanwhile substantial numbers of my constituents working in the knitwear and shoe factories in Leicester and the surrounding areas are on short time or are out of a job. I hope that the Lord President will impress upon his colleagues the need for an early statement.
307 I have written to the Government about the extremely unsatisfactory state which has arisen concerning the rating of caravans in East Lincolnshire. Many of my constituents who have caravans go there on holiday. They have now, for the first time, been served with notices of rating assessment as a result of a quirk in the law which has arisen from a recent decision. I have been in correspondence on their behalf, because many of them have written to me, with the East Lindsey District Council in whose area most of them live. The East Lindsey District Council has made it quite clear to me in a letter that it does not wish to charge those rates and has no administrative machinery so to do because not all the people who own the caravans live in East Lindsey. Many of them live in Leicestershire.
This situation requires emergency legislation. I have written to the Government about it. I hope that the Lord President will be able to say that before we go into recess emergency legislation will be introduced to deal with the problem.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) said that while he was on a mission in Germany he was not able to obtain certain documents relating to the Budget. I do not think that that could be regarded as an unreasonable deprivation. An hon. Member cannot be in two places at once. Many of the documents circulating at the time of the Budget debate are not taken up by hon. Members on the spot. If an hon. Member is anxious to obtain such documents at the earliest possible moment, he ought to be here to collect them.
The Lord President ought to pay attention to what could be a substantial economy. I refer to the circulation of parliamentary documents and papers to hon. Members. We get a lot of parliamentary papers in which we are not interested and which we do not want. It would be useful if many of those documents now automatically distributed were included on the pink slip so that hon. Members could obtain them on request. Large numbers of expensively-produced Bills are sent to hon. Members. Many 308 immediately go into the waste paper basket.
My next point relates to the considerable increase in postal charges. I represent a constituency which contains a large number of poor people who cannot afford the 7p which is required for a first-class letter. I suggest for the consideration of my right hon. Friend the possibility of a free postal service for the use of constituents who wish to write to their Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Does the hon. Gentleman seek this reform before the proposed recess? Will he relate his remarks to the motion?
§ Mr. Lipton
I should like the Lord President to make a statement on the subject before the recess, which is why I am raising the subject now. Such a move would help to establish a close relationship between hon. Members and their constituents. This is particularly important for electors who cannot afford the 7p needed for a first-class letter.
It might be argued that this method could be open to abuse by people wanting to circularize hon. Members, public relations officers and so on. There is an easy way to overcome that. A constituent writing to his Member should send his letter in a hand-written envelope on which there could be set out the constituents name and address. That would prevent abuse.
I come now to the subject of New Palace Yard on which I hope that my right hon. Friend will have the opportunity of making a statement on Monday because I have a Question tabled for answer by him then. The latest information I have been able to obtain about New Palace Yard was that 4,000 tons of topsoil had been delivered at a cost of £10,000 for the purpose of covering the surface. I should like to know when we shall be finished with these operations and when we shall be free of these people who have been hovering around for a long time at vast expense. If my right hon. Friend cannot give me the information now, I hope that he can do so on Monday.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
We have just listened to a characteristically interesting speech from the hon. Member for 309 Lambent, Central (Mr. Lipton). I wonder whether the suggestion that our constituents should have free postage to us is really greatly to be commended. I do not suppose for a moment that our constituents would welcome the consequences of such a proposal, which would undoubtedly be responsible for added secretarial services here.
I was more in sympathy with the hon. Gentleman when he commented on the extraordinary pantomime which has been going on in New Palace Yard for a very long time. It has been long drawn out, in the same way as many of our national affairs. It has been ill directed, going first one way and then another. A lot of earth was recently moved in order to make space for a fountain which had apparently been forgotten. The hon. Member is absolutely right to call attention to a long-drawn-out, inefficiently-conducted farce, which I hope will soon be over, because it is a very bad advertisement for the way this nation runs its business.
May I refer briefly to the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). I do not think that anything one could say in a short debate like this would be adequate or sufficient comment on the long-drawn-out agony of Northern Ireland. I hope very much that the Government will pay attention to the constant need to reassure opinion and try to keep it informed, so as to do something to hold back the tides of rumour and suspicion which I am sure have an undue influence upon affairs there. I understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, especially when he called for some defence of those whose care is the preservation of law and order.
It has been a somewhat varied debate. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) made a plea for an amendment of the law on rape. I do not believe that it would be within the capacity of the Government to secure this before the recess.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is not now in his place, made a speech which may have achieved a high point of interest at one 310 stage. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the hon. Member's speech on the whole was a fairly powerful argument for a prolonged and extended recess.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), in my absence, declared his opposition to the European Economic Community and expressed his concern that the interests of his steelworks constituents should be protected. I am certainly not the first person on either side of this House to remind people quite modestly that many of those in the public sector of industry are doing their level best to price themselves out of jobs and, in the course of it, doing great harm to our national interest.
I come now to the real "villain" in this debate, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). The Lord President rebuked him that he was really making just the kind of speech that did great damage to the pound. I thought that the Lord President was allowing his capacity for rage to get the better of him. We are in a democratic assembly here, and it was really not entirely surprising that during the course of the debate, when we are considering giving ourselves a fortnight's recess from our labors here, someone might mention the fact in passing that the economy is not as strong and robust as we would like it to be.
The suggestion from the Lord President that that very modest speech from the Liberal benches was somehow the kind of thing that caused our economic weakness and damage to the pound was surprising. I am bound to say that I do not believe that the hon. and learned Member said anything in the course of his speech that was not well known to any casual observer of our scene, and I should be inclined to acquit him—I hope he will accept this acquittal—of having wantonly caused damage to our national interests this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said in an eloquent speech—he was probably right—that there should be no adjournment before the Government had produced some sort of package of economic measures. At any rate, we shall await with interest what the Government have to say before and during the economic debate, which is now to take place on Thursday of next week.
311 My hon. Friend put the blame fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the present Government. This was despite having had the benefit, as I am sure he did, of listening to the Prime Minister's broadcast on Sunday. My hon. Friend very rightly pointed out—I hope that the Leader of the House will perhaps get this remedied next week—that we would like the Government to deal with the question of the inadequacy of the Estimates and the serious gaps in them. These Estimates have notably failed to provide for very substantial and well-known items of Government expenditure. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to point out that this kind of failure does much more damage to sterling and to the reputation of this country for honoring its obligations than any speeches made by backbench Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting what would be a complete break with practice—that the main Estimates should include every item of expenditure expected to arise during the year?
§ Mr. Peyton
No, I am not. But if the system of annual Estimates is to mean anything, it must attempt to overcome this inadequacy. The National Enterprise Board is down for £50 million. There must be some explanation of the total amount of Government expenditure and how the money is to be raised. That is all I am saying, and I hope the Government will take note of the point eloquently and clearly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who concluded his speech with the most gentle and restrained analysis of the individual responsibilities of particular Ministers.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), whose presence we now all so greatly miss, rose to his feet and, with the indignation of some not particularly attractive lady who has never had any proposals at all, said that he would not have a coalition. That was something that we on this side of the House will have to endure with courage. The hon. Gentleman's speech was chiefly notable for a depressing acceptance of the enduring nature of the reasons for our being in the troubles we are in today. He had nothing to suggest as to how 312 attitudes might be changed to give this country any hope of recovering.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) spoke with charity and understanding, of the need for Ministers to have a rest. He showed that remarkable perception for which he is known in diagnosing a certain tiredness in the Prime Minister, having obviously watched that television hour on Sunday. I make no comment on that, because I like to be known for my restraint.
My hon. Friend was right to point out that it is actions which are called for and not simply another debate. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend is looking forward to hearing what the Government have to say next week. He echoed the words of the Secretary of State for the Environment, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)—"The party's over". It is remarkable that words like that can be uttered by a senior Minister and cause hardly a ripple throughout the party of which he is one of the leaders.
I find it surprising that, during the course of this discussion about whether we should adjourn for a fortnight over Whitsun, so few Government supporters thought it necessary to mention the state of muddle, confusion, doubt and fear into which their Government have led the nation's affairs.
I return to the Leader of the House. He has no right whatever to rebuke anyone in this House for calling attention, in the restrained fashion that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery did, to the troubles of this country. Those troubles are not caused by any frankness or candor of speech in this House. They are caused by our constantly running away from the realities of economic life. The Leader of the House knows that. If he does not know it, he should do. The trouble is that the Government of which he is a leading representative will never face this fact.
Perhaps I might permit myself one remark about the Prime Minister's broadcast, and I put myself in order by saying that I hope we shall not have another before we go into recess. That broadcast made me think of someone driving along in a car and being asked what was round the next corner. All that the Prime Minister could do was look in 313 the rear mirror and say "We have just passed three motor cars and two container lorries". The possibility of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government looking ahead was shown then to be negligible. I wish that we had some reasonable ground for hoping that the fortnight's recess which we are obviously about to have would do something to bring the Government to their senses.
§ Mr. John Page
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office was right a little earlier to intervene from the Treasury Bench for three minutes on the matter of the Morning Star. As the curator or protector of back-benchers' rights, would the Leader of the House care to give those hon. Members who have been present throughout the debate one minute each in which to say what they have been waiting to say?
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short
There are a great many points to be replied to, and I shall do so as briefly as I can.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who is not with us now, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) all referred to the situation in Northern Ireland. They spoke about the Provisional IRA ceasefire and the problem caused by the despicable and cold-blooded murder of a police officer in Londonderry.
The Government's policy on this is quite clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been at pains to report to the House what has been happening. The House will recall his statements on 14th January, 5th February, 11th February and 12th March. In the course of one of them, my right hon. Friend said that a genuine and sustained cessation of violence would create a new situation and new opportunities for progress in Northern Ireland. He has also made it clear, following Saturday's tragic events, that the men of violence must take the consequences if they wish to go back to a campaign of violence.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East raised four cases. I shall pass on 314 what he said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members, especially the right hon. Member for Down, South, asked about a debate. I say at once that we have had much less time to debate Northern Ireland than I should have wished. But 10 per cent. of our time this Session so far has been devoted to Europe. The last general debate on Northern Ireland was on 5th December.
I invited the House to set up a Northern Ireland Committee, which it did. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that the Government do not consider the ceasefire appropriate for discussion in the Northern Ireland Committee. However, my right hon. Friend wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 22nd April and made a number of constructive suggestions of the kind referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston. South (Mr. Thorne). He suggested that the Northern Ireland Committee might discuss economic and industrial problems, housing, future development policy, education or agriculture. So far, however, my right hon. Friend has received no reply to that letter. I hope that very soon it will be possible for right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies to agree on one or more subjects to be debated in the Northern Ireland Committee.
§ Mr. Powell
Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government consider the most pressing of all the problems of Northern Ireland and one on which clarity is required to be unsuitable for debate in that Committee?
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Has the Leader of the House kept the official Opposition informed of these exchanges and of the progress, or lack of it, in setting up the Committee?
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Will the Leader of the House confirm that I wrote to him on 13th February suggesting this very subject, which we felt needed close examination in the Northern Ireland Committee? We have never received any explanation of why it was considered unsuitable. I should very much like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's explanation this evening.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of "Members", does he mean Northern Ireland Members? Is the Committee to be confined to Northern Ireland Members? Is that his present thinking?
§ Mr. Short
The House itself has decided the constitution of the Committee. If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at the motion which the House agreed, he will see how the Committee is composed.
I repeat what I said just now. I regret very much that we have not been able to devote more time to debating Northern Ireland, and I agree with all that the right hon. Member for Down, South said about the importance of debate. It was for this very reason that I set up the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned the case of rape, the Director of Public Prosecutions v Morgan and Others. The 316 Home Secretary is aware of the concern which has been expressed about this judgment and he recently explained to the House that he is studying it closely. As regards the law on rape generally, my right hon. Friend has it in mind as part of the programme of modernization and codification of the criminal law to refer the law on sexual offences to the Criminal Law Revision Committee to consider as soon as its other commitments permit. I hope, therefore, that not only the law on rape generally but this judgment, which concerns many people, will be considered.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) raised the general question of the economy. In view of what the right hon. Member for Evil (Mr. Peyton) said, I would say at once that of course I do not want to prevent responsible discussion. On a subject and at a time of such acute sensitivity, however, I feel that if the hon. and learned Member looks at his words tomorrow he will see that he was not being entirely responsible.
§ Mr. Peyton
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give way on this important point. I hope he will say to what words he objected. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson).
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman has said that I used some words which were irresponsible. I am surely entitled to know what they were. I do not think that that remark is justified. It is the right hon. Gentleman who is behaving irresponsibly.
§ Mr. Short
If the hon. and learned Gentleman reads his words tomorrow and regards his words as responsible, I am afraid that neither I nor many other hon. Members will agree with him.
The situation in the economy is serious—I said this last week at Question Time and the Chancellor spelled it out 317 in the Budget debate—but it is not by any means hopeless. There are many very hopeful signs. [Laughter.] The Conservative Party is living up to its usual behaviour in this House. It is the worst behaved Opposition that we have had in my 25 years here. Every other speaker in this debate has been heard in silence. When I am called upon to reply, perhaps I can at least have a fair hearing.
As I was saying, there are many hopeful signs. The balance of payments problem is improving rapidly. Company finance, because of what the Chancellor did in his two recent Budgets, has greatly improved, as has the money supply problem. With money supply, the picture remains one of controlled growth, well below the growth of gross domestic product in nominal terms. Over the three months to March, the wide definition—M3—rose by no more than 2¼ per cent. The other definition, M1, rose a little faster, a little more in line with transactions, but certainly not at a pace which would be regarded as adding fuel to the inflationary problem. Therefore, compared with the record of the last Government, there is a success story on the money supply. There are hopeful signs.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), said that there was no easy way out, and of course I agree. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said that it was a matter for the good sense of the British people. I entirely agree. The only way in which we can get out of our problem is by our own efforts.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury also said that a statutory incomes policy was no answer to our problems. I agree with him. The last Labour Government tried it, as did the Government of which he was a member at one time. In both cases the incomes policy came apart. For the last Government it ended in chaos with the three-day working week and the rest.
The hon. Member advocated massive cuts in public expenditure. He should tell us sometime—perhaps in the debate next week—what cuts he would make.
§ Mr. Short
Next week, if the hon. Gentleman gets an opportunity—and I 318 do not mean candle ends, either. They must be the sort of cuts which would make an impact on the kind of borrowing requirement that we inherited from his Government. He must tell us, first, the kind of massive public expenditure cuts that he would make and then what the result would be on employment. The Conservative Party cannot go on advocating mass public expenditure cuts without spelling out the consequences for employment.
§ Mr. Ridley
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman immediately what public expenditure I would cut—food subsidies, fuel subsidies, housing subsidies, the whole of the "Wedgwood Bennery" programme and the nationalisation on the scale predicted by the present Government. That would go half way towards meeting the needs.
§ Mr. Short
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would answer my second question. What would that mean for the cost of living and employment? He must give us the second instalment next week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) talked about the unfinished business in this Parliament. All the unfinished business will be completed by the end of this Session.
My hon. Friend also referred to debates on the EEC. As I said earlier, so far this Session we have spent 10 per cent. of our parliamentary time on Europe. That is a pretty fair quota. There is a backlog at the moment, but that backlog will be cleared up, certainly after the referendum. As for the order which was dropped because it lacked one vote, I am afraid that the House has debated that matter and I cannot find any more time for it.
The debate on the EEC budget was delayed because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was unable to give evidence to the Select Committee at the time, being deeply involved in the Finance Bill. He has recently been able to give his evidence, which the Select Committee has published in a special report. In the light of that evidence it is the Government's intention to debate the EEC budget as soon as possible. I hope that that will be shortly after the recess.
§ Mr. Spearing
I also mentioned the European Monetary Co-operation Fund, 319 having given notice of my intention to do so.
§ Mr. Short
I am afraid that I did not get notice of that, but perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) raised the question of steel closure and redundancies. The BSC is facing serious problems as a result of the sharp downturn in demand for steel. When its representatives met the TUC Steel Committee on 5th May, they put forward proposals that would involve the loss of between 16,500 and 20,000 jobs this year. Those proposals were rejected by the TUC Steel Committee. I understand that the executives of the constituent unions are now discussing the situation in preparation for a further meeting between the corporation and the steel committee on 19th May.
The Government are deeply concerned about the situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry wrote to the Chairman of the BSC on 6th May. In reply he received three assurances—first, that no action taken to meet the recession will pre-empt the outcome of the Government's closure review; second, that any plants closed for lack of demand will be kept in a state enabling them to be reopened when demand improves, unless their permanent closure has been decided upon as part of the closure review; and third, that the BSC will take account of the union's views and any alternatives which they may suggest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) also mentioned the Government's review. The relationship between the Government and the British Steel Corporation cannot be considered simply in terms of legal powers. The corporation has given its full co-operation to Lord Beswick's review of the industry, which involved consideration of the corporation's development programme and its social consequences.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme also mentioned the statement which was announced to be made today. I regret that, at very short notice, the House was disappointed at not hearing that statement on industrial demo 320 cracy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade arrived back too late from an engagement in Liverpool to make some necessary amendments, but he hopes to make the statement before the recess. I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The hon. Member for Woking made one of the most attractive speeches in the whole debate. He believed that a longer recess was a good idea, and I very much agree. Many right hon. and hon. Members will be deeply involved in the referendum. I certainly hope that they will be, and that they will play a full part on one side or the other and try to get a large turn-out and create much interest.
The House has still a great deal of business to deal with before the end of the Session. Therefore, two weeks is the most we can manage to have for the recess, but I greatly regret having to say that.
The hon. Member for Woking spoke about the enormous inflationary pressures inherent in the Government's policies.
§ Mr. Short
Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten what the Labour Government inherited from the Government of which he was a member? This Government inherited only 14 months ago an enormous deficit on our balance of trade. Has he forgotten the enormous borrowing requirement? Has he forgotten the way in which his Government were spending money like water?
§ Mr. Onslow
Is the right hon. Gentleman's memory so deficient that he has forgotten—if he cares to put it in these terms—the Ossa he piled upon Pelion, the housing subsidies, food subsidies, nationalisation and all the folly and foolishness emanating week by week from the programmes for which he is responsible?
§ Mr. Short
If it is folly and foolishness to protect people who are worse off from 321 the policies which we inherited from the Tories, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman talked about inflationary elements inherent in our policies. Let me remind him once more of the balance of payments deficit and the enormous borrowing requirement—the biggest ever in our history in peace and war under the Conservative administration. Does he remember the last year and a half of his Government when they were spending money like water in every direction?
§ Mr. Short
I did not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I sat here and took it. The right hon. Gentleman has to learn to do that. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember—because he was a prominent member of that Government—the 2 million unemployed when the Conservatives lost the election and the three-day working week throughout most of the country? That is what the present Government inherited.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about a motor car. It was rather an obscure metaphor, but the motor car we inherited and had to jump on was travelling at 100 miles an hour, out of control, down a mountain pass. It is not remarkable that we have not got it under control yet. That is a much more appropriate metaphor, it the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about motor cars. If the Conservatives talk about the inflationary elements inherent in this Government's policies, they might look at some of the things we inherited from them.
§ Mr. Peyton
If the right hon. Gentleman is to make much, as he has done continually, of the borrowing requirement, he might remember what happened. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Government said that he aimed to halve an admittedly high borrowing requirement which they inherited from the Conservatives. However, the borrowing requirement has more than doubled. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that if he wants to talk on this subject.
§ Mr. Short
This was mostly in social benefits. One of the biggest additions to the borrowing requirement was for the increase to pensioners, who had to be protected from what we inherited. The right hon. Gentleman has now admitted that there was an admittedly high borrowing 322 requirement. It was the biggest in peace or war. That is what we inherited from the Conservatives. It is not remarkable that it is still high.
I turn to a calmer subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) raised the question of the decision of the Court of Appeal today. This is a complex area of the law, and I do not wish to comment on the effect of a judgment delivered only a few hours ago. The Government have had no opportunity to see the judgment. The majority of demonstrations do not obstruct passage along the highway, and the majority of public meetings do not take place on the highway. I see no reason why hon. Members should feel themselves inhibited by the law from expressing their views. However, this judgment will be fully considered by the Government urgently.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised the question of inshore fishing limits. I accept that there is a real fear in the Western Isles, around Scotland and in my own area about this matter, and I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Member's request for a debate on the subject. I shall try to fit one in before the end of the Session.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) raised the question of the exchange rate and asked for a debate on this subject. However, I have already said that we hope to find an opportunity next week for a full day's debate on the economy. This will provide an appropriate opportunity to deploy the kind of arguments that he raised today.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) raised three very useful points, the sort of points that I believe an Adjournment debate is all about. First, he raised the question of the Maxwell Stamp Report. We accept that there is a demand for legislation on taxis and private hire cars, both in London and in the provinces. In formulating draft proposals on this subject we shall certainly take into account the recommendations of the report. I shall pass on to the appropriate Minister what the hon. Gentleman said.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of Members abroad. I thought that I had gone quite a long way to meet his 323 wishes in this matter. I arranged for the Ministry of Defence to fly the documents out on, I believe, the Wednesday morning. They were delivered to the hon. Gentleman and members of the Committee in Germany that Wednesday.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
The right hon. Gentleman did not help. The Ministry of Defence suddenly found that there was a plane going out. I am trying to establish the principle. I appreciate that he was trying to help, but it was the Ministry that suddenly found that the plane was going.
§ Mr. Short
I arranged for the documents to be put on that plane. That is not much help, but at least I did that.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment which included the phrase "The party's over". Local authorities are responsible for a major sector of public spending, and therefore any restraint in public expenditure must affect them. My right hon. Friend was simply making that point. The figures he gave were entirely accurate. He was perfectly entitled to make that point. Indeed, we are all entitled to make it over and over again.
The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) raised the important and compassionate point of compensation for Service men killed or injured in Northern Ireland. The House will be indebted to him for raising this matter in such a well-researched and moderate way and will have a good deal of sympathy with what he said. Compensation to people is payable in Northern Ireland at present under the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said on 12th March that the operation of this Act was currently under review. I have just noticed that on the Order Paper for Thursday of this week there is a Question down to my right hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). I should not like to anticipate the reply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley raised the question of steel. I have already referred to closures. He 324 also raised the problem of steel in the EEC. I should like to make it absolutely clear that there has been no pressure from the Commission to make cuts in manpower in the British steel industry. The Commission has no power on its own to order a cutback in production. Under Article 58 of the ECSC Treaty, the assent of the Council of Ministers is needed for any system of production quotas. No British Minister would agree to any decision which would damage the interests of the British Steel Corporation. The suggestion that the problem is being hushed up until after the referendum has absolutely no foundation. The corporation's proposals for cuts in manpower, which the Government have viewed with deep concern, were put forward in the light of its own assessment of the industry's position.
There is a problem about steel in the EEC which was not resolved in the renegotiation. If the referendum decision is to remain in, we must continue the renegotiation on steel. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, this may involve revision of the treaty. I should have thought my hon. Friend would have welcomed that assurance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) raised the question of injustice to certain newspapers which cannot get Government advertising. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office has given the correct and effective reply. If my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South arranges for us to receive accurate circulation figures for those newspapers, we shall consider the problem. I considered it 10 years ago, when I put the same point and never received the circulation figures.
The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) spoke about the textile industry. The Government are well aware of the seriousness of the present situation in the industry, and I know that many hon. Members are worried about it. We recognise that when demand for its products is at its present low level, imports have a particularly significant effect. We have demonstrated our readiness to add to the industry's already substantial level of protection from low-cost imports whenever further restrictions can be justified. We recently introduced import surveillance arrangements which will enable us to 325 monitor promptly and precisely a wide range of textile imports and which will help us to decide what further action, if any, may be necessary.
The British Textile Confederation has proposed a 20 per cent. cut across the board on the level of imports. Hon. Members have vigorously pursued their campaign in support of that proposal. Such restrictions would have major implications for Government policy. However, we are carefully considering all the possible consequences of the proposal before reaching a decision.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the footwear industry, of imports of men's leather footwear from Eastern Europe in particular. We are well aware that the high level of imports is causing great concern to the United Kingdom footwear industry. We have been holding a series of consultations with Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania about the level of their exports of men's leather footwear to the United Kingdom. The discussions have taken longer than we would have wished but it is expected to be possible very shortly to make an announcement about their outcome. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find the announcement to his satisfaction.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of mobile homes. There is a point here. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House last Friday when the Mobile Homes Bill was discussed. He will see at column 182 of the Official Report for 9th May that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment replied on that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) made two useful suggestions, one to save money, which I shall consider, and the other to spend money by providing envelopes for constituents to write to their Members. When I was Postmaster-General in the last Labour Government I tried out a similar idea on a modest scale for retired people and people living alone. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to see what she thinks about it.
I am as much concerned as my hon. Friend about New Palace Yard. I understand that it is likely to be finished in the 326 autumn. The lime trees are to be pleached, but it will be some time before they reach out their arms to grasp each other.
On that note, I commend the motion to the House.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer to Her Majesty's Household)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
The right hon. Gentleman knows of my interest in a very human matter. I have done my best to raise with him whether we may have a definitive statement about our attitude towards the Vietnamese refugees, with particular reference to those stranded in Hong Kong. When I asked the right hon. Gentleman about the matter a few days ago, I think that he misunderstood. He referred me to a general Written Question, which I could not have seen then and which made it clear that the only refugees coming here would be those with close ties and connections with this country. There are obviously not many of them. As no such limitations were placed on the Chilean refugees, we are entitled to a statement to make sure that there is no element of double standards. These are matters of real hardship involving many thousands of people, including some for whom we have direct responsibility as the colonial Government.
§ Mr. Short
I know that the hon. Gentleman is very concerned about the question, as are a number of hon. Members. I replied off the cuff last Thursday. I remembered a Written Question down for that day, and I am afraid I breached the rules of order by quoting the answer. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for that. I realise that it was not quite on the point he was making. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary what the hon. Gentleman has said and put the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to him.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday 23rd May do adjourn till Monday 9th June.