HC Deb 13 April 1976 vol 909 cc1184-228

Question again proposed.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Before we adjourn I should like to raise two matters. The first is the Peter Hain case. I am glad that his ordeal is now finished. It must have been most painful and I know that many people sympathise with him. I confess that it seemed to me that there was a rather weak case against him but, of course, I do not know what was known to the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The criticism of the case has gone too far in demanding the resignation of the DPP. After all, the judge determined that there was a case to go to a jury and the jury took five hours to come to a decision. I therefore dissociate myself from that demand. But I hope that the Leader of the House will draw to the attention of the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate the need for an examination of identification parades and a review of the procedures in that case.

A case in Scotland has been carefully examined by the Scottish Office but it still causes considerable concern. I refer to Mr. Meehan, who is in gaol for murder. I noticed that the Lord Advocate was in the Chamber earlier and I hope that the Leader of the House will draw to his attention that in spite of the care with which this case has been examined, there is still widespread anxiety about it. I hope that the Leader of the House will say that these matters are under Government consideration. I suspect that there are very few wrong convictions but that does not mean that they are unimportant. We should see that every possibility of a wrong conviction is examined and, if possible, eliminated.

I turn now to the proceedings of the House. It is some time since any drastic proposals were made for changing our procedures—not since the days of Richard Crossman. Perhaps the new Leader of the House, whom I congratulate on his new appointment, will be receptive to the idea of looking again at our proceedings. The business which we receive from Europe has already been discussed this afternoon. In the future we shall have Scottish and Welsh Assemblies or Parliaments and it is therefore necessary for us to attend to how the House will conduct its own affairs. At present we sit for long hours, often far into the night, but we also have long holidays. Far be it for me to suggest that the House should sit in September or that it should not adjourn for Easter, but the public think that it is anomalous that we should sit until two o'clock or three o'clock in the morning and then go away for the whole of August and September. It is time that our arrangements were examined.

If the Leader of the House went to the Republic of Ireland he would perhaps take note of how they have gone on since they contracted out of the United Kingdom. I hope that nothing like that will occur to us but it is useful to talk to the Irish. They so concentrated on setting up the Dail that they did not pay sufficient attention to other changes. We are in danger of repeating that mistake when we grant home rule to Scotland and, possibly, to Wales.

If the Scottish Assembly is to be of any value it will need greater powers than are at present intended, and this House will be left to deal with foreign affairs, defence and broad economic planning. If that is so, a substantial number of civil servants should be removed to Edinburgh, or better still, dispensed with altogether. The House will then have more time to consider the wider aspects of government. We pass enormous amounts of legislation but we seldom review it, and we never compare resources against demand or expenditure against revenue. I hope that these matters will be considered alongside devolution.

Once we have devolution I hope that we shall be able to discuss the matters from the European Parliament at a more suitable time of day, but I fear that we shall simply set up a further tier of government in Edinburgh. I fear that there will be little relaxation in this House. In spite of Parkinson's Law, I hope our business will not expand to fill the same time as now. I hope legislation will be reduced, but we may still find ourselves sitting until the early hours of the morning. I would rather have shorter holidays and go to bed earlier. The public would find that more sensible.

We are now due for a reforming Leader of the House. The fact that the Crossman reforms were not a success does not mean that reform is unnecessary. The Leader of the House is broadly on the right lines in thinking that the most important business of Parliament should be transacted in the Chamber. The wider aspects of policy should be considered in the Chamber.

I am in favour of Committees, but their excellent work is not considered often enough. Their Reports are too seldom debated and the implications of such Reports are too rarely understood by hon. Members. I would favour even more work for specialist committees, but the House should find time for more reviews of how legislation is working. For example, the Housing and Immigration Acts have been passed, but never followed up. We set up councils and so on, but we do not often examine how such Acts are affecting people. The opportunity of this huge constitutional change, which I hope we are embarking upon, will be lost unless we consider these wider matters.

5. 29 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Like the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I welcome the idea of a reforming Leader of the House but I do not recommend him to follow all the proposals which are associated with the name of Richard Crossman. I sympathise with the suggestion that we should consider not sitting so long over a 24-hour period and curtail our holidays. Following certain proceedings today it might be a good idea if the Law Courts did not take such long holidays either.

I now return to the subject on which my right hon. Friend has already spoken—the treatment by the House and Government of the two EEC Regulations on proteins and skimmed milk powder, which we discussed last night. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assurance that there will be an opportunity for the House to discuss the matter further. Nevertheless, if we are to adjourn tomorrow, he has left it in an unsatisfactory state, in spite of his efforts.

My right hon. Friend argued that despite the resolution of the House last night, the Regulations will remain in legal force because in his view, and I suppose in the view of the Government, the European Communities Act overrides that Resolution, which was unanimously accepted. It could be argued with as much force—I believe with more force—that last night's Resolution overrode the provisions of the Act. After all, the decision last night was the later decision of the House.

My right hon. Friend also has the Report of the Foster Committee against him in his interpretation. That Report, which was accepted by both sides of the House, says that it is inconceivable not merely that a Minister would disregard a Resolution of the House in these circumstances but that a Minister should act contrary to a Resolution of the House. In the interim period before the further debate we seem to be in the profoundly unsatisfactory situation that the House has taken a clear decision one way on a specific issue and we are told that as a result of the operation of the Act a law contrary to that decision is to remain in operation in this country. If the Government are to stick to that interpretation, and not accept the alternative argument that in view of last night's decision they should suspend the operation of the Regulations until the House has further considered them, I hope that the interval will be very short.

There is no dispute that the House took a firm decision last night. Virtually nobody on either side of the Chamber disputes that the working of the Regulations is damaging to this country. There is also no dispute that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who I regret is not present, entirely failed at the meetings in Brussels to carry out the undertakings given in the Government's referendum manifesto that British Ministers would veto proposals which were clearly contrary to the interests of this country.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Government are trying to combat high inflation, and when part of the pact with the trade unions is that every endeavour will be made to control prices, we are in an absurd situation? The Government are trying to reach an agreement, but then my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food tells the House of the colossal defeat he has had, which sends up prices, and the House can do nothing about it.

Mr. Jay

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It was one of the arguments advanced in the debate last night that the operation of the proposals is wholly contrary to the economic policy of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

On the purely legal point, I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the European Communities Act, like all other legislation, is capable of amendment. Indeed, it has been amended in certain minor respects already in legislation which has been before the House.

I also remind my right hon. Friend that the Government's referendum manifesto said that our membership of the EEC depended on the continuing assent of Parliament. If that is so it is a serious question whether the Government are entitled wholly to disregard last night's decision, for the next fortnight anyway. They will be disregarding a clear decision of the House.

I shall carry the argument no further now, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will not assume that we all agree with the interpretation of the law which he gave today, and which the Government are following between now and our further debate on the issue.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

It would be wrong if the House adjourned and we went away without first discussing the security situation in Northern Ireland in general and in my constituency in particular, not only because it is still one of the major problems confronting the House and because the situation is deteriorating, but because within days some people in Northern Ireland will be celebrating again the 1916 rebellion. There are grave apprehensions about the con-consequences not only for my constituents but for the constituents of many other hon. Members. The IRA will undoubtedly once again vent its spleen on the local inhabitants and the British Army in particular.

In 1975, 55 people were killed in my constituency; 16 of them were members of the security forces. The former Prime Minister intervened on 12th January after the death of 15 more people in the first weeks of this year. They included the 10 workmen who were killed at Kings Mills. The right hon. Gentleman took personal responsibility for the security situation in South Armagh. When he made his statement on the situation he designated South Armagh a special emergency area, and he outlined a number of steps that he intended to take. The Spearhead Battalion and members of the SAS were introduced. There were to be more check points for vehicles and people, and a more extensive use of personal identity checks. Surveillance operations were to be increased along the border and there was to be more house checking. Powers of arrest were to be increased, and greater control over people using cross-border roads was to be exercised.

The then Prime Minister assured me when he made that statement that if the situation deteriorated he would give immediate consideration to the new problems created. His exact words were that if the problem is still as serious in three months' time as it is today, there will certainly be no let-up, and long before that we shall have considered what further tightening and response is necessary."— [Official Report, 12th January 1976; Vol. 903, c. 40.] The reality is that, after a few weeks which could be described as a honeymoon period, when the introduction of the SAS had obviously scared the terrorists, the terrorists are beginning to find their feet again. In three months 24 people have been killed in County Armagh. Another nine people are dead, four of them full-time soldiers and three of them part-time soldiers, including the second woman member of the Ulster Defence Regiment to be killed, and two civilians In the first three months of this year 25 per cent, of the 104 people killed in Northern Ireland have been killed in my constituency.

What is the result? Do we find the incisive mind of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet being applied to the situation, as the former Prime Minister assured me it would be? In what appears to be an authoritative statement in the Observer, we are told that following the deaths to which I have just referred: The order immediately went out that in future Army vehicles will not be allowed to patrol south of Ordnance Survey line 30 on the map—three miles north of the previous ' no-go ' threshold for Army vehicles. That means that another 40 square miles of South Armagh are now considered too dangerous for Army vehicles. If that is correct—and it has not been refuted—more than 400 square miles of the United Kingdom are now considered too dangerous for the Army to traverse in its vehicles. What confidence can I have in the assurance which was given to us on that date by the Prime Minister? Is not the re-assessment which he promised us overdue?

I do not wish to demand more soldiers for Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us that he believes "Ulsterisation" is bound to help. We ask that even greater urgency be given to our request for the setting up of full-time companies of the Ulster Defence Regiment. We want greater police involvement. The special patrol group of the RUC was withdrawn from South Armagh because it was felt that proper liaison could not be established between the group and the Army. Surely it is not beyond our power to develop a communication system to ensure that each will not blunder into the operations of the other. I hope that the special patrol group will be reintroduced.

We should like to have more SAS men in South Armagh. They are equipped to deal with the particular problems there, and they are more likely to succeed in dealing with practised and efficient murderers than is the ordinary soldier who has to rely on Army vehicles to get about and, therefore, gives a warning every time he goes on to the road.

Great play has been made of the political restraint which has been placed on the Army in Northern Ireland. There is one specific problem to which consideration should be given. It surrounds the incident in South Armagh which gave the IRA its biggest propaganda coup this year. A hijacked tanker was placed on the border and the area around was booby-trapped. It was a deliberate "come-on" to the Army. The Army, rightly, did not risk putting its men into the area immediately. The vehicle was kept under daily surveillance from a helicopter, but the Army was unable to immobilise the tanker. On the first misty day the IRA drove the tanker 16 miles across South Armagh and blew up one of the last remaining business premises in the area. Had the Army been able to fire from the helicopter the tanker could have been immobilised immediately, but there is a restriction on the use of weapons from helicopters. Within days another tanker was hijacked and the Army was forced to risk men's lives to immobilise it. I should like consideration to be given to this matter as a contribution to improving security in Northern Ireland.

This weekend we face the celebrations which surround the diamond anniversary of the Easter Rising. It should not be forgotten that the fiftieth anniversary in 1966 marked the resurgence of IRA activity. The Provisionals will exploit this celebration. No doubt David O'Connell, recently released from prison, will be smuggled into Northern Ireland in a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Government and the new Prime Minister. I hope that the Government have laid contingency plans, because the credibility of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State will again be on trial. Many of us could not believe that the IRA was still capable of mounting a campaign such as the one it mounted last week. I hope that there will be no repetition of it this weekend.

The House has it on its conscience that loyal and brave citizens who are part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in County Armagh are being killed daily almost at will by the IRA. They cannot go to bed at night and cannot go about their ordinary day-to-day business. They do not know whether they will be alive the next day or see the day out. They cannot call upon the police or the Army to come to their aid when they are in difficulty. If they do, they are told "We are sorry, we cannot go to you". They are left to the tender mercies of members of the IRA who have brutally killed their friends and neighbours. I find it sickening to go into South Armagh to attend funerals and to hear men speculate who will be next. I am glad that they maintain their membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but by so doing they sign their own death warrants.

The House expects these people to pay their taxes and to join the security forces. Some of them even send their sons to join the security forces. The House should give them the protection they need to live and work at peace with their neighbours.

The former Prime Minister said: Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Government have a duty to protect all their citizens there. This duty will be discharged to the full."— [Official Report, 12th January 1975; Vol. 903, c. 30.] There are still people in South Armagh who are waiting and hoping for that day to come.

5.45 p.m.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

I shall find it difficult to justify to my constituents that the House should be on holiday at a time when, whatever may be happening in the rest of the country, unemployment in my constituency is creeping inexorably upwards and every week brings news of fresh redundancies and fresh threats of redundancy which, if they materialise, will overwhelm the job creation programme. I have full regard for the achievement of the job creation programme which is being exploited vigorously and imaginatively by Clwyd County Council to provide every possible job that can be squeezed out of it, but, if the redundancy threats materialise, North-East Wales, which hitherto has been an area of low unemployment though also an area of low earnings, will become a disaster area.

The figures tell their tale, and grim they are. The male unemployment rate in Clwyd as a whole is 11.5 per cent. In the Rhyl travel-to-work area the male unemployment figure is 18.5 per cent. This morning I checked to see whether there was any sign of a downward trend to these hair-raising figures. I am told that there is virtually no sign of improvement, even at a period of the year when seasonal factors might be expected to produce a steady drop in the figures.

The figures I have quoted take no account of the threat of a further 600 redundancies at Courtaulds and the loss of the remaining jobs at ITT in Rhyl which disappear in batches of 100. Ultimately, about 300 jobs will have been lost there. The figures take no account of the threat still hanging over our heads of the phasing out of steel-making at Shotton. If that threat materialises 6,000 job opportunities will be lost. The figures take no account of the effect of the Dock Work Regulation Bill on unemployment in and around Mostyn Dock, which provides 80 reasonably good jobs.

In addition the figures take no account of the latest misfortune to fall upon the area, which is the threat to the future activity of the group of factories operated by the firm of Tillie and Henderson whose headquarters are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) who will, no doubt, seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Here, 575 jobs are at stake in North-West England and North-East Wales. There are 105 jobs at Leeswood, near Mold, 150 jobs just outside Mold, 120 jobs in Rhyl and a further 200 jobs in Chester. The firm is encountering considerable difficulty because of cheap imports of foreign textiles. I do not press the case for import control because I do not believe that it will provide a long-term answer for such factories, but I believe that it is an element that must be taken into account.

It may be that the receiver appointed to the firm may be able to save most, and perhaps all, of the jobs at stake. It may be that the employment premium of £20 per week—one of the items I welcome in the Budget—will just bridge the viability gap. But what is certain is that there is a time lag that needs to be filled by an immediate and reasonably generous bridging loan from the Department of Industry. There seems to be some doubt about whether the £20 per week premium can be paid to the receiver.

I understand that the matter is the subject of correspondence between the Department and the receiver, but until that matter has been settled a cloud of uncertainty will hang over the future of those jobs. For that reason I hope that the Minister will be able to take steps to avert a totally unnecessary shut-down of this firm and the loss of many badly-needed jobs in the area.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Morrison (City of Chester)

I am grateful for this opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. Normally, I believe that the longer the recess Parliament has, the better—not because I wish to have a holiday, but because I wish to keep in touch with my constituents outside in the real world. Hon. Members can become totally out of touch if they spend too long in this place. I also feel that the longer the recess, the less time we shall have to pass legislation, for I am convinced that there is too much of it.

I wish to draw attention to two particular points and I give them as reasons for believing that, at this time, it would be better for the House not to adjourn for the Easter Recess. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) mentioned the firm of Tillie and Henderson Holdings Ltd., whose headquarters are in my constituency. There is, as my hon. Friend said, substantial unemployment in the North-West and in North Wales. If that firm goes out of business, a further 800 people will lose their jobs.

As my hon. Friend so rightly pointed out, it is at a moment such as this that we want to question the Secretary of State for Industry about his attitude in relation to his Department giving a bridging loan and to ask "If not, why not?" It is possible that the firm will go under—not because there is no money forthcoming, but because money is not forthcoming at the right moment.

The second reason for saying that the House should not go into recess at this time is simply the fact that we were promised that the Report of the Layfield Committee would reach us some time after Christmas. But Christmas arrived and passed, and there was no sign of the Layfield Report. We are now almost in the middle of April and we still do not know what the Report says.

Rate demand notes are now being sent out by local authorities. Ratepayers will feel a genuine and understandable sense of grievance because they have no idea of the Layfield Committee's view on how local government should be financed in future. They do not know the reaction of the two main political parties to this very difficult question.

As I understand the situation, the Government have gone so far as to say that they will review the procedure. Perhaps they have not gone so far as has my own party, which believes that the present system of financing of local government is unfair—in other words, that the system has served its purpose in the past but that that is no longer the case.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to publish the Layfield Report. When exorbitant rate demands reach our constituents, they will at least know that something is being done to do away with a system that has totally outgrown its use. They will know that hon. Members are genuinely concerned about the enormous bills that ratepayers must pay. For these two vitally important reasons, I believe that it would be a mistake for the House to go into recess.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)

I, too, feel that it is a great pity that the Easter Recess falls at this time because Labour Members are looking forward to hearing statements from the newly appointed Prime Minister and his new Cabinet Ministers.

I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson), who has joined us on the Back Benches. My right hon. Friend has the tremendous record of having led the Labour Party into five elections and in having succeeded in winning on four occasions. Indeed, he formed four Labour Governments. We now have the fifth Labour Government out of the past six Governments of this country. Therefore, it is a pity that we are now to go into recess, because the nation is in need of leadership.

We have already seen in our constituencies that the new Prime Minister has been accepted by the country, and I think that a tremendous impression has been made by his new Cabinet appointments. I hope that the Prime Minister will lay down the social, economic and industrial policies of the Labour Government. We are passing through a difficult economic period and I hope that the Labour Government will give this country a lead.

Reference has been made to the need for a reforming Leader of the House. I think that we have such a person in my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), so recently appointed to that post. My right hon. Friend said only yesterday: I believe that it should be our purpose in this House to re-establish the supremacy of the House in all these matters. That is what I wish to see. It is not solely a matter of what we do in this House. It is also a question of how we enlist the allegiance and the affection of people in the country for this House of Commons."— [Official Report, 12th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 926.] That was a good start by my right hon. Friend in his first speech as Leader of the House. It is always easy to listen to my right hon. Friend. When he speaks almost every passage sounds like a peroration—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his eulogy, but I hope that he will relate his remarks to why the House should not adjourn until Monday 26th April.

Mr. Evans

I was coming to that, Mr. Speaker, having quoted the words of the Leader of the House. We need to learn as early as possible from my right hon. Friend what he intends to do to modernise the procedures of the House. It is completely unreasonable, as has been pointed out by other hon. Members, that we should be meeting at 2.30 in the afternoon and carrying on until 2.30 the following morning.

There was an experiment conducted when the late Dick Crossman was Leader of the House, and we should again look seriously at this question. I am sure that there would be better discussions if we were to meet at 10.30 in the morning and finish not later than 10.30 in the evening. If this House is to be supreme, Members of Parliament should treat it as if it is supreme, and their attendance here should be regarded as paramount, whatever other duties they might have outside the House.

As has been said, the House of Commons should not be just a talking shop. It should also be a listening shop. I therefore hope that proposals for broadcasting the proceedings of this House will be brought forward soon. If this is to be a listening shop as well as a talking shop, the people should have the right to listen to what is said here.

We also have a new Foreign Secretary, and in congratulating him I express the hope that we shall soon have a restatement of our position in international affairs. Following the Helsinki conference, there is a need to reassert our belief in the policy of detente, which will, we hope, lead to greater international cooperation. It is regrettable that, with the difficult situation developing in Rhodesia and Southern Africa, we have not heard the new Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government will stand four-square in their policy for that area.

We have heard today a statement on transport policy from the new Secretary of State for the Environment. There may well be a need for an integrated transport policy in the years ahead, but we should like to hear also from the Secretary of State what is to be done about housing. The new Secretary of State was very successful in his previous office in dealing with trade and exports, which have been building up very considerably. I wish him success in his new Department, but we should like to hear from him his plans for housing.

We also need to hear from the new Secretary of State for Trade how he intends to bring about the export-led economic recovery which will help to meet the many demands for improving our environmental services. I hope that he will follow the example of his predecessor and advise people to buy British. Although there is a demand for selective import controls, I believe that it is possible to have "do it yourself" selective import controls in that the consumer and the industrialist can both choose to buy British goods.

We have a new Secretary of State for Employment, and we wish him well. I hope that he, too, will state categorically that it is his intention to work closely with the trade unions and to try to bring about an improvement in industrial relations. I hope that encouragement will be given to every working person to join a trade union.

We have a new Secretary of State for Scotland, and once again we wish him well, although it is not for me to comment on the affairs of his Department. But I hope that for ever and a day there will be a Secretary of State for Wales and a Secretary of State for Scotland in the House of Commons and that this House will remain supreme. I believe that a Government statement is required proclaiming their belief in the unity of the people of these islands. Whatever is done about devolution, the starting point should be our belief in the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, we in Wales are not unhappy at the present time, because we were fortunate in having you elected as Speaker, representing, as you do, a Cardiff constituency. We were very pleased when the Lord Chancellor, who comes from Wales, was appointed. Now we have both a Prime Minister and a Leader of the House with Welsh connections—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must be neutral. I interrupted the hon. Gentleman's compliments earlier to the Leader of the House. The hon. Gentleman must try to relate his remarks to the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Evans

In conclusion, may I say that it is a pity that we are having the recess at this time? The people of this country want to have a lead on all the issues to which these new Cabinet Ministers are now turning their attention. I hope that Ministers will turn their attention to these important issues and that the Leader of the House will in due course arrange for the appropriate statements to be made and for debates to take place. I believe that when we come back reinvigorated from the Easter Recess we shall be able to solve the problems confronting us, and that the Government and the country will go from strength to strength.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

I believe that this House should not adjourn until the Government have been alerted, through the Leader of the House—whom we all congratulate on his new appointment—to the need to expand British exports to the Middle East. We have heard a great deal in the past few days about the need for an export-led boom and the need to reduce unemployment, yet very rarely do we hear any specific discussions about what needs to be done in order to create this export-led boom, particularly in the key areas where growth is possible.

The oil-producing States of the Middle East today account for 8 per cent, of our exports. That is double the figure of a year ago. If present trends continue, our exports to that area may double again. This capacity for growth does not exist in any other area of the world, and a little of our time could well be spent in considering what the British Government could be doing to improve our capacity to create an export-led boom in this area.

The key to this area is Saudi Arabia, which has a fantastic £70,000 billion five-year plan. I was a member of an all-party parliamentary delegation to Saudi Arabia a week or two ago. As we were walking through the marble and golden halls of a conference centre in Riyadh, a senior official remarked "Here we are building the Babylon of this millennium". That remark, I believe, sums up the terriffic opportunities for British companies and the British Government in exporting goods, services, industrial products and people to the new El Dorado which exists in these oil-producing States.

I wish I had some interests to declare in this area, so fantastic are those opportunities. A few months ago I was a managing director of a bank with interests in that area, and I still have aspirations for the future, but I regret to say that today I have no interests other than the nation's interests, which are to increase our exports. As a result of my experiences, I have some specific knowledge of what ought to be done in this respect, and I should like to make some constructive suggestions as to what the British Government should be trying to do at the present time.

First, there is great opportunity for more Government-to-Government deals. In rather an off-hand comment at the end of an answer to an Oral Parliamentary Question recently, the new Prime Minister, speaking then as Foreign Secretary, said words to the effect of "The more I look at British exports, the more I think that the Government should be involved in exports". I do not think that the significance of that comment was entirely realised, because the Government's imprimatur on exports—particularly to those areas where the Governments are often, understandably, suspicious of people going out just to try to sell them things—is a very important ingredient in our success.

In education, health, hospital building—and in exporting what are now, after all, the products of nationalised industries, such as motor cars—there is a tremendous rôle for the Government to play in being directly involved in trade deals. Here, I think that I should say a word about the weakness of our current export drive in terms of Government participation.

We have heard criticisms about the amount of money spent on diplomatic representation, and there may be some validity in those criticisms. But when we compare the amount spent on diplomats with the amount spent on those people who are involved in promoting exports, the outlook is extremely depressing in terms of the way in which our resources are being spent.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the key person who is involved in Britain's export drive there is the head of the British Trade Mission to Riyadh, the commercial capital. He is one man on his own. He works without any staff. He works out of his own bedroom. He does not have a secretary or an assistant. In my view, a great deal more should be done to provide this official with additional resources in order to strengthen his hand and what he can do to promote our national goods there.

We should also look at the way in which we receive Middle East visitors, who are of great importance to our exports. A few days ago I was in Washington, where I witnessed the reception, indeed, the red carpet treatment, given to the Minister of Industry in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Ghazi Al Gossaibeh. He was awarded a full reception in the shape of the Treasury Secretary, Mr. William Simon, and his deputy, Mr. Parsky, all turning out to give him the full VIP treatment.

Yet the other day, when we had a diplomatic mission called the Joint Trade Mission for Saudi Arabia, a delegation led by Sheikh Abdullah Ali Reza, it was noticeable that Ministers were not involved and that it was left to senior civil servants to act as the hosts on that occasion. I believe that the Government should do more to recognise the significance and fundamental importance that Middle East visitors attach to the way in which they are received in this country.

It is also important to recognise, as we were told endlessly on our parliamentary delegation, that Britain's success in exporting to the Middle East will be much greater if it is operating within a political framework of greater understanding for the legitimate political objectives of the oil-producing countries.

I am sorry to say that for so long as the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) was Prime Minister there was an understandable degree of suspicion that his Government were, on account of his own emotional sympathies, always very much committed to all-out support for Israeli policies. No one on either side of this House or throughout the responsible sections of the Arab world wishes to see Israel in any way become less secure and be driven into the sea, as some political extremists have expressed the wish. We all want to see a sound and secure Israel existing behind her pre-1967 boundaries. But, unless we realise that the Arab world's political aspirations have legitimacy and need a degree of support and understanding from the British Government, we shall not get full support and understanding for our own export objectives.

Finally, all this export drive which I am discussing and which is so necessary for our own national future can only take place in the context of a vigorous private enterprise system here at home. So many firms in this country are now dependent in the jobs that they give on their order books from Middle East countries.

It was the late Ernest Bevin who said to the miners "Give me an additional million tons of coal a year and I will give you a foreign policy." A modern British Government should say to British private enterprise "We will give you a foreign policy if you can give us some reliable delivery dates, some strike-free productivity and some good industrial products worthy of export." All these achievements can take place only in the context of greater encouragement for the private sector, for free enterprise and for export promotion.

It is not generally realised by Government supporters how suspicious private enterprise still is of their own desire to increase the public sector involvement in our national life and to diminish the drive of free enterprise. We cannot achieve the high export levels that we need if at the same time we discourage free enterprise. This must be the basic consideration behind the need to improve British exports in the Middle East and everywhere else in the world.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

It is not my intention to detain the House for any length of time. However, I should have been much happier if this House had been going into recess in the knowledge that the Department of Employment would be willing to consider the possibility of calling a specific London conference to deal with the twin problems of unemployment and the possible danger of our losing some of the crafts which have been almost historic in the Greater London area.

Although the Greater London area is not defined specifically as a region, when the House realises that within the area which we London Members represent we have one-fifth of the total population of the British nation, the problems can be seen in perspective.

I say immediately, though it may be a bit late for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that I wish to put on record, on behalf of my colleagues who on this side of the House represent London, the fact that my right hon. Friend was always extremely courteous and helpful to us when he was Secretary of State for Employment. He was always prepared to see us at the Department, in this House or wherever we wished to meet him to discuss and examine any proposition about the unemployment situation in the Greater London area, about which I know that he felt keenly. He felt as keenly for Londoners as for those living in any other part of the country.

In London we have a specific aspect of the problem which may not exist elsewhere. I acknowledge at once that in other parts of the country there is very much higher unemployment than there is in the Greater London area. At the same time, that is a valid statement only if we talk in terms of all other parts of the country and the whole Greater London area, because although in the Greater London area unemployment is lower than in the country at large, in parts of the Greater London area it is as high as, and in some instances higher than, in other parts of the country.

What has been happening probably applies only to the Greater London area. It is that successive Governments have faced unemployment in certain other regions and have had to acknowledge that London has been a magnet in that it has drawn people from other parts of the country. Usually there has been a paucity of skilled labour rather than an unemployment problem. As a result, industry which wanted to come to the Greater London area has not bothered to come.

In addition to that, industries in the Greater London area have found it tempting to move out. Therefore, London has suffered. Where industries have moved out of the Greater London area the immediate effect, of course, has been an increase in unemployment.

It has not stopped there. It has been common in the past for a large industry to be associated with a specific area of Greater London. I have in my own constituency the Greenford area which for more than half a century has been associated with the skill of making glass containers of various kinds. Without warning, a large firm in Greenford moved out of the area. Skilled men found themselves unemployed, but what in many ways was even worse was that young people in Ealing who had been trained with a view to obtaining lucrative and permanent employment in a skilled trade in the glassworks found themselves without job opportunities. Similar stories could be told about various other parts of London involving other trades and skills.

As a result, adjustments have had to be made in the education of young people, since there could no longer be the same concentration on certain skilled artisan jobs and apprenticeships, and this, too, has led to the impoverishment of the Greater London area. This education and industrial training aspect is another situation created by the growth of unemployment in the Greater London area which I should like to see the Department of Employment looking into very closely.

I believe that there will be a return to full employment, but when it comes we shall need not only in Greater London but throughout the country the skills and crafts which used to exist there. If those skills are not available to the nation we shall not be able to take full advantage of the recovery which, I believe, will occur.

My appeal this evening, therefore, is that where we have a special situation such as we have in the Greater London area, the time has come for us to look at the possibility of having a specific Greater London conference involving not only one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Employment, both of whom are extremely able and understanding, but also representatives of the Greater London Council, all the London boroughs, regional trade union officers, employers' organisations, and even education representatives. Such a conference, even a weekend conference, which I believe the Department of Employment could organise, would allow the problem to be seen in clear perspective. This in turn could contribute to our arriving at a solution, which is so urgently needed.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)

It would be very wrong of me to go away without raising the problem of the security situation in Londonderry which so intimately concerns so many of my constituents. To hammer the lesson home, I must point out that at 3.26 this afternoon two bombs exploded in Butcher Street, Londonderry, and Londonderry lost another shop and another public house. At the same time in another shop m Ship-quay Street, less than 200 yards away, a suspect bomb was found. It is significant that these three devices were all inside the tight security net surrounding the city centre.

Since the beginning of this year in Londonderry City one soldier has been shot dead and a few miles outside the city a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve was shot dead in the main street of Claudy, and a few nights later a civilian youth was shot dead in a local public house in the same village. In addition, since the beginning of this year there have been 15 attempts on the lives of members of the security forces, both full-time and part-time, by bombs and bullets in Londonderry City, and two attempts on the lives of civilians. While this does not compare with the level of IRA activity in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), it is something that the House should keep in mind, because this level of activity is quite clearly to be seen in other parts of Northern Ireland and these things tend to be overshadowed by events in the worst areas, such as that of my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that during this recess there will be the Easter period in Northern Ireland, with all that that means to the rebel element in the population, to life and property and to the physical and mental well-being of all our constituents. My constituents would like me to raise this afternoon the curious case of Mr. Martin McGuinness and his arrest and subsequent release. I should like to have a clear indication from the Front Bench opposite, on behalf of the Government, as to why this was allowed to happen.

Almost any person in Northern Ireland, if asked to say who Martin McGuinness was, would say that he has appeared on television as a spokesman for the IRA and is believed to be a leading member of that organisation in Londonderry City. Yet what is the truth? Nothing can be proven against him, no criminal charges laid. Not even the charge of being a member of the IRA can be proven against him. He and such a person as Seamus Twomey are able to walk the streets clearly seen by all my constituents, who say "Here is a man whom we believe to be wanted by the police, yet he is walking around and no effort is being made to arrest him", and they wonder why. This speculation has become so widespread among the general public that a denial that this man is under threat of arrest from the police should be issued by the Northern Ireland Office.

Following this, I should like to know whether, if David O'Connell should cross the border into Northern Ireland to speak at some Republican ceremony over the Easter period, he would be arrested. Will any effort be made to arrest him? Is, or can, any charge to be brought against him in Northern Ireland? If he cannot be arrested and charged, will he be arrested and excluded from Northern Ireland under the anti-terrorist laws of this nation? If this is not done, if no such serious attempt is made, the law and the forces of law and order are brought into contempt among the general public in Northern Ireland.

Again, in Northern Ireland on 1st February last a number of very inflammatory speeches were made about the, at that time, future death of Mr. Frank Stagg which in due course came to pass. His funeral was very tactfully handled by the Dublin authorities, for which I commend them. Then we were told that no charge could be brought against Mr. Agnew, but I believe that the Director of Public Prosecutions still has under consideration, in the law's slow way, a case that might possibly be brought against Mrs. Drumm. Perhaps the Minister will give us an undertaking that the process will be speeded up.

Further, we have in Londonderry a number of points at which riots arise whenever Republican meetings are held—at William Street and Great James Street. There are attacks on the Fountain Estate and stoning occurs in Waterloo Place, and the Glen Estate can be attacked. We are told that there are always sufficient forces to meet these actions and problems, and yet on every occasion that an attack takes place and riots start there is nobody on the ground and no attempt appears to be made to forestall the forces arrayed against law and order. This does not help the position of the security forces or respect for them in the eyes of the public, whether that public be law-abiding or law-breaking. It brings the security forces into contempt.

When I raised this matter at Question Time on 19th February with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he descended to abuse rather than trying to give me a constructive answer. He said: The Army … are getting very fed up with criticism from the so-called Loyalist side of the community".— [Official Report, 19th February, 1976; Vol. 905, c. 1472.] But only the previous weekend I had talked to private soldiers on the streets of Londonderry and to members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and I were asked by soldiers why they had to stand and watch Republican elements burning and destroying property and being many times guilty of arson with no effort being made to arrest or stop them. This question came from the man on the street who had had to stand and watch that happening until 5.30 in the morning.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has told us on many occasions that the number of soldiers needed for Northern Ireland is a question for the General Officer Commanding, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what is the real situation. We are told that there are sufficient troops on the ground and that the situation is under control, and yet there are riots and there is arson and at those times there does not seem to be the will or the men to control the situation. I suggest that there are not enough men on the ground to control the situation under the present site of the law but if the law were strengthened to the same degree, and if action was taken in the same way as anti-terrorist and anti-IRA action is taken in Eire, there would be sufficient men to enable those who are members of the IRA to be picked up and charged with these offences more simply than under the present system in Northern Ireland. They could then be put in prison for quite a long period of time. I should like the Government to look at this.

I would also ask whether during the Easter period the security forces in Londonderry will be prepared for riots at the usual times and in the usual places, and will have enough men on the streets to meet threats to law and order. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that he looked forward to the time when the police would have primary responsibility for security matters in Northern Ireland. We all look forward to that time. The problem to which he drew attention was that there was some acceptance of the police among some members of the minority community. But there is none among those other members of it, who are only really IRA members and fellow-travellers and who will never accept the police.

That is not, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland believes, for reasons of history but is because of the political aims of the IRA, which has decided that it wants a United Ireland and is using every bloody means towards that end.

Hon. Members should also realise that this is not mindless savagery by the IRA because no matter how foul the murder or evil the act, it is always aimed towards a certain political objective—the detachment of Northern Ireland from the rest of this nation.

There is much more that I could say about the terrible situation in which my constituents find themselves—the intimidation, the pain and the suffering under which they live—but I do not wish to detain the House any longer. I ask only for an assurance that efforts will be made to defend my constituents who wish to be law-abiding, that efforts will be made to arrest those who do not wish to abide by the law but wish only to break it, and that we shall therefore have a peaceful and secure Easter.

6.31 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Hands-worth)

If urgency and seriousness are the criteria for not adjourning now, I should have thought that the situation in Southern Africa came well within them. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) touched on this matter, but only briefly. I think that it deserves to be mentioned again.

It is extraordinary that we should have had a report to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), who is now Secretary of State for Social Services—I have difficulty in recalling who is now where—and who made a recent visit to Southern Africa, and that, although there were opportunities at Question Time for these matters to be raised, we have not yet had a full-scale debate on the situation in Rhodesia. Indeed, as far as I am aware, we have no promise that a debate will be forthcoming. However, there could hardly be a more serious situation than the one which is developing in that area.

We sometimes lose sight of the fact that for over 11 years there has been no lawful authority in a territory for which this country has direct responsibility. Since the Government of Ian Smith, as it was, was dismissed under the authority of the Crown in November 1965, there has been a legal void. Often, in circumstances which I regard as discreditable, there have been attempts to parley with Mr. Smith and his illegal régime. But there is still no lawful authority in Rhodesia, and no attempt seems to be made or to be in contemplation for one to be appointed.

Meanwhile, both militarily and otherwise, the situation gets worse. Of course, one gets a certain satisfaction if one looks shortsightedly at the military situation which is developing on the borders of Rhodesia. I say "one gets a certain satisfaction" because no one on this side and certainly not many hon. Members on the other side of the House would wish to give aid and comfort to the Smith régime At the same time, it is a grim situation.

The position is becoming polarised between an illegal—some would say technically treasonable—racialist régime, on the one hand, and the prospect of military invasion by other forces, which are themselves anything but liberal in many instances, coming from without, on the other hand. In saying that, my criticisms are directed at both sides in the dispute which is now raging.

We now have a new Prime Minister with, one hopes, a little more firmness in these matters. We need an undertaking from the Government that before long they will make a positive move regarding Rhodesia. As far as I can see, for some time past my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) has been content to observe the situation from without and to have no policy at all. Now that we have a new Prime Minister, who for the past two years, as Foreign Secretary, has been responsible in a portfolio sense, I hope that we shall see a new and more vigorous attempt to tackle the situation.

One of the first things that I should like to see is the establishment—in this country, if necessary— -of a Government in exile with authority to take over when the Smith régime collapses or recognises that it is facing defeat and disaster and is prepared to acknowledge its illegality and vacate office.

We urgently need an assurance that a visit by the Foreign Secretary, and probably by the Prime Minister as well, will be made to Mozambique to consider whether it is possible to reach an understanding with the various countries on the borders of Rhodesia which, understandably from many points of view, give aid and comfort to those seeking to invade that country. Unless and until something along those lines is done, the situation will get worse for all concerned and we shall end up being without credit on either side.

We shall have failed, as we have done for the last 11 years, to support and succour the majority of the population in Rhodesia from the régime which they have had imposed upon them. At the same time, we shall get no credit from the various nationalist movements.

It is interesting—I mentioned this matter in a debate on foreign affairs within the last few weeks—that at least one of the nationalist leaders in Rhodesia, Bishop Muzorewa, does not want us to involve ourselves now. At one time the nationalists wished us to come to their assistance. Now their attitude—at least in one case—is to dismiss us, I suppose, scornfully and contemptuously. That is perhaps understandable. However, it is not a situation with which any of us could be satisfied.

It is a sombre situation. We are in danger of being out-manœuvred by all sides. We are in danger of finding ourselves made out by the Russians and, indeed, by the Chinese to some extent as being on the side of white supremacy in Southern Africa. I do not think that my right hon. Friend would want that label appended to this Government. I hope that we shall now have a more positive approach to these matters than we have had in the last two years.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I should like to start by offering my warm congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has been in this place for many years. While he has been here, his approach to those in power has never been obsequious. Indeed, on many occasions it has been positively disrespectful. No one could say that he has sought office. Indeed, for many years he gave the impression that the awful responsibilities and curbs of office were the very last things he wanted. However, I congratulate him on the way he is surviving those curbs and, in a measure, accepting the responsibilities.

The right hon. Gentleman has always supported policies which have considerably increased the power of the State, but the fact of that support, given in the Lobbies, has never wholly undermined the impression that he was a man of eloquence and fire whose considerable talents would always be deployed in defence of personal liberty and parliamentary government. Now, after the leisurely and ritual process of a party election, the right hon. Gentleman emerges not merely as a very formidable runner-up but almost as the winner of the contest. He comes before us not just as the runner-up, not just as the Leader of the House but as Lord President of the Council as well—a title of great dignity. He will need a dinner jacket now, I think.

Such are the appetites of men for power and titles that even the right hon. Gentleman's appetites are apparently unsatisfied. Yesterday afternoon, in this place, he was equating himself evidently with the Archangel Michael. I think he ought to go a little slowly before he approaches too intimately the heavenly host. He has now emerged not only as the runner-up and as Lord President of the Council but as the most powerful man in the Government—the one man whose resignation would bring down in ruins this conceited coalition. I must say I very much hope that one day he will be tempted to do it.

It is a long time since the Leader of the House has, at the same time, been the most powerful man in the Administration. Our questions to him will be invested with rather more weight than the questions which we normally address to the Leader of the House. We will await not only his answers but also his deeds with even more eager anticipation than usual.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raised the question, which I am sure will be constantly put to the right hon. Gentleman, of the way in which this House conducts its business. The right hon. Gentleman, I thought, was slightly unfair to the House in that he appeared to suggest that the way in which we conducted our business was to be laid at our door. But only partially are we guilty. We have fallen into doing the bidding of the Executive, which understandably runs its affairs in a far more deplorable way and communicates its bad habits to this place.

The right hon. Gentleman said, quite rightly, that we are due for a reforming Leader of the House of Commons. I very much hope we have one, but I also hope that the word "reforming" will be clearly understood as meaning an improvement and enhancement of the power, prestige and influence of the House of Commons and not just clipping the wings of Parliament further so as to make life more comfortable and convenient for the Executive.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who has left the Chamber, raised the question of the dilemma into which we have got over the question of these European Regulations rejected by the House last night but accepted by the Community. It is really rather sad to find ourselves in a situation in which the Minister of Agriculture, whom we all like very much, has accepted those Regulations as part of a package deal and now comes here and says that he does not like them either. I think that the Minister of Agriculture should be invited, very respectfully, before he takes his journeys to Brussels, to think out carefully what his views are about such Regulations before he accepts them as part of a deal instead of coming here afterwards, when it is all too late, and rending his garments and taking sackcloth and ashes.

I greatly appreciated the Lord President's early response to this dilemma and the assurance of an early debate when we reassemble after Easter. He acknowledged that this matter could not be left indefinitely as it is. We appreciate his approach very much.

The hon. Members for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and Londonderry (Mr. Ross) gave the House a timely and usual—I use that word in a perfectly proper sense, and it is perfectly justified—reminder of the horrors of Northern Ireland and pointed out that, uncomfortably and horribly near to us, we see continued examples of men who by the use of muscle, violence and cruelty are determined to upset a state of law. Both hon. Gentlemen deserve the attention of the House, and the Government, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will call the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to what they have said.

There are two convenient ways in which to reach the Government Front Bench. One is to be very polite to its occupants and the other is to be very rude to them. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) chose the former way. He rather overdid the eulogies which might have been expected of him at Eastertide by saying how nice it would be to hear again from one of his right hon. Friends. He went through the list. Candour compels me to admit that I do not entirely share his enthusiasm to hear once again from his right hon. Friends. I personally am only too relieved that the Easter Recess is coming upon us so that we shall be relieved of listening to too many of them saying things in which neither they nor we believe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) referred rightly to the importance of the Middle East and expressed regret—I entirely share his views—that he had no interest to declare in that part of the world, a regret which, I am bound to say, I must express on my own behalf. Who knows, perhaps some itinerant Prince of Arabia, pursuing an assiduous study of Hansard, may one day fall upon this passage and help my hon. Friend to remedy this sad state of affairs.

I have two questions of my own which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. First, with all the eloquent speeches he has made on the subject of the House of Commons in his mind now, as they must be, is it his intention that Parliament's power and influence should be revived and restored, or would he be content that they should continue to diminish? Parliament has undoubtedly over the years during which he and I have been here, lost power. The House of Lords, about which the right hon. Gentleman never fails to show his contempt, survives as a kind of home of rest. It is allowed to continue because it is more convenient to the Administration than it is irritating.

We all recall the recent experiences of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is true to say that, by and large, the other place has become a convenient part of the Administration's framework and not too irritating to them. It is allowed to survive, but while this process has been going on the House of Commons has rather sloppily, in the name of democracy or something, given its approval to the process.

Yet the House of Commons has appeared not to recognise that exactly the same diet is being meted out to it by a predatory and overweening Executive, which has clearly increased its powers over the years. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember that, oddly enough, the effect of giving more and more power to the central Government is not to produce a razor-sharp and efficient Administration. On the contrary, the effect, which is visible in many aspects, is to produce an Administration which becomes arrogant, overweening and inept.

I said that the House of Commons had lost considerable power while the right hon. Gentleman and I have been here. Who on earth believes that the House of Commons now does more than provide a Government, who thereafter go on their way virtually unchecked, enjoying, as the present Government do, a docile majority—until the other day at least? Which admirer of the House can really claim in public that it is we who effectively control Government expenditure or influence borrowing, which is now astronomical? Who suggests that the House devotes itself to the cause of sustaining the liberty of the individual? Does anyone even claim that we can generate and sustain a discussion which clarifies both the issues and the perils of the time? Therefore, my first question to the right hon. Gentleman is: how far would he like to see this House revived, and would he be content to see it further diminished?

The answer to my second question will serve as a good means of judging the value of the words which the Leader of the House will pour out in answer to the first one—that is, how does he see things now in the matter of the numbers on both sides of the House? Only a few days ago the Government had a paper majority of two. One right hon. Gentleman has now crossed the Floor. What does the Leader of the House think is the proper disposition of numbers in existing Select and Standing Committees and in those which have yet to be set up? I am sure he will have very much in mind the fact that two highly controversial Bills have just been published. What are we to expect from the Committee of Selection? Should that Committee's constitution be looked at in the light of the present balance in the House?

This Government have so far shown little respect for the views of the large section of the public who do not agree with them at all. They have taken little account of the narrowness of their majority. They have frequently been content to justify their conduct by saying that this is an affair in which counting heads is all important. So be it. That paper majority has now gone, and I hope that we shall get from the Leader of the House an assurance in the name of this Administration that that new development will not be merely noticed in passing and turned aside as just another inconvenience and thorn in the flesh but will influence their thinking and actions. Their thoughts and actions in this situation will be a far more certain assurance than any words of their real attitude to this House.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

An important matter has arisen only in the last hour which I believe to be sufficient to delay the Adjournment of the House. I refer to the grave allegations about British Petroleum in the Press and on television. I do not seek to justify them or to provide evidence but I believe that there is sufficient information and evidence to cause concern in this House and increasing concern among the public.

The House should investigate or debate the real issues of public concern which are raised. Allegations have been made that oil companies—British Petroleum and Shell, among others—have made substantial payments to political parties in Italy. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has tried to investigate this matter. Understandably, in view of the Resolution of the House, the Committee could not investigate British Petroleum, even though almost 70 per cent, of its shares are owned by the Government. That leaves only the possibility of debate in the House.

Yesterday, in answer to a Question, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: As regards any contribution to political parties, I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to newspaper reports and that he would wish to join with me in the conventional presumption of innocence until the contrary is proved."— [Official Report, 12th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 910.] That is a fair point, but we should take into account not only the evidence provided by the Sunday Times or the "World in Action" television programme, which cannot be easily dismissed, but also statements made today by the companies involved.

Shell has issued a statement today admitting that an investigation of its accounts discloses that £2½ million was distributed to political parties in Italy. It said that the parties were neither of the extreme Left nor of the extreme Right, but it will not say who was paid. That raises an interesting political question about distinguishing between political parties when payments like this are made quite apart from the political implications.

The only alternative for hon. Members is to ask Questions. Last Friday I put down two Questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One asked if, in the light of evidence submitted to him … he will have discussions with the Italian Government and the EEC Commission relating to the implications under the requirements of the Treaty of Rome of the activities of British oil companies in making payments to Italian political parties. The answer was to the point: "No."

In answer to the second Question, the Chancellor said that the Government were satisfied with the financial control of the transactions of British Petroleum's overseas subsidiary.

That is not sufficient. The least that the Government should have done was to consult those organisations to see whether there was any substance in the allegations. If they do not want to make a judgment, they should at least investigate and discuss the matter with the bodies concerned. That answer was deplorable and totally unacceptable. There is a fundamental question here relating to the control of multinational companies. Should not the Government, who have a major share of BP, one of the companies involved, investigate the issues?

I consider that public concern will grow in the next few days, when Parliament will be in recess and we cannot have a public debate. I hope that the Government will delay the Adjournment or at least reconsider their position. I believe that BP is to make a statement tonight which may make the refusal to hold an investigation totally inadequate and unacceptable in the light of public concern.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I realise that the House wishes to conclude this debate, but I ask for hon. Members' indulgence for a few minutes. I have been shut away in the Dock Work Regulation Bill Standing Committee, which prevented me from speaking earlier.

The House should not adjourn until something is done about the position of commercial ratepayers with empty properties in secondary situations. They face an iniquitous surcharge on their rates. We have listened to some important matters concerning Northern Ireland. One of my constituents who is a serving officer in Northern Ireland faces a bill of £680 for his property which is in a secondary position in a town in my constituency. He is unable to sell the property. Previously he tried to secure a change of use for it for residential purposes, but he was turned down by the authority which is imposing the surcharge.

The surcharge stems from the Local Government Act 1967, reinforced by the Local Government Act 1974. It has had a disastrous effect on the owners of these properties, which are virtually unsaleable, because of the downturn in the economy and the lack of interest in commercial properties which are not in a High Street position. Often they are difficult to let.

Substantial sums are involved. Last night we heard in an Adjournment debate that in the Harrow area £2,000 had been demanded from an unfortunate person. I have taken this whole issue up with the Department of the Environment and the Minister for Planning and Local Government, who has written to me passing the buck back to the local authority.

The chief executive officer of my local authority told me that it was not in the authority's jurisdiction to make any alteration to applying the hardship clause. He said that if a person had the means to pay, he should pay. He passed it back to the Department of the Environment.

I urge the Department to take action. The Minister of State, Department of Industry said last night that he thought the matter should have his attention, but it is a matter in which the Department of the Environment should act. It should issue a circular telling local authorities to be generous in these circumstances, to be understanding and sensitive and to interpret the definition of hardship widely so that very large sums are not demanded.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Foot

If I try to cover as speedily as possible the points which have been raised I hope it will not be regarded as disrespectful to hon. Members. If I made full replies to all the questions we would be here for a long time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not reply to their questions in detail. I have not had an opportunity to consider a circular such as the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight is asking me to issue at once. We should not be able to issue it before the Easter Recess, but I will discuss the matter with the newly-appointed Secretary of State for the Environment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East put an important question which was mentioned earlier in the debate. There have been fresh statements by Shell and BP while I have been sitting on this Bench, and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those statements on behalf of the Government until they have been fully examined. I am sure that the House will wish to return to the matter after the recess.

The House of Commons has a variety of ways by which these matters can be brought speedily to our attention. It is one of the virtues of the Commons that it can react to events more swiftly than any other elected Assembly in the world. We should bear that in mind when embarking on any reforms. I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied if I say no more now. When the House meets again I am sure that he will be raising this subject again and that other Members will want further Government comments.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) made some kindly remarks about me and I am very grateful for them I seem to have caused only minimal offence by comparing myself with the Archangel Michael. He seems to think I should behave like a blind Samson, pulling down the temple of the present Government. This is not the reason I was invited to join the Government. It was for the opposite purpose of propping up the whole structure. I do not say that that is entirely a one-man job, but I am sure that that was the whole idea of the invitation, which I was glad to accept.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would put two questions and for a moment I squirmed in my seat because I know that he can pose formidable questions. Partly because of his good nature at Eastertide, he put two easy questions. He asked whether I wished to see the powers and the influence of the House of Commons revived, restored and sustained. Of course, I am very much in favour of that.

There has been some decline in recent years, but not perhaps for the reasons he suggests. I do not accept the platitudinous view that we are suffering from a predatory and overweening Executive. The Executive can be brought under the control of the House of Commons much more readily than hon. Members think. That is why some of us were so concerned at the European Communities Act. It was a specific measure in which the power of the House of Commons was diminished and that of the Executive was enhanced.

Such specific measures have tended to reduce the power of Parliament, but I reject the suggestion peddled by academics, who perhaps make profitable careers out of the business, that the Cabinet is all-powerful and can do anything it wants and can dictate to the Commons. That is not so. The House of Commons can call the Cabinet and individual Ministers to book very easily. Rows can blow up which change the whole course of the conduct of government. The Departments of State are much more alive to what can be done in this House than is sometimes assumed.

The second question the right hon. Member put was slightly more awkward, but not all that difficult. He asked what would happen, with the alteration of numbers in the House, to future Committees. There can be no recommendation for altering the composition of existing Committees and we have no intention of doing so. Of course, the Government must take account of the alteration in numbers as must the Selection Committee. Maybe we shall have to return to the kind of arrangement we had between March and October 1974 when the then Government took account of the numbers in the House. Governments have to bow to the House of Commons and the numbers in it.

Extremely important issues were raised by the hon. Members for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and Armagh (Mr. McCusker) who spoke for citizens of this country who have suffered more fear and injury than any other section of the British community in recent years. Those hon. Members are fully entitled to bring their grievances here and to ask what the Government have to say about them. The hon. Member for Armagh referred to the security problems likely to arise in South Armagh over Easter. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to what both hon. Members said.

The security situation in South Armagh and elsewhere in Northern Ireland is kept constantly under review and the response of the security forces is always related to the level and nature of violence. Both my right hon. Friends are well aware of the various traditional activities in Northern Ireland over the Easter period, and the security forces will take all necessary measures to deal with any situation which arises.

I do not know whether the hon. Members from Northern Ireland wish me to say more about their remarks. I hope that they will not expect me to reply to their detailed suggestions about the conduct of the security forces, but proper account will be taken of what they have said and I am sure all their suggestions will be considered.

We treat most seriously what both hon. Members have said, particularly at this time. There are some factors in the Northern Ireland situation which are showing signs of improvement, particularly the co-operation between the British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic. That co-operation is better now than for many years, or even decades. It is one of the factors which may contribute to securing peace for all the people of Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) apologised for the fact that he had to leave. He raised the problem of sites for caravan dwellers, but many of his points were matters for Enfield Borough Council and it is not for me to give a detailed reply to them. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Mr. John Cripps is chairing a committee inquiring into the working of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which has caused various problems, and I understand the committee hopes to report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in the autumn. Certainly all the questions my hon. Friend raised are open for discussion by the committee and I think that our best course would be to await its report. In the meantime, I can assure my hon. Friend that we are fully aware of the strength of feeling he has represented to the House from his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) raised the extremely difficult question of further special measures to help with the unemployment problem in Greater London. The new Secretary of State for Employment had a meeting yesterday with representatives from a part of London which has been perhaps most hard-hit by unemployment, though it is difficult to draw distinctions between areas when so many parts of the country have been affected by this same blight.

The difficulty about altering regional policy altogether is that it would be weakened in those areas which have been afflicted even more than Greater London. I am afraid that my reply to my hon. Friend will not be very helpful, but I can assure him that there is no Government prejudice against looking for measures to help in London or elsewhere. London has had its full share of the measures we have been able to take to assist in training and other forms of aid to overcome the difficulties during the period of recession.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) referred to the situation in Rhodesia and asked for a Government statement. I fear that he will not get a fully adequate statement from me now. It is not true, as my hon. Friend claimed, that the Government have been taking no positive attitude. The Government's attitude to events in Rhodesia has been closely concerted with the African States most involved in order to try to assist in the establishment of majority rule, which we wish to see as earnestly as ever.

My hon. Friend said that something of a legal void had been left in the situation in Rhodesia. I hope that he will not mind if I leave something of an oratorical void in my reply to him. I cannot cover all the points he made. The Government have been seeking to assist all those who can help to secure the speediest possible establishment of majority rule in Rhodesia by peaceful means.

The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) referred to the necessity to assist the export trade to the Middle East to the maximum degree. The Government have done a great deal in this respect. No doubt there is always something fresh that can be done, but the reports of the former Secretary of State for Trade in the last few months indicate how special efforts and assistance have been given in the Middle East and that this area has provided some of the most hopeful expansion of British exports—partly because of the efforts made by the Government.

The hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) asked that we should not depart for the recess until we had the Layfield Report securely in our hands. That is asking a little much and I hope that he will not press it to a Division. We shall have time enough to study that Report when we return.

I am not complaining of the way in which the hon. Member argued his case, particularly as he was supporting the claims of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), who very properly drew the attention of the House to the extremely serious unemployment situation in his part of Wales. I do not seek to qualify what the hon. Member said, though I am grateful for his acknowledgement of the efforts of the county council to make the best use of the assistance we have tried to give in various ways. The council concerned is one of the most progressive in this respect, but this is one of the parts of the country where the greatest efforts are needed to overcome the unemployment problem.

The hon. Member referred to continuing anxieties about what is to happen to the Shotton steelworks. I hope that it will not be very long before a decision is made, but one of the reasons for the delay is precisely that the Government recognise the seriousness of the unemployment in the area and the seriousness of the case put on behalf of the steelworks. I have heard it myself and nobody can deny the strength of the case.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) spoke about the Peter Hain case. It would not be right for the House to concern itself with the decision to prosecute in particular cases. When the Director of Public Prosecutions has assumed charge of a case, it is a matter for his professional judgment under the direction of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman did not question that in any way. He put the matter most fairly.

The subject of identity parades has naturally been a matter of widespread public comment. Identification procedures were examined by the committee under Lord Devlin. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who received the Report earlier this year, has had to consider the publication of certain details relating to individuals who are named in the Report as presented to him, and to take up the matter with Lord Devlin.

It is my right hon. Friend's intention to publish the Report in full. It is with the printers and my right hon. Friend believes that it will be published by the end of April. I imagine that the whole House has no doubt that the case has aroused widespread public interest. It is another of the subjects which will be raised afresh in the House when we return after the recess.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and others have commented upon my remarks on the vote of the House last night. I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. My right hon. Friend is one of the greatest experts in the House on this subject, but it is a fact that, however much it is necessary for Governments to take account of resolutions, resolutions do not have anything like the same force as law that is passed by the House. Those of us who pointed out that fact and reiterated it so extensively during the debates on the European Communities Act cannot very well deny it now. However, we have to overcome the dilemma. We shall take account of the decision of the House yesterday.

We shall have a further debate when we return after the recess. How we shall proceed in that debate depends upon what the Government suggest to the House and what the House thinks about our suggestions. No one can deny the reality of the dilemma which arises from the nature of the legislation that we passed two or three years ago, and from the decision of the House yesterday.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell the Common Market "This is the decision of the House of Commons and you can do what you like about it".

Mr. Foot

Unfortunately, it would not work like that. I believe that my hon. Friend, along with many others, would not agree with the proposition that we can invalidate a major piece of legislation by a single resolution. I should not like to see the trade union legislation that we have passed through the House so properly over the past two years invalidated by one clause in one resolution, if by any mischance there should ever again be a majority in the House that wished to do anything so foolish.

I do not agree that it is wrong for an Act of Parliament, passed through the House in all its procedures and processes, to take pre-eminence over one resolution. But that does not mean that we do not have to take account of resolutions passed by the House. Of course we have to take account of them. That is what I said at the beginning of the proceedings.

Mr. Lee

I note what my right hon. Friend says. I do not think that anyone could take exception to it. Part of the complaint is that these matters are brought before the House, as last night, after they have been enacted by the Common Market, so that we are presented with a fait accompli. Alternatively, a resolution is put before us which in strict Community law has no validity. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea if the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food could be persuaded to bring such matters before the House before they go to the Common Market?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that my hon. Friend has seen the full complication of the problem. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food acted according to the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee. The Committee was established by the House to recommend how these matters should be conducted. It recommended that my right hon. Friend should not necessarily have to bring the matter back to the House before reaching the conclusion of his bargain in Brussels. My right hon. Friend was acting in accordance with the recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee. It may be that the House will wish to look again at the Committee's recommendation and how it operates. That is another aspect, but we have to discover a remedy for the disease.

It is no good thinking that there is one simple remedy. The matter is more complicated than that. Would that it were so simple for the House to affect a remedy, including the remedy of the referendum, but I fear that it is not.

Mr. Peyton

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to stretch language too far. As I understand it, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food went to Brussels and accepted the Regulation as part of a package.

Mr. Foot

I do not want to stretch language at all. The purpose of language is not to stretch it but to use it. There are plenty of words around to enable us to avoid any stretching. As far as I know, everything that I have said is accurate. I have described what my right hon. Friend did and what happened in the House. The House is faced with a genuine and serious dilemma and we must try to discover a solution. It v/ill have to be a solution that is satisfactory to the House. The House will have the final say.

I think that I have covered almost every speech except what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said about procedure. It would not be fitting for me to dilate too much on the procedures of the House. The Procedure Committee has been established to consider such matters generally. I do not mean to say that there are not many worthwhile reforms of a fundamental nature that are worth exploring, especially if we are to have devolution. In fact, I am sure that we shall have devolution.

I am sure that Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will be established. I believe that such matters are influenced by what has been proposed or arranged as a result of our relations with institutions in Europe. All these matters must affect our procedures. I am not suggesting that we should not contemplate fundamental reforms.

Very often people have the wrong idea about what happens in the House of Commons. The idea that late-night sittings are the terrible disease of the House is not true. Very often they are necessary to keep Governments on the mark. If we produce a cut and dried timetable, which is the remedy of the academicians outside, life will be very much more convenient for the Government, but whether such a system is better for the House of Commons is another matter. I believe that all those considerations should be understood.

I believe that very often the procedures of the House of Commons can be used much more flexibly than many imagine. They can be used to achieve many different objectives. That does not mean that I do not think that we should make changes. However, we should not imagine that the House has worked its way to some of its procedures through anything other than sensible discovery of the best way in which to proceed.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

My right hon. Friend has said that the House of Commons should be a flexible instrument. He will remember that on 3rd November 1975 the Government decided not to accept the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure as regards EEC Regulations. Does he agree that an adjustment in that respect, irrespective of any much larger Committee, might improve the situation which gave us the dilemma last time?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said. If I did not, I am sure that he would ensure that I did. I assure him I shall consider his words. This is not an easy problem to solve. I repeat that once the House passed the European Communities Act it changed the nature of the House in an important respect.

If we are to safeguard the House of Commons despite that change, we must find the means of doing it. I do not believe that we have yet found it. I do not think that anyone would advance that proposition, wherever he may sit. However, I believe that the House of Com- mons-has sufficient ingenuity, with those with different views in different parts of the House who wish to solve the problems and a Government who are prepared to listen, to solve these problems, even though the solution may not be as perfect as some would have wished, even if we had not embarked on establishing the obstacle in the first place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) also wishes to see the House of Commons modernised and to see us proceed faster with the broadcasting of the House. I entirely agree with that. It is a very proper development, particularly in view of the scandalous misreporting, under-reporting and improper reporting of the House of Commons which goes on in practically all the newspapers in the country.

There are only one or two exceptions. The Times is a notable exception. I do not very often say a good word for The Times. It almost sticks in my throat. However, The Times makes an effort that is a bit better than most of the others. Most newspaper reporting is an absolute travesty of what it used to be, even when I came to the House. The Daily Express used to have William Barkley, a brilliant reporter, who reported the affairs of the House so that the House was understood by millions of people up and down the country. One does not get anything of that sort now. The reporting in newspapers such as the Daily Express, the Sun and others is an absolute disgrace to the journalists. These are the people who preach to us about freedom. They do not have any idea of upholding Parliament. That is a further reason why we have to take some precautions, and broadcasting is one of them, to try to assist in ensuring that people shall know what goes on in the House of Commons.

However, that is a long way from the Easter Recess. I hope that we approach closer to the Easter Recess now, at the end of this marathon speech that I have delivered. I recall that Jonathan Swift described the parliamentary recess as "the lucid interval". The quicker we can reach the lucid interval, the better for parliamentary government.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising to-morrow, do adjourn till Monday 26th April.