HC Deb 09 April 1976 vol 909 cc779-808

11.4 a.m.

Mr. John Storehouse (Walsall, North)

I beg to move, That this House, concerned about the continued decline in the economic, social and philosophical health of England, calls for inspired leadership to reverse this trend; and believes that an early general election is an essential first step in the establishment of a firm base for such leadership. This motion is concerned with conditions in England, which has suffered a most grievous decline over the past three decades; that decline has been particularly marked during the past 12 years. It has affected almost every aspect of our life. Although some material standards have been improved since 1946, it cannot be said that the majority of the citizens of England are significantly happier. Far from it.

There is a tension, a disquiet and a dismay in the nation which can be seen in the strain on the faces of the ordinary people. In the debates in this House reference is often made to specific aspects of the country's problems. Hon. Members quote statistics, speak of social policy or give examples of the performance of public or private industry to illustrate an argument or, more usually, to score a political point against the other side.

There are two overriding weaknesses in this customary technique of speech-making. First, it neglects the philosophical context of England's decay and, secondly, it resorts to buck-passing of responsibility. The people outside this House, apart from the tiny minority of party activists, are fed up with this name-calling and bickering, as though one side was wholly noble and good and the other callous, incompetent and cruel. The bad images that each major party strives to create about the others are often mani- festly unfair and maliciously contrived. It would be more fruitful if party spokesmen and Ministers began to analyse their own shortcomings rather than to adopt the cheap custom of disguising their own inadequacies and failures by slinging mud at opponents.

Once upon a time this party political squabbling might have had some merit by helping to identify the issues about which the country had to make decisions. If that were once true, it is certainly not true today. The squalid party political muck-raking in which so many otherwise normal and decent men, and now women, engage is almost totally irrelevant to the problems which we face. The country is dispirited about the parliamentary process which is distracted by the party games from getting to grips with the central issues. The country is disillusioned about politicians because of the humbug and hypocrisy in which they constantly engage.

There are outstanding exceptions, of course, but most party politicians do not tell the whole truth, as they know it, because their only priority is to cling to some personal position or to manœuvre to achieve promotion in the preferment stakes. The men of principle and purpose are shunted into the sidings or culsde-sac and the compromisers and the manipulators stay to operate the engines of power. But, alas, they have no destination. Their purpose is not to achieve some inspiring goal. It is not even to master contemporary problems. The motivation of policitions generally—I accept that there are some exceptions—is merely to survive until next week, next month or next year, constantly adjusting their stance according to the prevailing wind.

That is why many of the brutal facts of England's decay never get through to the people. They are obscured or lost in the fog created by the politicians. How can the people respond when they are not told the truth or when it is obvious that the leaders are frightened to face up to some powerful vested interest which, for its own reasons, does not want the truth to come out? What this country needs is the fresh air of frankness and honesty to blow away the dank mists of callow deceit. Let the people breath and think again. The time for bland soft soap has passed.

The motion refers to England rather than to the United Kingdom because England's interests have been neglected. A great deal of time is spent in our debates discussing Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, so much time that we tend to forget that England is the most populous of the four parts of the Union and has for a generation subsidised the other three countries. I have no quarrel with those other countries, and I do not want to pick one. I do not want to turn this debate into a debate on devolution except to say in passing that if the Scots choose independence, as I believe they will within the next five to 10 years, good luck to them. I can understand the frustration they must feel in Edinburgh or Troon with the tedious bureaucracy of Whitehall. I appreciate how they long to be severed from the arrogance and pettiness of the office-servers in the South. There are also many English people who want to be free of this incubus.

Arguments used in England against Scotland's independence are usually based on the expectation of North Sea oil, as though North Sea oil will be the salvation of all our problems. That is not so. We can find the solution for an economic recovery only within ourselves, and North Sea oil is very marginal to the problem. It also falls on two grounds.

First, whichever country takes on the investment in the North Sea will also take on the liabilities, and the servicing of the debts which have been incurred for the exploitation of North Sea oil will be a very great burden. Furthermore, the value of North Sea oil to Scotland or to England still has to be defined, and there are strong arguments put forward, particularly by Dr. Frank Hansford-Miller, who speaks out for England on this issue, that if the line is drawn according to international custom many of the fields in the North Sea will fall to England and will not be in Scotland.

I quote what Dr. Hansford-Miller wrote last year in the November issue of Tribune: By International Maritime Law, supported by the International Court at The Hague, the boundary line between oil zones on the continental shelf in the North Sea is the prolongation of the land boundary into and under the sea. European countries' oil zones have been delineated in this way. The land frontier between England and Scotland is on a bearing of 035 degrees, i.e. degrees East of North, and this projected out into the North Sea brings Forties, Montrose, Argyll, Andrew, Maureen, Lomond, Auk and Josephine oil fields, and the southern gas fields, into England's waters. Scotland, in fact, has very little oil—Claymore and Piper only—and no gas, most of the remainder being in Shetland's waters, and Shetland is not Scots at all but Norse. We have failed for the past hundreds of years to find a solution to the sectarian conflicts in the unhappy Province of Northern Ireland, but the conflicts have been immeasurably worse during the last eight years than ever before. The solution is just as likely to be found within the context of a United Europe to which both parts of Ireland belong as from England's continuing to accept the burden of direct rule from Whitehall.

I note that the Government have completely abdicated their Front Bench. No Minister seems to be in attendance. That is a commentary on the disdain with which they regard the House of Commons. I think that the House will live to regret that absence.

I put the emphasis on England because I believe that the deep problems of the other countries can be best solved outside England. It would now be constructive for the English, whom I define as all those who live and work in England, to concentrate on improving the conditions of this land rather than debilitating England by trying vainly to master the passions and idiosyncrasies of others. Let us make no bones about it. England, on the Underground and in the restaurants, is an unsafe and unhappy country because we have been infected by the Irish madness. It would be better for us if that madness could be exorcised. It amazes me that we do not see this situation in its true perspective. The natural complacency—some would call it phlegm—of the British enables us to close our minds to the facts.

What are the facts? The brutal fact is that there is a greater level of violence and political terrorism in this country than there is in any other country in Western Europe. The statistics are frightening. A Written Answer from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shows that in the past eight years civilian deaths in Northern Ireland totalled 1,108, RUC deaths 76, and Army and UDR deaths 309. That makes a total in Northern Ireland of 1,493 deaths from terrorism. In Great Britain, according to a Written Answer last night from the Home Secretary, there have since 1972 been 61 deaths as a result of political terrorism. The total for the whole United Kingdom is 1,554 deaths. We have never known anything like that in British history, even during the Irish troubles of the 1920s and before.

The deaths from terrorism in the rest of Western Europe were as follows during the last eight years: Belgium 1, Germany 33; Greece, with all the turmoil, 17; Italy 85; Holland 4; Portugal, where there has been a revolution, 17; and Spain, which is often in the news because of the changes there, 101. No country in Western Europe has had even one-tenth of the deaths from terrorism which we have suffered.

The economic facts of life are likewise frightening. The figures I shall quote are based on research from the best available sources, and I am grateful to the Library for providing valuable assistance in that research. Exact comparisons between countries are impossible because they depend upon factors which are not always quantifiable and also on fluctuating exchange rates, but the statistics available reveal trends in stark reality and point in a direction almost too horrible to contemplate.

For purposes of comparison I have chosen eight countries—two highly-populated countries off a large land mass both of which lost their empires though in totally different circumstances—Japan and the United Kingdom; three countries in Europe with a similar population to ours—Germany, Italy and France, two of which were badly affected by the last war, Germany having been truncated as a result; two smaller European countries, Holland and Denmark; and the United States of America. I could have chosen another 18 countries with similar problems to our own, but I do not think that the result would have shown any different trend.

In 1948 the United States had a population of 147 million, a gross product of $261,200 million and an annual income per head of $1,774. The United Kingdom was next in line, with an annual per capita income of $967 deduced from a gross product of $48,360 million. At that time the population of the United Kingdom was 50 million. Next in line was Denmark with $878 per capita income, Holland $604, France $603, West Germany $466, Italy $303 and Japan $68. Japan was the lowest in the league by a long way.

The United Kingdom's per capita income in 1948 was slightly over half that of the United States but ahead of all the other countries in my list. It was twice the German figure, three times the Italian, and 14 times the Japanese. By 1951, however, the United Kingdom had dropped from second place in the league to fourth, behind France and Denmark. By 1964, West Germany had crept ahead and the United Kingdom was in fifth place.

By 1975 the United Kingdom had dropped to seventh place, with a per capita income of $3,451, based upon a population of 56 million and a gross national product of $193,000 million. Only Italy now has a lower per capita income than the United Kingdom in the list of eight. But Italy has climbed from one-third of the United Kingdom standard to over two-thirds. Japan, which used to be far behind up, has streaked ahead, with its income per head nearly one-fifth greater than that of the United Kingdom.

It used to be one of the myths when I was young that the Japanese competed on a bowl of rice a day. That is certainly no longer the case. As I walk to the House every day and cross the Thames, I pass groups of working-class Japanese tourists clutching their high-class cameras and photographing the Palace of Westminster. Tens of thousands of them will be coming this year in jumbo jets. Precious few British tourists will be going on package tours to Japan.

Little Denmark's per capita income is $7,118, proving that a country does not have to be big or endowed with natural resources to achieve high standards. West Germany has now $6,964 per head, France $6,288 and Holland $5,948. All the countries with which the United Kingdom can be compared are now well ahead of us. Our situation for growth in 1948 was better than most of the others, but the opportunity was thrown away.

The reason for our decline can be found in the figures for manufacturing employment and output. Here again I am grateful to the Library for what it has produced. In 1948, there were 7,709,000 employees in manufacturing industry in Britain and the manufacturing output was $15,000 million, which means an output per head per worker of $1,969. In the league with these other countries in 1948, the United States was ahead of us with 14,292 workers and $5,198 output per worker and Denmark was ahead with $2,614 output per head. The rest were well behind—Japan was $272 per head. By 1951, the output per head of the United States had jumped to $6,798 with 16 million workers, but the output for the United Kingdom was only $1,895, showing that the rot had set in already before 1951. It has dropped since then. Other countries were going ahead. In Japan, output per head jumped from $272 to $842.

When we move on to 1964, we find that the United Kingdom had dropped to sixth place in the league because by then West Germany was ahead of us, with $5,512 output per head in manufacturing industry. Figures show also that Japan had jumped from $2,887 output per manufacturing worker.

For 1974 and 1975, the figure—the latest available—demonstrate how far we have dropped behind. It is frightening. By this time, Japan has become top of the league with a phenomenal output of $22,550 per worker employed in manufacturing. The United States is second with $19,825 and West Germany is third with $19,441. Then come France with $14,412, Denmark with $10,589 and Holland with $9,299. The United Kingdom is bottom of the league, along with Italy, with $7,456 output per head.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

Will the right hon. Member be good enough to say what contribution he has made during the last year or two to arresting the continued decline in the economic, social and philosophical health of England?

Mr. Stonehouse

That is a typically trite remark.

Mr. Lipton

Answer it.

Mr. Stonehouse

It does not become the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) to make it. During the last year I suffered a breakdown. I explained to the House—a fuller House than we have today—the causes of my breakdown, which were summarised as a collapse of the ideals for which I worked for over 18 years in this House. I am not going to go over that again. But before that time I worked very hard as a Member of Parliament and very hard as a Minister, and one of the achievements I had as a Minister in helping to arrest this decline was achieving the biggest-ever export orders in the Middle East.

I have no apology to make about the work I did in that time. I have already apologised to the House for the fact that I had a breakdown, and I think I am now performing some service as a result of my breakdown, in seeing things in greater clarity than I did before, in drawing attention to some of the humbug which exists in this House. If I may say so, the hon. Member is a very perfect example of humbug many times.

Mr. Lipton

Answer the question. Stop all that nonsense.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not in order to refer to any hon. Member as a humbug.

Mr. Lipton

Everyone is a humbug except you.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No one is a humbug officially in this place.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member has achieved his purpose of securing his name in the evening newspapers, which is what he does from time to time. We know his tricks. He is a very amusing Member and we are all glad to have him in the House during his period of retirement from active political life. But he must acknowledge that there is a great deal of dishonesty and hypocrisy in our political life, and I intend to draw attention to some of it in my speech.

The point I am trying to make, and from which the hon. Gentleman is deliberately distracting himself because he does not want to face it, is that, whereas other industrial countries have increased their manufacturing employment and at the same time their output per man, our manufacturing employment today, at 7,705,000, has virtually remained static for three decades despite an increase in our overall population. Our output per man has increased only three and a half times since 1948. There has been a tenfold increase in West Germany during this period in output per man, and a hundredfold increase in Japan.

One other significant fact that emerges from these figures—as I said before, the rot set in a long time ago—is that between 1948 and 1951 output per man actually decreased. Therefore, it is a myth to blame it all on 13 wasted years of Tory Government. That is one of the myths perpetrated by the Labour Party. The decline actually started well before 1951.

One of the reasons why our manufacturing employment is static is that more and more of our people have been sucked into the bureaucracy; the growth in the number of bureaucrats is phenomenal. It is the only growth industry we have. Taking the last 12 years as an example, the non-industrial Civil Service has gone up by 30 per cent. This is despite an investment in 200 computers.

The computers were supposed to save manpower. In fact, the Civil Service has achieved the truly remarkable feat of increasing the size of the bureaucracy to service the computers, rather than the computers serving to make the bureaucracy more efficient. No less than £23 million was spent of computers by central administration in the last year. Clearly, that expenditure has not been cost effective in saving manpower.

The story is certainly true also of photo-copying machines. In a Written Answer to a Question on 1st April 1976, the Minister of State, Civil Service Department showed that in. 1969–70 expenditure on photo-copying machines for the Civil Service was £1.8 million. It increased year by year until in 1975–76 it reached £5.7 million. We now have 10 copies made where two used to be made before, and 50 where five used to be made. Forms and paper are clogging up the machine. That is what is suffocating the country.

Ministers are sensitive when hon. Members attack the inefficiencies and waste of the Civil Service as though these people must somehow be immune from the rules of efficiency which should govern other activities in our society. In fact, the growth of the crushing bureaucracy is central to our problem, and we shall not solve our manufacturing weaknesses until the size and the burden of the bureaucracy is reduced.

The same applies to the municipal services. There were 1½ million employees in 1964. In 1976 there are 2½ million. This comes after a period of municipal reorganisation which, we were told by the experts, would save on manpower and promote efficiency. Heaven save us from experts. The so-called reforms pushed through by the late Dick Crossman were an expensive blunder.

The last Prime Minister, in a speech at Eastbourne, referred to the problem of overmanning in the municipal services, but he did nothing effective about it. Frankly, the cancer should be cut out at its roots, but that would mean tackling entrenched vested interests, and Ministers are reluctant to do that.

The growth of the bureaucracy is, of course, not confined to the public sector. It exists in private industry also. But it tends to be worse in public enterprise, because in that sector the unions are better able to protect their positions and stop the adoption of efficient techniques. I saw that for myself when I was Postmaster-General. I realised how difficult it was for anyone to break down the vested interests of the Post Office unions and to destroy the overmanning which blatantly exists in that sector.

The fact is that we have failed to achieve efficiency in the public sector. This, combined with the fact that the public sector employment, using 1973 figures, is 6.5 million people out of a total employed force of 24.9 million, tends to diminish our total performance as a nation. Our public sector employment, at 26.3 per cent., is one of the highest in the Western world.

It is one of the great misfortunes of political life in this country that, because of the structure of our parties and the fact that one of them depends on the trade unions for financial and activist support, it is extremely difficult to get any positive action on this key question of public sector bureaucracy and inefficiency. It has become a sacred cow in our society. Once the bureaucracy gets a hold, it is like a pernicious cancer and it is difficult to dislodge.

Last week, in an Adjournment debate, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) referred to the large number of forms which are sent round to small firms. He mentioned the weight of these forms. Referring to a small firm in his constituency with fewer than 40 employees, he said that in one week it received 25 official forms, booklets of advice and sheets of instructions. This is just one week's intake."—[Official Report, 2nd April 1976; Vol. 908, c. 1869.] The reply given by the Minister of State. Department of Industry to that attack was absolutely puerile.

We need ruthless surgery to get rid of the excessive form-filling mania that we have in this country. Let us follow the example of Marks and Spencer, which some years ago slashed its use of forms overnight and as a result became more efficient.

To return to the central theme, the decline of England is also demonstrated by the shocking decline in the value of the £ sterling. Here I am grateful to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who put down a Question which was given a Written Answer on 5th April. The answer from the then Paymaster-General shows that since 1963 the value of sterling has dropped against every other major currency in the world, even against the lira. According to the tables supplied in the answer, however, there was no significant drop between 1956 and 1963. For instance, as against the United States dollar, where the figures were 2.78 in 1956 and 2.79 in 1963, there was actually an increase in the value of sterling.

The decline came after 1963, and we have some really frightening figures. From 1964 to 1975 the number of deutschemarks to the pound fell from 11.1 to 5.3. This is a decrease of 50.9 per cent. The decrease since then has been just as drastic. In just one year there has been a drop to 4.75. That is equal to a drop of 12.8 per cent, in the last 12 months. Since these figures were first produced by the Library, we have seen an even more serious trend.

An article in The Times today says that The pound resumed its headlong decline on the world's currency markets yesterday as concern mounted among foreign bankers over the cool response by trade union leaders to the Chancellor's Budget offer of tax relief in return for 3 per cent, pay increases. Monetary authorities in London appear to have been taken completely by surprise at the sudden wave of selling which developed in mid-afternoon. By the close of trading the pound was displaying a further fall against the dollar of 2 United States cents, closing in London at $1.8435. An hour later another ¾ cent had been wiped off the pound's external value in New York trading. Compared with last night's London closing level the pound has now dropped 18 cents against the dollar since the beginning of March—a fall of 9 per cent. That shows the extent of the decline and the ebbing confidence of the rest of the world in Britain's capacity to put its house in order.

The economic decline to which I refer in my motion is quite adequately proven by the figures I have given. The social decline is proven by the break-up in standdards of conduct, the growth of terrorism, unofficial strikes, political strikes and the class war. The country, as we see with sadness, is riddled with envy, distrust and, in some cases, hatred between communities. Philosophically the country is without a sense of direction, unless it is that we now consciously accept the culture of the bingo halls, "Crossroads" and "Coronation Street", and dominated all the time by a narrow materialism.

Today in England we live in a blinkered society with nearly everyone—politicians, trade union leaders, business heads and professional men—pursuing his own interests, protecting his own group or his own class, and refusing to understand the concerns of the rest of society. People cannot, and they do not want to, see the totality of the situation we are in because it is too frightening to them. Furthermore, no leaders have emerged who are prepared to spell out the brutal truth that we are in danger of becoming a nation in decay. If we do not come to our senses, overseas countries will tell us in no uncertain terms what our position is.

The Government and public authorities now owe £20,000 million to overseas creditors. That is about £1,500 for every family in the country. It is a crushing weight of debt. Not only do we pay interest on it; we are bound under the loan agreements to repay two-thirds of these debts in foreign currency, mostly in deutschemarks, Swiss francs and dollars, so that the burden of the loans is that much greater.

The inflationary effect of this continuous devaluation, particularly that of last month, is that the debts we have already incurred have to be paid at a higher price in terms of foreign currency, and we face the awful spectre that we may soon reach the abysmal position of many Third World countries where the money we borrow will be completely used up in paying the debt interest. Last month we borrowed £1,000 million from the IMF. According to The Times, that was all used up in trying to bolster the sterling rate. Must we wait for other countries to impose reform upon us? What is the answer? The solutions are not easy because the problem is deeply ingrained.

Unlike Germany, France and Japan, we have not yet accepted the end of Empire. Too many of us live in the past that is gone. Our priorities should be, firstly, to have more honesty and fewer lies from our political leaders. They should cut out the party games and leave in the wardrobe the cloaks of deceit which they wear. I should like to quote from the speeches of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson), of the last few months to show the sort of humbug and hyprocrisy in which the leaders engage. Of course, it is not confined to him. Most of the others do it.

On 24th January the right hon. Member made a speech to the Labour Party at Cardiff. He said: The unemployment figures published this week for Great Britain are an indicator of the depths that the recession has reached. Although the signs now are that the slump may be beginning to give way to a slow process of recovery, it will be many months before higher production, and the higher consumption we have called for to sustain that higher production, begins to be reflected in a significant fall in the unemployment figures. There was an edging there towards an honest description of the position. But then he got carried away with a bitter party political attack on the Tories. Rather than face up to the real issue, he had to engage in the attack.

In attacking the Shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Gentleman said: Then what about unemployment? Well you can guess by now what their answer to that will be. They will reduce unemployment by increasing it. And only yesterday we read that Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Shadow Chancellor, was telling his party workers that the Conservatives wanted cuts in public expenditure and they wanted them now. He said—and I quote his exact words—' There is no escaping from the fact that this will increase unemployment in the short term'. That was the former Prime Minister attacking the Opposition in January, and then on 6th March speaking in Scarborough. Would hon. Gentlemen like to join me on the Treasury Bench?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must leave the Government Front Bench and return to the place from which he was addressing the House.

Mr. Stonehouse

I understand, Mr. Speaker, that under the rules of the House there is no objection to an hon. Member speaking from this——

Mr. Speaker

Order. When I am on my feet, the right hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. It is unprecedented, to say the least, for an hon. Member to walk across the Floor of the House in that demonstrative fashion when he is already addressing the House from one place. This House is based on courtesy, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who must obviously be concluding his speech, to conclude it from his original place and not from the Treasury Front Bench.

Mr. Stonehouse

There is a precedent for what I am doing, Mr. Speaker. Some years ago Dame Irene Ward, then the Member for Tynemouth, took her seat on the Front Bench as a protest against the way in which the then Tory Administration were dealing with widows' pensions. Her actions then were apparently quite in order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Well, it is not in order now. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to resume the place from which he was addressing the House.

Mr. Stonehouse

Of course, Mr. Speaker, I shall adhere to your ruling and go back to the other side of the Chamber. However, I am glad that the fact I have come to this Bench has demonstrated to the country and the world at large that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's example in abdicating responsibility to the TUC has now been followed by the whole of the Government, who have abdicated their responsibility completely over the condition of England and have become stay-away Ministers as well as stay-away MPs.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must say, the longer I am in this House the stranger are the things that I see happen.

Mr. Stonehouse

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that interjection. Strange things do indeed occur. It is extremely strange that the whole of the Labour Party, including Ministers, have decided to stay away. Is it that they dispute what I am saying? Do they deny the facts that I have brought forward? They are based on official statistics produced and culled by the House of Commons Library. The fact is that this country is in a state of decline but that Ministers are showing their lack of interest in the subject by running away from what I am saying. They are anxious not to hear what I say about the humbug and hypocrisy of the last Prime Minister because this is a forbidden subject that we are not allowed to refer to in public life. It is one of the rules of the club that one does not refer to the unsavoury aspects of the hypocrisy of our leaders.

In March, at another Labour Party meeting, the right hon. Member for Huyton made a similar speech about the unemployment position and he again attacked the Shadow Chancellor and quoted his words. He had the gall to say: The hypocrisy of the Conservative pronouncements on unemployment has now become exceptional, even by their standards. I do not deny that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the Tory Party. There is some hypocrisy in the other parties as well. When the last Prime Minister talks about hypocrisy, I think that he should reread his speeches made on other occasions, but in the same period, when he was not speaking to Labour Party audiences.

On 5th February, speaking at the annual banquet of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, the right hon. Gentleman said other things about unem- ployment. He did not use the excitable language that he used on the other occasions. After referring to the unemployment situation, he said: Despite all these hopeful signs, it would be wrong to expect any sudden reduction in the unemployment figures. All the experience shows that the effect on employment takes time to work through. There was a little honesty. However, that speech was made not to the Labour Party but to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

An even more revealing passage appears at the annual banquet of the Overseas Bankers' Club, Guildhall, on Monday 2nd February. The right hon. Member for Huyton started his speech with this commercial plug: 1975 was a year of real achievement for the British economy and for our economic policies for the restoration of our national economy and prosperity. That was the opening sentence of his speech in February. We all know what has happened since then. The facts do not back up what the then Prime Minister was saying.

But on unemployment he had this to say on page 6 of the release of that speech: Past experience has shown us that there is an inescapable time lag between the increase in production and demand and the effect of unemployment". I ask the House to note this next sentence: We must therefore expect the underlying trend of unemployment to continue to rise, in this country and abroad, for some months yet". There we have the cat out of the bag—the then Prime Minister admitting that unemployment was going to rise in the next few months. That was exactly what the Tory Shadow Chancellor was saying and for which he was attacked by the Prime Minister, who, wearing another has at a Labour Party meeting, was not prepared to admit to that fact. I think, therefore, that we have had a great deal of humbug and hypocrisy from not only the last Prime Minister but many others.

I think that the country will now expect politicians to stop this silly game. They should cut out the humbug and hypocrisy, come clean with the British people and tell them the full brutal facts of life of 1976. That is the first priority I would establish.

Secondly, I would reduce the crippling burden of bureaucracy in England. We should put the Civil Service on a rigorous cost-effective basis and, as a start, cut it back overnight by 30 per cent, to the levels of 1964.

Thirdly, we should provide incentives to people of initiative and, above all, encourage the young. Too many geriatric appointments are made to positions in the public service. The over-sixties are usually preferred. Beswick, Balogh, Kearton and Dobson are the kind of names which crop up. We should have fewer people appointed from the over-sixties and more from the under-fifties and even the under-forties. We should give the young a chance, because the older men have clearly failed.

Fourthly, we should have an all-out campaign to stop the lunacy of official and unofficial strikes. These cripple the economy. They cripple industry. They have crippled British Leyland in the last few months.

In the next 50 years, when we have grown up out of this ridiculous period in which we seem to regard strikes as completely acceptable, we shall look back on them as an aberation in the same way as we look back on some of the religious madness of the period of the Crusades. It is madness to allow strikes to occur which are tantamount to cutting the veins and letting the blood of our economic and industrial system. That is why other countries have forged ahead. That is why our overmanning is so bad. That is why our productivity is so low. That is why our industrial investment is much lower than in other industrial countries. There is no value in investing in this country if the return on investment is so low because of the disputes to which I have referred.

Fifthly, we should re-establish the significance of parliamentary debate. The rot started here. Therefore, the reform must start here. We cannot solve problems simply by passing the buck to the TUC or to anyone else. The House of Commons is moribund. It is dying on its feet. There are too many stay-away MPs. In seven months I have been in this Chamber every day for the whole of Question Time and for many of the main debates. There are some Members whom I have never seen in the Chamber. Of course, they turn up to vote in Divisions when there are three-line Whips. They ask Written Questions and get answers for their constituency Press. But they are never in this place.

It is ironic that some who criticise me most for being the so-called runaway MP during the period of my illness are the most persistent stay-away Members. Incidentally, I was not the only one to be ill in that period. Many others who have been ill were away and did not participate in the proceedings in the House. But I was made the scapegoat, for reasons which, I acknowledge, were partly due to my own conduct. But why should the Members who were criticising me demonstrate their inadequacy by staying away today or on any other day?

The attendance in this Chamber is appalling. Last week, for instance, there was a very important debate, but the attendance was so bad that two hon. Members each got two speeches in on the same day. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) made two speeches and the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), who is to follow with his debate today, also made two speeches last Friday because the House was so deserted. We have only to look at the Hansard report of that debate to see that references were made several times to the absence of Members from this Chamber. Therefore, the fact that there is not one Minister or Labour Member in this Chamber today is not exceptional. The only reason why there are sometimes Ministers on the Government Front Bench is that it is part of their job to sit there.

A fortnight ago the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) moved a very good motion on personal freedom. Virtually the whole of the Labour Party ignored the debate, except for one or two short interventions and a longer one from an hon. Member who had to talk out the debate under instructions from the Whip. When the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department rose to reply to the debate there was not one hon. Member on the Benches behind her, and the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) had to cross the Floor and sit on the other side to keep her company.

What is happening today is not exceptional, but I hope that the message will go out from this Chamber to people in the country who elected the Members here that their Members are likely to be stay-away Members who do not do their job in the Chamber. Some hon. Members are in their constituencies, but I very much doubt whether that applies to them all.

Even on Mondays to Thursdays the attendance is appalling. If one looks at the reports of debates over the last few weeks, one sees references in the major debates to the fact that the attendance is extremely bad. During the debate on direct elections to the European Parliament the attendance was appalling, and even during the Budget debates the number attending has been very small and has usually consisted of those who are trying to catch the eye of the Chair.

On Budget Day a large number of hon. Members were in the House, but the attendance was worse than for many years. What is interesting is that before the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget there were important Questions to the Secretary of State for Defence. On that day, 14 Labour Members had Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Defence. Those Questions were high on the list and it was known that they would be reached, yet of those 14 Members eight were present to ask their Questions, and six were absent. You, Mr. Speaker, had to call their names because you had not been told that they would not be here. They did not have the courtesy to let you know that they would be absent. The hon. Members concerned were those representing Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), West-houghton (Mr. Stott), Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), Normanton (Mr. Roberts) and Newport (Mr. Hughes). Those are the hon. Members who had put down Oral Questions but were not here even on Budget Day to ask them when they were reached.

I accept that there are some hon. Members who do an excellent job in this House. I acknowledge that and praise them for what they do. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), even though I do not agree with him, because he attends the Chamber and participates in our proceedings. The Chairman of the Expenditure Committee and the Select Committees of the House do an excellent job and I acknowledge and praise their work.

I acknowledge and praise the work of the Liberal Members who work extremely hard. I praise, too, many Conservative Members who do a good job for their party and their constituencies. They are a hardworking minority in this House. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) works very hard and is here every day during Question Time. I praise him as a great parliamentarian. Although I do not agree with many of the things that he says and does, he is a great asset to this House.

Finally, I call in my motion for a General Election now. Why do I do this? It is because I think that the country expects an election. The Leader of the Opposition herself called for an election just after the previous Prime Minister announced his resignation. I hope that the right hon. Lady will renew that call, because it is apparent that with the coming breakdown in the talks between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the trade union movement this country will be going into a serious economic crisis in the next few months.

The Prime Minister has no proper mandate to deal with this situation. After all, the Labour Party had only 28.8 per cent, of the electorate's support at the last election, and the Labour Members elected at that election voted only 27 per cent, in first preference votes for the present Prime Minister. It is, therefore, a case of a minority of a minority putting the present Prime Minister into office. I do not think that he will be able to exercise the authority that is required, because he cannot count in particular on the Left-wing Tribune Group of Members, who can hold a pistol to his head whenever they choose to do so.

For the sake of the country there should be a General Election now. If we do not have one now, the next three years or so will be for electioneering of one sort or another, with Ministers manoeuvring and manipulating to get votes rather than tackling the deep-seated problems to which I have been referring in this debate. I hope that the pressure will grow for a General Election so that we can clear the air, bring in a fresh team of hon. Members to this House, clarify the problems of Scotland particularly and perhaps, finally, get a Parliament that is prepared to do a really honest job for the people and tackle the deep-seated problems that exist in this country. I hope for the sake of England, quite apart from doing it for the sake of the other countries in the Union, that that will be done.

12.7 p.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I think I can promise that I shall speak for a moment or two less than did the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse). None the less, I welcome the opportunity which the right hon. Gentleman has given the House to discuss this important subject of the state of England.

If I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about nothing else, I agree that it is sad to see the Government Benches almost bare. I do not think that it is consonant with the traditions of fairness in this House, nor with the traditions of British justice of the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, that no Minister is here to answer the debate.

I can understand the feelings of the Government and of the Labour Party about the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman, who did his best to land them in the constitutional soup this week. I can appreciate all those feelings, but I cannot recall any other occasion in this House—I may be wrong—when the Government have seen fit to ignore a speech on an important subject—indeed on any subject—by an hon. Member. I think that that is bad for Parliament and not consonant with the traditions of this place whatever we may think of the right hon. Gentleman, or whatever he is alleged to have done or not to have done.

I had not expected this to be such a poorly attended debate. I suppose that on these occasions hon. Members who sit for Scottish seats usually begin with some such pleasantry as "having the temerity to take part in an English debate", just as it is usual for hon. Members who sit for English seats, when they come to the Scottish Grand Committee or a Scottish Standing Committee, to make similar remarks about their temerity.

Such remarks are usually an agreeable pleasantry, but I am sorry that they can no longer be taken as such. The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) put down a Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland and it is due to be answered next Wednesday. A Question was also put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). This provoked a response from the SNP Member for Dundee-East (Mr. Wilson) about the impertinence and arrogance of English Members putting Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

This is reported in the Scottish Press absolutely straight, not as the absurd—indeed, contemptible—remark that it was, but as something natural for a Scottish National MP to have the right to criticise a Member of this United Kingdom Parliament with an English seat for attempting to put down a Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is no longer, alas, a mere pleasantry when I say that I stand here if nothing else to demonstrate my right as an MP for a Scottish seat to make some remarks about the state of England.

What I want to say relates to a subject which was raised in his wide-ranging speech by the right hon. Gentleman. That is the effect upon the condition of England which present Government plans relating to the condition of Scotland will have. I am referring to their plans for some devolution of legislative powers away from this House to a separate Scottish Assembly. Before I turn to them in more detail, I would reinforce what the right hon. Gentleman said about the position of North Sea oil and the way in which this relates to the unity of the United Kingdom.

It is true that such tattered remnants of the SNP economic case as were left after the excellent speech which the present Secretary of State for Trade, then the Paymaster-General, made in West Lothian a couple of weeks ago are completely destroyed by the fact that the SNP bases its entire economic case upon North Sea oil, which it chooses to call Scottish oil. In fact two-thirds of the oil lies off the coast of Shetland, which has made it abundantly clear that it wants to have nothing to do with a separate Scotland or a separate Scottish Assembly. Therefore, an independant Scotland or Scottish Assembly which hoped to exist on revenues from Scottish oil would be sadly disappointed and the people of Scotland would be a very much poorer nation than they are now.

One thing which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, which arises out of the present condition of England, is that we have just seen plans go ahead for the development of the Selby coalfield in Yorkshire. This is a perfect example of the way in which the energy and all other needs of the United Kingdom should be integrated, oil from Shetland and coal from Yorkshire all coming together to form what one would hope would be a large stronger United Kingdom economy.

We do not talk about a Yorkshire Assembly, not yet at least. It is absolutely absurd to think in terms of separate Scotland and separate England trying to work out our economic base on Shetland oil, Yorkshire coal or whatever. One of the things about which I disagreed most strongly with the right hon. Gentleman was when he talked about welcoming the prospect of an independent Scotland.

Mr. Stonehouse

I welcome the opportunity for the Scottish people to make a decision about it. If they decide that they want independence, I think that the English people should accept that willingly and wish them luck.

Mr. Sproat

I do not want to go into great detail but I do not like phrases like "the Scottish people". Of course the Scots are a people in one sense, but the Scottish people are no more ethnically one than are the English people. I would remind the House that the commonest name in Scotland is John Smith, just as it is the commonest name in England. We have a member of the Government called John Smith and he has a Scottish seat. I do not agree that somehow there is a difference between Scottish people and English people.

We have been one British nation for over 250 years and that is the way we should remain. Just as there are Celtic fringes in England there are Celtic fringes in Scotland. It is totally false to try to make out that somehow there is a separate Scottish people of a totally different ethnic background from that of the English people.

The reason why I raise these matters in a debate about the condition of England is that this whole subject of devolution is not confined to Scotland. As the right hon. Gentleman will know it is proposed to bring forward a White Paper on separate Assemblies for England. The only reason for this is that hon. Members from Merseyside, Yorkshire, or, indeed, the South-West of England have said that if Scotland is to have a separate Assembly to which extra funds no doubt will be channelled, there is no reason why England should not do so.

The population of Yorkshire is twice the population of Scotland. Why, therefore, should not Yorkshire have similar powers over its destiny? Unemployment in the North-West of England is certainly as bad as it is in Scotland. The areas of social deprivation on Mersey-side are as bad as they are in Scotland. English MPs have a perfect right to come forward and say that if it is the intention of the Government to have a separate Assembly for Scotland, we must have one for England as well.

Where does this lunacy lead us? On the basis of the Government's costing, the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies tot up to £22 million. I think that that is a grotesque underestimate. However, let us take that estimate of £22 million. On the same basis, English Assemblies will cost about £150 million. Are we really saying to the British people at this time of economic stringency that we intend to lay a further burden on their backs of a minimum, when it is all grossed up, of £200 million? And that is just the Government's estimate. If nothing is sure in this world of politics, it is certainly true that the estimates of any Government turn out to be a gross underestimate.

Concorde now costs £1,100 million but the Government started off by saying that it would cost £150 million. Of course, there are inflationary factors but we all know that any Government underestimate the cost of their policy. If £200 million is the starting figure for Assemblies in England, Scotland and Wales, it will lead to far larger sums being laid on the backs of the taxpayers.

I do not think that the people of England fully realise this. Doubts on both sides of the House tend to take the attitude that devolution is something for the Scottish or the Welsh, but the people of England have as much right to see the proposed form of the United Kingdom as the people of Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, Greater London, or anywhere else.

What about the Scotsmen who live in England? Is it to be just the Scotsmen in Scotland who will be consulted? There are as many Scotsmen living in England as there are living in Scotland. What is to be done about them? I would beg hon. Members when they are considering the condition of England 01 the condition of the United Kingdom to remember that they have as much responsibility for the whole of the United Kingdom.

It is of great sadness to me to see a certain amount of irresponsibility in the way in which hon. Members have regarded the question of devolution. Hardly a Scottish Labour MP has stood out against it. We all know there is hardly a Scottish Labour MP who really wants it. They are all allowing themselves to be swept forward. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), the former Secretary of State, is a man for whom I have a great deal of respect and parliamentary affection. He used to be the hammer of the Nationals, but now that the Scottish Nationals have won 11 seats, even he is prepared to accept this lunatic proposal for a separate legislative Assembly in Scotland.

We all know that there are many other Labour Members representing Scottish seats who feel the same way. I hope that they will have the political courage and foresight to come forward and stand up against it. I would say to them, if they were here, that they have a great chance to make a name for themselves, because it is well known in Scotland that there is extreme restiveness not only among professional bodies such as the CBI, chambers of commerce, bankers, teachers and chartered accountants, but among the trade unions. There is a great opportunity for some Scottish Labour Member of Parliament, perhaps one who has been passed over by the new Prime Minister, to make his name in leading a popular crusade—and it really would be a popular crusade.

I hope the new Prime Minister, above all—a man in whom we repose so many hopes, a right hon. Gentleman with an Irish name, an Englishman sitting for a Welsh constituency—will see that the condition of England cannot be divorced from the condition of Scotland, Wales, Ulster and indeed the United Kingdom as a whole.

I come from those rather general arguments down to specific arguments about the condition of England. If we are to have a separate legislative Assembly in Scotland, it follows as night follows day that we shall have to have such Assemblies in different parts of England. That has been made clear by hon. Members in all quarters of the House. I accept that. It is madness, but it is the logical end of the policies now being pursued.

If we have separate Assemblies in different parts of England, what shall we get? First, England will get even more government, when I think it is common ground among most parts of the House that what we want is not more government but less and better government. Yet we shall get more government. Assemblies in England will mean more taxation, and yet it is common ground among many parts of the House that what we want is not more but less taxation.

When I say "more taxation" it will not be a matter of a halfpenny here and a halfpenny there. As I have said, even to set up these Assemblies in England would cost about £150 million out of the taxpayers' pockets. So not only shall we have to pay to set up these Assemblies in England, but, once they have been set up, they will have the power to take even more in extra local taxation and rates out of the pockets of the people.

I point out to English Members that the White Paper on the Scottish Assembly proposes to give that Scottish Assembly powers to compel more money to be raised in rates. Therefore, first the taxpayer will have to pay millions more to set up the Assemblies and then the Assemblies, having been set up, will have the power to tax the people even more. The people of England will have the privilege of being not only the most over-governed but the most over-taxed people in the world to pay for it all.

If we have more government, another thing follows as surely as night follows day. We shall have to have more civil servants to service the new Assemblies or Parliaments—more bureaucracy and more red tape. Again it is common ground between the Front Benches that we want less bureaucracy. We want to cut back the growth of the Civil Service. Assemblies, whether in England, Scotland or Wales, will mean more government, more tax, more public expenditure and more civil servants.

I do not think hon. Members, because they sit for English seats and are rightly concerned with the condition of England, realise what a monster has been let loose in the land by these proposals. I hope that those few Members present today, and those more Members who may read this debate in Hansard and in the Press, will realise what a monster has been let loose and will wake up to the dangers which are facing this country as a result of these devolution proposals, which are not wanted in Scotland and which result solely from the fear of the Scottish National Party and from a wish to appease that party. Surely it is folly and political cowardice of an immeasurable order to risk throwing away the history of 270 years of British achievement—an incomparable achievement—and to throw it away for what reason?—because 11 seats are won by some piffling little party trading on the protest vote.

Is this great House of Commons—the great Labour Party and the great Conservative Party—so frightened of the Scottish National Party that is is going to risk throwing away the constitutional unity of this country because at the last General Election 11 Members were returned not because the people of Scotland wanted independence, but because the people of Scotland in exactly the same measure were fed up with over-centralisation, high unemployment and high inflation under Conservative and Labour Governments? That was the stick that prompted them to vote. The carrot, of course, was North Sea oil. The result was 11 Members of the Scottish National Party.

Those Members will not be here next time. I can tell the House that in my own part of Scotland, in the North-East, they have already faded. We have had a number of by-elections. Indeed, we had one this week. I realise that it will not be much comfort to the Government whip, but the Conservative Party increased its share of the vote. The SNP was hammered into a meagre number of votes.

So already the SNP has faded there, and as the policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer bring down inflation and unemployment, the SNP will fade in other parts of Scotland. Do no let this House set up these separate Assemblies simply because of fear, out of a desire to appease and to follow a political fashion. To do so would be to alter disastrously the condition of England and of the United Kingdom as a whole.

The condition of England would be disastrously affected by any devolution to Scotland. Also—and this is the most important reason that I have for opposing a separate legislative Assembly in Scotland or in Wales—it would lead, without anybody really wanting it, to the break-up of the United Kingdom, and for me that would be an incomparable and unparalleled disaster.

There are those who say that there are other countries which have very happy federal systems, such as the United States, Switzerland and West Germany. That is true. But the situation in those countries is very different. There is a federal system in the United States because when that country was being built up, the sheer size and history of it—in those days of poorer communications than now exist—made federalism inevitable. Switzerland is a federation because in the Middle Ages there were German, French and Italian-speaking sections, and federation seemed to be the only answer. In West Germany there is a federal system because the victorious Allies in 1945 did not want a strong Germany. They split Germany into half, and then they split West Germany into different bits so that there would not be a strong central Government. These reasons have no relevance to our situation in the United Kingdom.

There is a further factor in the United Kingdom. If we were now to set up a separate legislative Assembly in Scotland, this would prove an ideal platform for one party, the Scottish National Party, whose only reason for existence is to split up the United Kingdom. That party would use this platform, whatever representation the Labour Party or the Conservative Party got, as a platform for continual whining and complaints. Everything good that happened to Scotland, we should be told, was because we had a Scottish Assembly. Everything bad that happened to Scotland, we should be told, was because Westminster still had some power. It would inevitably lead, without any of us wanting it, to the division of Scotland from England. After what we have achieved together as a British nation in these 270 years, that would be a tragedy beyond measure. But, unless the House of Commons comes to its senses, it is a tragedy which may well come without our intending it and without our wanting it.

It is our earnest hope that this country will have some power and influence in the world—and I believe that the world needs it—but if our country is to have any power and influence, that will be achieved only by a united British nation, stronger and more prosperous, one hopes, but a united British nation within the European Community, not as some sort

Division No. 107.] AYES [12.33 p.m.
Mr. John Stonehouse and
Mr. Peter Bottomley.
Atkinson, Norman Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Ginsburg, David Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C (Dulwich)
Bishop, E. S. Healey, Rt Hon Denis Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W Huckfield, Les Stallard, A. W.
Cartwright, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ward, Michael
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Weitzman, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kaufman, Gerald Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Davidson, Arthur Lyon, Alexander (York) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Mackenzie, Gregor
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Molloy, William TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
English, Michael O'Halloran, Michael Mr. Peter Snape and
Faulds, Andrew Peart, Rt Hon Fred Mr. Alf Bates.
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)

Question accordingly negatived.

of piffling little collection of 1½ million Ulstermen, 3 million Welshmen, 5 million Scotsmen, and so on.

We must remain the united British nation which we have been for 270 years of great and historic achievement. I greatly hope that the House of Commons, and especially those English Members who have not taken enough part in the debate so far, will wake up to the dangers in what is now being pursued and will reject any policies likely to lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom.

12.31 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on doing more to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom and to maintain the traditional courtesies of the House than the Government and their supporters feel they can do today.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 40.

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