HC Deb 13 April 1976 vol 909 cc1164-83

4.23 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I beg to move, That this House, at its rising to-morrow, do adjourn till Monday 26th April. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, I had intended to wait until other hon. Members had raised this question before commenting upon the situation which arose in the House yesterday. However, in response to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who wish that I should make the statement at the beginning of the debate, I am happy to do so and will do so now. I hope that the House will permit me to reply to other matters—indeed, to any comments on this matter which may arise in the debate—at the conclusion of the general debate.

The Government have, as they promised, considered their position in the light of the resolution of the House last night disapproving Documents R/451/76 and R/452/76 dealing with the incorporation of skimmed milk powder and the storage of vegetable proteins. As the House knows, these two proposals were agreed by the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 6th March although the formal adoption of R/451 has been delayed because of the need to seek an opinion from the European Parliament and because of its subsequent adverse resolution. The Government are committed to taking account of the views of this House in the conduct of negotiations in Brussels. The House expresses its views on proposed Regulations when the Select Committee recommends them for debate. On this occasion, the Select Committee recommended that a debate should take place before the adoption of the Regulations in Brussels.

In these circumstances, the Government are bound by their assurances to take account of the resolution passed last night in any future negotiations in Brussels, but it remains the fact that the Regulation has the force of law in this country by virtue of the European Communities Act. What this means in practice is that the incorporation scheme remains in effect. If the Commission presses ahead with the storage scheme the Government remain bound by their agreement to it. If the Commission made a radically different proposal, it would, of course, be brought before the House for prior debate and the Government would take account of the views the House then expressed. However, the Government also take the view that, since a resolution passed by the House cannot be given effect in the term in which it was passed, it is necessary for the Government to provide for another occasion at an early date when the House should discuss the matter again. I shall make an announcement when the House returns after the recess.

Hon. Members may wish to comment upon this matter during the debate, but the Government obviously must return to the matter again and give the House a fresh opportunity to discuss it. I hope that this will satisfy the House.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

If I may speak on the same terms as the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that I shall hope to intervene again later in the debate—I would like to thank him for his extremely forthcoming response. On behalf of the Opposition, I would say that we entirely accept what he has said and look forward to an early reopening of the discussion after Easter.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

If I understand my right hon. Friend, he is undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to discuss this matter again. Does he mean that the House will have an opportunity to take a decision and decide one way or the other whether the Regulations are to remain in force?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand my right hon. Friend's concern on this matter. I cannot go beyond the undertaking I have given—that we will provide a fresh opportunity for a debate—at the present time. The Government will have to consider the form in which that debate should take place and whether it should take place in the form of a new Order to be placed before the House or whether it should take place in some other form. In any case, the House of Commons itself will have the chance to give its views on the matter.

We understand that the House passed a motion yesterday, but, of course, the effects of that motion conflict with the arrangements which are made under the European Communities Act. What we have to do in our future discussion is to try to resolve those difficulties. That is what I have promised. We will have a further statement after the recess on the matter and an opportunity for the House to debate the question.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I take it that the purpose of a renewed debate, with all that we know of the right hon. Gentleman, will not be to secure from the House a reversal of its decision last night. That would be quite improper. I hope that it will enable the House to consider further the situation in which it finds itself as a result of any conflict and to explore whether there are, within our present circumstances, ways in which that conflict can be resolved in a way satisfactory to the House.

Mr. Foot

I perfectly understand what the right hon. Gentleman says, but no one knows better than he that, under the provisions of the European Communities Act, decisions may be made in Brussels which cannot be upset by some of the decisions made by the House of Commons. That is precisely the dilemma in which we are placed. The Government are saying that, in view of the decision of the House yesterday, which we are of course bound to respect, we believe that it would be proper for the House to discuss the matter further. The Government have not yet decided the form which that discussion would take, but every hon. Member would be able to make up his mind according to the manner in which the Government presented it to the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Is my right hon. Friend saying in a straightforward way that, whatever Parliament decides, Brussels now rules in this and, no doubt, many other matters? Can he state that clearly so that it can be made plain to people outside that the only way in which Parliament can regain some authority in this sort of matter is by getting out of the Community?

Mr. Foot

I think that I would require further notice of that question before I could make any declaration on the subject now. It might lead to some further consequences if I were to make a declaration in the spirit in which my hon. Friend invites me to do it.

I am not saying that at all. As most people know, the passage of the European Communities Act raises difficulties for motions which are subsequently passed by this House. Somehow these matters have to be resolved. My hon. Friend has suggested one solution, but we must search for other solutions too.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I would remind hon. Members that the Lord President said that he would make this statement and speak again later. We are really discussing the Easter Adjournment now. We cannot have a series of Question Times in addition to what we have already had.

4.32 p.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Walsall, North)

The motion before the House is that we should adjourn until Monday 26th April. There are strong reasons for opposing an Adjournment for that length of time. The first is the serious situation at British Leyland, which threatens to undermine one of the biggest investments that the State has made in the car industry and to which apparently it is committed.

The situation at British Leyland is that a small group of workers with a particular interest in bringing their earnings up to the level of some others in the industry are holding the whole of the industry to ransom. This problem of leap-frogging—the envy factor—in trade unionism is one of the root causes of the problems of British industry today and has caused tie problems of wage inflation without increasing productivity—points which have been argued over and over again in this House.

But we now face the serious prospect of the Government having to adhere to the decision, which they have made clear several times, that, if the workers in British Leyland do not make a success of that industry and bring its productivity up to the level of that of our principal competitors, they may have to reconsider their investment. If that were the case, there would be disastrous consequences not only for an essential part of British industry but for all the component suppliers and those who depend upon it. I therefore hope that we will reconsider our position in the light of the British Leyland dispute. If that dispute were to continue during the Easter Recess, the House might have to be reconvened to consider its effect.

Another point that we need to consider is the announcement by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection yesterday that the overseas depreciation of sterling is having a serious effect on domestic prices, in that, for every 5 per cent, drop in sterling's value, within 12 months and possibly sooner, domestic prices will rise by between 1 and 1½ per cent.

The pound has been devalued by over 50 per cent, against almost all other currencies since 1964, but the rate of the devaluation is now far more serious than at any other time during the past 12 years. In the last month, the pound's value has dropped by 10 per cent. Using the Secretary of State's own analysis, which may be optimistic from her point of view, one assumes that that will be translated into a 2 or 3 per cent, increase in domestic prices. That is just one month's sterling devaluation, which will be reflected within the next 12 months, possibly sooner, in a 2 or 3 per cent, increase in domestic prices.

This is without taking account of all the other inflationary factors in our economy. It is acknowledged by the Government that this continuing depreciation of sterling will have serious inflationary effects on top of all the others with which we have to contend. If sterling continues lo decline as it is doing, the House should not adjourn. It should be available to hear an up-to-date report from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to decide what should be done about it.

I turn now to another reason why the House might consider it inappropriate to adjourn. A very important Early-Day Motion has just been tabled by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), supported by other hon. Members, calling for the resignation of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This arises primarily out of the Peter Hain case, about which the House is well informed.

It would be valuable to the House to quote what Mr. Hain himself said in the Sunday Times last weekend, when he said that there was definitely a misjudgment by the DPP in his case: There is considerable pressure on witnesses to help the police, to do their best to make an identification. Crucially, most witnesses come expecting to see the thief. After all, the witnesses think the police must have the right man to bother to arrange a parade at all. He went on to say that, as a public figure, he had the advantage of being able to appeal in the Press and on television—particularly 1TN—for witnesses to come forward.

As a result, he says, the key defence witness came forward: the 15-year-old boy, Terry MacLaren. When he saw my face on television, he knew his fellow schoolboys had wrongly identified me, and he approached us with evidence totally contradicting them. It is now widely believed that, if Mr. Hain had not been a person in the public eye and therefore able to appear on television to make this appeal, Terry MacLaren would not have come forward. As a result, the case would have been stacked against Mr. Hain and no doubt he would have been found guilty.

This experience draws attention to the inadequate procedures of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A case was brought forward by the police, and instead of becoming the adjudicators of the validity of the police case the office put the case forward without proper consideration. It did not ask the key question of the police—for instance, were there any other schoolboys around at the time? Terry MacLaren would then have been identified, would have come forward and been a witness, and the police would have had to tell the Director that there was a key witness who did not agree with the rest.

It is therefore vital for this House to turn its attention to the procedures of the DPP. Getting rid of one Director is not the answer to the problem, of course, because a new man could be appointed who would be just as weak as the outgoing Director in this aspect of procedure.

The House must pay close attention to the proposals ventilated by the Minister of State, Home Office that a new procedure, a new authority, should be set up similar to the district attorneys in the United States. Instead of the Director of Public Prosecutions acting as the un- thinking henchman of the police, it would be able to judge whether there was a just case before a case was brought forward.

That would help the police. Instead of having the job of chasing a criminal and identifying him, and sometimes of leaning on witnesses to bolster up their case, so leading to grave suspicion that the police were interested in securing not justice but merely a conviction, they would bring material forward to a new agency which would judge all aspects of the case and decide whether or not they should proceed.

The Minister of State's proposals are valid. In the light of the Hain case they should be considered seriously by the House. Mr. Hain also said, in the Sunday Times and elsewhere, that there were other disturbing aspects of his case, which I hope the Home Secretary will look at. They are that the police kept him in near-solitary confinement for almost 12 hours and leaned on him very strongly suggesting reasons why they would get him, reasons which were related not to the particular offence but to his political activities some time before. The police, either deliberately or through lack of attention to the case, failed to bring forward evidence, in particular the witness Master MacLaren who was vital to the case.

Following his acquittal, Mr. Hain has gone on to call attention to other cases which depend or have depended on the sort of identification problems from which he suffered, cases such as that of George Davis—a man who is languishing in prison—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have allowed the right hon. Gentleman a great deal of latitude. Surely we are not discussing all sorts of cases that have already been dealt with. The right hon. Member is saying why the House should not adjourn. He wants an examination of procedures. All this detail of cases is irrelevant.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am drawing attention to cases which the House urgently needs to discuss. If we adjourn as proposed, we shall not be available to discuss these urgent cases. George Davis is just one of many cases in which a man was convicted on identification which is now generally accepted to be extremely unfair. The suggestion is that the police, knowing or thinking that George Davis was a criminal in another capacity, decided to get him.

There are extremely serious aspects of public policy which need urgent attention, and we should consider whether we can afford to adjourn when these vital matters are disturbing the country. They are matters of concern to the Government, the House and individual Members. They concern corruption and bribery and scandals of that character.

The first of those matters is the biggest but perhaps not the most serious—the allegations that BP has paid more than £500,000 in subventions or bribes to Italian political parties in direct return for political favours. The Sunday Times carried out a very full investigation which was also the basis of a programme on Granada Television last night. The investigation took several months and produced the following information. The Sunday Times said: Both Shell and BP, in one period of less than twelve months, paid about £500,000 each in secret Italian political contributions; These payments were part of a systematic process, in which political payments were calculated as a percentage of the money the companies could expect to make as a result of favourable legislation by the Italian Government". This is a very serious allegation. In answer to Questions yesterday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not deal with it. He said that to the best of his knowledge there was no bribery and corruption in relation to the North Sea and he asked the House not to prejudge the allegations in relation to Italian political parties. But he could not give an outright assurance that there had been no bribery, because an investigation is still going on in the Italian Parliament. It has been dragging on for a long time, but the problem is that the majority of members in that Italian parliamentary committee are members of the political parties which are accused of taking the bribes.

One of the independent members of the committee said last night on television that he did not think it was likely that the committee could come to a satisfactory conclusion because of the bias built into the membership. However, this House is as concerned as the Italian Parliament about BP contributions to political parties abroad, and it is vital that we should set up a Select Committee or some other body to investigate the allegations and judge whether a publicly-owned enterprise has been involved in these unsavoury activities.

It was discovered in the investigation that a man called Carlo Cittadini wrote a memorandum when he was a public relations expert at Exxon's Italian subsidiary in which he showed what had been going on in the past year. This is not just a question of a multinational company making legitimate contributions to a political party. That goes on in this country. The Conservative Party receives such contributions, but no one suggests that the Conservative Party takes specific measures when it is in power to satisfy its paymasters. If that allegation was made there would be investigations and it would be a scandal.

The material shows that the money being paid by BP, which amounted to many hundreds of millions of lire, was in return for particular favours.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already drawn the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that we are not discussing detailed activities. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point that the House should not adjourn and for him to go into any more detail is an abuse of the House.

Mr. Stonehouse

I have been in the House for nearly 20 years and I know that this problem arises almost every time the Adjournment motion is debated. The Leader of the House himself took the opportunity as a Back Bencher of contributing to such debates and I remember his being called to order by the Chair. This activity goes on all the time.

The matter I am raising is so urgent and is giving such concern to the general public that it is vital that the House should debate it soon and set up a Select Committee to investigate it. About £2½ million was given by oil companies to the Christian Democrats and paid into the personal bank account of the party's administrative secretary, Filippo Micheli, the Socialist Party received £650,000, some of which was paid to the party newspaper Avanti, and the splinter Social Democrat Party received £268,000. These are very large sums of money and are directly related to favours which were to be obtained. The Government, on behalf of the British public, have a 70 per cent, shareholding in BP and it is vital that they should investigate these allegations. If the Government do not take such steps, the House should set up a Select Committee to investigate the matter.

What would be the position if a large private company in this country were to be accused of paying funds to overseas political parties in return for favours, or perhaps leading to the emergence of a Government hostile to the interests of this country? If the shareholders of that private company demanded a special meeting to investigate the allegations, the Government and this House would give them all possible assistance in order that the proper process of control over the directors could be exercised.

The directors of BP are responsible to Ministers and not private shareholders, except to the extent of a 30 per cent, shareholding. The ordinary taxpayers of this country, who are the owners of BP, are asking why the Government, who control the company, are not doing something about this scandal. It is a serious scandal which needs to be investigated urgently by the House. It is vital that the House should consider whether it ought to adjourn or to spend time in the next few days studying these questions.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although there are no limits on the number of reasons an hon. Member may give as to why the House should not adjourn, is it not a tradition of the House that in this debate hon. Members exercise a reasonable self-denying ordinance on length of speeches?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Member for that point of order, but it all depends on the individual conduct of hon. Members.

Mr. Stonehonse

I wish to quote the last part of the article in the Sunday Times. It says: the attitude of both giant companies appears to be the same as that of the Italian oil executive who said, testily:' None of this need have come out if some fool hadn't written it all down'. Many aspects of public policy and public action do not see the light of day because some fool did not write it all down. I wish to draw attention to three aspects, nearer home than BP's activities, which need our attention.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. With his long experience in the House, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that he has submitted enough evidence on why the House should not adjourn. Why must he prolong the agony?

Mr. Stonehouse

But I have only just started, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What I have said so far was just the preamble. I am trying to emphasise a number of points and hope to persuade slightly more hon. Members than I did in my speech on Friday to support my view and to vote against this proposal. It is outrageous that the House should be asked to adjourn for this period when there are so many other urgent matters that we need to discuss.

I am raising a number of matters and I shall go on until 10 o'clock if need be. The business of the House is protected because we have passed a motion providing that the next business will go on for as long as this business takes. We are not harming anybody. We can go on all night if necessary and I intend to do so if that is the only way the various points I wish to make can be brought out.

The House should investigate, whether by a Select Committee or otherwise, the payment of money directly by British Governments to overseas political parties. This is not a question of using BP to make payments—indeed an investigation may show that the company paid this money because it was told by the Government to do so. I am not alleging that that is so, but it is possible that the company was instructed to pay money in order to assist political parties in Italy which are favourable to the British view.

There are other allegations which I want the House to investigate concerning the political subscriptions to overseas political parties, in particular in Bechuanaland, which became Botswana. When I was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, the then Deputy Permanent Secretary, Sir Arthur Galsworthy who is now British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, revealed to me that the British Government had paid secret political donations to Seretse Khama, the leader of a political party in Bechuanaland, in order to assist his political campaign against his opponents. When seen in the context of BP's contribution of £500,000 to Italian political parties, this becomes an urgent question. The BP contribution is just one example and there may be many others. I have quoted that which was made known to me while I was a Minister.

The House should investigate this aspect of the conduct of public policy. It is all very well for hon. Members to close their ears to these problems, but there are unsavoury aspects of British Government activities overseas. If the House chooses to close its eyes, that does not necessarily mean that these issues will not blow up in some way at some time and hit us in the back of the head. Rather than having a long Adjournment over Easter, we should be given the opportunity of debating these matters and setting up an appropriate Select Committee to investigate them.

I know about the secret contributions to Bechuanaland because I was the responsible Minister at the time, but there may be many others which the House should investigate. We know that, through the CIA, the Americans have given secret political contributions to parties all over the world. For instance, $5 million was paid to Italian parties by the CIA. However, these contributions do not come only from the United States. I suggest that they are also made by the British Government to political parties which we wish to succeed in elections. I should like to see the matter investigated.

As regards investigations, I think that the House needs to have more information about the activities of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson)—namely, the writing of his political memoirs. There is a strong suggestion, which is highly documented, that about £233,000 was paid to the right hon. Gentleman for personal favours in connection with his own political memoirs written as a result of his being Prime Minister.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not possible to appeal to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), with his wide experience of the House, to recognise that there are many hon. Members who do not wish to crave the attention of the House for 30 to 35 minutes but are patiently waiting to be called so that they may speak for seven or eight minutes to make a case of passionate concern to their constituents? Is it not possible to appeal to the decency and propriety of the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Michael Latham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is strong feeling on this matter. It is not merely a question of time, or whether the debate can be extended. Many hon. Members have other commitments and they were hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the time it was generally understood that the debate would take place.

Mr. Peyton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that no one on the Opposition Benches would wish to appear inhospitable to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) while he is among us. He has not been sitting among us for all that long. I hope that he will listen to the pleas which have come from both sides of the House as well as from the Chair, pleas that he should not be too long in what is normally quite a short debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I appreciate the points of order that have been raised. I supplement the appeals that have been made from the Chair in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman, with his 20 years' experience in the House, will recognise that hon. Members have other commitments. I hope that he will treat the matter seriously.

Mr. Stonehouse

I shall treat with seriousness any appeal that comes from the Chair, and I shall respect it, but I resent the snide remark which the right hon. Member for Yo-Yo introduced into his intervention. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, but I do not know why he should introduce that snide remark. I regret its introduction.

Mr. Peyton

Nothing snide was intended. I merely said that none of us wished to be inhospitable to the right hon. Gentleman, who has not been long with us.

Mr. Stonehouse

That is fine. That is an amendment to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I accept that as an apology.

There are widespread allegations cut-side the House about the right hon. Member for Huyton using his position—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make no reference to the conduct of another Member of the House, or to cast any aspersions upon another Member.

Mr. Stonehouse

I wish to refer generally to the writing of political biographies.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have asked the right hon. Gentleman not to pursue that matter.

Mr. Stonehouse

The late Richard Crossman wrote a book about his experiences as a Cabinet Minister. I believe strongly that the House should be concerned with the issue of principle that arises when Ministers such as the late Dick Crossman write their memoirs during their period of office and publish them after they have left office. Unfortunately Mr. Crossman died, but other cases—I am talking about the general principle and not about any one individual—have arisen. It is terribly important that the House should get to grips with this issue of principle.

Do we allow members of the Government within a few months or years of leaving office, not in the twilight of their careers, to write their political memoirs for vast sums? In this general context we are considering political corruption and bribery. Where is the dividing line?

We have the extravagant case of BP, to which I have already referred, where £500,000 is alleged to have been paid for specific favours. There are other cases in which individuals write memoirs or sell papers for sums of the order of £233,000. These are vast sums. One must ask whether this has been done for political favours, or to enrich a person as a result of his public service. We must ask whether it is in order for public figures who obtain confidential information from within a Government to use personal papers that they have acquired as a result of that service and to sell them outside for vast sums. It is a point of principle that must be raised and I believe that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the issue.

My fourth point concerns the grave allegations that are being made outside the House about the activities of Sir Julian Hodge in Cardiff. The House should not adjourn until it has had an opportunity of considering these grave allegations. What will happen if the House does not inquire? The matter will not merely be taken up by Private Eye or the Daily Mail; it will crop up in other areas and through other media. It will create a nasty smell that will attach to the activities of certain public figures.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), is other than a man of the greatest personal integrity. I am making no personal attack on the Prime Minister. However, his association with Sir Julian Hodge has been brought into question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Standing Order No. 22 gives power to the Chair to direct a Member to discontinue his speech if he persists in irrelevance or tedious repetition of his own arguments. I am sorry to say that the stage has been reached when I must direct the right hon. Gentleman to discontinue his speech.

Mr. Stonehouse rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to discontinue his speech.

Mr. Stonehouse

I wish to challenge your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that you are wrong and that your ruling will be misunderstood in the country. When a Member draws attention to an issue of public concern which is widely discussed outside the House, and when the matter is being published, it is necessary that the House should pay attention to it. It should do so by means of its own machinery. If that is not done, some other vehicle will be found for the raising of the issue that is extra-parliamentary. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I challenge your ruling.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I order the right hon. Gentleman to discontinue his speech. I call the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham).

Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Chair to stop an hon. Member referring to an issue which will be of public concern and of which he intended to give specific examples, quoting the head of the Civil Service, who named Sir Julian Hodge as a person who could not be appointed to the Bank of England Court—although he was nominated by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present Prime Minister—because he was not a worthy person for the appointment?

Is it in order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your position in the Chair to stop an hon. Member from referring to a fact that he knows from his own personal experience?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already told the right hon. Gentleman that in my opinion Standing Order No. 22 is applicable. I have asked him to discontinue his speech. If he is to persist, I shall follow on with Standing Order No. 23. I hope that with his 20 years' experience he will not force me into that position.

Mr. Stonehouse

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I ask the House to consider matters of vital importance to my constituents in Edmonton.

Mr. Stonehouse

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have made a decision in which you say that there was tedious repetition in my speech. I should like to know in what aspect of my speech I was guilty of tedious repetition.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is not the duty of the Chair to explain reasons for decisions. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. Mr. Graham.

Mr. Stonehouse

Why is it that because exception is being taken—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he is going to persist, to leave the Chamber. Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham rose

Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order, because there is objection to the content of a Member's speech—not repetition but content—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Under Standing Order No. 23, I order the right hon. Gentleman now to leave the Chamber. Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham rose

Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the greatest possible respect to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I express the personal view—without commenting in any way whatsoever on the merits of anything that has been said by the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)—that I believe that the ruling that you have just given from the Chair is one that is of very dubious constitutional precedent and that it could establish a dangerous precedent for the future?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) has only recently come into the Chamber and has not heard what has gone on before.

The right hon. Member withdrew accordingly.

Mr. Graham

I hope that the House will not adjourn until it has had an opportunity of considering a matter of great importance for my constituents. I refer to the constant difficulty that is occurring because of what are called itinerant caravan dwellers. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 refers to these individuals as those who lead a "nomadic habit of life". I am sad to say that the people of Edmonton have been suffering from people of this character for a very long time.

Hon. Members are aware that people of this persuasion are anti-social in their behaviour and cause a great deal of difficulty whenever they land in a particular community. For the third time in less than two years the people of Edmonton have been plagued by one manifestation of this kind or another.

First, last year on a site at Chiswick Road in Edmonton—where the housing construction that was due to start was seriously delayed—a number of itinerant caravan dwellers persisted in refusing to remove themselves from the site, and a great deal of damage and difficulty was caused. Later last year a similiar number of so-called gipsies—but really itinerant caravan dwellers—landed in my constituency, at a site on Stirling Way, near the North Circular Road, and again created a great many difficulties for my constituents.

The reason that I hope that it will be possible for the House not to adjourn at least until we have had a statement from the Leader of the House relates to a problem that has blown up in the last few weeks. This has arisen on a site known as Charlton Road and Picketts Lock Lane. The residents of that area have recently petitioned me to bring to the attention of the House, as urgently as possible, the conditions under which tûey are living. Perhaps I may quickly read from this petition. I believe that the House will understand the anxiety and concern. The petition says in part: These people have no sanitation and as our houses are close to this encampment there is danger of diseases and unpleasant smells from their animals. We strongly object to their scrap lorries bringing rubbish and using the site as a dump. We trust you will remove these people with haste as Picketts Lock Centre is used by people from all over the South-East and the sight of this camp is an insult to the Borough of Enfield. I visited the site and Picketts Lock Lane and Charlton Road last weekend, Saturday 10th April. I counted more than 30 caravans and a number of lorries and cars that were parked on the site.

The site, sad to say, is like most sites that are used by these people. It is strewn with motor cars of various kinds, broken, damaged or torn to pieces, with motor car engines and other parts strewn all over the site. Also oil, which is very dangerous, is spread all over the site. The neighbouring residents complain to me bitterly that at night the smell when the rubber and other parts of these broken motor cars is being burned is very acrid and bad.

Secondly, one of the greatest associated problems relates to dogs. When I visited the site I saw a great number of dogs, perhaps 20 or 30—large and small, and fierce. All were aggressive. They are continually causing problems to my constituents by barking at night.

In last week's issue of the Edmonton Weekly Herald, the local newspaper, appear the comments of two residents. A Mr. William Telling told the newspaper that when he took his dog for a walk he was "set upon" by six dogs, and was in fear for his life from the pack jumping, snapping and snarling. A Mr. John Thompson said that parents are now refusing to allow their children to travel to school on their own because they are frightened by these snarling dogs.

In matters of this kind, it is clearly urgent that we hear from the Minister before the House adjourns whether it is possible to bring about some amelioration of these problems. I believe that the main problem is the shortage of sites upon which these people can encamp.

I appreciate that not everyone wishes to live, as most of us do, in an ordinary house. There are people who wish to live in caravans and vehicles of that kind. I appreciate that the Caravan Sites Act was designed to bring some kind of order into the situation. The position is that a local authority that is able to designate a site upon which caravans may dwell is able to get a magistrates' court to give it an order to remove people from a site if they refuse to go.

In the London borough of Enfield such a site was created. The problem, frankly, is that we need more sites and not larger sites. I very much hope that if the need is recognised, the people of Edmonton, where a site already exists, will not merely have that site enlarged. In a borough such as Enfield, comprising the three former boroughs of Southgate, Enfield and Edmonton, I believe that if the problem is to be solved by providing greater space, it will not be solved by enlarging the present site but by having two further sites, one in western Enfield and one in Southgate. That is one of the ways in which this problem can be solved.

Another problem that needs to be tackled—and perhaps the Minister will comment on this—is the speed of determining these matters before the courts. Speed is essential here. There is a frustrating time lag. For instance, at Chiswick Road and in Stirling Way, despite the valiant efforts of local council officers, it took six months before a court order was finally executed. On the present sites, Picketts Lock Lane and Charlton Road, the trespassers have already been there for two months. I hope that they will not be allowed to remain there for much longer.

The problems are very serious. There is the problem of the cost to the community. There is the cost of taking legal action and of clearing the sites, which are a disgrace. There is not only the question of making the sites fit because they are at present unhygienic; there is also the problem of securing the sites after the removal of the trespassers. I appreciate, however, that the Minister has already appointed Mr. John Cripps, in February this year, to examine the working and effectiveness of the 1968 Act.

In conclusion, I urge that before it adjourns, the House has at least a statement to the effect that Mr. John Cripps will be asked to speed up his inquiries. What we need in order to provide relief for my constituents, who are suffering greatly because of the present problem, is, first, legislation that will insist upon additional sites and, secondly, a speeding up of the legal procedures.

My constituents are suffering from the deficiencies of the 1968 Act. I hope very much that the present and potential loss of amenity and peace of mind will be the subject of drastic and positive action by the Minister and his colleagues.

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