Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 9th January.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
The first thing that one wants to say about the motion is that the recess that it proposes is too short. There is a kind of masochistic convention whereby people speaking on this motion on other occasions always suggest that we should remain here to discuss a variety of matters. We should not settle down to as short a Christmas Recess as this and it should not be taken as a precedent for future years. This recess appears to start a week too soon and to end at least two weeks too early.
Hon. Members on both sides have better things to do than assist the progress of worthless Government Bills, but that is why we are being brought back. That description would apply to almost the whole of the Government's progress, but of course I have in mind particularly the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill and the European Assembly Elections Bill.
§ Mr. Bell
It occurs to me that if we were to come back on the customary date of 24th January the prospect of all three of these Bills would be suitably diminished. What more especially concerns me at the moment is that there are matters which the House should debate and which cannot be so suitably debated in the two weeks between 9th and 24th January and which should be debated before we rise for Christmas.
I mention the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order which comes into force on 1st January, for the annulment of which a Prayer has been tabled in the House. In the Lords a motion has been passed virtually unanimously calling on the Government to withdraw the order.
I do not know whether this is correct, but I read in The Times yesterday that the Government intend to brush aside all opposition, that parliamentary opposition is to be ignored and that the Government are intending to press on with the proposal. 498 I appreciate that the Leader of the House does not write The Times—not now, anyway—I an sure that he will modify that version of events when he replies to the debate.
I impress upon him that this is a matter upon which there are strong feelings on both sides of the House. Those feelings have found expression in two Early-Day Motions as well as in a Prayer. There is particular dissatisfaction that time is not to be found for a Prayer before the order conies into force. The whole process of delegated legislation will be out of control if the negative procedure becomes a farce.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I hesitate to touch off the hon. and learned Gentleman's peroration, but it might assist him to know that not only was The Times inaccurate on that occasion but that the Government are proposing, in response to representations, to withdraw the order. We propose to have discussions about whether it should be brought forward at a later date. All the difficulties to which the hon. and learned Member referred will not occur.
§ Mr. Bell
The Leader of the House must be allowed to withdraw these matters seriatim and not all in one intervention. I am immensely encouraged by what the Leader of the House has said. It was certainly worth my while to speak on this motion. I am now encouraged to move on to my second argument.
Immense increases in railway fares will come into force on 1st January. These will greatly affect my constituents and those of other hon. Members who live in the countryside around London and travel in to work.
Last week we held a short debate on general transport policy and tomorrow we shall have a debate on the new rate support grant. These two matters accumulate in their effect upon commuters. I have been finding out how my constituents will be affected on 1st January, 499 while we are in recess and before we have discussions on these matters. The annual second-class rail season from Gerrards Cross to Marylebone will become £340. That is to the London terminal, but most of my constituents travel into the City. The annual second-class rail season ticket from Gerrards Cross to the Barbican will be no less than £465. From Taplow to the Barbican it will cost £529, and from Beaconsfield into the City £517.
These represent charges upon the net income of people who work as secretaries and in various other office capacities. They usually live at home with their parents, and these fares will represent a greater proportional demand on their net incomes than ever before. I impress upon the Leader of the House that people have established patterns of living and have taken on commitments in this commuter area which they cannot abandon lightly. Their way of life is being made almost unliveable.
Tomorrow we shall be discussing the massive shift for the third year running of the rate burden from the city centres to the counties. This is making life even more difficult for those people. Before we rise for Christmas we should consider what is to be done about this real problem. In some way or other, through taxation or in some other way, this problem has to be faced. I am sorry that the Leader of the House has not risen to intervene to tell me that this matter will be dealt with.
I should like to mention the problem of gipsy camps. This is a growing problem in my area, as it is in the areas of other hon. Members. A good number of hon. Members have tended to regard this as a problem peculiar to their own localities, but I have been impressed over the last few months by the number of hon. Members who, on the Order Paper and in other ways, have complained about this pest in their areas.
There is legislation requiring local authorities to provide residential sites for these Irish tinkers—often romantically called gipsies, but in no sense gipsies. I know of no other category of the population for which ratepayers are supposed to find a residence and business site in the green belt at the ratepayers' expense. These are almost entirely scrap metal merchants who make an absolute 500 shambles of the countryside, and the ratepayers are placed under a duty to find somewhere for them to live and carry on their business of scrap metal merchants at public expense, and in almost every case in the green belt. Again, I am sorry that the Leader of the House has not risen to say that he will put that right before we rise.
Another matter causing a great deal of concern to my constituents and others is that the Thames Water Authority is at present making arrangements for the visit of no fewer than 10 people—five of its members and at least five of its staff—to Japan to a conference on water supply. It will be at the expense of the ratepayers, and I imagine that it could cost as much as £20,000.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that his experience on this is not unique? Is he aware that the Severn-Trent Water Authority is sending seven members to Japan, and that in spite of an absolute tirade of criticism from all quarters is insisting on going ahead with its proposals?
§ Mr. Bell
I am glad that my hon. Friend intervened. It may be, however, that seven is better than 10. I know of another water authority which thinks it appropriate to send one person, and I can imagine that that might make sense. One person might learn something from others, but it is difficult to imagine something which can be learned by 10 that cannot be learned by five or even one. The truth is that this is a jaunt at public expense. The Thames Water Authority has acquired something of a reputation for the way in which it lashes its money around on motor cars and perquisites for its members, and it is scandalous how this and other authorities are ignoring all protests when others have to practise economy, and are going ahead with the despatch of their battalion of members and officials to this party in Japan.
501 I ought not to hold up the proceedings any longer with a catalogue of woe because I know that other hon. Members have many ideas on how the next week can be usefully employed for the urgent business of Parliament and who probably share my view that the two weeks in January when we are coming back to discuss these Bills could have been better employed by them in their constituencies or elsewhere.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
There is a very good case for this House rising on Monday or Tuesday next week and using the extra time to discuss one or two matters particularly relating to what the House will be doing if we come back on 9th January. I accept that whatever happened last night there will be a Committee stage on the European Assembly Elections Bill. Before we proceed further on this Bill, however, we need some further clarification from the Government concerning the powers of the EEC Assembly.
On Monday there was an exchange of views between hon. Members, and I asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whether the EEC Assembly could turn down the budget, and, if so, whether the budget for the previous year would continue to operate. This is a matter of some moment because the subject is being discussed now in Strasbourg. Unfortunately my hon. Friend could not reply. He said, as reported in column 178 of Hansard, that he would write to me about the accuracy of the pamphlet from which I had quoted.
It would be improper for me to go into this matter in detail now, but I wish to raise it in broad terms on the Adjournment motion because unless it is sorted out before the House rises we shall not be in a position when we return on 9th January to deal with the important succeeding clauses of the Bill, if we reach them. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will say that he intends to withdraw the Bill. I certainly hope so.
On page 6 of The Times today there appears a headlineStrasbourg MPs' threat to reject EEC budget.502 and Mr. David Wood, writing from Strasbourg yesterday, reports:If the Parliament were to reject the budget, the 1977 budget would apply in 1978, and one twelfth of the total sum would be paid out month by month during the year. That has never happened before.So, apparently, Mr. David Wood is better informed than the Government as to what would happen to our money in Strasbourg next year. On its main news page The Times reports:Council of Ministers prepared to concede half the increases in regional fund sought by MPs.It makes it clear that the President of the Council is to meet a parliamentary delegation to discuss the deadlock that has arisen, created, it says, by the firm decision taken by the Committee on Budgets. It adds that he will report the outcome on Thursday—tomorrow. It is clear that a certain confrontation is now taking place because the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) is reported in the same report as saying:The two sides were sufficiently close to reach agreement if they continue to use common sense.The report continues:Both sides have moved (he said). We should play our part in the final movement towards reaching agreement. If we do it will be an agreement, the figures the like of which have never been obtained in the history of this Parliament. It will he folly if we are to let this prize slip through our fingers now.This is the language of hard bargaining. This is not an industrial dispute or a dispute between equal sides. At least, that is what the Government have told us. It is a dispute between the Assembly of the EEC, indirectly appointed as it is, and the Council of Ministers. Yet on Monday the Minister of State could not tell me whether the Assembly had this power, whether it could vote out the budget completely, rather like a blunderbuss, or whether the preceding year's budget continues. It is clear from the news reports, if they are correct, that last year's budget is likely to continue. I have checked this matter with the help of the Library and it is clearly dealt with in Article 204 of the new Treaty of Rome, which states:If, at the beginning of a financial year, the budget has not yet been voted, a sum equivalent to not more than one twelfth of the budget appropriations for the preceding financial year may be spent each month in 503 respect of any chapter or other subdivision of the budget.So it appears that Mr. Wood is correct. This raises a very serious matter because it is clear that events have shown that my predictions on Monday of what is to happen in two years' time are actually happening this week.
Does this mean that the Minister of State was ignorant of this? If he was, perhaps the Government are ignorant of the new powers which the Assembly is apparently wielding to very considerable effect. If the Foreign Office was ignorant, was the Prime Minister aware of these powers when he told the House that we shall elect directly under the existing powers of the Assembly? The Prime Minister denied that it was a federal matter. He said that it is not federal because the Assembly does not have federal powers. If the exchanges yesterday in the European Assembly were not an indication of a federal element, I do not know what is.
I hope, therefore, that we shall at least come back on Monday or Tuesday of next week in order that the Government may tell us exactly what is the position and, indeed, whether the Council of Ministers and our regional Minister will accede to the demand from this nascent uprising in a very lively Assembly.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The hon. Member was referring to the inconvenience of the House rising this week and resuming in the week commencing 9th January with consideration of the European Assembly Elections Bill. Does he also recognise that the Government will now have to table a series of amendments to the Bill, and that unless those amendments have been before hon. Members for a number of days before the Bill is next taken, they will be unable to consider them properly or to put forward amendments to them?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That is another reason for debating the question on Monday, so that the Government can table these important amendments and enable hon. Members to consider them over the recess. If they are not able to do that, the progress of the Bill will be even further delayed.
504 We were looking forward to seeing one of the amendments promised 10 or 12 days ago concerning the encroachment of the powers of the Assembly on the legislative powers of this House. We were promised legislation to stop it. If I am not mistaken, it looks as if the original fund is to be substantially increased by the action of the Assembly this week. I think that we need at least another day next week in order to consider that matter.
I am equally disturbed that relevant information has not been made available. In a Question to the Civil Service Department last week, I asked whether the amendments to the Treaty of Rome set out in Cmnd. 6252 had been placed in Government offices. Have they been sent out so that people in the Foreign Office, in looking at the reference books, will get the accurate position? I was informed that these amendments have not been circulated.
I also made inquiries in the Library. The Library has not updated the Treaty of Rome. If hon. Members were to go to the Library hoping to see the new Articles 203 and 204 of the Treaty of Rome, they would find only the old ones. I asked the Library why this was so and I was told that the documents are not presented by the Government but that they come from the EEC authorities, and that it is for them to send cut the amendments.
The amendments have been in force since July of this year, but they have not yet been sent out, and no change has been made in the reference books of this House. Any hon. Member or Minister looking at them would therefore be misinformed as to the powers of the Assembly. We have been told that it is not federal, but of course it is. It has been shown to be so. This is one matter which we must debate next week. It must be debated before 9th January.
There is another very small but significant item that we ought to debate before we rise. It has been on the Order Paper since July. It is a modest proposal by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) that the Library should have computer-based indexing. I would not have raised this but for the matter that I have just mentioned about works of reference. As I have already said, 505 this item was put down for debate in July. The Select Committee wanted it but the Lord President did not exempt the business and it was not debatable.
It has been put down almost every day since then but the right hon. Gentleman has not made time for it. Therefore I and some of my hon. Friends properly objected to its going through on the nod. It is still on the Order Paper today. If it came up in the early hours of the morning after the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill—especially if the debate on that Bill were to fall by accident—it could go through on the nod. I hope that my hon. Friends and I may be given an assurance by my right hon. Friend that it will not be nodded through. It is certainly relevant to the updating of the copies of the Treaty of Rome which are lying in our Library unamended.
The question of indexing and how it is arranged in this House is of some importance and deserves debate, but it is quite clear that the Government would like it to go through on the nod. I do not believe that that is good enough.
I hope that if the Leader of the House cannot give us a debate next week, he will at any rate tell us what is the Government's position in the matter, and whether the Prime Minister knows about the extent to which the Assembly is acting in a federal way. I hope that we may be told what is the Government's view before we rise. Perhaps it will be possible for us to be told tonight.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
The matters that I wish to raise concern the security of this country, and I shall submit that this House ought not to adjourn until they have been properly attended to.
In fairness to the people whom I shall have to mention—and, indeed, to myself—I am obliged to stick closely to the notes that I have made. I ask for the indulgence of the House in this respect.
What I have to tell the House is not a pleasant matter. I did not ask for nor seek this information. I have spent several anxious months considering whether I should bring it to the House. I have discussed the problem on a number 506 of occasions with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), whom I am very glad to see in his place. In the light of the latest evidence, we have jointly come to the conclusion that there is a clear duty to do so.
I am encouraged in this decision by the conviction that all but a tiny minority of men and women in this country want our free society to continue, whether they vote Labour or Conservative; that they want Parliament to continue to be the main forum for open discussion and the protection of their liberties, and that it should never degenerate into an instrument for oppression and the concealment of the truth.
We all know that the Russians deploy massive secret resources to back their policies. We all recall the ejection of 105 KGB men in 1971 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The KGB is the most powerful organ of suppression and subversion in the world. Without it the Soviet State would probably collapse, and with it the People's Democracies as we know them. This sinister and all-pervading force represents the sinews of the Soviet Communist empire. No Communist State is permitted immunity from it. Every satellite intelligence service works directly for it. The KGB represents as great an enemy to liberty and to the decent aspirations of mankind as Hitler and Himmler ever did—and probably greater.
I say, therefore, that any links which may exist between those in responsible positions in this country and foreign Communist intelligence services are not simply a legitimate but a vital concern to all of us, on both sides of the House, who value freedom and the constitution.
In this connection I am concerned with information provided by a Czech defector, Joseph Frolik, who reached the United States in 1969. Frolik was a senior officer of the Czech intelligence service with 17 years' experience. During much of that time he worked at the British desk in Prague, and from 1964 until 1969 served under cover as a labour attaché at the Czech Embassy in London.
Frolik will be remembered in the House because of his somewhat spectacular assertion that John Stonehouse was a Czech spy. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), who was Prime 507 Minister at the time—and to whom have naturally given notice that I intended to raise a security matter which happened during his tenure of office—told the House subsequently that he had had the matter investigated and that there was no truth in this accusation. The Hansard reference is 17th December 1974 at column 1353. It is right that I should recall that.
It is also true that Frolik has never deviated subsequently from this assertion, which he repeated before a Senate subcommittee in Washington in 1975. Moreover, I have recently seen a letter from Frolik to a Mr. Joseph Josten, in London. I shall return to the question of Mr. Josten a little later in my speech. This letter, dated 16th March last, refers to the right hon. Gentleman's statement in the House. It is said that Frolik was much upset by that statement. I have here a copy of the letter—
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, if you will give a ruling on whether you think it is right that the Adjournment motion should be used for a general debate of this sort, and whether the matters that the hon. Gentleman is now raising could be more appropriately raised, for example, during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill? It would then be possible, under the usual arrangements in the House, for the Minister involved to reply. Is it not the case that all the matters raised in this Adjournment debate should be related to the question whether we should adjourn for a longer or shorter period than the one proposed?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Lord President is quite correct. The motion is that we adjourn. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) must link whatever he has to say to the Adjournment motion.
§ Mr. Hastings
I said at the outset of my remarks, Mr. Speaker, that I thought it would be wrong for the House to adjourn before the matters to which I wish to draw attention had been dealt with properly.
I have a copy of the letter referred to, and I shall quote a verbatim translation from the Czech of the relevant passage. Frolik writes:Mr. Wilson accused me of lying, to the great pleasure of Prague. Three months later 508 he sent to the United States a high official M15 who conveyed to me the personal apology of the same Mr. Wilson.If true, the implications of this are to say the least surprising. Indeed, the only possible explanation would be that Frolik's co-operation was so important to the security service that the Prime Minister was pursuaded to set the record straight.
In his statement at the time the right hon. Gentleman perfectly reasonably drew attention to the possibility that a defector's memory can play him tricks. I can well imagine that with the best will in the world an intelligence officer who has chosen freedom and who has repeated all he knows for certain, might in time search his memory for further contributions and thus stray into inaccuracy. Equally it is true to say that the value of any intelligence officer who has defected must depend on objective accuracy. One lie, or one unguarded exaggeration, and his whole capital is damaged. This Josef Frolik undoubtedly realised.
According to his own account, Frolik spent weeks memorising and copying the identities of Czech agents in the West before he defected and claims to have reported about 400 names. Certainly his evidence was sufficiently important to justify his being flown to London a few days after he arrived in the United States for prolonged interrogation by our security service. Moreover, he has, I understand, again been interviewed by our security service in the United States, on more than one occasion, at length, and comparatively recently. The Government can check this, of course.
Frolik's protection was undertaken by the CIA, whose debriefing he describes as "extremely thorough". He is still under its protection.
On 19th November 1975 Frolik was summoned before a Senate sub-committee required to investigate Communist bloc intelligence activities in the United States. He was questioned at length, although some of this was in closed session. At the outset, the chairman, Senator Thurmond, said:I have been told of your contributions to US intelligence operations as well as to other NATO countries and wish to extend a hearty welcome to you.I have the official reports of these sessions.
509 I think that in the light of what I have said so far the House will agree that, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said in his statement about the Stone-house case, the dependability of Frolik as a source of information should at least be taken very seriously.
Subsequently Frolik wrote a book, or rather a translation was made from manuscripts he had written in Czech. It was published in London by Leo Cooper in 1975. It makes hair-raising reading, particularly on the subversive threat to this country and the links between the KGB and the IRA, to quote one particular aspect only. It is astonishing that so little attention has been paid to this book.
Frolik's target was a NATO headquarters in London—the office of the standardisation of weapons and the NATO command for the English Channel, to be precise. He was not particularly successful, or rather he was short-circuited by one of his colleagues—so he says. He therefore decided to try his luck among trade union leaders instead. He prefaces a chapter in his book entitled "Trade Union Brethren" by writing:The British Community party, as we all knew in the Embassy, was a downright failure … yet in one particular field it has shown outstanding results, in relation to its exceedingly small numbers, today Communists control over 10 per cent. of the important posts in the major unions.If he is to be believed, Frolik was deliberately seeking to recruit important trade union leaders to serve the interests of the Czech intelligence service. He described these relationships in his book, but because of our libel laws the names are left blank.
Subsequently, about 18 months ago, Mr. Richard Stott of the Daily Mirror, who had become interested as a result of this book, went to America accompanied by Mr. Leo Cooper and a further lengthy interrogation took place, the purport of which seems to have been to re-examine the Stonehouse case and to pursue the matter of the trade union leaders. Tapes were made of these conversations and in these Frolik fills in the blanks in his book. I understand, though I cannot be certain, that copies of these tapes are available to the Government. I have listened to them carefully and I believe them to be entirely authentic. I also have copies of them which, of course, I 510 shall be ready to make available to the appropriate authority.
In addition, I have had the advantage of several meetings with Mr. Joseph Josten, the distinguished Czech emigré and author, a former collaborator of Jan Mazaryk, and a man of the highest integrity and courage. According to Frolik, his assassination was under constant consideration by the Czech intelligence service. He has had about 15 hours of talks with Frolik in June of this year and he has given me the translation of Frolik's first draft which includes certain details, including the names, omitted from the book. Incidentally, Mr. Josten has asked me to say that these documents are not in his possession at his house but are kept in his hank. I understand that he has very good reasons for asking me to say this.
Taking these various documents together, and as a cross-check upon each other—that is to say, the book, the tapes, the published evidence to the Senate subcommittee and the original draft of the book—five distinct statements are made about the British trade union leaders. To understand the full implications of these statements it is necessary at least to read Frolik's book. All I can do is give the briefest of summaries.
In 1963 Frolik met the late Mr. Ted Hill of the Boilermakers' union at the TUC conference. Hill, he says, was a secret Communist. They became firm friends and he was often invited to Hill's house. There he met a Russian called Nicolai Berdenikov, ostensibly Soviet labour attaché, but according to Frolik a lieutenant-colonel in the KGB. When subsequently Frolik sought permission from Prague to recruit Ted Hill for intelligence services he received the curt reply "Hands off, that particular mare is being run from another stable close by".
Next he started to cultivate Mr. Jack Jones with whom, he says, he liked to think he got on very well.But—as he puts in his book—such things cost money. My expenses started to mount. They were forwarded to Prague whence, a little later, I got the brisk order 'drop the Jones project, he's a horse of friends'. Again",—he writes—unwittingly I had bumped into one of the Russian colonel's contacts.511 Later he started to concentrate on Mr. Richard Briginshaw, then general secretary of NATSOPA, whom he says the Czechs were trying to recruit because—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is now referring to a member of another place. He will understand that the same rules apply and that no reflection on the honour and integrity of a member of the other House is possible or in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
If that implies any reflection on the honour and integrity of a member of another place, the hon. Gentleman cannot do it this way. If he wishes to criticise a member of another place, he must do it through a substantive motion in this House, if it is possible.
§ Mr. Hastings
I understand the point and, in the light of what you have said, I am obliged to leave out a paragraph of my speech. I shall proceed to the next one.
Frolik subsequently says he thought he had struck lucky at last. His acquaintance with the noble Lord, Lord Briginshaw, was brought to an end due to the fact that he was instructed by the same Russian that I have mentioned to cease his acquaintanceship. Subsequently—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a clear imputation which no one would regard as a compliment. At least it appears to me that he is reflecting on the honour of a member of another place. I must ask him not to do so.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it your ruling that it is casting doubt upon the integrity and honesty of a member of another place to say that he is a Communist?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Member's speech, and there is an implication of much more than a Communist behind it.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
Further to that point of 512 order, Mr. Speaker. Will you give your ruling on this point? It is a new point to me. The reflections, if they be reflections, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) is making are reflections upon a gentleman who is now but was not at the material time a member of another place. Does the rule inhibit reference to the pre-other place activities as well as the activities while a member of the other place?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that it does. As long as the person concerned is a member of another House, it is not for us in this House to start criticising him personally.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the motion before the House isThat this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 9th January.Is all the rubbish to which we have been listening anything to do with the Adjournment of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have been listening very carefully. The two previous speeches linked arguments on exactly the same basis—that the House should not adjourn until those matters were dealt with. The hon. Member for Mid-Bed-fordshire (Mr. Hastings) is not out of order in that respect.
§ Mr. Hastings
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and, naturally, I shall make no further allusion to the noble Lord.
Frolik says subsequently that he thought that he had struck lucky at last. At an embassy party for trade union leaders, he was introduced to Mr. Ernie Roberts, then assistant general secretary of the AUEW and now, I understand, prospective Labour candidate for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Three weeks later, Roberts invited him to a party. At this party, out of the blue, according to Frolik, Roberts asked, "Where is Nikolai?" Frolik realised that he must be alluding to Berdenikov. Subsequently, Berdenikov personally admonished Frolik, saying "Joe, keep your hands off Roberts. You can see him socially, but that is all. You understand?" He understood.
But he continued to see Roberts socially. Then one evening, after they had had a lot to drink, Roberts said to him 513 "Joe, I know you are disappointed in me. I knew what you wanted from the start; I can be of no use to you personally, but I have a good friend who might well be, I will introduce you."
Some weeks later, at another party at Roberts's house, Frolik says he was asked by Roberts to wait in an ante-room. Roberts later entered and said "You remember the friend I spoke to you about, here he is." He then introduced Mr. Hugh Scanlon.
It was soon after this episode that Frolik was summarily forbidden by Prague from having any further contact with British trade union leaders.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I happen to know Mr. Ernie Roberts, and I also happen to know that he is strictly teetotal. The story that he had had a lot to drink must be inaccurate, unless, of course, he was drunk on lemonade. But, that apart, is it in order for the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) to make assertions that a member of the Labour Party and a prospective Labour candidate is in fact secretly a member of another party?
§ Mr. Speaker
Every hon. Member who speaks in this place, especially when he is dealing with the reputation of people outside this House and when he is enjoying the rights of privilege which I believe rightly belong to us, carries a very heavy personal responsibility. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire will no doubt be aware of that.
§ Mr. Hastings
Certainly, Mr. Speaker, especially after the long period that I have been considering this matter. But if what the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) says, be true, that has nothing to do with the matter. I am accusing no one. I am repeating what a Czech defector, in circumstances that I have described, has said and written.
At this point, I must make two matters clear. Frolik is not alleging that any of the union leaders he names were spies. The word he uses is "agent", and he describes an agent as a secret co-operator of an enemy intelligence service, or a foreign intelligence service, who is working either from conviction, or under pressure from the foreign intelligence service, or for money. His role is to push a 514 policy which is in the interests of the Socialist camp and against the interests of Great Britain.
Secondly, whereas Frolik in the tapes describes three of the four union leaders as agents of the KGB and one as "a Czech man", he says in the book that, although he was repeatedly warned off for trespassing on Russian territory, he has no evidence that the Russians succeeded in their aims. This remark is ambiguous and does not, incidentally, appear in the original draft. It has been added later as a preamble to the chapter on the trade unions.
Of course, important trade union leaders, like Government Ministers and many others, are required by diplomatic convention and courtesy to meet Soviet and Communist diplomats socially, but the depth and intimacy of the relationships described by Frolik are of another order. Moreover, they indicate a remorseless attempt by the KGB to subvert men who wield, or wielded then, immense destructive power in this country.
These events occurred some years ago, and the only reason this account has not emerged in public before is the existence of our prohibitive libel laws. It is right that it should do so now, for do any of us seriously think that the KGB has relaxed its efforts since that time—despite the expulsions in 1971?
The House can make what it likes of these allegations. For my part I want simply to point three conclusions.
First, in the national interest, Frolik's evidence should not be discounted without further detailed and, so far as possible, public examination.
Secondly, perhaps the best medium for this examination would be a Select Committee of the House, charged with duties comparable with those of the Senate sub-committee to which I have alluded.
Thirdly, our trade union leaders should at the very least be warned of the consequences of fraternising too frequently or imbibing too deep with foreign Communist so-called diplomats. They are virtually all intelligence officers under cover. As such they are all under direct or indirect KGB control and they are all engaged in subverting parliamentary democracy in this country.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) talks about trade union leaders meeting people from Communist countries. May I remind him that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has just returned from Yugoslavia, where she met Marshal Tito, had long discussions with him, and was highly complimentary about the development of workers' control in Yugoslavia? Prior to that, she went to Communist China. Is the hon. Gentleman accusing her of being a Communist agent because she has had discussions with Communists?
§ Mr. Hastings
If the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) seriously thinks that there is any connection between his intervention and what I am talking about, he needs to go away and take a cold bath. In consequence of his intervention, I am obliged to repeat the last part of my speech.
Thirdly our trade union leaders should at the very least be warned of the consequences of fraternising too frequently or imbibing too deep with foreign Communist so-called diplomats. They are virtually all intelligence officers under cover. As such they are all under direct or indirect KGB control and they are all engaged in subverting parliamentary democracy in this country.
Sir, the House of Commons should not go into recess until we have an assurance from the Government that these matters will be fully and properly investigated on our return.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I feel that we should not adjourn until we have discussed a least one other matter to which I shall refer in a moment. First, how ever, since this is a debate, I should like to take the opportunity to remind the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) that, if we are to have a full-scale inquiry of the kind that he envisages, I think it should be extended to include those who from time to time have been on trips to Rhodesia and have helped Ian Smith to continue his régime.
Such an inquiry should also include for instance, all those who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) said, go on trips to Communist countries. We have a considerable number 516 of groupings in this House, with the Anglo-Russian this, the Angle Romanian the other, and so on. I do not go to any of these all-party meetings, but I am told that there are a great many Tories in these groupings who, not content with getting the odd trip now and again, actually take over official positions. I have in mind such people as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who is always talking about scroungers.
I want such an inquiry. I hope to hear from my right hon. Friend that we shall have an inquiry and that it will be so wide-ranging that it picks up all the bits and pieces. There is no doubt that we shall run into some flak from Opposition Members. We shall pick up some of them on the high road. It will not just be in Rhodesia, either. It will be in any country, no matter whether it is red, blue or sky-blue pink.
We want to know what the Leader of the Opposition has been whispering in Tito's ear. We want to know precisely what she said when she went to China. There is a lot of stuff in China that does not come out. I think the right hon. Lady should be made to reveal what happened when she met various Chinese leaders.
I hope that such an inquiry will also include the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I do not know whether he is a friend of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire. I do not think that he is currently, and I doubt whether he ever was. But the right hon. Gentleman, too, should be made to reveal all that happened on his many trips—even those on the railway. Whom did he meet on all those journeys when he was selling his books? I want to know what all those hon. Members do on the Select Committee trips such as that which investigated Cable & Wireless for the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. What about all those who go to South Sea islands? I want to know what conversations take place on these trips. I would welcome this sort of open government and all these inquiries.
However, I intend to ask for another inquiry. The inquiry that I want would deal with the whole question of something that we have never debated, although I have referred to it before—the lifeboat scheme. I shall remind the House how 517 this scheme was set up. There was this group of people in secondary banks and property companies—the entrepreneurs of this world—who risked capital and set about making money, particularly out of property. We are told that when free market forces apply there is a gamble and an adventure involved. These people may gain money or they may lose it. By and large these people were making money in the late sixties and early seventies at a rate that this country probably had never known before, to the extent that millions and millionaires were made.
When the property slump began, and the difficulties were hastened by the massive increase in the price of oil, it resulted in a chain reaction throughout the commodity markets, creating inflation at a rate that affected these companies to which I have referred in a way which made their income less valuable. As a result, the lifeboat scheme was established.
It was set up principally, but not wholly, with money from the big four clearing banks and propped up with the respectability of the Bank of England, for which the Government are responsible. The Bank of England contributed £120 million. The money in the lifeboat scheme was used to prop up 30 institutions. The Treasury will not tell me the names of all these institutions, but I know a few of them because I read the Financial Times and other such newspapers from time to time. These institutions have all been assisted in a way by the lifeboat scheme. The total amount that has been used in the scheme is £1,300 million, of which the Bank of England contributed £120 million. That means that the taxpayers ultimately have contributed the money that was provided by the Bank of England.
The Minister of State, Treasury, in answering a letter of mine in September, said, in effect, that much of this money would not be recovered. In other words, the taxpayer has to foot that bill. Listening to the cries from Conservative Benches about the money that has been lost in various Government Departments or that has gone astray and needs investigation, I wonder why we have not had an investigation of the lifeboat. The co-operatives were investigated by the Public Accounts Committee and there have been many 518 questions asked about the amount of money lost through fraud in the DHSS. These investigations have taken place with a view to pinpointing why this happened, and how it could be stopped. I wonder why there has never been any investigation into where this lifeboat scheme money has gone, and why the Bank of England doled out money to entrepreneurs without any investigation by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
Does the hon. Member for Boisover (Mr Skinner) intend that all this should be done before the House rises for Christmas?
§ Mr. Skinner
Oh yes. This year when the House of Commons is rising a week earlier than usual—we generally rise about 21st or 22nd December—we have ample time. I put this matter in front of many of the things that we have been discussing. I would put it before devolution—we all know what that is about. No, perhaps we do not know what it is about, but we know why it is on the agenda. By all means we should discuss this matter at great length, and I would hope that all hon. Members, particularly those in companies that have been assisted by the lifeboat scheme or those with friends in such companies, would take part in these discussions.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Before my hon. Friend leaves that subject, would he include in his all-embracing inquiry, to which he wants the Government at least to commit themselves before the recess, the question of the Central Intelligence Agency and hon. Members who have been financed either directly or indirectly by that organisation. Most of them would, of course, be on the Conservative Benches and some of them may have already spoken in this debate. This is a legitimate subject. Conservatives want us to look into the activities of the KGB. Let us make it fifty-fifty, and have a look at the CIA as well.
§ Mr. Skinner
Yes, that is a splendid idea, but the matter to which I am referring now is of even greater importance. Although the matter to which my hon. Friend has just referred needs to be dealt with, I suggest that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire raised it not because he was trying to get an inquiry but 519 because he was trying to sell this book which, I believe, is not selling awfully well. This Czech fellow should have a word with the right hon. Member for Sidcup and get a few tips on how to sell a book and practise his handwriting and so on.
I want an investigation and debate to take place on the question of the lifeboat scheme because it is very important. If people get themselves involved in business, and subsequently face bankruptcy, most people would say that this was their own fault and that they knew the game when they started. One loses some, and one wins some. Many people go through the bankruptcy court each year, but in this case a special case was made. Unlike the one being made for the firemen, it has continued ever since. These people were entering this form of business at a time when the Financial Times Index was down to 146, as it was then. What Parliament has said, and what the establishment generally—the Bank of England and the Treasury—has said by not answering questions on this matter is that this special group, this élite, should not be subjected to any form of debate and should not have its business inquired into; and most important of all, that it should not go through the bankruptcy court in the normal way. Instead, it was propped up by the lifeboat scheme. It is high time that we knew the banks involved.
I want to refer to one or two of the companies involved. First of all there is London and Counties. The report on that company from the Department of Trade some time ago never dealt with the matter fully. This was because there were other things affecting the then leader of the Liberal Party at that time. Therefore, the Press campaign tended to emphasise the other matter and forget the real issue when the report was published. I should like to see the Press concentrate a little more on the important aspect of London and Counties. That company was the first domino in the pack, and when it fell in 1973 it pushed others down because many of these companies were interlinked. I want that fully investigated and debated.
The same is true of Slater Walker. I know that a few hon. Members would not be terribly happy if we debated Slater Walker and looked more closely at the fact that Bank of England money—in 520 other words the taxpayers' money—was used to solve that problem. We all know that the company is now being operated on a completely different level, but there were one or two red faces as a result of the Bank of England stepping in.
There is something sinister about certain aspects of our public life, and this is one of them. The firemen on picket lines, who are having a pretty rough time, will not think that it is a fair world when they are trying to get a few more pounds a week from the Government and the local authorities while the people in the companies that I have mentioned have managed over the years to get away with it without too many problems. That is why I think these matters should be debated. I should also like a debate on the way in which firemen have been dealt with in the past five weeks, but that is another issue.
I suggested that these matters should be debated in the House not long ago. I referred to the involvement of a right hon. Gentleman. That right hon. Gentleman made certain statements in response to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I have been involved with people who were connected with that company at the same time as the right hon. Gentleman concerned was connected with it. I shall try not to say anything to worry you, Mr. Speaker.
Keyser Ullman was part of the lifeboat, but is no longer in the lifeboat, According to the information that I have, the national clearing banks were the banks responsible for getting Keyser Ullman out of the lifeboat. That is not quite in accord with the impression given by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). I am not saying that he was straying from the truth, but the impression was created that somehow or other the money was paid back by the bank concerned. My information is that the money was provided by the big four banks to the extent of about £12 million.
I want an investigation into these matters. Certain directors were involved in obtaining loans from that company. That, as everyone knows, is in breach of the Companies Act. That information has percolated through. I want this inquiry to be very wide-ranging. When certain Members, particularly Opposition Members, are saying that there should be a more concentrated attack on finding out how public money is spent—there are 521 a few hot gospellers in the House who tend to use that kind of language—we have to ensure that all the money is accounted for. That is one area that has never been debated or looked at. Perhaps there are too many people involved in this House and in another place and in many other places who are a little bit scared about what might be revealed. That is putting it at its lowest. Therefore, this must be debated and inquired into before Christmas. I warn my hon. Friends and Opposition Members that this matter will not go away. Some people thought that the Crown Agents affair would go away, but it did not.
§ Mr. Skinner
The money went away as well. I hope that that will also be looked at. Where did the money that the Crown Agents were given go? People say that £212 million went missing, so that question must be asked. I suspect that a lot of the money went abroad. The Crown Agents' affair came back after 10 years because some of us kept trying to probe and inquire into it. We were not listened to at first. Nevertheless, it has come back on the doorstep in the dirty form that we have seen. This matter will return again and again until it has been investigated and until what happened to the taxpayers' money has finally been established. Why does the Bank of England give no reports on the matter, and why has the Treasury not revealed where the money has gone?
Those matters will always be returned to, and I hope, therefore, that we can have a debate before Christmas to start the ball rolling.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I shall deal with one subject and one only. I shall not be so hypocritical as to suggest that we should not adjourn for Christmas or should have a substantially shorter recess, since we work for longer periods of the year than does any other legislature in the world, but I consider that Parliament should not adjourn, or at least should return half a day early, in order to discuss a matter which has arisen in the past 10 days but which has signally failed to receive proper exposure.
522 I refer to the recently announced amnesty for illegal immigrants. I have a great personal regard for the Home Secretary—I regard him as a man of considerable calibre—but I think it well below his usual standard when he uses the well known ploy which successive Governments have used over the years of trying to hide a difficult subject away in a Written Answer instead of coming to the House to make a statement. Patently, it was right that there should be a statement in the House about this latest amnesty, but no such statement was made. The announcement was tucked away in a Written Answer, and we have had no opportunity to debate the matter or to expose the Home Secretary to questions on the subject.
I believe that this recently announced amnesty has had a serious impact on race relations work in this country. Both in the House generally and in the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration I have been much concerned with the subject over the past three years. I have always taken a certain view on immigration. I believe that it should be far more restricted than it is, and I know that many of my hon. Friends take the same view. On the other hand, I yield to no one in my concern that race relations in this country should be improved, and could be improved, and I genuinely believe that the result of the latest amnesty has been to damage race relations.
Some hon. Members who do not have an immigration problem in their area may wonder why I say that. I can only tell them that those of us who represent areas with high levels of immigration know only too well the anxieties and fears of many of the white ethnic majority population when they hear announcements of this kind. There are no reliable figures of the amount of immigration at present. The Home Office admits it. It does not know the exact figures. There is no reliable estimate of the number of people who may yet come to this country in the next two decades. Consequently, people are worried about the level or potential level of immigration, and I am certain that no help what ever is given towards the improvement of race relations when we have such an announcement as this from the Home Secretary.
523 Race relations in this country—let us not pretend otherwise—are in a fragile state. Despite the legislation which has been passed in an effort to improve race relations—or, perhaps, because of it—the situation has deteriorated in the last year or so. I believe that action of the sort which the Government have taken in announcing the amnesty will virtually drive a fair number of unthinking people into the arms of the National Front—that totally despicable party or, rather, organisation. I shall not dignify it by calling it a party, and I was sad to see such a boost given to it the other day by the party political television broadcast of the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] One is entitled to one's opinion. I saw it, and, quite honestly, I was appalled by the presentation because of the exposure which it gave to a minority organisation which has very few votes indeed.
Although we got the message that the Labour Party is obviously scared stiff about the National Front, the presentation of the broadcast gratuitously handed a party political broadcast to the National Front in its own right. To put it at its lowest, it was ham-handed.
I have no brief whatever for the National Front, but I believe that examples of that kind and such announcements as the amnesty for illegal immigrants will make more people turn to extreme measures as they become genuinely worried.
Moreover, the amnesty shows that the Government are not really serious about tackling the vexed question of illegal immigration. I am certain that the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides believe that illegal immigration is wrong and that everything possible should be done by the Government to stop it, but if we have this sort of reaction from the Home Secretary of the day—the second time running, with a different Home Secretary but the same party in office—giving in to those who are here illegally, what can we expect for the future?
Obviously, people abroad will say that we are "soft" on immigration, that we are an easy option, that once someone has got here he has nothing much to worry about because he will eventually be given a pardon or parole and be 524 allowed to stay. Indeed, others will say that it is well worth trying to come here because there is nothing much to worry about.
I believe that the amnesty will do a great deal to encourage those law breakers who have recently come here illegally and will encourage also the racketeers who run illegal immigration businesses both abroad and in this country. I have seen the work of some of these people at first hand, as have other hon. Members. It is big business. Large sums of money change hands, and the degree of sophistication is substantial.
Therefore, the Lord President must have no illusion, and neither must the Home Secretary, that we are dealing here with small numbers of people who are unfortunate enough to be exploited, who have come here by mischance, perhaps, and who should have pity rather than blame. Many of these people have come in a cynical and stealthy way, with all the apparatus behind them of a smuggling route well organised on the Continent of Europe and well organised in the Asian subcontinent.
Far from going away, the problem is on the increase, as I hope we shall be able to show before very long in a report by the Select Committee.
Before adjourning, we ought as a Parliament to say on this as on other subjects either that we believe in the laws of this country or that we do not. Parliament should be shown to support the laws which it has passed, or, if it believes those laws to be unfair or unworkable, it should abolish them. But while we have our laws they should be observed.
I believe that 90 per cent. of the country would support the Government and Parliament in the utmost prosecution of our laws against illegal immigrants. If they have no right to be here, they should not be allowed to stay. We should take note of what some other countries are doing and, when people are found to be here illegally, they should be deported.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
We have one matter at least to be got out of the way before we adjourn, namely the deferment of the Town and County Planning General Development (Amendment) Order, which was to have come into 525 effect on 1st January. I hope that we shall be told of that deferment before very long. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have."] It is long overdue.
§ Mr. Gow
Apparently, the hon. Gentleman missed the intervention of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House earlier today. He told us about an hour ago, when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) was speaking, that the Government did not propose to proceed with the order.
§ Mr. Jenkins
That confirms what I was saying. As a matter of fact, I went out of the Chamber a little while ago to have a cup of tea and I missed that statement, but I am delighted to know that I have been anticipated.
§ Mr. Jenkins
At least, it was good news. I hope that we shall hear some more good news before the day is out. I hope that the deferment does not mean mere deferment but that the outcome will be that this defective order will be so rewritten that it will not have the dire results—I shall not go into them now—which the local authorities which have studied it rightly fear. It would have serious results in Wandsworth and many other constituences where the release from the planning controls originally proposed under the order would have had consequences that could not have been foreseen when it was drafted. However, the matter will be looked at again and we hope that when the order comes before us again it will be in a form generally accepted to be beneficial as, indeed, some parts of the order already were. We were worried that the paragraphs we opposed would have led to disadvantage for the whole community.
However, I do not intend to suggest that we should think about that before adjourning for Christmas. There are other matters to which I wish to refer briefly. The name of John Stonehouse has been mentioned. We have no reason to suspect that he might have been a Czech agent. There are a sufficient number of other things that have been proved against him without our worrying about that possibility—not only the things for which he was recently incarcerated, but 526 matters referred to in the Department of Trade report. That report makes extremely interesting reading in relation not only to Stonehouse but to a number of other people in public life who are named in it. The House should debate that issue before adjourning. This is not a matter of conjecture that it has been suggested should be looked into but a Department of Trade statement and we should decide what we think of it.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Is the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) saying seriously that the fact that Stone-house has been found guilty of a number of things other than espionage is, ipso facto, evidence that he was not a spy?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am saying that other things have been proved and so there is no need to spend time on this. It is improbable that Stonehouse, who was so busy in many other ways, would have had time to be a spy in his spare time.
I now turn to other matters. What are the Government's intentions about a public lending right? The Leader of the House has, from time to time, expressed his admiration of such a Bill, but he has done that so many times and so often that if I were particularly anxious to see any other measure passed, and the Leader of the House expressed enthusiasm and admiration for it, I should be greatly alarmed.
The Leader of the House has been enthusiastic, but so far the Government have not made clear their intentions on public lending right. Ideally this should be a Government Bill and I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to tell us at long last that this is now on the cards. If not, there is the alternative of a Private Member's Bill.
I understand that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) intends to introduce a Public Lending Right Bill. I had hoped that this would be a Government Bill, but if it does come from the other side I have told the hon. Gentleman that I am ready to be on its list of sponsors. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that if the hon. Member for Chelmsford introduces such a Bill, although he is rather low in the pecking order, the Bill will be given a fair wind and that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the Government get the Bill on the statute book at long last? Such 527 legislation is supported on all sides of the House and it is seriously overdue.
Hon. Members may have seen on the "Tonight" programme on Monday an appalling film, which was one of the most terrible that I have ever seen—about the consequences of the raid carried out by the Army of the illegal Smith régime in Rhodesia into Mozambique. It was a shocking film and we understood then why it was that complaints had been made about the Foreign Secretary's condemnation being insufficiently severe. After seeing that film, one felt that a crime against humanity had been committed and that no condemnation would have been too heavy. We have a particular responsibility here. Perhaps mankind is becoming too blasé when there are natural disasters in places a long way away. We do not take enough notice of the conseqences of such disasters as the one that took place in India recently. We tend to regard only those things that happen near us as being of concern to us, and the greater the distance the less notice we take.
We have a special responsibility for the actions of the illegal régime in Rhodesia because it is there as a result of our inability to prevent it, our lack of will to do so or possibly a combination of the two. Therefore, anything that is done by that régime is something for which we are in a way, if not directly at least indirectly responsible. The complaint that the Foreign Secretary's condemnation of the brutal attack—in which mostly women and children were killed—was too mild was well justified. I hope that when the Leader of the House replies he will feel it right to add to what the Foreign Secretary said by making clear that the Government have for this action an abhorrence that will render it impossible that such an action could be taken again by the illegal régime.
I hope that the Leader of the House will address himself to these matters in his reply and that unless we hear from him on them we shall not adjourn.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I realise that many hon. Members still wish to speak and I shall therefore be brief.
I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick 528 and Leamington (Mr. Smith) and ask why we cannot have a debate on the vexed question of immigration before rising for the recess. I agree with what has already been said. The House could easily continue for two or three days next week so that certain issues that hon. Members feel to be vital could be discussed before Christmas.
Last Thursday during business questions I raised the matter of immigration with the Leader of the House and his reply was a polite brush-off. The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be plenty of time to raise the matter this week. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 37 which refers to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, which apparently took no evidence during its recent visit to the Indian sub-continent.
We heard an entertaining speech from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who talked about Select Committees tripping all over the globe and he wondered what was the purpose, apart from providing junkets for the hon. Members concerned. The hon. Member for Bolsover has now tripped away himself. However, I must draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the proceedings of the Select Committee on 19th May. The Chairman said:We did not take evidence in the countries we visited so there will not be any evidence to accompany our report. I think it is far better if we ask you rather than present evidence ourselves.One can only wonder what was the purpose of the Select Committee. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, that this issue should be ventilated and that the House is the proper place for discussion to take place.
I endorse all that my hon. Friend said about the announcement of the amnesty for immigrants who entered this country illegally prior to 1975. Not only are they to be granted an amnesty, but they are to be allowed to bring in their wives and children under 18. That is unfair to the immigrants who are already here, unfair to the immigrants patiently waiting their turn in the queue, and unfair to the indigenous population.
I am particularly concerned, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington, about the effect that the 529 amnesty will have on immigrants who are attempting to come here illegally. It gives encouragement to them and to those who are making a great deal of money out of selling forged documents to people who are attempting to enter this country illegally. No doubt those who are making money out of this racket will say that if illegal immigrants can only get into this country all they will have to do is to lie low and a kind, benevolent Socialist Home Secretary will come up with another amnesty and all will be well.
I am particularly concerned about the way in which the announcement was made, in a Written Answer. There was no chance for hon. Members to discuss the announcement or to question the Home Secretary. That is a disgraceful state of affairs and a disgraceful way for any Government to conduct their business.
We realise that the Labour Party is very concerned about the National Front. The recent television party political broadcast was directed entirely against the National Front. I make no comment about that programme because I was one of the lucky ones who did not see it. The reason that the National Front is gaining support is that many people have no faith in our main political parties on the vexed question of immigration. They feel that they have been let down by successive Labour and Conservative Governments.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
The hon. Gentleman may inadvertently be doing himself a disservice. Will he address himself to two specific points? When he asks us to consider restricting immigration, does he mean all immigration of all types of persons from whatever area they come, including the Common Market, bearing in mind that it may soon include Portugal, Spain and Greece? Secondly, does he not feel that, having argued as he has, he is in danger of being regarded as a racist?
§ Mr. Montgomery
I was coming to that point. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it.
One of the serious things that is happening in this country is that anyone who dares to question the number of immigrants or the rate of immigration is automatically branded a racist. The hon. Gentleman represents a constituency 530 in Birmingham where there is a very serious problem and the right way to handle it is to have an open discussion. People are entitled to their opinions.
If the views which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and I put forward are branded racist, there must be millions of racists in this country—and I do not believe that there are. Even the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), a former Government Chief Whip, made a speech not long ago in which he drew attention to the serious problems of immigration and used the phrase, which got a great deal of publicity, "Enough is enough". That is the view that I take.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman keeps going on about racists, but what is the definition of "racist"? Does he think that it is time to allow more and more people to come in and to go into the city ghettos?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. I have been advised of, and I remember, the occasion when Mr. Speaker said that he looked upon the word "racist" as an unparliamentary word. I think that we must bear in mind Mr. Speaker's ruling in that respect.
§ Mr. Litterick
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not call the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) a racist. I warned him of the danger of inadvertently characterising himself as a racist.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that. I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman of using the word as a form of abuse, but I think that Mr. Speaker deplores its use even in the wider context.
§ Mr. Montgomery
There have been so many interruptions that I have almost forgotten the point that I had reached.
I was saying that I can see no kindness in allowing more and more people into this country to live in overcrowded areas of our inner cities, to go to overcrowded schools, and to live in overcrowded housing. Obviously, I respect your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) was referring to me 531 as a racist, although there was perhaps a hint or implication in his remarks. However, we who believe that immigration has to be halted are used to that word.
If the Government want good race relations, they will have to realise that there is no point in trying to sweep the problem under the carpet. The hon. Member for Bolsover said that it might be hoped that if no one mentioned the Crown Agents the problem would go away. The Government may be hoping that if no one mentions the vexed question of immigration that problem will go away. But it will not. I hope that the Leader of the House will read carefully the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington.
The only answer to this problem is to have open debates when we can look at the problem openly and honestly. People will then see that we heed what they say and that we are aware of their anxieties and of the problems which have been created. If this sort of action is taken in Parliament, support for the National Front will decline. I hope that when the Leader of the House replies he will be able to give us a convincing reason why he cannot find time to debate this important issue before the Christmas Recess.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
I am in a dilemma about deciding whether we should come back on 9th January. It all depends on how we are to occupy our time in the next part of this Session. If we are to be bogged down with direct elections for Europe and the devolution Bills, rather than come back on 9th January I should prefer to come back on 19th or 29th.
I have a high regard for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I feel that we have been bogged down in these three constitutional measures. There was a telling contribution in yesterday's debate on direct elections by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). He intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and said that the right hon. Gentleman had reformed local government, the National Health Service and the water industry, and was now recommending a reform of the electoral system. The hon. Gentleman 532 asked what he could tell his constituents if he supported the right hon. Gentleman on the electoral system when he knew what had happened to the earlier reforms.
The hon. Gentleman was stating a great truth. There was a tendency by the last Conservative Government to introduce change for the sake of change, and we are all suffering the consequences. I should have thought that this Government would learn a lesson from that experience and would not try to repeat the monumental mistakes of their predecessors. When we come back we shall presumably spend a great deal of time on direct elections to the European Assembly. No party in this House has a mandate for electoral reform. The Liberals have campaigned for proportional representation, but they have failed to get first past the post on so many occasions that it shows that the nation does not want proportional representation. Certainly the major parties in the House do not want proportional representation.
On the question of direct elections, it can be argued that we have had a referendum and the people have decided that we ought to remain in the Common Market. But in the referendum campaign there was no suggestion by those either for or against our membership of the Common Market that if we decided to remain a member, we would immediately proceed, before a General Election, to have direct elections in this country. Yet here we are now, finding ourselves with the major part of this parliamentary Session devoted to a Bill that had not been put forward by the major parties in this country to the electorate. I think that that is terrible.
Again, we shall find that the remainder of the Session will be devoted to the devolution Bills. I believe that the direct elections Bill is an overcooked Bill, but, of course, the devolution Bills are half-baked. What the devolution Bills will do is to compound the difficulties that have been created by the Conservative Party. In Wales we suggested that we should not proceed with local government reorganisation until we had had the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Commission. But now, of course, local government, in the way in which it has been wrongly reorganised by the Conservative 533 Party, is to be left alone, and on top of that we are to have an Assembly in Wales and an Assembly in Scotland.
What shall we be doing in the rest of this Session? Although all hon. Members talk about the need to cut down bureaucracy and to get people out of administration and into manufacturing industry, the Conservative Party has created a bureacracy in the Health Service, in local government and in the water industry.
§ Mr. Evans
I shall come to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. I know that he was involved in the bureacracy creations.
The Tory Party created three bureaucracies. We are now to support the bureacracy in Brussels by having direct elections, and we are to create bureaucracies in Cardiff and Edinburgh. I believe that the Government should look again at this programme if we are to come back on 9th January.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I do not know how the hon. Gentleman explains the fact that the statistics now published by his Government show that the year following local government reform in England was the first year since the war that the number of administrative staff went down. It went down by 4 per cent. That is about the only year since the war that it went down.
§ Mr. Evans
I shall look at those figures. The general impression that I have—I am sure it is shared by most hon. Members—is that the method of reorganisation of local government under the Conservative Party created a greater bureaucracy. That has been said by people involved in local government itself. I see that the right. hon. Member is not intervening to query my comments about the Health Service.
§ Mr. Evans
I was not here, so I cannot remember. But bureaucracies were created, and the present Government must be concerned about that.
I sympathise with the task of the Leader of the House, because we have a difficult situation. The Government are doing a grand job of getting us out of financial difficulties but, of course, we do not have a majority in the House. Rather than embarking on these constitutional measures, I suggest that we should deal with issues which are of concern to our constituents.
Perhaps we could find time, when we come back after the Christmas Recess—I would be prepared to come back earlier for this—to discuss the problem of unemployment. I believe that that is the major problem confronting the Government. In fact, I believe that it is more important than the wages problem or the question of inflation, though I know that they are related. We need to have a major debate
Last week a Minister of the Department of Employment said that there was a need for the Government to create 2 million jobs. I know that the Government have done much by way of remedial measures. They have put forward various schemes to try to deal with the unemployment problem. But here is a major problem. This is what the House should be debating. There should be constructive proposals put forward by the House on how we can tackle the serious problem of unemployment, which may well further increase when we have investment in manufacturing industries. Investment in industry does not create jobs; it replaces labour. That means that there is a very serious problem.
Linked with that problem, I think we ought to discuss the question of what we are to do with the proceeds of North Sea oil. I understand that the Prime Minister has asked the Secretary of State for Energy and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to explore the possibilities of what we can do with the tremendous bonus that this country will receive when the benefits of North Sea oil begin to flow. I should have thought that even before the Government bring out a Green Paper, that is an issue on which we, as a House, should deliberate. We should put our recommendations to the 535 Government, because there are new arguments being put forward that we might use the revenue from North Sea oil to wipe out the National Debt and that we might use it to bring down taxation. There are other arguments. We could well invest in manufacturing industry and try to find new energy sources.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I should like to revert to the point made by my hon. Friend a moment ago about the way in which investment in manufacturing industry does not necessarily create jobs but often replaces them, yet over the next 15 years there will be 2 million more people seeking jobs. Should we not be thinking of alternatives to unemployment, of which employment is one but not the only one? Is it not essential, therefore, that when we are thinking about the deployment of resources from North Sea oil, we should not only think of investment in industry but deal with the effects of that investment by funding programmes of alternatives to unemployment?
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, absolutely. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) has made a close study of these problems, and I would welcome a debate on this issue so that he could develop the theme which he has mentioned briefly. That is the sort of issue which I think the general public would feel had some relevance to them at present and which concerned their hopes and aspirations for the future.
I think that the mass of people in this country are not concerned at all with whether we take Clause 2 of the European Assembly Elections Bill before Clause 3. They could not care less how we elect representatives from this country to the European Parliament. What they are deeply concerned about is the way in which food prices are rising as a consequence of our membership of the Common Market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East is supporting my point that we must be looking to the future and making those points from the Back Benches. We must make constructive proposals on how we can use the revenues from North Sea oil. We must try to ensure that we do not have mass unemployment.
536 I do not want to speak at length, but I should like to suggest one or two other subjects. I believe that it is wrong that we, as a House, have not debated foreign affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) quite rightly referred to Rhodesia. I think that we should be expressing our point of view on and debating the issue of Rhodesia and South Africa. We should make the public in Rhodesia and South Africa aware of the deep feelings of hon. Members about the way in which events are developing in that part of the world. I link Rhodesia and South Africa because I am absolutely convinced that the key to the solution of the Rhodesian problem lies with South Africa. If South Africa were to cut off support for Rhodesia, the illegal Rhodesian régime would collapse.
We need to know what the Government propose to do. President Carter is giving a lead in the United States about the American attitude to South Africa. We seem to be trailing along behind the United States. I hope that our Government will give a lead and that they will consider what we should do about the question of investment and what action we should take if South Africa persists in supporting Rhodesia.
There have also been important developments in the Middle East. There has been President Sadat's visit to Israel. We all know that there has been a biblical conflict in the Middle East for generations. There now seems to be an opportunity to grasp the initiative. Surely this House should be expressing its hopes and aspirations that at long last Jews and Arabs may live in peace. What a great contribution to mankind it would be if we could resolve those problems, yet we cannot find time in this House to debate this important issue.
I must tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I would welcome an opportunity to come back on 1st January, after a short recess, to discuss these matters which are of such concern to so many people. There are important questions relating to employment, living standards and the aim of mankind in wishing to live in peace. I hope that we shall not spend time dealing with escapist problems involving forms of Assemblies in Cardiff or Edinburgh. 537 I hope that we shall not give the impression to the people of Wales and Scotland that all their problems will be solved if we have new talking shops in those areas. The only way we shall solve these problems is by changing the system. Furthermore, we shall certainly not solve the problems of Europe or change the European bureaucracy just by directly electing people to the European Assembly, at salaries greater than that paid to our Prime Minister.
I hope that we shall get back to discussing the bread and butter issues which concern our people. This is why I am willing to return earlier, from the recess so that we may have an opportunity to discuss these important topics. We shall then be in a better position to deal with them in our constituencies.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
In view of the many subjects that have been raised in this debate, it may seem strange that I wish to discuss the subject of the Foyle salmon fisheries in my constituency. However, this is a matter of very great interest to my constituents and that the decline in salmon numbers is of long standing is no reason for ignoring the problem.
I wish to declare my interest in this subject. I am an angler, vice-president of an angling club, and I fish in the Foyle area. The House will be aware that recently on the Foyle we had a killer whale and the activities of that mammal in supping on the salmon no doubt led to a further decline in salmon stocks. But the work of that whale and salmon disease are the only two factors in the decline in stocks that cannot be directly attributed to human action.
The salmon fishery to which I refer was at one time extremely valuable. In 1964 the nets took 149,633 salmon and the rods 4,349. In 1976 the nets caught only roughly 38,000 and the rods 603. Disease has run its course, and the damage done by drainage has brought its problems. These matters have been responsible for a proportion of the decrease. There has also been considerable pollution. This is a less severe problem than that in Great Britain, but salmon are sensitive to water quality and its deterioration has been responsible for 538 much of the decline. It is time that the Department of the Environment did something about the situation because that Department has not been fulfilling its responsibility.
I tabled a number of Questions on this matter at the beginning of December, and I was given information about the settling ponds at the Carnmoney Waterworks. I was told that those ponds, which are lagoons, are in use. They may well be in use, if lagoons full of rushes and gorse can be described as "in use". I was also told that monitoring of the River Owenreagh shows that the discharge from Caugh Hill treatment works has not had any harmful effects on the ecology of the river. The difficulty is that the discharge in question has been continuing for 30 years and nothing has been done about it. If there is any discernibly harmful effect on the ecology of the river the harm has long since been done.
I was told by the Department that the Drumahoe sewage treatment works overflowed on four occasions in the past year and that six written complaints had been made in the past two years relating to the discharge of effluent from sewage disposal or water treatment works belonging to the Department of the Environment in the Foyle area. The reason I raise this problem now is to draw attention to the fact that the Department of the Environment is the only body that can prosecute if the law is broken.
I believe that if pollution continues from the Department of the Environment works the right to prosecute should be given back to the general public who will then be prepared to do the job which the Department itself is not prepared to take on—that is, to prosecute the Department.
A further reason for the decline in salmon stocks is the amount of over-netting that takes place, particularly in the River Roe. Some years ago that river gave 6,000 salmon to the nets and a thousand to the rods. Last year the figure went down to 1,230 as to nets and 174 to rods. That cannot be described as an improvement. A total of five nets operate in the estuary and there are others in the Foyle estuary. There is not much activity by people who earn their living from fishing but only from those for whom salmon provide extra pin money. 539 This is one of the principal points of friction in the area. Most of the nets are based in Co. Donegal and the Commission is a cross-border body. The west side of the Foyle basin does not have many angling opportunities and most of the anglers and spawning grounds are concentrated in Northern Ireland. The net result is that money from netting seems to go to the Commission, or to the Donegal nctsmen, and little of it comes to Northern Ireland residents. Most of the anglers, who are catching a small proportion of fish, live in Northern Ireland. Something must be done about the situation.
In addition, there is a hideous amount of law breaking. I see the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his place, and I am glad to note his presence because he will know about the shootings at water bailiffs and the threats to Commission staff. Nothing of import seems to have been done to improve the situation in the area.
I believe that the House should not rise unless something is done about this situation. There is a good deal of poaching by nets in the estuary. There is poaching by organised gangs on the rivers, as well as gassing, snatching, and by the old traditional type poacher who does least damage of all.
There, is also the question of the protection given by the Commission and the police. I was told in a further Written Answer on 1st December that the Royal Ulster Constabulary was responsible for the apprehension of persons in four cases and the Foyle Fishing Commission was responsible for eight cases. On the River Faughan the RUC apprehended 12 offenders and the Commission only two. In the remainder of the Foyle area in Northern Ireland the RUC was responsible for apprehending offenders in 16 cases and the Commission for 19.
This is a remarkable situation when we consider that the Foyle Fisheries Commission is a full-time body and the RUC has very little time at all left after other duties to look after fishery problems in Northern Ireland. I believe that this matter should be further considered by the House and that an improvement should be brought about.
I have already said that I am an angler. Until lately there was free trout fishing 540 in the area. However, although the Commission does nothing at all about trout fishing, a licence fee was imposed this year for the first time. Complaints were made by the Limavady Council in respect of Benevenagh Lake and certain figures were given to me in a letter from the Foyle Fisheries Commission. The Commission appears to suggest that it was responsible for matters on Lake Benevenagh, but they have nothing to do with it as the responsibility belongs to the Department of Agriculture. There have been endless complaints for 25 years or so from the angling clubs in the Commission's area. Nobody is more aware of the complexities of the situation and of the rights governing fishing and angling in Northern Ireland than myself. In some rivers there are fishing rights attached. Some appear to have riparian powers while others appear to have few or no fishing rights. However, fishing has been wide open to the general public.
I draw the attention of the House to the activities of the Fanghan Club, which has approached me. I make no apology for that fact. Anyone can join the club for the princely sum of £3. That gives a person the right to fish, if he buys a Commission licence, in one of the finest sea trout rivers in the British Isles. Last year the club had 1,200 members and 300 boys paying the half rate, the latter being off the streets and not throwing stones. They were much better off fishing than they would have been if engaged in illegal activities.
The fees are used to pay one full-time bailiff and two part-time bailiffs during the angling season. During the time when the club bailiffs are available the Commission staff never seem to appear on the river. The club has spent the money on bailiffs and river improvement. It has spent £1,000 on river improvement recently. It is willing to spend money on restocking, especially restocking with sea trout. The club gave me a copy of an interesting letter from the Foyle Fisheries Commission of 30th September. The letter reads:Thank you for your letter of 24th September 1977. I am afraid I was unable to carry out any proposals to catch sea trout for eventual stripping in Bushmills, because the hatchery there was unable to accommodate them. We can, however, try again next season if the Association would desire it.541 There is a fish hatchery available to the Commission at Newtonstewart that has been out of use for some time because it does not have proper ponds for rearing. If the Commission is serious about keeping fisheries up to scratch in this area, it should at least make some effort to get that hatchery back into shape.
Another difficulty is that angling clubs pay rates on fishing in Northern Ireland. In most of Northern Ireland they pay them as normal rates. In the Foyle Fisheries Commission area they pay them to the Commission. I have already raised with the Minister the difficulties that are found by my club and other clubs that cover the River Roe. I hope that we shall soon have an answer.
Some of the nets in the Commission area pay rates. It is significant that only five nets out of many hundreds pay rates, and that the rateable nets happen to be on the River Roe. This is a matter that much concerns the anglers and netsmen in that area. They would like to know why the present state of affairs should be allowed to continue.
In the light of the serious decline that has taken place, I should like to know precisely what the Government intend to do—if it cannot be done before Christmas, I hope that it will be done shortly afterwards—to improve matters. I do not want to be fobbed off with the information that there is an advisory council, on which anglers have a strong voice. The council is purely what its name suggests—namely, an advisory body. No one has to listen to it and no one ever does. It has no powers and I believe that it should be given some teeth. It should be given some executive function.
Consideration must be given to the future protection of salmon. The destruction of the fishery has been widespread. The destruction of the salmon has been widespread not only in the Foyle area but throughout Ireland, North as well as South. If the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who looks after agriculture and fishing is concerned about treading on someone's toes and is uneasy about approaching Dublin, I can tell him that he will now find willing support in Dublin in the shape of the new Minister for Fisheries, Mr. Brian Lenihan. In an article in the Irish Independent of 542 4th October 1977 Mr. Lenihan is quoted as saying:The various controls that have been imposed, such as the annual close season, weekly close time, maximum length and depth of nets, are being flagrantly flouted.He said that when the depleted stocks reached the riversthey were invariably subjected to widespread poaching by organised gangs who were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their purpose.He went on to say:I am not prepared to tolerate this situation and I hereby give notice to all who regard illegal fishing for salmon as part of their birthright that as from 1978 they will be facing a changed situation.The poachers and the scoundrels who have destroyed the Foyle fisheries should meet exactly the same treatment north of the border.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I speak against the motion, and I shall list three main reasons that demand that we should have some explanation before we go into the Christmas Recess. I believe that they are good reasons for not going into recess. One of them concerns unemployment. The second reason is one that is not raised very often in the House although I feel that it should be—namely, the situation in respect of what we refer to as the Old Workmen's Compensation cases. The third reason is the massive discrimination against the major part of my constituency that lies within the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan.
Before I deal with those reasons I refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), whose omnibus contribution covered many of the things that we discuss in the House. He referred to various matters that we do not discuss often enough. On the other hand, he wants us to drop one or two items. I understand why he takes the view, having listened to him and having read what he thinks about devolution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare talked about the salaries that it is proposed to award to Members of the European Parliament. He thinks that they are scandalous. I think that I quote him correctly when he says "That is more than the Prime Minister gets". That is more of an indictment against us 543 than an indictment against the proposed salaries. If we want Members of Parliament to be really effective, we should be examining as soon as possible in the new Session how best we can provide them with better services to enable them to do their job here. Above all, there should be provision in the constituencies, because that is where many of the problems need to be tackled and solved. We should have somebody in our constituencies to help do just that. I do not think that the proposed salaries constitute an indictment. The indictment is against us in that we are prepared to put up with unsatisfactory provision and conditions because we think that public opinion will otherwise be offended.
I return to unemployment. In my constituency there is the new town of Skelmersdale, which enjoys the highest form of grant aid and has an unemployment rate of about 17.6 per cent. There are about 40,000 people in the town. We sometimes get figures from the Department of Employment relating to little hamlets which show fairly high rates of unemployment but which in population terms are insignificant. That cannot be said about Skehnersdale.
I believe that the Government have not done as much as they promised for Skelmersdale to help us overcome the terrific losses that we suffered when we lost Thorn and Courtaulds. Those two losses robbed us of over 3,000 jobs. The balance has been slightly redressed with the help of the Government and the initiative of the co-operative society—I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare, who is a co-operative society sponsored Member is not in the Chamber but I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) is present, he being similarly sponsored—by introducing a new computer servicing block in Skelmersdale. That will give us 600 jobs immediately. It is hoped that the number of jobs at the block will reach 1,000. We know that people in Skelmersdale will not be able immediately to fill those jobs, but we shall have job opportunities in future. Therefore, I welcome the co-operative society's appearance. Apart from that, the Government have done very little, and I believe that they could have done much more. My message tonight to my right hon. 544 Friend is to get this information across to his right hon. Friend responsible for this and to say that we want some good news for Skelmersdale.
My constituency resides mainly in the greater metropolitan area of Wigan. I cannot understand why an area such as Wigan is so massively discriminated against on every conceivable count. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch). another of my hon. Friends and myself went with a deputation my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan has led three or four deputations—to plead Wigan's case a few months ago for development area status. I believe that it is irrefutable on any counts—unemployment, social considerations and industrial dereliction. On each of these three grounds, or any combination of them, I cannot understand why Wigan's case is persistently rejected.
I do not know how the needs element in the rate support grant is compiled. The last straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, came when we found that Wigan Metropolitan Borough, which has 3 per cent. of the total derelict land in the country—mostly within my constituency—to deal with which it gets a 100 per cent. grant—had to find certain costs for which there is no aid. Therefore, the problem is not solved by a 100 per cent. grant, because the ratepayers still have to meet substantial costs. As a result, it has suffered under the new rate support grant just announced.
Two of the old townships in my constituency—Ince and Abram—have some of the worst housing facilities in the United Kingdom. Following publication of the new rate support grant, we discovered that the Wigan Metropolitan Borough was to get in money terms exactly what it got last year with no allowance for inflation. Of the 10 boroughs within the Greater Manchester area, seven have benefits of one kind or another. The other three—Wigan, Bury and Stockport—do not get any benefit. However, Bury and Stockport gain from the rate support grant. The other seven boroughs get aid under the urban renewal programme, and so on, but Wigan still does not benefit. Bury and Stockport get grants from the rate support fund which will help them and which are based on the needs element.
545 When Wigan makes out a case, it makes it out very largely, I assume, on the needs of the old Ince constituency. I cannot understand why this discrimination has existed for so long. Indeed, it looks as though it will continue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will get another message across—that it is not right and that it should be put right.
The final point that I wish to make under the title of the old workmen's compensation cases has not been discussed in this Chamber for quite some time. Many men settled before the appointed day in the new Industrial Injuries Act, or the National Insurance Act as it was called, which, if my memory serves me right, was 5th July 1948. In many instances, people were persuaded to settle, sometimes against their better judgment, on a lump sum basis. The computation was somewhat convoluted. I do not think that many in this House can explain it with great precision. However, those who had to deal with this matter, particularly in the mining communities, have some knowledge of it. These men were persuaded to commute what would have been a weekly liability for a lump sum payment.
Under the new scheme no man can have his entitlement commuted on the basis of a lump sum. If he gets less than a 20 per cent. assessment, he will usually settle, unless he is getting a special hardship allowance when he has a choice on the basis of a final payment. But he always has the opportunity—this is another good aspect of the new Act—to seek a review on the ground of substantial and unforeseen aggravation. That provision was copied from the Forces' scheme. It never dies. If a man's injury worsens, even though he may have accepted a final settlement, he may apply to have it reviewed.
I come back to the old workmen's compensation cases, of which there can not be many. I do not know what the figures are, but I shall try to get them. Whether it is 500,000 or 10,000 does not matter; the principle is the same.
This House has from time to time, by retrospective legislation, provided benefits for people who, but for such legislation, would have had no benefits at all. It is time that this House considered redressing 546 the situation that I have outlined. We need a real Socialist measure to achieve the result for which I am asking. The Labour Government would be doing a great service for many of our colleagues—I do not know how many, but there would be proportionately more in mining areas than elsewhere—if they introduced such legislation.
I do not want to develop the argument. I do not believe that, when advancing this kind of proposition, one should argue the merits and details of it. If the forecasts of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare and others of my hon. Friends are correct and the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill and the European Assembly Elections Bill are ditched, we shall have time in which to consider seriously bringing in legislation of the kind that I have indicated.
Our old comrades and colleagues who settled for lump sum payments—I think that in many cases they were ill-advised—should have the opportunity of receiving the benefits conferred by the new Act. I want retrospective legislation to be introduced which will help them to get a weekly benefit. It would be a great act of natural justice and show this House at its best—caring for those who ill-advisedly settled for something which the law would not now permit.
On those grounds, I oppose the motion.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
We should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess until we have considered a number of important topics, some of which have already been mentioned.
I believe that we sit too long in this place and pass too many laws. There is a good deal to be said for the old arrangement, in the days of England's greatness, when we came down at the end of July, spent the winter innocently doing things such as fox-hunting, and did not come back until January.
Both this Government and the previous Government, who have tried to pass so many laws, should perhaps remember the dictum of Lord Melbourne, again in the days of England's greatness, to leave thins well alone.
I am concerned about the failure of this Government, in particular the Home 547 Office, to support law and order with that will and determination that is so obviously necessary. I am thinking of the need to strengthen the police and the necessity to give them more pay. I speak in the context of the kind of raid that took place yesterday on the M1. Only a few years ago that would have made the headlines in the papers. But, in today's violent times, the stealing of £250,000, a gun battle and huge pieces of metal being cut out of security vans cause no concern at all. That kind of thing is happening near London today, and most people are concerned about it.
I am also worried about the state of our Armed Forces, particularly about conditions in Germany where there are shortages of men, equipment, spares and ammunition. I am also deeply concerned about the pay of our Services. I believe that to be a more important and pressing matter than the pay of firemen.
I make no apology for being the third hon. Member on this side of the House to state with force that I believe that we should not adjourn until we have considered the amnesty for illegal immigrants and the problems caused by continuing immigration in general.
I was in my constituency most of yesterday. Perhaps the Lord President will be kind enough to listen to me because I am talking about what people say about us and the House. The Lord President may find it a laughing matter, but they do not.
My constituents cannot understand why this important topic has been debated so rarely. We are spending weeks and weeks on the Scotland Bill which no one in England wants and which few people in Scotland want. This will be followed by the Wales Bill, which is even more unpopular and irrelevant to the nation's needs. We are having continual debates on direct elections to Europe about which very few people know and even fewer care. Yet immigration concerns millions of people. It touches the national character and, indeed, our whole future as a nation. The Government do not want this topic discussed because they know that people want immigration stopped. The Government lack the will and moral courage to take the necessary action.
548 The second amnesty for immigrants was announced, curiously, by way of an Answer to a Written Question. This is a further blow to morale in this country. People ask "Why should immigrants be allowed this immunity from the effect of our laws which we passed and which we should presumably try to uphold?" They ask "Why should crime pay, not only for immigrants themselves but for their relations? Are the sort of people who get into this country by means of trickery and fraud the sort of citizens that we want here? Why should immigrants have precedence over those who want to come here legally? Why should immigrant rackets be encouraged in this way? When will the process of amnesty for illegal immigrants come to an end?" These matters should be debated before the recess.
It is extremely difficult to raise the question of immigration at all, even in the House. Clearly, the Government do not want the subject mentioned. Outside the House many people are frightened of mentioning the subject in public. Even the newspapers have to be careful about what they print. This almost total muzzling of opinion in England is something new and sinister in our history.
Will the present unfair immigration laws last? The subject must have regular and open debate. Those who have the courage to raise the subject are abused and yet, if a referendum were to be held, about 90 per cent. of our people would want immigration stopped, and stopped now.
The stream of immigration continues and the Government cannot and dare not give a date for when it will come to an end. The problems affecting the ordinary people when immigrants arrive and, in time, take over whole areas of our towns should be debated in detail in the House. English people never expected that this would happen to them. They never wanted it to happen and certainly they were never asked to vote upon it.
The people outside the House regard us as little less than callous humbugs because we continually refuse to face the real problems, hardships and anxieties which are placed upon our citizens in this old and historic island. No wonder the National Front flourishes when the Government are so feeble in tackling this pressing matter. This House is still supposed to be the custodian of our citizens 549 and yet we see families, in town after town, in London and the suburbs and in various parts of the North of England, being dispossessed by immigrants. They have no redress whatsoever when they see the price of property fall around them and the whole neighbourhood completely change. For old people in particular, their world is turned upside down. They cannot understand why they should have to leave the areas that they have known and loved since they were children to make way for newcomers—strangers whose customs, habits and religions are utterly strange to them.
This is what England is coming to. It passes my comprehension that we do not debate this matter and put a stop to it before there is a catastrophe. Some time ago an hon. Member said of immigration "Enough is enough". Surely now that months have passed since that cry was made, the Government will listen. It is no longer a matter of saying piously that the amount of immigration is endangering good labour relations, because it is now so endangering the very character and cohesion of our own race.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I shall resist the temptation to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) because my constituency has the greatest number of new Commonwealth immigrants in this country. I find the hon. Member's views abhorrent. His contribution was antipathetic to the integration of our people and the real needs that exist.
This is only the third time in nearly 20 years that I have intervened in the debate on the Adjournment. I took the view, in spite of the fact that popular entertainers could raise a cheap laugh about politicians, that there are on all sides of the House conscientious hon. Members who work an 0-hour week, including Saturdays and Sundays. Apart from the needs of hon. Members to have their batteries recharged, they are entitled to spend a little time with their wives and families. In the last three weeks the House has risen after midnight practically every night.
But the recess should be delayed for a few days so that we can debate today's 550 decision by the Law Lords on the Grunwick affair. Hon. Members will know that in 1971 all the Grunwick workers in my constituency who joined a trade union were sacked. In 1972 all the Grunwick workers in my constituency who joined a trade union were sacked. In 1976 all the Grunwick workers who joined a trade union were sacked. What has happened since then has been a tragedy for industrial relations, not only for Grunwick but for the way in which industrial relations should develop between the workers and the employers. Most companies and large firms have, for a number of years, developed a means of resolving difficulties round the table. This has been to the advantage of the trade unionists, the CBI and the employers.
The Law Lords today reached a decision about Grunwick which will create a barrier to two sides in a dispute getting round a table and negotiating a settlement. The decision will give employers the right to reject the Employment Protection Act and to refuse to co-operate with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. The result will mean confrontation not just at Grunwick but in every firm throughout Britain where in times of economic difficulty we are trying to achieve maximum productivity and good industrial relations. Today's decision gives carte blanche for confrontation and war rather than negotiation and peace.
I believe that the House should debate this matter for one day, perhaps next week, or at least before we are due to return. I know how difficult it is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to find time to enable hon. Members to discuss the many important matters they wish to raise, and that difficulty will persist in this case unless the Conservatives provide a Supply Day.
Perhaps I may here pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) because in this matter he has leaned over backwards in order to seek discussion and negotiation rather than confrontation. An employer can use today's decision to prevent negotiations from taking place. Hon. Members in all parties want to avoid strikes, mass picketing and confrontation, and instead to reach a compromise which, while it does not give either side everything it wants, 551 avoids stoppages, loss of production and the sort of conflict that has arisen in my constituency. When there is confrontation there is complete capitulation eventually by one side or the other, but that leads to an uneasy peace which can result in bitterness and ill-feeling festering beneath the surface and eventually rising again.
There can be agreement such as took place in a firm in Leicester which, while smaller than Grunwick, engages in a similar business of film processing. There was a five-week strike and ACAS was called in. The two sides then got round a table and reached an agreement which since last August has been operating satisfactorily.
The situation in the film processing business at the moment is similar to that which obtained in the First World War when there was a lull while the contending forces massed in preparation for the next offensive. In the photographic industry the mass of work is done in the summer when hon. Members, like everyone else in the country, take their families to the beach at Lowestoft or to the Costa Brava and keep a photographic record of the event. Once the summer season is finished, however, the lull begins. We are now in the lull and the photographic companies are facing problems. It will not be until after next Easter that business will begin to pick up again, and Grunwick will be called upon to produce hundreds of thousands of negatives and prints.
The lull is the time to seek a peace treaty. We should be trying now to avoid conflict next March, April or May when millions of pounds of taxpayers' money will be spent on trying to keep the peace in Cooper Road, Chapter Road and Cobbold Road in the London borough of Brent. I estimate that taxpayers paid £1 million in that endeavour this year. I estimate that the Union of Post Office Workers paid £500,000 as a result of the problems at the Cricklewood sorting office in NW1. I estimate that APEX paid out £500,000 in fighting for the rights of immigrant workers in connection with this dispute. I cannot say too often how proud I am of that union. Immigrants—mostly Gujaratis—come to this country and find themselves in the position of immigrants here from Europe in the early 1900s who went to work in Whitechapel, 552 or immigrants in the United States whose difficulties there in sweat-shop working conditions led to the creation of the garment workers union. These immigrants speak a negligible amount of English, and I am proud of the efforts of APEX on their behalf.
Hon. Members of good will will want to avoid another summer like the last one in which the conflict involved not only the contestants but the people who live near Grunwick, people who through no fault of their own found themselves on the battleground. I speak of old-age pensioners and children who wanted to pass through the mass picketing. But today's decision makes my constituency and every other constituency vulnerable to conflict. It opens the door to enabling recalcitrant employers to provoke confrontation. What happened in my constituency this year could happen in other constituencies next. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will provide the opportunity for a debate on this subject.
I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) in his place. He, too, has played a magnificent conciliatory rôle in this matter. I pay tribute to him, just as I have already paid tribute to his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft.
If we cannot resolve these matters in a reasonable way which permits of conciliation and arbitration, we shall have agony and tragedy in constituency after constituency. Although I have spoken purely in relation to Grunwick, I assure my right hon. Friend that this is not just a constituency matter. It is a matter of national importance. I hope, therefore, to see some action which, in the light of today's decision, will avert any further warfare of this kind.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have already mentioned a number of issues which they felt should be raised. I wish to raise one which I think the House should stay here to debate and go on debating. I refer to the firemen's strike.
I think that it is time that this matter was settled. I am very concerned that we are now heading towards Christmas. 553 Usually there are more fires during that period, and I am very concerned that the fire brigades may still be on strike over the Christmas period, which tends to be a dangerous period.
I am also concerned at the undue strain which has been put on the Armed Forces, who are coping magnificently with a very difficult job. For these reasons I believe that the House ought to continue to debate the matter.
I have a specific interest in the question because in the past six months my own fire brigade in Reading lost two men in a very nasty fire in the town. It has also had two awards for bravery. These were made to two men for diving into the Thames in order to rescue some people from a motor car. Both incidents show the type of job that the fire brigade does. It is a highly dangerous job.
We have heard from hon. Members on both sides what Parliament ought to do. This is a rather interesting trend. People have been saying what we ought to be doing instead of referring to devolution, and so on. I believe that we, as a Parliament, ought to concern ourselves with three principal things. These are the defence of the realm, which is our first priority; law and order, which are our second priority, involving the police; and, thirdly, human life and the saving of property. These are the prime duties of Parliament, and Parliament began almost in order to do these things. It was Lord Melbourne who said that this was all we ought to do, and that we should leave the rest to other people. I take that view strongly. We have interfered far too much in too many people's lives and in too many matters. I believe that defence, law and order and life and property are the three vital issues to the country.
It is, of course, the job of the firemen to look after life and property. One of the tragedies of the poor firemen is that they have played a responsible role. Whenever human life has been at stake, they have broken the picket lines and gone out to rescue people. This has worked against them, because it has saved life and therefore people have not been too concerned about the continuance of tin strike. If the firemen had taken 554 a really militant line and let people die, the dispute might have been settled by now. But, of course, we should not have wanted them to be irresponsible, and we should recognise that they have taken a very responsible attitude throughout the period of the strike.
The recent Government offer to the firemen is a fairly generous one—we may even regret it in the long run—but it is a generous long-term offer and there is no doubt that the firemen feel that they need something now. Recently in Berkshire the firemen turned down the National Joint Council's offer by over 200 votes to 12. I believe that something ought to be put on the table now. I say this because I feel that the firemen want some recognition of their type of job. They feel that the 10 per cent. is certainly an offer, but they want a little more in recognition of the difficult and dangerous job that they undertake.
The firemen are also worried now that since the strike started a very large number of men have been leaving the force. It is shrinking very fast. Very soon there will not be full fire brigades to operate. The strike is also causing deep bitterness between the full-time and the part-time firemen.
The Government have said on a number of occasions that other people waiting in the queue are watching what happens to the firemen's claim and that if the firemen get their claim the flood gates will open and all the other unions will come along with their claims. Frankly, I believe that is no answer to the problem. Either we govern the country or do we not. That is the issue that the House has to grasp. Either we decide something or we do not. To say that because somebody else may want it we have all got to buckle down and hold the line is an entirely fallacious argument. I want to know who are the others in the queue. I can think of some to whom I would say "Go away. You have had plenty in your time." I do not accept this argument from the Government.
In the last two days it has been stated that in private industry nationally pay has risen, on average, by 15 per cent. I have no evidence about it one way or the other. I only know that it was said in the House, and it has been mentioned by a number of people. There has been no denial from the Government.
555 We have been told that the Government have a flexible pay policy. I do not think that it is flexible to say "Ten per cent. or nothing". That is not flexibility.
I believe that the firemen would give up the right to strike if they were given a reasonable deal now. Most of the firemen to whom I have spoken take that view. They are very unhappy that they had to go on strike. I am referring to the moderate, reasonable chaps in the fire brigades. But, having taken this action, they would like to see some arrangement whereby, in return for a reasonable deal now, they would no longer have the right to strike.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
By intervening I will save the House having to listen to me later. Is my hon. Friend aware that over the last year the firemen have increased by 33 per cent. their appearance at incidents other than fires? This being so, does he not feel that this increased productivity provides a real basis on which part of a settlement could be made?
§ Mr. Durant
I was not aware of that. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. But I realise that there is this element in the work of the fire brigades, because I have the M4 quite near to my constituency. The firemen spend a lot of time on the M4 cutting people out of motor cars. It is one of their principal jobs. I support what my hon. Friend said in this connection.
I believe that the firemen would give up the right to strike, and if the Government would move forward to a shortening of the hours that might be something to be discussed. But this House ought to continue to try to find some solution to the problem. I am not in favour of the firemen striking, but I think that they have a case and that the Government and this House ought to look at it.
When I drive past my local fire station I am saddened to see a great notice readingWe will accept what the miners turned down".That, in my opinion, shows the state that we have reached on the whole question of industrial relations and pay. I urge the Government to get on with this matter and produce a settlement before 556 we have a long series of tragedies over Christmas.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I want to revert briefly to the subject of Rhodesia and to a particular aspect of that problem, namely, the continuing breaking of sanctions against Rhodesia by oil companies, and in particular by Shell and British Petroleum.
I suggest to the House that we should not adjourn until this subject has been noted and debated. I suggest further that we should not adjourn until we have had an opportunity to consider why it has taken so long for the inquiry, set up in April by the Foreign Secretary, to complete its work. I hope that you will allow me one or two moments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in which to sketch the background of this matter.
It is now 12 years since the unilateral declaration of independence was proclaimed by the Smith régime. At that time, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), then Prime Minister, made his famous remark about the rebellion being over in weeks rather than months. That prediction, of course, was wrong, even allowing for the length of one of the right hon. Gentleman's weeks in politics. It was wrong because it was based on a false assumption about the effect of sanctions, and in particular about the effect of oil sanctions.
Oil was and remains a key to the continuance of the illegal régime in Rhodesia. Rhodesia, of course, has no oil. It has to import oil and oil products, and these products in fact can come only from South Africa.
There are four oil refineries in South Africa, three of which are owned by Western oil companies—two American and one jointly owned by Shell and BP. I remind the House that as long ago as June last year a well-documented report was issued by an American group called "The Oil Conspiracy" which detailed the way in which oil was continuing to get into Rhodesia and the way in which through what was called "a paper chase" the South African subsidiaries of a number of multinational oil companies were supplying oil to Rhodesia—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Onslow
I was merely drawing attention to the fact that the Leader of the House seems to have got the infection for book autographing.
§ Mr. Clemitson
He is doing it from a sedentary position and not a mobile one.
I was talking about the report called "The Oil Conspiracy", published in June last year, which detailed the way in which oil was continuing to flow into Rhodesia from South Africa. That document concluded that the South African subsidiaries of the five Western oil companies have, via intermediaries, supplied virtually all Rhodesia's oil needs and that the involvement of the South African subsidiaries of the five oil companies was quite deliberate and conscious. In no sense were they unwittingly selling to South African companies without realising that those companies were reselling the oil to Rhodesia.
Since then further evidence has come to light, mainly through the activities of the Haslemere Group, about the continuation of the breaking of oil sanctions and the continued supply of oil to Rhodesia from South Africa, via these various Western oil companies, including Shell and BP.
The Government, in April, set up the Bingham Inquiry into the alleged breaking of oil sanctions, with the following terms of reference:To establish the facts concerning the operations whereby supplies of petroleum and petroleum products have reached Rhodesia since December 17, 1965;To establish the extent, if any, to which persons and companies within the scope of the sanctions order have played any part in such operations.To obtain evidence and information for the purpose of securing compliance with, or detecting evasion of, the sanctions order.To obtain evidence of the commission of any offences against the sanctions order which may be disclosed.That inquiry was set up way back in April. Yet as recently as 25th November, in a Written Answer, the Foreign Secretary was still talking about the appointment of specialist advisers to that inquiry, He said:It is too soon to indicate when I expect to receive the report of the inquiry.—[Official Report, 25th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 949.]558 As it is now 18 months since the matter was brought to light and was first documented in the American document, and about eight months since the inquiry was set up by the Home Secretary, why is it that we still await any firm action? Before the House recesses for Christmas, I ask that we have some firm commitment from the Government that the results of this inquiry will not be long delay.2d and that the inquiry will be quickly acted upon.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I wish to support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) that before the House rises for the recess the Government should give a firm undertaking that the allegations of Josef Frolik will be fully and properly investigated after we return.
My hon. Friend said that he and I have discussed this matter with one another for a number of months. I confirm the account that he gave to the House. I have seen virtually all the documents that he has seen and I have listened to the tapes—to which he referred—from beginning to end. I should like to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who is no longer in the Chamber. We are not talking about conjecture; we are talking about hard and well-documented allegations made by a defector who, as I shall explain in a moment, has been taken seriously by a number of Governments.
I support the conclusions of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and, in particular, his conclusion that there must be a full and independent investigation of Mr. Frolik's allegations. I see no reason why that investigation should not be mostly in public as was the investigation conducted by the committee of the American Senate. How ever, I recognise that there may be some aspects of that investigation that will have to be held in private.
My hon. Friend said that he and I have spent some anxious months considering whether this matter should be raised in the House. What finally decided us that it must be raised was the new evidence referred to by my hon. Friend, namely, the letter from Mr. Frolik to Mr. Joseph Josten which has recently 559 come to our attention. As my hon. Friend explained, that letter refers in one passage to the allegations which Frolik made against John Stonehouse, that he was a spy for the Czechs, and to the statement that the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) made to the House in December 1974, in which he said that there was no evidence against John Stonehouse to support the charge.
The key passage, which my hon. Friend read out, declared that three months after the right hon. Gentleman's statement in the House he sent to the United States a high official of M15 to apologise to Mr. Frolik. I believe that Mr. Frolik's statement adds a totally new dimension to the matter, because it suggests that for whatever reason the right hon. Member for Huyton was wrong when he exonerated John Stonehouse. If Frolik is right in that statement there are some far reaching implications to be drawn.
Is it possible that the right hon. Member for Huyton made his statement on the basis of official advice that was later found to be inaccurate? If so, was the right hon. Gentleman told subsequently that that information was inaccurate? If he was, would it not have been right for him to make another statement to the House setting the record straight?
These are only some of the questions that arise from the letter by Mr. Frolik. Many others will readily occur to hon. Gentlemen, but I do not believe that this is the occasion for me to go into them.
However, I do believe that this letter powerfully reinforces the case for the full and independent investigation for which my hon. Friend and I are calling.
I have two further points to make. It is not my purpose now to argue whether Frolik is right or wrong—that will be the purpose of the investigation—but I believe that he is a witness to be taken seriously. He was flown to London from the United States after his defection and spent some time being debriefed by our security service. I understand that he has been questioned by it on a number of occasions. He has been questioned by the American intelligence service and was investigated by the Senate committee. I understand also that he 560 has been examined by the appropriate authorities of France and Germany.
I suggest that the conclusion that we should draw from that is that he is a man whose word should not be taken lightly. It seems to me also probable that he was right about the RAF spy, Nicholas Praeger, who was convicted in 1971 on a charge of selling secrets to the Czechs.
The second matter that I wish to raise is a more general one. We in the West, especially we in Britain, have a lamentable, not to say ludicrous, record in failing to pay proper attention to the evidence of defectors. I give the House three factual cases, all of them mentioned in a recent book by Gordon Brook-Shepherd called "The Storm Petrels", a book which gives every evidence of being well researched.
In 1948, one Boris Bajanov defected from the Soviet Union. He had been successively personal assistant to Stalin and Secretary of the Politburo. It was as though there had defected from Britain to the Soviet Union a man who had previously been successively private secretary to the Prime Minister and secretary to the Cabinet. That is the measure of the importance of the man. He defected to India from the Soviet Union, and he was prepared to talk.
One would have imagined that the British authorities who then ruled India would welcome him with open arms, would debrief him on matters relevant to India, and would then speed him on his way to London to be debriefed here. What happened was quite astonishing. There was a series of niggles. The first was about whether he should be admitted to India at all. After that, there was an incredible series of arguments between the Government of India and the Government in London about whether anyone would be prepared to pay his fare to London. In the end, he was unloaded on to the French. Therefore, his debriefing by the British was limited solely to a debriefing in India—a debriefing that was rather cursory, and related only to relations between Russia and India. We were never able in London to debrief him as we should have done.
The second case to which I wish to refer is that of Walter Krivitsky, who was 561 a KGB agent and who defected to the United States.
§ Mr. Foot
If there is any fresh evidence about anyone who has committed any crime, does not the hon. Gentleman think that he should submit it to some of the authorities? Does he not think that this is a reason why it should not be raised in a debate of this character? Obviously, if there are serious matters that he wishes to raise, he can submit the evidence. He should know that perfectly well.
§ Mr. Blaker
I shall be perfectly prepared to submit the evidence. What I am saying now is that all the evidence that is available should be the subject of a careful and independent investigation. The cases that I am now speaking about are—or should be—public knowledge. I am saying that too little attention has been paid to them.
I return to the case of Walter Krivitsky. I am astonished that the Leader of the House does not know about it. If he had paid more attention to these matters, it might have been a familiar story to him.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
Had the Leader of the House heard the earlier part of my hon. Friend's speech, he would have understood the significance of what my hon. Friend is now saying.
I should have thought so. I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton).
Walter Krivitsky defected to the United States in 1938. He disclosed to the American authorities that Stalin had decided in 1934 to spare no effort to seek, in secret, an accommodation with the Nazi Government of Germany. He was not believed by the American authorities. He was not believed until 23rd August 1939, when an astonished world woke up to discover that the Nazi-Soviet friendship pact had been signed.
However, Walter Krivitsky was believed on one count, and that was when he correctly told the American authorities, I am glad to say, that a Soviet agent was operating as a cipher clerk in Whitehall.
The third case to which I want to refer is that of Alexander Orlov, who was a 562 general in the KGB and who defected to the United States, also in 1938. He had been the head of the KGB mission in Republican Spain, where, amongst other things, he was responsible for transferring the whole of Spain's gold reserves to Moscow, where they remain today. But, in spite of that good service to Moscow, he feared that he was about to be liquidated in one of Stalin's purges, and he defected.
When Orlov arrived in the United States, he managed to secure interviews with the Attorney-General of the United States and with the Commissioner for Immigration, who allowed him and his wife to remain in the United States. But the extraordinary feature of this case is that those United States officials did not draw to the attention of the Department of Defence or the State Department or the Federal Bureau of Investigation the fact that this important former KGB general had arrived in the United States.
Orlov disappeared into American life. He came to public attention again only in 1953, when he published a book. It was only then that the proper departments of the American Government discovered that they had had in their midst for 15 years one of the people who more than anyone else in the world would have been able to tell them about Soviet motives and intentions. It was only then that they discovered that in 1938, when Orlov defected, there had been operating out of Soviet diplomatic and trade missions in the United States 18 spy rings.
If the American Administration had learned in 1938 what Orlov had to tell them, it is possible that some of President Roosevelt's naive assumptions about Russian motivations and intentions would have been removed, with the result that the story of Yalta could have been quite different, that Roosevelt would have sided with Churchill instead of making concessions to Stalin, and that the Iron Curtain would have fallen a good deal further east than it did.
There is a further feature to this case which is of interest to us directly. If Orlov had been properly debriefed in 1938 he could have told the Western authorities that Philby was already at that time a Communist agent operating as a journalist with Franco's forces in Spain.
We in the West, especially we in Britain, are slow to believe facts like 563 these, and all that 1have been saying about these three cases is fact as far as I can ascertain. I believe that Frolik's allegations deserve as careful an examination as those of any other defector from the Eastern bloc, and I think that the House must make sure that that examination takes place.
I want to quote what was said by a right hon. Member on 5th December, because it is apposite to this case. He said:Parliament, the whole House, every part of the House, will not let go of this question until all the facts have come to light and everything capable of remedial action has been dealt with, and dealt with from now on under the constant vigilance and supervision of the House of Commons."—[Official Report, 5th December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 1059.]That was said in the debate on the Crown Agents by the right hon. Member for Huyton. I hope that the House will show the same determination to get at the truth on this matter as it did on that one.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I have come into the Chamber to put the case, for consideration before the Christmas Recess, of the members of a number of minority groups who I believe should be given special consideration.
One of those groups comprises the thalidomide children or children who are thought to have been damaged by thalidomide and who have not yet received compensation. These are the children on what is called the "Y list".
As I walked into the Chamber a few minutes ago, I was handed a letter from the Chairman of the Distillers Company, Mr. J. R. Cater.
The background is that the Y list consists of 85 children, who are now adolescents, who have been damaged by thalidomide but whose cases are in doubt, partly because their medical records are either unavailable or incomplete. There is considerable concern that their cases will not be given due consideration as a result.
I wrote to Mr. Cater and asked him to ensure that all these youngsters were given the benefit of a full medical examination. I also asked him whether he would meet me to discuss these problems. 564 In the letter that I have just received from Mr. Cater, he says that Distillers had decided that in any cases in which medical records were unavailable or incomplete the children should not be excluded on this account. I warmly welcome this assurance. The letter goes on:I think this indicates that the company recognise how desirable it is for the companies concerned not to have the matter argued in court if this can be avoided.Again I warmly welcome this attitude on the part of Distillers. Mr. Cater also said that he is willing to meet me to discuss the present position in view of the misgivings. I shall meet him next week for discussions.
In addition to the statements made by Distillers, Mr. Cater says:Where the views of experts have conflicted, Distillers are prepared to refer the case to Professor Lems, who first identified thalidomide as the cause of deformities in Germany and is one of the world's leading experts in this field.The company has also undertaken to accept as binding a favourable decision for the child from Professor Lems. Without committing myself or the parents of the children on any of these issues, I warmly welcome these statements, and I do not propose to press the matter in the House at the moment. However, in view of the considerable concern about these children, I thought that the House should know about the latest developments.
The second issue that I am anxious to raise with the Leader of the House is the question of those employers who are not recognising their responsibilities and employing their quota of 3 per cent. disabled people. The Leader of the House will have seen the Early-Day Motion that I put down a few days ago calling for prosecution of employers who are breaking the law.
I make it quite clear that employers do not break the law by not employing 3 per cent. disabled people, but they do break it when they do not employ 3 per cent disabled people and have no permit from the Government and then take on new workers. Nearly 50 per cent. of firms in Britain are exempted from the requirement to employ 3 per cent. disabled people by the issue of permits from the Department of Employment.
565 The Department is issuing permits like confetti and flinging them around without due regard to the consequences. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider asking the Department not to issue them without careful consideration. Where such permits should be given, fine, but the issue of so many permits without proper consideration is quite wrong. Thousands of firms are breaking the law by taking on new workers without permits, and it is quite wrong for the Government to allow law-breaking on that scale.
In principle, I am prepared to agree that persuasion is better than prosecution, but the stage has now been reached when at least some prosecutions should be undertaken. I do not want to put employers in the dock, to fight them or to be bloody minded, but those who are consistently evading their legal responsibilities must have some pressure brought to bear on them. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at this matter very seriously.
I have just met a group of people who are profoundly concerned about yet another group of underprivileged people who require the help of the House—the 5,000 mentally handicapped children who are now in long-stay hospitals for the mentally handicapped. The introduction of legislation to transfer the responsibility for these children from the local authorities to the DHSS is urgent. We need the creation of a special rate support grant to enable each local authority to put an average of 30 mentally handicapped children in small family-style homes. The special grant would enable the local authority to provide the necessary units.
I hope that some consideration will be given to the plight of these mentally handicapped children in long-stay hospitals and that adequate provision will be made for their proper care outside the hospitals.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
If time permitted I would have liked to follow the final point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I share his concern about the plight of these children and I believe that the reason for the present tragic situation is directly attributable to the Government and the cuts they made in the 566 rate support grant. It is not possible for the Government to escape blame for this tragedy.
I rise briefly to reinforce the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) about the need for a full inquiry into the allegations made by the Czech defector Josef Frolik. When my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire told the House the substance of the allegations, he said that the House would make of them what it wished. I am sorry to say that some Labour Members seem to make light of them. I hope that the Leader of the House will say, however unsuitable he considers this occasion for raising these matters, that we are in order in having brought them to the House and that they deserve serious consideration. I hope that they will not be swept under the carpet, but that there will be a serious and genuine demand to establish the truth.
Part of the truth turns on the question of Mr. John Stonehouse; whether he is correct in his denials of having been an agent for Czechoslovakian intelligence, and whether the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was correct when he told the House that there was no evidence then that Stonehouse had been a member of Czech intelligence. We should consider what other evidence there is and whether Mr. Stonehouse has any inherent credibility.
I was particularly interested to read yesterday the report by the Department of Trade inspectors on the affairs of London Capital Group Ltd., which was released to the world yesterday. Paragraph 4 of the introduction, on page 2, states:The evidence we have examined shows that the companies under Mr. Stonehouse's control were saturated with offences, irregularities and improprieties of one kind or another.The paragraph adds:Mr. Stonehouse personally instigated falsification of records and indulged in misrepresentations in an attempt to hide the illegalities which had taken place and to avoid his own actual or potential criminal and civil liabilities for them. In relation to the subject of our investigation we concluded that for Mr. Stonehouse truth was a moving target.If, in that respect, those words are fair comment, why not in other respects? It will not do for the hon. Member for 567 Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who has now left the Chamber, to snigger and say that Mr. Stonehouse must have been too busy with his other criminal activities to engage in espionage. The hon. Member for Putney may hold that view sincerely, but I do not think that it would commend itself to those responsible for national security—at least, I hope not.
When we consider what falsifications or misrepresentations Mr. Stonehouse may have engaged in to hide his criminal responsibilities, it is interesting to see what he himself said in his book "Death of an Idealist", where there is a substantial account in a chapter entitled "The Czech spy story" of Mr. Stonehouse's explanation of some episodes which, at the least, must look very suspicious.
In particular, there was the most extraordinary incident in which, having been in Prague on official business in, I think. 1964, Mr. Stonehouse returned to the hotel at the ski resort to which he had been taken with a party at the weekend, to find two figures sitting in the darkened room, one of them clutching a bottle of wine in one hand and a glass in the other. This was the gentleman whom we know from other sources to have been the No. 3 in the Czech intelligence outfit in their embassy in London.
I shall not read at length from the passage, because I do not wish to detain the House, but I recommend anyone who is interested in this matter to look at pages 90 and 91 and reflect on whether that story is credible. Is it likely that a British Minister on an official mission to a foreign country would come back to his hotel room and find two gentlemen there who had let themselves in with a pass key, waiting there with a bottle of wine? Is it credible that this British Minister, instead of sending for his private secretary and saying "What the hell is going on?" should sit there and drink through the night with them? I find it inherently unconvincing, and I am surprised that it carried the conviction that one must conclude it did with those responsible for the investigation of security matters.
If we contrast what John Stonehouse said about his own contacts with the Czechs with what Josef Frolik says in the clearest reference possible to John Stonehouse, the contradiction is glaring. 568 On pages 97 and 98 of Josef Frolik's book "The Frolik Defection" we find the following passage:But these two MPs pale into insignificance in comparison with the catch we made in the late 'fifties. This time both money and sex were involved. The man in question was an MP who had been involved in some sort of homosexual trap in Czechoslovakia. Not only was he blackmailed, but also given a sum of money for his services to Czech Intelligence. Fortunately he was given an interesting job in the Wilson Government in 1964, and although it was not of Cabinet rank, it did put us in a position to know a great deal about certain British military and counterintelligence operations. Again money changed hands, and a fresh traitor appeared among those men who had been selected as honest, decent, responsible men to represent their fellow citizens at Westminster.Although the name of John Stonehouse is not mentioned in that passage, we now know, especially from what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has told us, that the reference plainly was to Stonehouse. Indeed, with all the loose ends pulled together, it is clear that the interrogation of Stonehouse at No. 10 Downing Street, which he described in his book, was based upon statements made by Frolik. In the light of that, any idea that there is no evidence that John Stonehouse may have been in the employ of Czech intelligence is inconceivable. But that is what the right hon. Member for Huyton told the House.
I am not surprised to hear that some disclaimer was passed back, as it appears to have been, to Mr. Frolik, because, frankly, I know which I find the more credible of the two statements. I believe that, whatever the reason may have been, the then Prime Minister made a statement which, on the face of it, seems to have been thoroughly misleading. This matter must be cleared up because, apart from other episodes in respect of which it is difficult to understand why the right hon. Gentleman said what he apparently did about M15 and the security services in general, there is something extraordinary in this case.
I do not share my hon. Friends' view that the Select Committee procedure would be appropriate. I consider that it might be singularly inappropriate, because I believe that these are matters that require professional investigation, and in any case such inquiries are best conducted in camera. But that is a minor difference between us. What I am sure 569 about is that there must be a full investigation, and we must have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that the Government will give serious and immediate consideration to setting that investigation going. We cannot let matters rest as they are. It is essential that we find out whether Mr. Frolik was telling the truth. If he was, something must be done about it.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
I shall not take up the issue raised by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and his two hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). I suppose that the easiest way to earn a lucrative income is to defect from the East and write for the West. If someone can get away from the East and write his memoirs in the West, he can be assured of becoming a near-millionaire. Therefore, with some suspicion, I do not accept what a lot of people say about people of that kind on either side who defect.
The matter which I wish to bring out is more germane to my constituency and to South London. The Metropolitan Police, who do a first-class job in South London, are today under strength and undermanned. The result is that in my part of South London—in Brixton, Balham, Wandsworth and many other parts—shopkeepers and traders are harassed every day by break-ins and robberies.
I wish to bring this to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and ask him to see the Home Secretary, who is responsible for the Metropolitan Police, to ensure that something is done in an effort to raise the strength of the police, especially in South London.
In the last fortnight, I have received two petitions referring to traders and ordinary householders and tenants who have been accosted and mugged in their shops, on the public highway or in their houses by people who have no concern whatever for the physical welfare of the victims they leave behind. One petition came from the shopkeepers in Balham High Road and the other from the shopkeepers in East Hill, who are constantly being accosted and robbed in their shops; and also at night time, when their shops 570 are closed, they are robbed of goods and money.
I want to bring these incidents to the notice of the Home Secretary because they are now a serious part of life in South London. The extent of mugging and other incidents of this kind in South London now does not require careful examination because it is so intense and well known. I must add that traders in these areas are sometimes forced to close their shops because of the losses which they incur.
I assure the House that I shall not detain it for long, but I think it important for everyone to know that in South London, and especially in my constituency of Battersea, South in Balham, in Earlsfield and in East Hill, Wandsworth, shops are being raided regularly once a week, and shopkeepers are being forced to close their businesses because they cannot cope with the losses.
The Metropolitan Police are doing all they can to try to combat incidents of this kind, but, because they are under strength and undermanned, their job is extremely difficult. I ask my right hon. Friend to convey those sentiments to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) about the serious consequences of the shortage of police manpower in London, and some of what I have to say is germane to his representations since I shall point out ways in which police manpower is being grievously wasted.
It is my contention that the House should not adjourn until it has considered the urgent need to reform the law of criminal libel. I say that because the way in which the law of criminal libel is today being operated has added a new terror to journalism and is a serious challenge to Press freedom. The Lord President and I have not always been able to agree on what constitutes a challenge to Press freedom, but I believe that I shall have him with me in what I have to say this evening.
The House will be startled to know that during the past few weeks three reporters from a national Sunday newspaper have been imprisoned, two distinguished television journalists and their research assistant have been committed for trial at the 571 Old Bailey, a Fleet Street news editor and his deputy have been arrested, and criminal summonses have been issued or are about to be issued against a number of other journalists and media companies, including Yorkshire Television, Quartet Books, the People, the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times.
These bizarre events, affecting as they do the liberties of our citizens, are not taking place behind the Iron Curtain or in some African military dictatorship. They are taking place here in Britain, and they deserve the attention of the House and the Government, not in terms of the merits of the case—I am mindful of the sub judice rule—but because it is useful to have an understanding of the historical background of this strange affair and the current operation of the law of criminal libel.
The historical background to the affair was well set out, so I need not spend time on it now, in a debate on 31st July 1975 about the problems of runaway children, a matter which had been brought to light by the award-winning Yorkshire Television documentary—programme "Johnny Go Home". Every hon. Member who spoke in that debate, including the Minister who wound up for the Government, warmly praised Mr. Michael Deakin and Mr. John Willis, the producer and director of "Johnny Go Home", for the way in which they had brought a national scandal to public attention.
Featuring prominently both in the debate and in the programme was a gentleman called Mr. Roger Gleaves, who was accused of serious crimes, including homosexual brutality, fraud and a long string of other nefarious offences. He was sentenced by the court to four years' imprisonment for buggery, and assault leading to grievously bodily harm.
After serving half of that sentence, Mr. Gleaves came out of prison in March this year, and ever since, it is fair to say, he has been throwing writs around like confetti against those journalists who had exposed his activities.
If those writs had been for civil libel, there could be no serious cause for concern and no question of a serious threat to Press freedom, because the issue of whether Mr. Gleaves' reputation had or had not been defamed by "Johnny Go 572 Home" would have been determined by the civil courts, and the defendants would, no doubt, have been able to plead all the usual defences to a libel action such as justification, fair comment on a matter of public interest and no damage to the plaintiff's reputation. Most of those defences are not available for the journalists who have been arraigned on criminal charges because he did not issue writs for civil libel. Instead, he sought and through a magistrate obtained summonses for criminal libel, and this brought the police into the case.
It is a serious matter of public concern that the overstretched police force in London has had to spend a massive amount of time in serving the summonses on journalists, attending the court hearings, making arrests, taking the reporters to Brixton Prison until they have been able to obtain bail, and in carrying out the full criminal procedures on journalists arrested, including fingerprinting. I am stating only the obvious in saying that the police were not happy at being required to carry out these duties at Mr. Gleaves's instigation against journalists of hitherto good reputation.
The law of criminal libel is an ancient legal matter which goes back to the days of the Star Chamber when society was far more violent, and when it was thought that a remedy was needed against words, spoken against such people as high officials, that could cause fighting in the streets, brawls and violence. Criminal libel was thought to have fallen into obsolescence because of the supposed requirement that to bring a prosecution the libel would have to occasion a breach of the peace, which it is difficult to show. However, earlier this year Sir James Goldsmith, in a celebrated action against Private Eye, unexpectedly revived the law from its eighteenth century tomb and proceeded to drive a coach and horses through the precedents that suggested that one had to prove a breach of the peace for such a prosecution to succeed.
The effect of that is that there is today no distinction between civil and criminal libel except that the former has more Draconian effects on the defendants. The supreme irony is that the first beneficiary of the chaos into which the law of criminal libel was thrown by the highly respectable Sir James Goldsmith should be Mr. Roger Gleaves who, far from 573 being respectable, was described by his trial judge asa cruel and wicked man of evil influence.Whichever way one looks at the law, this state of affairs cannot continue. Those who had hoped that the old rules of precedent should suffice may be dismayed to learn that Mr. Gleaves has put forward the argument that the alleged libels on him angered him so much that he still feels tempted to rush out and commit a breach of the peace. However, the magistrate in the case, Mrs. Audrey Frisby, of Wells Street Court, has taken the astonishing step of writing a letter to the Sunday Times about the cases still pending before her—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)
Order. The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) is perhaps more familiar than the Chair with exactly what has happened in this case. Will he indicate whether charges are still outstanding? If so, he must not refer to them.
§ Mr. Aitken
I am most anxious not to transgress the rules of the House, but, in view of the fact that the magistrate has written a letter that has been published in the Sunday Times about the charges before her, it would be a nonsense if one were not able to refer to that in the House. However, I have nothing to add except that this is an astonishing precedent for a magistrate—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. What may have happened in some other part of the country does not necessarily apply here. If there are charges preferred, the rules are that the hon. Gentleman should make no reference to them at all.
§ Mr. Aitken
I shall abide by the rules and bring my remarks quickly to a close, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The law of libel is now in a mess and must be reformed by Parliament as a matter of urgency. Litigants like Mr. Gleaves have been handed a weapon that they can wield to suppress any embarrassing information about themselves from being published. Private vendettas against the Press may easily be pursued by vexatious litigants using police powers and criminal sanctions. I have said that this will introduce a new terror for journalists, and I hope that the Leader of the House 574 will be able to give an assurance that the Government are taking the matter seriously.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I put forward but one reason why the House should pause before rising for the Christmas Recess. I refer to a distressing anomaly in the National Insurance Act which will affect and blight the happiness of hundreds of families this Christmas if something is not done to give them some reassurance. I shall briefly describe what it is about.
The House will recall that this year the Government introduced a new non-contributory pension for disabled housewives. I should like first to state clearly that I warmly welcome that, and so do all who may benefit from it. I pay tribute to the work of the Minister with special responsibility for the disabled and of the Government in introducing the measure.
Alas, when hundreds of people who are entitled to this new pension applied for it in the summer and filled in the necessary forms, they found that they had to be able to satisfy the requirement that they had been continuously resident in this country for 196 consecutive days or 28 weeks before the application that they were putting in. Certainly many hundreds of these people, including two of my constituents, put in their application and stated correctly that although they had been resident in this country during the period required they had been on holiday for two or three weeks during the summer, in the normal way. As a result of those statements that they were on holiday, about 400 families throughout the country are now disqualified, at least temporarily, from receiving this benefit.
I do not suggest for a moment that it was the intention of the Government or the House that any such thing should have happened. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree with me on that. The provision was clearly intended to ensure that in order to qualify for this non-contributory pension the disabled housewife had genuinely to be resident in this country and had to have been here for a reasonable time. It was not intended that those who had been on holiday in the normal way should be disqualified from the new benefit.
575 I ask the Lord President and hon. Members to bear in mind that we are nearing the Christmas Recess. There must be many of these families who, this Christmas, will find their happiness blighted by the feeling that they have been unfairly discriminated against. I accept that we cannot expect the Government to put this anomaly right immediately, within days or weeks, but I ask that before we rise the Government should make a statement of intent on this matter. I have been told courteously by the Minister with special responsibility for the disabled that the problem is that the matter is now before the courts and that a decision from the High Court is expected in January, but I ask the Leader of the House to reflect upon whether—whatever may be the state of the hearing—anyone in the House or Government should stand upon the position that it permanently be the case that those who go on holiday are disqualified from receiving this pension. I therefore question whether the legal case now pending is relevant to the ultimate intentions of the Government.
I have offered to introduce a Private Member's Bill to put the matter right, if the Government will give it support, and that offer stands. However, I ask the Leader of the House today to say, before we rise, that the Government's intention has never been that the people to whom I have referred should be denied this new pension. I ask that the Government should say, before Christmas, that, whatever the result of the court case, they will take steps in due course to put the matter right and to see that those who were disqualified this summer because they were on holiday will receive a backdated pension in the end.
These people have two factors in their favour. The first is that they have correctly filled in the form and stated that they have been on holiday during the relevant period. Many of them might not have put it in, or felt that it was irrelevant, but these 400 people did so and they deserve great credit for their honesty. Another factor is that most of the applications were made during the summer period, which is the normal time for people to go on holiday. Otherwise this might never have happened. If the applications had been made during the winter, 576 many fewer families would have been affected.
I ask the Leader of the House to make a clear statement before we rise that, notwithstanding court decisions that may be made early next year, it could never be the Government's intention to deprive people of this allowance and that the Government will, in due course, find some way to put it right and will backdate the payments. If the right hon. Gentleman will say that, I shall be happy to agree that the House should rise for the recess.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
It would not be right for the House to rise for the Christmas Recess before it receives some reassurance and explanation from the Lord President about a key element of the Government's economic policy to which I know the right hon. Gentleman has given the closest study.
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the famous letter that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote to Dr. Witteveen announcing a fundamental change in many of the Government's economic policies. One key passage in that letter read:an essential element of the Government's strategy will be a continuing and substantial reduction over the next few years in the share of resources required for the public sector.I emphasise that the commitment was for a reduction over the next few years. On Monday last week I asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for an assurance that those words still represented an essential element of the Government's economic strategy. He replied:I cannot give him the assurance in the form for which he asks."—[Official Report, 5th December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 1008.]It is an open secret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to send a further letter to the Managing Director of the IMF. Indeed, a first draft has no doubt been considered by those who advise the Chancellor in the Treasury and, for all I know, by the appropriate Cabinet sub-committee. I do not think that we should allow the Government to send this letter during the Christmas Recess if, as I expect, it will not repeat the solemn, clear and, for us, crucially important undertaking about the share 577 of resources that will be required for the public sector over the next few years.
There are all the danger signs that the Government, slowly, perhaps, to start with and then more rapidly, are about to embark upon economic policies that can lead only to further inflation. For example, there are strong pressures in the Cabinet, led by the Lord President, for reasons that I understand, for an increase in public expenditure. There are strong forces clamouring for an increase in the rate of growth in the money supply. If we are not able to have an assurance of fidelity, particularly of the Lord President, to the commitment given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a year ago tomorrow, I can promise the Government that they will embark once again upon a further period of inflationary economic policy with all the disasters that that will mean for our country.
I have been alarmed by the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers have set for their objective a rate of inflation no worse than that of our competitors. That objective is simply not good enough. If we are to overcome our economic difficulties and remove the cause of so much social disruption in this country we shall have to follow a long and absolutely determined policy for reducing the rate of inflation. We must not be content merely to get it down to the level of our competitors.
I fear that the failure of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to give an assurance that the key passage in the letter of 15th December 1976 will be adhered to means that the Government are no longer committed to the policy to which they were committed a year ago. I ask the Leader of the House to give an assurance that my fears are unfounded.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
It seems normal at this time of the year for the Government to bring out of the woodwork some rather creepy-crawly Christmas presents. One was presented to my constituency this morning, against the advice of the area health authority and following two years of public consultation.
The Secretary of State for Social Services has decided to close both hospitals 578 in my constituency on the ground that there are too many acute beds in the Greenwich and Bexley Area Health Authority. He has totally ignored the fact that the hospitals do not have one acute bed between them.
I ask that the House should not adjourn until the Secretary of State comes here to defend his decision. The announcement was made in a Press release without a word of regret. The right hon. Gentleman said that he does not want the area health authority to go back for further public consultation. He knows that the public would reject his suggestion. He should come here and say why he has not considered taking away some of the 300 acute beds at the Greenwich District Hospital in the area and allowing us to retain the Eltham and Mottingham Hospital and the Memorial Hospital, both of which were set up by public collections and are being sacrificed 30 years after the creation of the National Health Service.
Consultation has been turned into a mockery, and the Secretary of State has turned democracy into a mockery. The House should not adjourn until there has been a full public discussion of the issues raised by this shabby Christmas present to my constituents.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
The debate has been about the first adjournment in a Session that has some unusual characteristics, including the fact that it is dominated by three major constitutional measures. So far during this Session there have been a few shafts of light as well as some surprises. Perhaps the most remarkable of these occurred last night, when the Leader of the House voted in favour of proportional representation. Many of us found it difficult to visualise that the right hon. Gentleman would find it possible to cast that vote in any circumstances at any stage on any Bill. I do not know, but I suspect that it might have been to some extent a hypocritical gesture. Whether it will be adequate to maintain the famous pact remains to be seen. At any rate, it was a remarkable surprise and no doubt, at some appropriate moment of his choosing, the right hon. Gentleman will give us an explanation.
The constitutional Bills are taking virtually all our parliamentary time. This 579 is one reason for the debate having covered such a vast range of issues and it accounts for the fact that we have had only a couple of Supply Days so far. How does the Lord President see the Supply time next term? Does he visualise giving the Opposition about one day a week, which is the normal practice?
Naturally, all the Bills are highly controversial, but this is particularly true of the Scotland and Wales Bills, which were described by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) as half-baked. That is not an unfair description. Despite the votes in the Lobbies, I do not believe that there is enthusiasm or genuine support for the Bills. I do not believe that one could find 100 Members who genuinely want the Bills to become law. If we add to that the uncomfortable fact of the sharpest guillotine that constitutional Bills have ever received, it is no wonder that the Chamber has been empty and that the House has been so heavily criticised.
We should have been considering matters much more important to the well-being of this country and the prosperity of our people. We ought to have been paying more attention to matters such as unemployment, which has risen so shamefully over the last three years, or important matters such as housing, where the Government have a very poor record or the steel industry, which is in real difficulty. What about the motor industry about which we hear so much from week to week? Those are matters which ought to have been considered and to which more time should have been given. But, of course, time for debate on these matters has been largely cut out by the decision of the Government to plough ahead with constitutional measures which the House and the country do not want.
There is one matter that I should like to put to the Lord President that we ought to consider more deeply—the parliamentary control of public expenditure. Public expenditure has been rising and is rising. It is a source of great anxiety in the House that we no longer have an adequate degree of control over it. I am sure that the House ought to be giving more consideration to that.
In this connection I should like to mention the speech of the hon. Member 580 for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who referred to the well-known view, shared in all parts of the House, that the facilities in the House are no longer adequate and no longer capable of enabling Members to fulfil their responsibilities in a degree that is adequate to enable them to bring to bear upon the Executive pressure that will bring public expenditure under control.
I remind the Leader of the House that when we discussed salaries and expenses in the summer he undertook to look at the rising cost of facilities used by Members, their secretarial and other allowances, because the 10 per cent. increase in salaries received by Members—in accordance, of course, with the Government's pay policy—does not apply to the expenses for which they are reimbursed. I mention that point in the hope that the Lord President will at some stage refer to it.
I also ask the Lord President whether he will give an indication of the Government's intentions about the future handling of the European Assembly Elections Bill in the light of last night's vote. We heard in the debate yesterday that the time argument has been exploded. That is to say, the argument that we had yesterday was in part about whether, if we had one type of election rather than another, we could meet the May-June target date. In fact, it was proved yesterday that there is not enough time to meet the date, under whichever of the two options available we tried to have those elections. The time argument is no longer there. We want to know definitely what sort of plans and progress the Lord President has in mind with this very important Bill.
Many matters were raised in the debate. I shall not refer to them all, but I mention first the very important issue of security raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) and subsequently referred to by my hon. Friends the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). I am quite certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is right to bring an important security matter to the attention of the House. I knew nothing about what was said except what I have heard today—which was a little bit more than the Lord President himself heard.
581 It did strike me that the Lord President seemed slightly sensitive about the issue, in the sense that he interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire on a point of order at an early stage, and—no doubt for perfectly good reasons, about which I make no complaint—he absented himself from the House for the last two-thirds of that speech. That struck me as being rather uncharacteristic of the Lord President, who is a very assiduous attender in this place. From what I heard, it seemed to me that the allegations that were reported were well documented, and my hon. Friend offered to make anything available to the Government that the Government might think they wanted. My hon. Friend had also, quite correctly, given notice to the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson).
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall that his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) was hauled over the coals by Mr. Deputy Speaker for making allegations against people who are in another place and that, therefore, what he was doing was taking advantage of the immunity of this Chamber to make allegations against people that he would not dare to make outside? That is not a very clever thing to do.
§ Mr. Pym
It did not seem to me that the reaction to what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was saying, which, after all, was a security matter, should be dealt with in any way lightly, as the hon. Gentleman has sought to do and as the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) did at an earlier stage. Any allegations that are brought to the attention of the House on a security matter are matters to which the Government ought to give attention, and I am sure that the House will await with particular interest the Lord President's reply.
I think it fair to say that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who followed my hon. Friend and raised other matters, did at the same time say that he thought that he agreed—at least, he implied this—with my hon. Friend that there was something sinister about some aspects of our public life. I think that I have quoted his words accurately.
§ Mr. Skinner
The right hon. Gentleman should understand that what I was 582 attempting to do was to draw attention to the fact that these obscure and, in some cases, specific remarks ought to be allied with some others that I made. I hope that in no way did I give the impression that I agreed with anything that the hon. Member said.
§ Mr. Pym
I may not have taken down the hon. Gentleman's words correctly, Naturally, I note what he said.
The matter of the amnesty for illegal immigrants was raised by my hon. Friends the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith), the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). They referred to the method of its announcement. It was not announced in the House. There has not yet been a chance to debate it. There has been no chance to cross-question the Home Secretary about it. It is an issue that has given rise to some bitter feelings, as hon. Members on both sides of the House can certify. It has put an added strain on the police and on the hard enough task of maintaining law and order. That point was made very clearly by the hon. Member for Battersea, South, who spoke on this matter with particular passion.
This and a great many other issues have been raised for which explanations have been asked and for which assurances or reassurances are required. They are all important issues, and many of them have been undiscussed due to the time taken by the discussion of constitutional Bills on the Floor of the House and due to the fact that we have had hardly any Supply Days. I think that the Lord President will agree that the most important questions to which I have referred in particular, but many others as well, are issues upon which the House needs to be reassured before it could in any way make sense for the House to adjourn for Christmas.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I say to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and to the House immediately that, of course, if I were absent from the House, as I was, for a short period during the debate, it was not intended as any discourtesy to hon. Members who were 583 speaking at the time. Of course, a note was taken of what they said, and in a moment I shall reply as best I can to the comments that they made. I apologise for being out of the Chamber for a short period during the debate.
I think that hon. Members will also appreciate that if I were to attempt to reply to everything that has been said. I would intrude extensively on the later Consolidated Fund debate—a period of debate when Back Benchers have rightly claimed the time of the House, and when Ministers are available to reply to the matters that they raise. It would be a bad habit for the House to get into—I am not making any criticism of the present situation, as yet—if we were to try to transform the debate on the Adjournment into a debate on the Consolidated Fund, because that would be injuring the rights of private Members rather than extending their rights. I believe that we have to be careful in that respect, too.
However, as hastily as I can and, hope, adequately, I shall reply to as many of the speeches as possible, and reply a little more extensively to one of two of the more major matters which have been raised, including those that the right hon. Gentleman raised a few minutes ago.
§ Mr. Pym
For the sake of accuracy, I think I am right in saying that some of the issues raised in this debate would not have been in order in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate because that debate does not include the subject raised.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not stating whether it is impossible for these subjects to be raised. Certainly some would be covered in the debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill. It would not be fair if this debate were used to pre-empt those later discussions. I am sure, that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
I was glad that I was able to satisfy the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) on the town and country planning matter he mentioned. That matter was raised on an earlier occasion and dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There will be a further opportunity in the country generally for discussions before any fresh approach is made.
On the subject of gipsies, which the hon. and learned Gentleman also raised, 584 I must tell him that Ministers are concerned about the slow progress of authorities in providing sufficient sites for gipsies with the consequent danger of conflict between gipsies and house dwellers. Mr. John Cripps was asked to carry out a study of the effectiveness of the arrangements to secure adequate accommodation for gipsies in England and Wales. His report, which was published on 6th April 1977, was widely distributed and comments have been received from many interested organisations and individuals. Meanwhile my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has visited approved sites and unauthorised encampments in various parts of the country and has met gipsies and questioned residents so as to obtain a firsthand impression of the problem. Discussions have been held and more are planned with local authority associations and other organisations. All views are being taken into account in the preparation of the Government's response to the Cripps Report. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's comments will also be considered.
I wish now to deal with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and to take up his remarks about computer indexing in the Library. I know that the hon. Gentleman tabled an amendment on that subject. I recognise that many hon. Members feel that this subject should be debated. I very much regret that this important project has been delayed, because I know that the Library staff are eager to proceed. The House will be aware of the many pressures on parliamentary time, and that means that we have not been able to allot time for such a debate, but we shall reconsider the matter when the House returns after Christmas.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have sustained his interest in that matter as in the more general question of the conduct of EEC affairs, and I hope that I can comment on his reference to the discussions on the European Assembly Elections Bill and the size of the Community's budget for 1978. There is a difference of view between the Assembly and the Council as to what the overall increase in expenditure compared with 1977 should be. Attempts are being made to resolve these differences by all appropriate means, and I hope that it will be 585 possible in the end, as in previous years, to arrive at a budget expenditure for both institutions.
If the Assembly cannot agree to vote the budget by the time the next financial year begins on 1st January 1978, Article 204 of the Treaty of Rome as amended by the Treaty on 22nd July 1975, provides that the Commission may spend in each month of the new year a corresponding sum in cash terms of not more than one-fifth of the budget for the previous year. There are various qualifications as to the amount that may be spent, and the article also provides for means by which the Council must authorise expenditure in excess of one-twelfth after putting the matter to the Assembly if the expenditure in question is non-obligatory. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will return to this matter, as will the Committee when we return in January. Hon. Members will then have an opportunity of discussing this matter and the new clauses and the other matters that will figure in the European Assembly Elections Bill which will again be before the Committee when we return.
§ Mr. Foot
If I give way to every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate, I am afraid that we shall be multiplying matters. Therefore, I hope that he will allow me to proceed because as I have already said there will be opportunities to debate these matters when we return.
I wish now to deal with the subject raised by a number of Opposition Members dealing with security. The matter was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and the hon. Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Woking (Mr. Onslow).
It was said by the right hon. Gentleman that I appeared to be sensitive on this matter, but it appears to me that the best way to raise questions of this nature is not on an Adjournment motion. It is desirable that in such circumstances arrangements should be made so that such matters can be examined and so that the Ministers involved can give an immediate reply if they think that desirable or fitting—particularly if aspersions are to be cast on individuals. I do not 586 believe that it is appropriate to use such a debate as this to broach such matters.
It is not a question of sensitivity. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, may think that it would have been better for such matters—matters involving charges or accusations of considerable importance reflecting on individuals—not to be raised on this occasion. They should have been raised in a different manner, and not in a debate in which we are discussing whether the House should rise on a particular date. I suggest to those who raised the matter that they should send their information to the Home Secretary or the other Departments concerned so that they can examine it and comment. That would be a very much better way of dealing with these matters.
§ Mr. Hastings
The right hon. Gentleman will know, from his great experience of Parliament, that opportunities for Back Benchers to raise matters of great importance at reasonably short notice are few and far between. I said in my speech that I had been considering this matter, as had my hon. Friends, for many months—I think my words were "several months". I also said that certain evidence had reached us that convinced us that it was our duty—certainly my duty—to put that to the House. That evidence was of recent date—about a week ago to be precise—and it concerned the letter from Frolik to Josten which I described. It was also too late in my understanding to raise the matter in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. Therefore, we had no alternative but to raise the matter in this debate.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman in his intervention has proved my case rather than his. He has proved that a considerable amount of this information was available for a period of time. He said that he had certain information a week ago which led him to raise the matter in this debate. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are other methods by which such matters can be raised in the House. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman in the month that have elapsed when he has had this information sought to obtain an answer before deciding to raise the subject in this debate. However, by his intervention he clinched the case, because he has made serious reflections on individuals.
§ Mr. Foot
Yes, that is so. If he has been sitting on that information for the past week, he would have been much better served, in a sense of fair play in the House of Commons, if he had taken up the matter with Ministers and dealt with it in that way. He may have a different idea of fairness from mine, but it seems to me that he has behaved in a manner that is not the best way of dealing with these matters.
§ Mr. Foot
If I give way to every hon. Member who rises, we shall have to continue for a very long time. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who have mentioned this topic should submit the information they have to the Ministers concerned. It would have been preferable if the matter had been dealt with in that way at the beginning.
I turn to the amnesty that was contained in a reply from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to a Written Question. That was raised by three or four hon. Members as well as by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire. It is an important subject. It has been suggested this afternoon that all debates on immigration matters have been suppressed in the House of Commons. It is unwise for such language to be used. Some people outside the House might think that it is justified. Of course it is not. There is no suppression of immigration matters in the House. There are many opportunities for them to be raised. For example, they can be raised on Supply Days, although the Opposition have not used any Supply Days for the purpose. If the Opposition had so used their Supply Day on Monday, they might have used the day for better profit than was the case. It is not right to say that such matters cannot be raised.
Immigration arouses considerable passion throughout the country and I do not think that it is a good thing for a Member of Parliament to give apparent credence to the view that the subject cannot be or is not debated in the House. It can be debated in this place. Frequently opportunities can be used both by the official Opposition and by Back-Bench Members. Indeed, the subject 588 has been raised on this occasion. The more that the amnesty is considered the more I believe that hon. Member will recognise that it involves civil liberties—the protection of the rights of individuals. It is on that basis that it should be considered.
I should emphasise that the announcement does not add directly to the number of persons who may come to this country. Indeed, all those who can qualify will already have been here for more than five years and will have been thought to be lawfully settled here. In the nature of things we cannot say how many will be clandestine illegal immigrants. Some 1,600 have successfully applied in the three and a half years since the original amnesty was announced. At the same time the Government's determination to deal firmly with those who have entered illegally in whatever fashion since the beginning of 1963 has been established and is unchanged.
The more that hon. Members consider these matters the more they will recognise that perhaps it was unwise to raise this issue in the manner in which it was dealt with by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). I believe that the individuals concerned have rights like others in this country. We should be careful about the language that we use in discussing those rights.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) asked me about the public lending right Bill and my enthusiasm for the measure. I can assure him that my enthusiasm is as great as his. I believe that we should discover the means by which we can bring the proposition back before the House. I believe that that is the overwhelming view of the majority of hon. Members in all parts of the House irrespective of party. It is on that basis that we are still seeking a method by which we can overcome the difficulties. I do not believe that it can be done by a Private Member's Bill as it involves some financial implications. My hon. Friend is as well aware as I am of the difficulties.
I assure my hon. Friend that I have not given up the attempt to ascertain how we can overcome the difficulties, with the co-operation of others in the House. I believe that overwhelmingly the House accepts the principle that would be in such a measure. Certainly it is accepted 589 by the Government. I hope that we shall be able to return to the matter. My enthusiasm is as great as my hon. Friend's, and together we may still succeed. I have not given up hope.
My hon. Friend also referred to Mozambique and the invasion or the events of a few weeks ago upon which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has commented. I do not believe that there would be much difference between the view of my right hon. Friend as he would express it and that which is put forward by my hon. Friend. It is essential that the world should know how strongly we feel on the subject, especially in the light of the Government's attempt to assist in securing a decent settlement in Rhodesia.
On a number of occasions my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), especially in these debates at the end of Sessions, has perfectly legitimately asked what is happening outside or inside the Grunwick factory, which is in his constituency. A judgment in the House of Lords has been given today. Whatever may be our view about the judgment and the legal aspects, there is no doubt about the serious industrial consequences that could follow from it. It could be a serious matter, and exactly along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend. It could be a judgment that affects the situation not only at Grunwick but throughout the country. Something will have to be done about it. There is not the slightest doubt about that.
I am glad to say that some of the Private Members' Bills that are being brought forward, of which notification has been given to the House, attempt to deal with some of the difficulties. When the House returns at the beginning of next year we may very soon be able to apply our minds to the consequences of the judgment. I hope that in the meantime and thereafter that which has happened as a result of the judgment will not in any way injure the work of the ACAS. Its work is of essential importance for good industrial relations. If its work were to be impaired or injured by the judgment, there would be a serious situation for the country as a whole.
I repeat that if the law is as the House of Lords says it is—it is the highest legal authority in the land—the law must be 590 changed. That is the situation that faces the House of Commons. I am glad to say that owing to the facilities that are available, of which advantage has already been taken by some hon. Members, there is a possibility that we can deal with the matter at a fairly early date.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have been present throughout half of the debate I have not been here throughout the whole of the debate—
§ Mr. Foot
It is only fair that I reply to those who have taken part in the debate, especially as I have had to say to some of them that in the interests of other hon. Members it is not possible to give way on every occasion as the time allotted to other hon. Members will be impaired.
I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). During the hon. Gentleman's speech the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) was present. The hon. Member for Londonderry spoke of the difficulties of fishing on the Foyle. I understand that the Foyle Fisheries Commission, whose responsibility this is, has a management plan that will improve the situation. I know that there are problems with enforcement but I hope that the greater efforts now being made will prove effective. I repeat that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is the most diligent of all attenders at these debates. My hon. Friend called for another inquiry into a matter that he has 591 raised on a number of occasions. I am sorry to have to disappoint him by saying that I cannot add to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer or a Treasury spokesman in reply to my hon. Friend. I cannot give him the promise that there will be the inquiry for which he has asked. I have no doubt that he will still seek to use the opportunities provided by the House to pursue the matter, but that is a matter for him. That is something that can be decided when the House returns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) and others referred to the manning of the police force in different parts of the country. It is a proper matter for them to raise. But they are as aware as the House of the investigation set up by the Home Secretary into the whole question of the pay and position of the police. I think that we must await that report.
The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) raised the extremely important question of the freedom of the Press. I do not underrate the importance of that matter. If the criminal law were to be used as a major weapon in that area and if that were to become the custom, rather than a rare exception, it would be a dangerous development. I do not accept every description offered by the hon. Gentleman of how dangerous the position may now be. Moreover, I am not sure how extensively the law would have to be changed to overcome the danger. I fully acknowledge that, if it were seen that the criminal law was being used regarding libel on any new extensive scale, the Government would have to act for the very reasons advanced by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), in his innocent manner, asked me to give what he described as a very simple undertaking. The hon. Gentleman indicated that I could give the undertaking for which he asked without consultation with anybody and that he would go home happy if I would give it. I cannot give him the undertaking in that form. I shall see whether any further fresh information on the matter can be given to him before the recess. I understand that 480 claims have been identified in which absence abroad during the qualifying period, and thus the vires of 592 the regulation, may be relevant. I understand that arrangements are being made to deal as fast as possible with those aspects of the claims which are not affected by Regualtion 4(2). However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone that the decisions in these cases are for independent adjudicating authorities. They are not matters in which Ministers or, indeed, hon. Members should intervene.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) asked about the old workmen's compensation cases. I fully accept the feeling that prevails in his constituency and in many mining constituencies on this subject. I cannot give him any fresh information on the subject. Indeed, my hon. Friend is an expert on this matter, and it has been raised on a number of occasions. I cannot hold out any prospect now that the whole issue will be reopened. However, I assure him that the Ministers concerned will look carefully at the points that he made.
I give a similar undertaking to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) regarding the hospital closures in his constituency. I know that he was referring to an event which took place today. However, he must not regard it as sinister. Some events do take place even in the last week when the House is sitting. Therefore, I should not say that it was sinister on that account.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
In exchange for the right hon. Gentleman's extension of the last week, will he put one suggestion to the DHSS—that the limit of time on comments to be sent to the Elephant and Castle should be extended by one day—from 28th February to the next, 29th February?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall certainly discuss that point with the Minister concerned. Naturally, the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to give an answer now.
I think that I have covered almost every point that has been made, except the more general question raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire who asked whether I would give my views 593 on proportional representation, arrangements for Supply Days and constitutional measures.
I was touched by what the right hon. Gentleman said. If I recall his phrase, he said that I have been responsible for the use of the sharpest guillotine ever employed in the House. That came from a former Tory Chief Whip who was responsible for the European Communities Bill being shepherded—that is the wrong word—guillotined through the House without a single amendment being allowed, not merely here but in another place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use as much influence to ensure that we do not get any amendments from the other place on the devolution Bills as he used to ensure that we did not get any on the European Communities Bill.
The European Communities Act raised far more serious and lasting infringements of our sovereignty than anything that is proposed in either of the devolution Bills currently before the House. But the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire was quite prepared to use the sharpest of guillotines on that occasion. If I have fallen into bad habits, I can only say that he set me the example.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, if we had not taken steps to introduce timetable motions on the devolution measures, there would be no possibility of getting them through at all. That situation has arisen on a large number of constitutional measures. But on the devolution Bills, about which the right hon. Gentleman complained, we have provided more time than has been provided for most other constitutional measures which have been passed through the House during the last 30 or 40 years. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman should not seek to spread tales of a quite different character throughout the country. I do not mind what he says in this place, because we can deal with it, but he should not go out in the country and pre tend that we are being uniquely rigid in the way in which we are dealing with these matters. Much more extensive 594 time is being provided for debates on the devolution Bills than has been provided for most other comparable measures which have been put through this House, including the measures for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsible.
We shall have plenty of time to discuss all these matters when we return at the somewhat early date, I am sorry to say, of 9th January. I know that some hon. Members have criticised the time at which we are to return, but the period of the recess is much the same as usual at Christmas. It is true that the recess starts a little earlier and that we are to come back slightly earlier than usual, but, on the whole, I should have thought that that was for the convenience of the House rather than the opposite. We cannot please everybody, as the debate has shown, but we have pleased almost everybody.
I am sure that the vote, if we have one—not that it is necessary—will show what a thumping majority the Government will get to carry forward their measures. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire for all the co-operation that he has given us today.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 9th January.