Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Wednesday 26th October.—[Mr. Foot.]
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
Invariably, at this time of the year, there is a good deal of unfinished business for the House, and hon. Members have their own favourite topics with which to fill in the three months between now and October, when we return. The poor Early-Day Motions on the Order Paper—seldom debated, seldom influential and of varying degrees of importance—all fall by the wayside. There are some quite important Early-Day Motions on the Order Paper. I refer, for example, to the motion in the name of some of my hon. Friends on Japanese television imports and the serious threat that they entail to thousands of jobs up and down the United Kingdom. There will be a debate on the Consolidated Fund later in the evening on that very point, and therefore I shall not go into it now.
There are also two very important motions on the dismissal of judges, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton), which I think deserve the time of the House. One thinks of one judge in particular. We know about the celebrated case of rape and the judgment thereon which caused enormous distress up and down the country. I think that it is singularly unfortunate that we never had a chance to debate that matter.
It is interesting that there are several Early-Day Motions, in the names principally of hon. Gentleman opposite, calling for very substantial increases in public expenditure, whether on the police, on pig farmers or on chemists. All of them are designed to fly in the face of the official policy of the Tory Party, which is to slash public expenditure. At one and the same time, hon. Gentlemen opposite are putting motion after motion on the Order Paper asking for increases here, there and everywhere.
The silliest Early-Day Motion is No. 464, in the name of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who is not here. I shall read it out: 948That this House expresses the hope that Officers of Her Majesty's Household will invariably wear the customary dress when delivering Her Majesty's Gracious Messages to the House.The present Vice-Chamberlain—I have given him notice of my intention to refer to him—my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton), is a disgraceful sloven in these matters. As a Scottish Member of Parliament, he ought to know better. He has a morning coat and a beautiful pair of pin-striped trousers—I have seen him in them—and I do not see why he should slum it by coming here, bearing the glad tidings from Her Majesty, clad in a suit straight from St. Michael's wardrobe. Mentioning St. Michael, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that well-known stickler for sartorial elegance, will attend to this vital matter.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
This is a most interesting point. Is my hon. Friend aware that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) attracted some comment in this House last Friday by departing from his usual dark dress and was seen to wear a brown suit?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I think that that was ominous, and I shall refer to that incident later in my speech. I hope that my right hon. Friend will attend to this vital matter and satisfy the sensitivity of the right hon. Member who put down the motion. Coming to more serious matters—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I would rather not give way. Between now and our return in late October—this is one of the most serious points in my speech—there will be many thousands of workers engaged in wage negotiations. I shall go through a few of them. In August, in the public sector, there will be about 5,000 to 6,000 BBC weekly paid staff engaged in negotiations and 26,000 British Steel Corporation staff, and in the private sector well over 100,000 in five other different industries. In September there will be a very important test case, namely, the police, involving about 116,000; also there will be the dockers, and in the private sector there will be nearly 200,000 workers—from brewery workers to the timber trade. In October, in the public sector there will 949 be white-collar workers in the BBC, the universities and the Atomic Energy Authority, totalling very nearly 100,000, and in the private sector—Ford, Metal Box Company and the rest—another 200,000. Many of these negotiations will be extremely difficult for the trade unions, the employers and the Government.
I referred during Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon to the fact that the retiring Chairman of the Price Commission, Sir Arthur Cockfield, has recently given a very optimistic forecast on the battle against inflation. There is now, he said,a real opportunity of achieving a substantial and continuing reduction in the rate of inflationprovided that there is reasonable and responsible behaviour in pay settlements and on prices. I made specific reference to a typical example of that, which is reported in the Scottish Daily Record today. It stated that there were enormous increases in the prices of beer and lager—which are mostly water with a bit of gas pumped into them. Those prices have in the past year increased by up to 30 per cent. Unless the Government show a great determination to get at this problem, we cannot expect the kind of response that we hope we shall get from trade unionists.
The retiring Chairman of the Price Commission went on to say:The prize which is there for the taking is one which ought not lightly to be thrown away".If all goes well, the annual rate of inflation could be down to 10 per cent. by the end of this year. This seems to me, and, I think, to the Government, to be a glittering prize to be won in the teeth of opposition front the Tory Benches to all the policies that have brought it within our grasp.
Within the past week or two, Tory Members and the Press have been in high glee about the speech made in the House by the Leader of the Opposition in the last censure debate. They were desperately in need of some morale booster, and, God knows, up to now the right hon. Lady has done little to deserve anything for that. She had had all the inspiration up to then of a St. Trinian's prefect. But that speech contained not 950 one positive suggestion of alternative policies on inflation or anything else. A month of the recess could well be spent here going through with a fine-toothed comb the precise policies of the Tory Party in the face of our present problems—inflation, price control, public expenditure, social services, devolution and the rest. Having said that, I want to turn to events of the past few days in this House. Prior to the debate last Tuesday a report appeared in—I think—The Observer, written by Mr. Adam Raphael entitledReforming the best club in London".That article expressed reservations, which had been expressed last Tuesday, about the unsatisfactory mechanism of the Select Committee procedure in dealing with matters of alleged misconduct by hon. Members of this House. It said:It seems probable, however, that at the end of next week's debate—it referred to the debate which took place last Tuesday—the Commons will endorse the Select Committee's judgment".It went on:What then?Mr. Raphael gave a partial answer which, I think, is extremely relevant. He said:the public will not be much impressed if all three MPs continue to serve as if nothing had happened… anyone in professional life who was criticised in this manner would either be sacked or be expected to resign immediately.Mr. Raphael's last point deserves the attention of this House at the earliest possible moment and there should be, between now and the recess, a debate and action taken on the report of the Salmon Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life. That Commission made a recommendation that Parliament should consider removing the immunity preventing Members of Parliament from being prosecuted for offences in respect of their parliamentary duties. That immunity should be shelved. There is no case at all for that kind of immunity.
If I may make a final quotation from that article, it said:The Commons may still be the best club in London, but anachronistic privileges of this kind do nothing to help a legislature desperately trying to reform itself.951 I have only one caveat to that statement. I do not believe that it is other than a gross over-statement to say that we are desperately trying to reform ourselves. It is on a par with the Government using their best endeavours to get the Bill implementing direct elections to the European Parliament through by the middle of next year.
There is a related point to this article that deserves urgent debate. I refer to Early-Day Motion No. 465 which expresses no confidence in the Father of the House. That is the most contemptible act I have seen in many years in this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has been continuously in this House since 1929. Why is he condemned in that motion? He exercised what is the inalienable right of every hon. Member of this House to express his opinions in a courteous, reasonable manner.
My right hon. Friend made a much more moderate speech than those made by Winston Churchill and by Quinton Hogg—the names of those hon. Gentlemen at that time, namely, 30th October 1947—when they were baying for the blood of a Labour Member, the then hon. Member for Gravesend. They bayed for it and they got it. There was a similar motion tabled, couched in almost identical terms to my right hon. Friend's motion, namely, that there should be a six months' suspension of the hon. Member who had infringed the code of conduct of this House. But they were not satisfied with that. Mr. Hogg and Mr. Churchill achieved the expulsion of the then Labour Member for Gravesend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, in his speech, used these words:We must not refrain from action because of the old school tie, or for any other reason."—[Official Report, 26th July 1977; Vol. 936, c. 367.]The response of hon. Gentlemen to that was typical. That very night they tabled their Early-Day Motion. Who were the sponsors of the motion? The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson). Where was he educated? Charterhouse. The second sponsor was the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), who was educated at Harrow and was in the Life Guards. The third sponsor was the hon. Member for 952 Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), who was educated at St. Paul's School and was in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. The fourth sponsor was the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), who was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Lancaster. The fifth sponsor was the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who was educated at Eton. The sixth was the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), educated at the City of London School.
That was the old school network to which my right hon. Friend referred. They chose, within hours of my right hon. Friend making those remarks in last Tuesday's debate, to put in the public school boot. That is typical of the behaviour of the whole Tory Party in these past 14 days. I have always thought that it was a grubby, greedy, unscrupulous and ruthless party, and it was seen at its grubbiest, most unscrupulous and most ruthless when the Select Committee reported a fortnight ago.
The party, therefore, took a quick decision to ditch Mr. Cordle the better to save their right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). The despatch was swift and merciless, accompanied by inevitable crocodile tears so correctly described by the brown-suited right hon. Member for Down, South as cant and humbug. Mr. Cordle's demise was achieved with all the speed and skill of the accomplished assassin.
That was the inevitable step to take prior to the decision to rally round Reggie. Everything had to be sacrified to that, and if they had dared, they would even have sacrified my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) in that process. It was clear from the speech made in that debate by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) that he would have liked to ditch the hon. Member for Normanton, had it not been too blatantly obvious.
But, worse than that, there were two Conservative Members who took part in the proceedings of that Select Committee, and presumably accepted the unanimous report, who proceeded to vote against the motion that the House of Commons should agree with the report. Who were they? The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker)—yes, he went to Shrewsbury School—and the 953 hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), who went to Tonbridge public school and was further educated in the Royal Dragoon Guards.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire) rose—
§ Mr. Hastings rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. If the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who has the Floor, does not desire to give way, he cannot be pressed to do so.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am trying to curtail my remarks and to temper them with my known moderation in these matters.
It must be put on record that last Tuesday the Tory Party plumbed the depths of political squalor. The atmosphere stank of unprincipled intrigue and conspiracy. Those who think that they were saved by this organised cant should understand that the Select Committee's unanimous report still remains. Its awesome message is there for all to read. We shall deride or ignore it at our peril. For Tory Party, last Tuesday was its greatest moment of disgrace for a generation. Things can never be the same again. The sooner our Government get down to the creation of a more meaningful and effective compulsory Members' Register of all outside financial interests and we see that it is enforced, if necessary by the force of law, the better. We cannot exist any longer with the kind of squalor related in that Select Committee Report.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I do not intend to comment on the sartorial taste of the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton). I have always regarded him as a decent and sober dresser and an excellent carrier of messages.
I do not think that it would be wise to re-open the debate that we had last Tuesday, but in regard to the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), I would go as far as this in agreeing with him. It may be that the House of Commons should have 954 a debate about outside interests in general.
This is a highly confused and delicate subject. I would only make one or two comments about it. First, I think that it would be undesirable if all politicians became whole-time Members. However, if one wants that to happen, one must pay them considerably more than they are paid now. Secondly, we must remember that the customs of the House have changed over the years.
I well remember introducing a Private Member's Bill, many years ago, on a rather small matter, but an important one, concerning the financing of pier building in Scotland. To my astonishment, an hon. Member for a South of England constituency, who had never shown any interest in the subject before, came and made a rather long speech on it. On inquiring why that had happened, I found that at that time he was paid by the bookmakers to represent their interests in Parliament. He had turned up to ensure that there was insufficient time to get through a later Private Member's Bill that might have adversely affected the interests of the bookmakers. I do not know whether people now think it proper that Members should be paid by bodies of that sort to represent them in Parliament. I think that that is one issue that is at least open to discussion. So far as I remember, the hon. Member to whom I referred made no avowal of interest whatever, yet had he not been in the pay of the bookmakers, to some extent at any rate, he certainly would not have turned up on a Friday to talk on an entirely different Bill.
I think that there are areas that need examination, but I do not know that I would go so far as to say that we should be made subject to the ordinary procedure of the courts. However, this is certainly worthy of discussion. It may be that, now that local authorities are under stringent rules as to corruption, we shall have to look at the situation in this House.
I sympathise very much with what the Leader of the House said in the debate on Tuesday—that the House of Commons is not at its best when being sanctimonious. A good deal of hypocrisy has been talked about the whole subject, but 955 I think that this is a matter that could be reviewed. All I say is that at the time when the three Members were accused of a breach of the rules of the House it was the official view, as I understand it, from Mr. Speaker, that a Member had to declare an interest only in connection with a vote. I think that it is unfair for any tribunal to apply to those offences different standards that have come into operation since the alleged offences took place.
I have grave reservations about the whole procedure by which we investigate these matters, and so have many other Members. I doubt whether Select Committees are a good method. I think that if we look back we cannot be proud of the result of the Lynskey Tribunal or of certain Select Committees that have been referred to by the hon. Member. I should like to see some new method, if, indeed it is necessary, of examining these matters.
I conclude by saying that I do not think that we should re-open the whole question that was debated on Tuesday. I do not feel altogether proud when I look back upon some of the things for which I voted in this House. I see that I was one of the signatories of the motion referred to by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), though I would not sign such a motion now. I do not think that any of us can stand in a white sheet about this, but if the Leader of the House can find time next Session, it might well be a subject worth discussing.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we ought not to go back to this subject and I hope that what he said will be the end of it. Therefore, I intervene at this point, with his kind consent, to say that any idea of organisation or collaboration is nonsense. I put down those amendments—which were the amendments on which we voted—without asking anybody or telling anybody. Whatever support they attracted was entirely spontaneous and totally unorganised by me or, so far as I know, by anybody else.
§ Mr. Grimond
I pass, then, to another matter touched upon by the hon. Member for Fife, Central—that is, what may happen in the autumn of this year. Here I wish to draw the attention of the 956 Government to a difficulty that may arise in my own constituency. We are particularly vulnerable in the autumn when we try to move large quantities of lambs and cattle. We have become more vulnerable owing to oil, which has mixed us up, so to speak, in all kinds of disputes and discussions which are not germane to the main industries of my constituency. If there should be industrial disputes of a nature which probably would not affect us at all, we might find ourselves greatly embarrassed by them.
We now have only two conventional ships, apart from ferries, to deal with all the trade and the movement of cattle and lambs in Orkney and Shetland. I ask the Leader of the House to be so kind as to remind the Scottish Office and other Ministries concerned of some contingent plans that might be got out of the pigeon-hole where, I hope, they rest, and brushed down.
The other two matters I wish to touch upon very briefly are these. I and many other hon. Members are against imposing a guillotine upon constitutional Bills. In the forthcoming Session we are to have three constitutional Bills of great importance. If we look back upon the past Session, we know that one constitutional Bill got into considerable trouble and that the efforts to impose a guillotine were not successful.
We are coming back a fortnight later than usual. Therefore, I draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the need to get these Bills into Committee rather earlier than we did in the past Session. Perhaps he has it in mind to extend the next Session, or to carry one or two Bills forward into the following Session. I do not know what he has in mind. But I am sure he will agree that it is undesirable for the House to impose a time limit —except in special circumstances, or if there is a totally unjustifiable filibuster. But it will appear even more unjustifiable if we have taken a longer holiday than usual.
Far be it from me to curtail holidays. There is always a great danger in this debate that one day the Government will agree that we should not adjourn, which would throw the House of Commons into intolerable difficulty. However, that is a genuine point of which the Leader of the House is no doubt aware and he may bear it in mind.
957 The other matter I wish to raise is that we are somewhat short of information on Rhodesia. I should like an assurance from the Government that if anything important happens in Rhodesia—as it well may—the House will be recalled.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Today we had the last session but one of Prime Minister's Questions during this Session of Parliament. I say "but one" on the assumption that we may have one more session on the Thursday after we return. It is right, therefore, that, before we adjourn for the recess, we should review what has happened during the course of the experiment which started following the Prime Minister's statement on 12th May.
Hon. Members will recollect that the Prime Minister indicated then that he would retain rather than transfer more substantive Questions at his discretion. Here I should perhaps say that I appreciate that the Prime Minister cannot be here to reply to what I am about to say. I told him of my intention to raise this matter and he kindly said that he would read what I said—and no doubt he will enjoy it, too. The Prime Minister has a very good sense of humour which should not be underestimated. What is more, I am sure that the Lord President will be able to tell the Prime Minister anything that he thinks he should be told today.
In the words of the Prime Minister's Private Secretary in the letter which was written to the Clerk to the Committee which considered the practice of Prime Minister's Questions:the Prime Minister believes that it is not possible to define with precision what questions he will retain".Indeed, at Question Time today, the Prime Minister made that point once again.
That has been the nub of the problem for Back Benchers. The Prime Minister makes the rules but, unfortunately, he cannot quite tell us what the rules are. Indeed, one wonders at times if he is precise in his own mind about the rules.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
In the course of what I suspect was the careful preparation of his speech, has the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) 958 read the report of the Select Committee on Procedure on Prime Minister's Questions? Does he not think that, although the rules laid down there in correspondence may not be precise, they do at least give a reasonable guide?
§ Mr. Tebbit
There are two points arising from that. First, since I have quoted one of the letters which was in that report, I should have thought that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) would have guessed that I might have read it. Secondly, the whole point of what I am saying is that those rules which are laid down are so imprecise as to cause a great deal of confusion. I do not believe that this is a matter of partisan comment. I think that there are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who feel that this is so.
On 21st July, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), the Prime Minister said:It would be helpful if these Questions were put down in detail as I should then be able to provide hon. Members with answers. I have not been transferring substantive Questions.Later, in the same paragraph, he went on:If the hon. Gentleman puts down a detailed Question to the Department of Industry he will get a proper reply."—[Official Report, 21st July 1977; Vol. 935, c. 1843.]There seems to be some sort of contradiction there in that the Prime Minister was suggesting that my hon. Friend should put the detailed Question to him and it would not be transferred, yet a couple of lines later he was suggesting that it ought really to be put to the Department for Industry. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) wants to indulge in this part of the debate, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he will catch your eye.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
In all fairness the Prime Minister said "substantive Questions". He did not say "detailed" Questions. There is a distinction. If one tables a Question asking whether there should be a factory in, say, the Walton constituency, clearly that is a detailed Question. I do not think that the Prime Minister should reply to that Question. But if one is tabling a more general substantive Question, that is a different matter, and that is the point that the Prime Minister is making.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Walton about much of what he has said. I repeat to him that what the Prime Minister said was:It would be helpful if these Questions were put down in detail as I"—that is, the Prime Minister—should then be able to provide hon. Members with answers.I think that the hon. Gentleman will now concede that there is an element of confusion in the matter.
According to the answers which the Prime Minister was kind enough to give me on 25th July, since his statement to the House on 12th May he had had 532 Questions for oral answer tabled to him, of which only 11 had been transferred. That sounds as though the experiment, which is due to come to an end shortly, has been quite successful. But, of course, the fact is that no one wants to have his Question to the Prime Minister transferred, since to do so is to forfeit the chance to get an answer from the Prime Minister that day. Therefore, hon. Members have tended not to put down Questions which would run any risk of being transferred.
Indeed, it was not very long before right hon. and hon. Members who are interested in these matters were gently testing the temperature of the water by inquiring, through Questions to the Prime Minister, what sort of Questions he would answer. I tabled Questions for Written Answer to the right hon. Gentleman on 18th and 23rd May to find out whether it was possible more clearly to establish his policy on the matter. For example, I asked whether he intended to answer Questions concerning the future of the British aerospace industry and the British electrical generation industry—because, in reply to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) on 12th May, he had implied that he might—and whether he would answer Questions about the British nuclear power programme, the future of the British motor industry and a number of other major issues, such as policy towards human rights in South Africa and Cambodia and the differences between the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and those of the Warsaw Pact countries.
960 All those were Questions on policy which, from the statement of 12th May, one would have expected to be answered. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister used that device which Ministers of all parties have used from time immemorial—I hope that this is not, at the moment, a partisan matter—"I refer the hon. Member to the statement which I made in the House on 12th May." If it had been sufficiently clear, I should not have tabled the Questions. So we were no further forward.
Certainly the Prime Minister's reply did not encourage me to put down substantive Questions which might have been subject to transfer. In general I resorted to what I might refer to as traditional Questions. I do not like the "engagements for the day" formula. It is not elegant. It is hardly even fair. Sometimes I try to be fair, even to the Prime Minister. It reminds me of trying to gas rabbits. One may do it with style, but it is not fair, it is not sporting, and it is not elegant. But that Question is not transferable, which is the great advantage of it. This is why so many hon. Members have come to use it. Indeed, the practice of using that type of Question has grown since 12th May.
The Prime Minister also told me in his reply of 25th July that he had retained 50 Questions which he would otherwise have transferred. He sent me a list—the list to which he referred today. It seems to me that on the former criteria many, if not most, of those Questions would have been retained by the Prime Minister anyway. I should be happy to see whether there is a way in which the list could be given wider circulation, because it is of interest to a great many hon. Members.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It is a rather long list. I do not think that we want to do that, as it would take up a lot of time.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is not here as he tabled a number of very pertinent Questions. For example, on 26th May he asked the Prime Minister 961 whether he was satisfied with the working of the bi-cameral system of government. That seems to be the sort of Question which could be answered only by the Prime Minister. Who else could be responsible for giving an answer on such a matter? Yet it is in the list of Questions which the Prime Minister says he would have transferred but now has kept, and he makes a virtue of it.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) asked the Prime Minister how many protests he had received against the recent appointment of Her Majesty's next ambassador to the United States of America. If one asks the Prime Minister how many protests he has received, who else can answer that Question? It is not a transferable Question. Again, that Question is on the list of those which the Prime Minister was sufficiently gracious to have kept under the new rules.
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) asked the Prime Minister whether he would direct Ministers and departmental officials to substitute regular non-attributable briefings with attributable briefings to the media. Again, only the Prime Minister could give such a direction.
There are numerous examples of this sort. The one I mentioned today at Question Time was possibly the most remarkable. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) put down a Question asking the Prime Minister when he was to meet the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) and the STUC to discuss employment prospects in Scotland. Curiously enough, I should have thought that that Question would be transferred because it concerned a specific matter of employment. This is an example of the problem we are having with these matters.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Could my hon. Friend tell the House whether any of the Questions to which he has referred were likely to have been reached? It would be interesting to know whether the Prime Minister's willingness to retain a Question depends upon the likelihood of its being reached.
§ Mr. Tebbit
That is an unworthy thought that has crossed my mind, as has the unworthy thought that those Questions that might be reached might be retained 962 or transferred according to whether they had been put down, for example, by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) or an hon. Member more agreeable to the Prime Minister. This is the sort of unworthy thought that would pass through hon. Members' minds from time to time.
I shall not detain the House with any further examples of these Questions, but I think that I have said sufficient to indicate that the confusion has been made rather worse by the Prime Minister's replies. We have a terrible difficulty. It is compounded because the rules that the Prime Minister applies to Oral Questions are now different from those he applies to Written Questions.
The Prime Minister's statement related only to Oral Questions and, therefore, he presumably applies the old rules to Written Questions. I have tested this out by putting down Written Questions. It seems that the Prime Minister is applying different rules to the two. Yet, in my opinion. the Written Question is a very important and much underrated art form in parliamentary life.
Let me instance its use in relation to the Prime Minster and the difficulties which the Prime Minister now seeks to put in the way of the questioner. I noticed a little while ago—I think one or two others did, too—that the Prime Minister was becoming just a little casual in what he said in answer to Questions at the Dispatch Box and now and again, by sheer chance, he made mis-statements of fact. Being of a generous frame of mind, I thought that it was worth putting down Written Questions to the Prime Minister to allow him to clear them up, which I was sure he would want to do. For example, on 17th May, in Oral Questions, the Prime Minister said to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham)Inflation is declining and will continue to decline."—[Official Report, 17th May 1977: Vol. 932, c. 230.]I thought that that was rather curious, so I asked the Prime Minister whether he would list the year-on-year rate of inflation for each of the last six months for which figures were available. I found that the percentage was going up and up: 15.0, 15.1, 16.6, 16.2—down slightly —16.7, 17.5. So the Prime Minister had obviously made a slip and would welcome the chance to put it right by means of a Written Question.
963 But the fear in my mind would be that, if I had put that down as an Oral Question, different rules would have applied, and I do not know whether he would have accepted it. That was difficult enough, and I had to ask him whether he was using the same basis in his Oral Answers and his Written Answers. He was kind enough to say, on 21st June in a Written Answer, that he was of the opinionthat we were in a period of temporary bump ' because of the events last autumn."—[Official Report, 21st June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 426.]I am not quite sure what a "temporary 'bump'" is, but I do not think the Prime Minister is either.
The Prime Minister has an unfortunate record in these matters. Indeed, since then he has made it much more difficult to get replies at all. On 30th June, in an oral reply, the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view that a man should be free within limits not to join a trade union. I asked the Prime Minister whether he would define the limits. He resorted to a new system which said he had nothing to add to his reply of 30th June. He used the formula on a couple of occasions.
I thought that perhaps there was a different way to approach these matters, and I asked him another Question on 29th June:if, pursuant to his statement, Official Report, 23rd June 1977, c. 1738, that on three occasions at least in the last few years people have been dismissed by the Grunwick company for joining a trade union, he will list the persons concerned and the dates of their dismissal."—[Official Report, 29th June 1977; Vol. 934, c. 250.]That question, curiously enough, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Secretary of State for Employment, although the Question was about a statement that he had made at the Dispatch Box. The Secretary of State for Employment had a different technique in answering. He just said "No." So the run-around was complete, and one had all the treatments: the mis-statement of fact, the wild comment—
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to raise this matter, but I want to raise it as a general and not as a particular issue. 964 For many years—the Leader of the House will bear me out—we have had these debates and I have always been told that one cannot raise in this debate issues on the merits and particulars of why we should not adjourn for a recess. One can mention that one thinks we should not adjourn because this or that should or should not be discussed, but one cannot go on.
As suits have been mentioned, I am entitled to say that the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) should have a black suit, but I cannot say that he should have it made at Marks & Spencer or Moss Bros. and that it should be made of this or that material. I have always been told—and I have been pulled up many times by the Chair—that we must not go into the rights and wrongs of any situation.
To be fair to the hon. Member for Chingford, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) went a little bit too far. But what I want to get clear is that, if it is in order, I give you fair warning. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I want to go through the whole list of motions on the Order Paper and I want to make a long speech on every one —much longer than the hon. Member. I want to go through all those motions and add a few for myself. If that is to be the pattern, the Leader of the House can go home and come back tomorrow morning.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have listened with deep interest to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). His last few sentences would be the extreme position which one might reach. But as long as a matter is related to the reasons why the House should not adjourn for a recess, all that is said is in order. It is a difficult matter and the Chair has to strike a balance about the amount of detail any hon. or right hon. Member may go into in making his speech. It must be left to the Chair, and the Chair will use its discretion in this matter.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I have now completed my detailed points
The essence is that this is an experiment that will end at the end of this Session. We have to make up our minds whether it should carry on in the next Session. We have very little time for these matters to be considered. It would 965 not be a bad idea if we thought about it during the recess—if we go into recess—or if we thought about it a little longer now before we go into recess and perhaps delayed passing the motion.
The heart of the problem is that many Ministers—Prime Ministers and other Ministers—do not like answering Questions. Indeed, I think that the Prime Minister would prefer to have 15 minutes twice a week to conduct a seminar, perhaps of the sort to which he has so kindly invited me during the recess. That is an invitation that I shall certainly take up, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends will come with me, as the Prime Minister suggested. A seminar on subjects of the Prime Minister's own choosing would probably suit him best. The fact is that Prime Minister's Question Time can be much better than either the Questions or the questioners, but it cannot be any better than the Prime Minister. That is the true heart of the problem.
That time gives hon. Members the chance to question the Prime Minister, not, as the hon. Member for Walton said, on finicky details, but on the broad sweep of Government policies across the board. The difficulty that has arisen is now compounded by the fact that these Questions have, I submit, become prime media fodder—for want of a better expression—and many Members of Parliament who want to raise their pet subjects and achieve the maximum publicity for them raise the matter with the Prime Minister, knowing that that is the most likely way in which to obtain that publicity. Therefore, many more Questions are tabled on each occasion than can conceivably be dealt with, which means that topicality is lost because they are put down a fortnight before. This is one of the problems that have arisen.
I think that topicality might be regained by altering the rules slightly. At the moment, the only way in which one can ensure topicality is by going in for phrases such as "If the Prime Minister will visit Ponders End" or "If the right hon. Gentleman will list his engagements". Thus, we have got ourselves into the sort of tangle that we reached on, I think, Tuesday of this week, when Mr. Speaker had to resort to a device that he thought would improve matters and call only the hon. Member whose Question was being taken.
966 Almost at the time of the Questions being asked it was realised that that could easily have led to the exclusion from Prime Minister's Question Time of the Leaders of the Opposition parties. That would have struck right across the point of Prime Minister's Question Time.
May I therefore suggest a few ways in which we could improve matters? First, I suggest that we might consider shortening the period of notice in respect of Prime Minister's Questions to help achieve topicality without going into the generalised questions. I appreciate that that step would possibly raise a problem for the Prime Minister himself and those who draft the answers, but I think that less than a fortnight could be achieved.
Secondly, perhaps we could return to the practice of grouping, which would avoid the repetition of the words "I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave earlier this afternoon", which, if used in five or six cases, takes up quite a lot of time. To avoid the abuse that has grown up from the grouping practice, the grouping might be limited to those Questions that might reasonably be reached—say, four or five.
I do not think that we should let the experiment that we have been carrying out continue into the next Session. The fashion of Questions put down will change in response to the style of the Prime Minister of the day. It will change, too, in response to the way in which Mr. Speaker handles the matter of supplementary questions.
I suggest that it would be useful, before the House adjourns for the recess—and, indeed, afterwards—if we were to consider the way in which this experiment has operated. Before we embark on Prime Minister's Questions next Session we should agree that, first, we should go back to the practice as it was before 12th May, and, secondly, that there should be further talks, formal or informal, but this time, especially among those who take most part in Prime Minister's Questions, about how the time could be made more valuable to the Prime Minister, to the House, and to the public at large.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Those of us who were here earlier today heard the Prime Minister give the hon. 967 Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) the strange title of "his most backward pupil". I thought that the Prime Minister was rather unfair. But, after hearing the hon. Gentleman's speech on this motion, I feel that perhaps the Prime Minister rather over-estimated the hon. Gentleman.
There is one point I want to make about Question Time. I had always supposed that the purpose of Questions was to elicit information. If a Question were put down asking a Prime Minister whether he would visit a particular place, and the answer was "Yes" or "No", I should have thought that the information had been provided. The same is true if he is asked about his engagements. If he lists his engagements, no one in this House, according to any rule of the House, has a right to a supplementary question. If the information is provided, it is provided. In my view, the Chair itself should exercise a considerable discipline on hon. Members by ignoring anyone who rises to put a supplementary question which is quite unrelated to the original Question.
The hon. Member for Chingford says that Ministers do not like Questions. I can tell him that Ministers enjoy Questions. I used to love them. But some of them became so easy, so predictable. I recollect the exchanges between Winston Churchill and Emrys Hughes, and they were enjoyed by the whole House. The poverty of ingenuity of Members of Parliament to be able to put a straightforward Question to the Prime Minister or to anyone else is a reflection upon our own abilities.
We should not rise for the recess. I will give one or two specific reasons. I think that everyone in Scotland was fairly horrified this morning to read that a sheriff had been sacked. Actually, he has not been sacked yet. An order was made under the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act, the Sheriff (Removal from Office) Order 1977, made on 22nd July, laid before Parliament on 27th July. That order, made two days ago, issubject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament within forty days after being laid before Parliament and cannot come into operation before the expiry of that forty day period".Those are 40 parliamentary days. Yet we are to rise for the recess tomorrow. 968 Forty days take us almost into 1978, depending on when we rise for the Christmas Recess. I think that is most unsatisfactory.
This is a sheriff—what English Members would call a county court judge—and he has been sacked. I remember exercising my powers in 1974 to warn this judge about his conduct in sponsoring and being the chief propagandist, or publicist, for the Scottish Plebiscite Society, running plebiscites. At that time, he was sending people in local plebiscites cards to be returned to the registration officer. We felt that his action was not quite in keeping, after an inquiry by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk. I felt that a warning should be given, and it was given.
Recently, the sheriff has been advertising meetings of this society of his, and there was a photograph of himself in wig and robes. I do not think that anyone mistook him for the Speaker. Everyone realised who he was. The question in people's minds was whether it was in keeping for someone in his position to lend his name to such activities. An inquiry was instituted by the Lord Justice Clerk and the Court of Session, Lord Emslie and Lord Wheatley, but the sheriff ignored them and refused to come before them to discuss the matter.
It might well be that that was the right thing to do. It is a touchy subject, because about half the judges in Scotland at present have political records. They are political beings. They sat on this Bench as Lord Advocate or Solicitor-General. Those who did not come into the House were those who could not get seats, or they would certainly have stood for election. The point is that it is a subject of such difficulty that, rather than have it rest for all that time, we should have been able to debate it in this House on a Prayer.
I read in the Scottish Press that the Scottish National Party was to raise this matter. Where are they? Not one of them is here. They will have plenty to say about it. This man, Sheriff Thomson, says that he is not a member of the Scottish National Party, and I accept that, but he makes no bones about how he feels that Scotland should be 969 governed—that there should be an independent Scotland.
§ Mr. Grimond
The right hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important subject. I wholly agree that there should be a debate on it. Will he, for the benefit of the House, give us a little more information? Will this sheriff be allowed to sit for the 40 parliamentary days? Secondly, what would be the procedure in England? Is this the method of removing someone in England? The sheriff is a good deal more important than a county court judge. He combines that with considerably wider jurisdiction, I believe. Thirdly, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about the Plebiscite Society? Does it pursue political aims? Does it hold plebiscites on anything, from euthanasia to the morals of parliamentarians? What exactly is it?
§ Mr. Ross
To answer the last question first, I understand that it is related purely to how Scotland should be governed—an independent Scotland. I believe that Sheriff Thomson has been doing this job since 1949. That is interesting, because that was before a Tory Government made him a sheriff. I think that he has been a sheriff for 22 years. But the society is related to the one subject.
As to whether the sheriff sits for the 40 days, I am quoting what the Statutory Instrument says—that the order cannot come into operation before the expiry of that 40-day period. However, from reading the Press this morning, I understand that he has virtually been suspended and that someone else is doing his job.
I can understand how there could be a conflict about impartiality. In a recent case in Scotland some young misguided people—one of whom had been an officer of the Scottish National Party—became involved in something called the Tartan Army. They believed in it. They eventually came before a court. Had they come before the sheriff court in which Sheriff Thomson was sitting, one can conceive the possibility of a conflict. I do not say that that ever happened, or ever would arise, and I can see why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken action, but the timing of it is unfortunate. It leaves the matter open for about four months. That is one reason why I have spoken today.
970 This is not the first time that I have come across this kind of thing. The papers in Scotland were trying to refer to "the last case". What is even worse is what sometimes happens. In one case, to my anger, I heard of a sheriff who was resigning because of ill health—that is the convenient phrase that is used—and then I discovered that it was due to pressure, by the legal profession and others in the locality, related to his sentencing policy. I do not mind telling the House that I approved of his sentencing policy, but it was interfering with some people's social life; they did not like the care that had to be taken about drunk driving charges, and so on. It is not the Crown Office that institutes an inquiry. It is the Secretary of State.
This is a serious matter, which concerns me. I regret that Sheriff Thomson did not take the warning. Other people have done it. I remember a judge—an eminent Scottish Tory—who accepted an invitation from Alec Douglas-Home and the Tory Party to participate in a shadow constitutional commission. One wonders at the intelligence of a judge—I believe that it was Lord Avonside—doing that. He accepted an invitation to serve on the commission, but I can assure the House that he did not serve for long. He took the warning. I think it is a great pity that Sheriff Thomson did not take the warning.
This is another reason why I object to the Early-Day Motion relating to the Father of the House. Early-Day Motions are, 1 assume, supposed to be debated. Certain Early-Day Motions, must, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be debated at once if they affect the position of Mr. Speaker or are a challenge to his authority or that of Mr. Deputy Speaker. What hope is there of an Early-Day Motion being debated if it was put down only last Wednesday? There is no hope of the House discussing it. It is an abuse of the Early-Day Motion procedure. This has been a fairly shabby week in the House of Commons.
I was one of five Privy Councillors—two were Conservatives, two were Labour, and there was a Scottish nationalist—who served on the Select Committee, which produced a unanimous report and which followed precedent in all the matters that it considered. But it was a 971 travesty of a debate, because of some of the speeches. It will take me a long time to forget it. More people voted than had actually read the evidence in the report.
We who served on the Select Committee were worried about producing at this time of the year a report that would lie, undebated for perhaps three months. So we went out of our way to ensure that the report could be completed and printed in time for my right hon. Friend to arrange for the debate.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to attempt now to rehash the whole debate that we had last Tuesday?
§ Mr. Goodhew
Surely, it is a matter for the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the right hon. Gentleman continues. He is entitled to discuss those matters which he feels should be debated now rather than after the recess. But he should not go through every debate that we have had during this Session of Parliament.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The only observation that I wish to make is that an hon. Member cannot reopen a matter that has been settled.
§ Mr. Ross
Exactly. I have no wish to reopen a matter that has been settled. I believe it was the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) who said that we should not do so. But he referred to some matters that ought to be settled before three months had passed. That is what I am coming to. We tried to get out our report so that it would not hang over hon. Members for three months, and it was right that we had the debate. With respect, having sat since last November on this matter, I am entitled to opinions on decisions that were made and the way in which affairs were conducted in the House. I want to see them conducted more efficiently. Unless we settle this issue, I shall find it difficult to serve on any other such Select Committee.
My other point—which I hope the House and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will consider—is that, if we are to change the 972 rules or the customs of the House, we should not do it in the middle of the game. It has always been the custom, in dealing with such things as this—I want hon. Members to consider this, because it is not settled yet—that when lion Members make a speech before withdrawing, it is listened to in silence. If they are to be allowed to come back and interrupt other speeches, it will not be enough to say "That is the new custom". The new custom will be that their speeches will be challengeable. Hasty decisions such as that are quite wrong. I want consideration to be given to what is the new custom of the House in such cases. They will not happen every week. They may not hap pen for years. But we must think carefully before departing from customs that are hallowed by time. The custom we now have is not yet hallowed, and I do not think we can continue in that way.
It is time that we discussed some of the things that the House did not discuss when considering the report. I hope that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) will think that I am in order. We asked about a certain case, and questioned why a person had not been prosecuted. He was a Tory councillor, formerly employed at Scotland Yard, who was evidently au fait with the Press and the Bars of the House of Commons and who eventually purloined an official form and gave it to the Press with the names of some of my right hon. Friends on it. It was completely bogus. Nobody, except Scotland Yard, knew the name of this man until we had our inquiry. He resigned and went elsewhere. One of the questions we asked was why he was not prosecuted. That would have been worth considering.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I do not want to argue out any of these matters with the right hon. Gentleman but, with respect, I think that he is wrong about whether the name of the gentleman in question was known before the Select Committee Report was published. The name had been published in the Press about that time and was quite widely known.
§ Mr. Ross
It may have been quite widely known but I can assure my hon. Friend that not as much publicity was given to the fact that the form was bogus as was given to the original allegation. 973 That matter never was mentioned in the debate.
There were other things. We suggested that the House should consider whether Opposition spokesmen should get themselves involved—as a matter of principle, quite outwith the particular case in question. During the late 1960s we used to talk about liaison committees and Opposition spokesmen for this and that. Then they suddenly graced themselves with the title "Shadow Secretary of State". That actually appears on headings. I remember seeing, in relation to some hon. Gentleman from Scotland, the "Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland." If people are to have status and eminence such as that they had better be careful about mixing up their speeches from that Front Bench with business interests.
§ Mr. Ross
This is something we must discuss, and that is why I would prefer it if the House was not departing tomorrow. I think it is worth discussing. We mentioned it in respect of the Select Committee. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) in what was one of the best of all the speeches. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the House will pay early attention to that matter.
I have said what I wanted to say about the Early-Day Motion. I think it is despicable. I think it is a cowardly motion. It was tabled at a time when the House could not debate it. That is like doing something and then running away. I should have preferred the House to stay on for another few days to dispose of that matter and to find out what it was all about. It was a shabby end to a shabby week.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow either of the two matters to which he devoted the main part of his speech except to say that he seemed half to suggest that it should be a function of Select Committees of this House on occasion to ask why people were not prosecuted. It is but a short step to ask why people were prosecuted. Any suggestion that the House 974 should seek through its Committees or on the Floor of the House to influence prosecutions is one to guard against very strongly. It is a matter for the authorities and the police, not for the House.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I see that the hon. Gentleman is a signatory to Early-Day Motion No. 465. Could he say why so many of his hon. Friends have thought it necessary—having defended one of their colleagues on Tuesday—when the Father of the House chose to exercise his rights to table a motion on the Order Paper, to criticise him in these terms? On reflection, does he not think that it would be more honourable for him and his hon. Friends to withdraw this Early-Day Motion?
§ Mr. Ridley
That seems to be irrelevant to the point on which the hon. Gentleman intervened. But I do not wish to be drawn into that. I want to advance a reason why the House should not adjourn until it has debated a matter which I believe to be of the very gravest nature. I refer to the threat to a large number of small businesses, and larger businesses, and to the employment that they represent in North London—NW2— by the denial to those businesses of the mail that brings with it the cheques and money upon which they depend for their liquidity and to pay their wages.
I do not intend to make a speech on the Grunwick dispute. That is not part of my case and it is not a matter which the House should necessarily discuss before it adjourns. But the innocent victims of this dispute are between 100 and 200 companies in that part of London, many of whom are on the verge of bankruptcy and the rest of whom are threatened by the denial of mail. Many of my hon. Friends felt extremely concerned about this, and last night we asked whether we could see the Secretary of State for Industry. We were informed that, for very good reasons, he was unavailable. I asked whether we could see the Minister of State, and we were told that he was unavailable. Always prepared to try again, I asked whether we could see the Under-Secretary. He, too, refused to see us.
I feel that it is right that this matter should be raised and the Government should be called to account, because, having failed to achieve privately what 975 we sought, it is our right and duty to seek to achieve it publicly.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has expressed concern for the firms in a part of North-West London. Can he tell the House whether, among those who applied to see the Ministers, there were representatives of the constituencies affected? Can he tell the House whether, over the period of three or four weeks when the whole of East London was affected by another dispute with a different cause, he saw fit for any reason whatsoever to see the authorities then? There was concern expressed on that occasion on both sides of the House about what was a far more difficult and dangerous situation for many small businesses and pensioners throughout East London. Why did he not do something then?
§ Mr. Ridley
I shall come to one part of the hon. Gentleman's question later in my speech but I want now to deal with another part. I informed the Minister for Housing and Construction, in whose constituency the Cricklewood sorting office lies, that I intended to raise this matter this afternoon if I caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister seemed to find it a pity that I should seek to intervene on behalf of the thousands of people whose jobs are threatened. When I asked him whether he would be present and contribute to the debate, telling us what he had done to press the Government to do the right thing, he turned a little hostile, if I may say so. In the absence of his seeing to the interests of his own constituents, it unfortunately falls to me to do so. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman's fear of falling out of favour with the powers-that-be in the Labour Party, favour which might eventually lead to his being made, say, Lord Grunwick, has denied him the opportunity to speak out on this outrage—and outrage it is, because these people are innocent victims of a dispute in which they have played no part.
When there was a postal strike in 1971—I come now to the other part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention—my right hon. Friends at that time waived the Post Office monopoly. They made it possible for those whose mail was innocently caught up in a dispute in which 976 they had no part to go to the sorting offices and collect the mail.
I quote from the statement of 18th January 1971 by Mr. Christopher Chat-away, who was then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications:I have given the Post Office a general authority under the terms of the Post Office Act 1969, enabling it to waive the monopoly provisions of that Act as they affect postal services, and the Post Office will deal with individual cases on their merits with the aim of being as helpful as possible. Many traders will make their own arrangements for the delivery of urgent letters, but this is not likely to involve any infringement of the monopoly."—[Official Report, 18th January 1971; Vol. 809, c. 522.]That is what we did then, and that is what the Post Office requested should be done on Monday by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Industry. That is what should be done. Again, this is not to intervene in the Grunwick affair. Nor is it to intervene in the legal situation which right hon. and learned Gentlemen have been debating in past months. I am not saying that the law should or should not be used, nor am I trying to interpret what the law is, nor am I intervening in the running debate between both sides of the House as to what the efficacy of the law is in industrial relations. I am leaving all that ground aside because it is contentious. I am saying only that, in the event of the postmen refusing to deliver letters to third parties in clear breach of the Post Office Act 1953, the individuals aggrieved have the right to go to sort and collect their own mail.
The Post Office asked that that be done. It is not that the Post Office had resisted the suggestion. The Government, in their craven fashion, refused to allow it to be done. The irony of the situation is that the Grunwick mail has been delivered. I believe that there is not a single mail bag in Cricklewood which concerns Grunwick because that firm has been allowed to come to collect its own mail—but not the innocent parties. I say "innocent"; I am not saying that Grunwick is guilty, but I refer to those parties which are in no sense concerned in the dispute.
Why have the Government refused to do that? I am not traducing them when I say that they feel that it would be 977 provocative. Surely, it was more provocative to allow the representatives of the Grunwick firm to collect their mail than it would be to allow the representatives of other firms not in any sense involved to collect their mail. That must be the case.
If nothing is done in this case, it lays us open as a nation to selective boycott and discrimination against the mail of any individual, organisation or company. That would be in breach of the law, for good reasons, reasons which we shall, presumably, be debating next Session when we consider a possible Bill which the Government have mentioned.
In the meantime, it must be remembered that the law stands as it is for the very good reason that the mail is the property of him who sends it, not of the Post Office. To detain or restrict an individual's mail is tantamount to interfering with, if not removing, that property.
This case is of real concern because property in that sense is the livelihood of the firms concerned—between 100 and 200—and the livelihood of the employees who work in those firms, as well as—this is important, too—the livelihood and interests of individuals in NW2 who also have been denied the receipt of their mail.
To put fear of provocation in front of those good commercial and individual interests backed by the law is to get one's priorities upside down. Whenever the words "industrial relations" have been mentioned, that is what the Government, and, indeed, the Leader of the House in his past incarnation, have always done. But we know that on the previous occasion in 1971, when the monopoly was waived, many firms collected their own mail without any trouble or difficulty. There was no provocation, there were no scenes at the sorting offices. Small private firms came into existence with the express intention of delivering and collecting mail for clients for whom it was urgent. There was no difficulty on that occasion. Everything worked.
I pay a well-deserved tribute to the vast majority of postal workers. They do obey the law. When the National Association for Freedom obtained an injunction at the time of the South African postal boycott, despite the fact that the Attorney-General said that it could not 978 be granted because it would be a provocation, what happened? The postmen obeyed it to a man. The person who was right on that occasion was Mr. Gouriet, and the person who was wrong was the Attorney-General. His fears of the militant revolutionary nature of the postmen are utterly misconceived. They are the most reasonable and moderate body of men, and I pay tribute to them.
I do not believe that the Post Office workers support the small number of people at the Cricklewood office who refuse to handle the mail between individuals and companies in NW2 who happen to have been caught up in this dispute for the simple geographical reason that they are in the same London postal district as is Grunwick.
The Leader of the House has been Secretary of State for Employment, and he has gone through his traumas of believing that everything done by, and in the name of, trade unionism must by definition be right, must be above the law, and it must be a provocation to seek in any way to influence it. That is the accusation against the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Party.
Before he goes on holiday, the right hon. Gentleman must realise that he has the power to do something about this affair, not in a provocative fashion, not through the law, but by establishing the obvious, fundamental and clearly right principle that if the Post Office will not do that which it is statutorily charged to do it has no right to maintain the monopoly. It is the Government's responsibility to waive that monopoly so that these firms and jobs can be saved, and so that reasonableness and common sense can prevail again in a world turned upside down by the right hon. Gentleman's trade union friends.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, perhaps I may remind the House that, although, of course, the matter is in the hands of the House, the interests of other hon. Members who will be called later in connection with other business have to be safeguarded. I appeal to the House for brief speeches, but, of course, that is in the hands of hon. Members.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—which was no doubt calling for another debate to discuss the monopoly of the Post Office—with interest. His speeches always attract attention in the House. They are usually elegantly phrased and laced with sufficient wit and perception to be enjoyable, even though we do not always agree with what the hon. Member says.
However, in the speech that he has just made those qualities for which he is so well known were noticeably lacking. Perhaps he was put off by the point that he has asked for a debate—indeed, he has put down a motion—criticising my right hon. Friend the Father of the House. Now, given an opportunity to say why he supports that motion and presumably, by that very fact, supports a debate, he does not follow it with his voice.
Nor, indeed, did the hon. Member follow with his voice the question that I put to him. We know of his interest in Cirencester and Tewkesbury. Indeed, I recall a particular Committee in which those places, in relation to dock work, came up time and again. He did not explain why, in producing a speech at grievance time, he was so concerned for the small manufacturers of NW2. He has been asked about any other hon. Members who might have applied for this particular meeting with a Minister. He mentioned one hon. Member whom he invited, but he did not say who went.
I find it remarkable that he should take up such matters, particularly this matter, because the postal dispute to which I referred in my intervention was not that of 1971 but that of February this year. In that dispute it was not merely a single postal number district that was involved but the whole of the eastern districts, numbered 1 to 23, I think. At that time it was very difficult—I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit); this was a non-party matter—to get anyone interested, even more so the Post Office, in providing even the basic information, and it was not merely factories that were involved but pensioners and everyone. I could not get a statement. In the end, I found out that a telephone call to the Press Association was regarded as 980 the only sort of public relations that were necessary.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman is correct about what he says about that dispute. It was a very difficult dispute which affected my constituents and his, and many other people. I pay tribute to him because he was one of the very few other hon. Members of this House who supported me in the efforts that I made in applications for debates under Standing Order No. 9 and similar matters to try to get the subject discussed. As it happened, I did not need the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), because I was doing the job. My hon. Friend has come into this matter because hon. Members who represent the constituents involved in the dispute about which he has been talking have sat tight on their bottoms and done absolutely nothing to help.
§ Mr. Spearing
I turn now to another matter. The hon. Member for Chingford paid me a tribute, and his point was a fair one.
I turn to the question of another debate that we need concerning the interests of hon. Members. This was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). This was the heart of the unfortunate and unhappy debate that we had on Tuesday. Whatever the conclusion to which the House came in that debate, it must have been an unhappy one. It was doubly unhappy because of the action that certain hon. Members took in relation to their votes.
It is well known in the House that when we face each other across this Floor, we know of certain interests. I think that it was the Prime Minister who once said that he does not think "There is the Member for this place and there is the Member for that place" when facing the Opposition, but "There is the Member for oil, there is the Member for motor cars, there is the Member for that City firm, and there is the Member for this, that and the other interest." In fact, some Labour Members look across to Opposition Members and say to themselves "Has that hon. Member an interest in my constituency, or might he have, or does the particular firm, advisory service or news organisation have an interest in my constituency?" For several years, until 981 very recently, the answer was that no one knew. Looking the other way, it was reasonably well known in terms of trade union affiliations.
I hope that the House will return to this subject. In order to debate it, we should not adjourn until Monday or Tuesday of next week. We certainly want one day devoted to this important subject.
It is the declaration of interest that is the key to this matter. We differ across the Floor and I differ with some of my hon. Friends on the matter whether hon. Members should pursue paid occupations where obligations are undertaken in addition to their public office as a Member of Parliament. We can argue that in a different area. There is disagreement. However, if there is disagreement, no one can say that if persons have monetary obligations or have links with firms or consultancies, they must not be declared. That is the ground rule. That is, as it were, the consensus to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock was referring in another area. It is those conventions of behaviour that make the House what it is. I do not believe that the House could operate under any other system.
Indeed, I think that we agreed in the debate on Tuesday that that is the position and has been for over a century when hon. Members speak in the House. We have now extended it, as it were, to a permanent declaration to back it up. It is therefore the question of the declaration of interest which is the heart of the matter. During the debate that I hope that we shall have, if not next week, when we return to the House in November, it is the manner in which this is done and the ways in which we can impose upon ourselves the disciplines which are necessary that will be the centre of this matter.
The Select Committee, as my right hon. Friend reminded us, drew our specific attention to the matter of self-styled shadow spokesmen for this, that or the other. The difference between a member of an Opposition committee and a shadow spokesman or a shadow Secretary of State for Scotland is a very important difference. Before the 1950s, when this habit crept in, there was no implication, necessarily, that a person who was selected by an Opposition Leader to mark a person on the other side would be a member of a Government with that post 982 after another General Election. However, a change in the habits of the Press and the media, and indeed, of this House, of calling someone shadow this, that or the other, suggests that they are putative occupiers of that office.
That is a very significant point because it means, among other things—it is not always so; there are no guarantees about this—that if after a General Election the other party comes into office, it can be presumed that there is a good chance that Mr. A or Mr. B will be Secretary of State for this or Minister for that. This is true of both major parties.
Concerning my own party, that clearly puts such a person at some advantage. In going around members of my party and visiting trade unions and outside organisations of any sort, a person of that kind would be listened to and talked to in a manner that would be rather different from that if he were an ordinary Back Bencher. In other words, doors might be opened to him and information given to him which would not be the case if, first, he were a Back Bencher and, secondly, he were merely a member of an Opposition committee. Therefore, he is in a position which is distinct and he has a privilege and a responsibility. It is that responsibility which it at the heart of this matter.
I give an example which I do not mean for any special reason. We all respect and know the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), who is at present sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, If, in his past office as, say, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he engaged in some commercial activity in that country, but declared that interest only in the "Ballymena Gazette" or mentioned it en passant during a visit by a Government representative to Antrim, I do not think this House would regard that as a sufficient measure of declaration.
I mention this to the Conservative Party, and to those who are reflecting on the debate to which we shall surely return on this matter, because the Conservative Party is in a particularly difficult position. Conservative Members not only urge each other, but urge the country, to exploit the position in which they find themselves in order to use private enterprise and initiative, if not to gain a crock of gold, at least to gain capital sums for their old age.
983 We hear that every day and every week from the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, who tells us that the economic salvation of the nation depends upon these very acquisitive and enterprising instincts. But there is all the difference in the world between the legitimate use of skill and the exploitation of a position that has been achieved by a different route for a different purpose.
The voice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) often tends to change, as mine is changing now, because he is openly contemptuous of Conservative Members. He knows that while they may be excellent Members of this House and excellent constituency Members, they are also using their position to be selected for this, that or the other remunerative position which they otherwise would not occupy and are using it in a way that people might think improper.
There is no definite line to draw in this matter. It is a very difficult matter of balance and judgement. But certain actions are taken which everyone knows go far beyond not only discretion and good judgement but, some people would say, morality. That is the difference between the two sides of the House. That was the difference on Tuesday, and I am sorry that Conservative Members perhaps did not understand that when they voted.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that it is only hon. Members on this side of the House who take advantage of their position. But there are many right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench who have acquired assets over their lifetime which they certainly would not have acquired had it been a matter of skill in some outside job.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has raised a point which might otherwise have been a point of criticism in my speech. I would say straightaway that my point about exploitation applies to hon. Members whichever side of the House they sit on. The point I was making, and Hansard will bear this out, is that the Conservative Party advocates that in a monetary and competitive society it is right and moral to press one's advantage as far as it will go. That is 984 the difference between the two sides of the House.
I make no bones about the fact that this may well affect hon. Members on both sides, but the difference is that one side says that this particular form of activity is right and must be pressed at all times and, indeed, that the economic salvation of the country depends upon it. I believe that a great deal of what is wrong with our country originates from that. Short cuts produce the biggest profits but those short cuts are not always the most productive ones for the country, for society or, indeed, for the reputation of those who have taken them.
§ Mr. Onslow
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You appealed for short speeches. I wonder whether you could offer guidance to the hon. Gentleman by indicating what you meant by short speeches?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair is watching the clock. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also watch the clock.
§ Mr. Spearing
The interjection of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) came as I was about to move on to a second reason why we should not adjourn.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is responsible to this House for the conduct of its business and, indeed, for the manner in which the Order Paper is used. I would particularly draw to his attention some of the problems that have arisen with regard to EEC matters.
I shall be quite brief because he is aware of some of these problems and I do not wish to draw his attention to them once again. However, there is a matter of considerable importance, and it is the only one that I raise. It concerns the way in which we deal with motions on the Order Paper relating to EEC documents.
If we were able to come back next week, we should be able to cut into that great backlog of EEC documents that we wish to debate and which I believe everyone wants to deal with as thoroughly as possible. One of our problems is the Government's attitude to those documents and, indeed, when they are likely to be debated.
985 I asked my right hon. Friend about this on 11th July when I complained that it was the Government's practice not to put down substantive motions on the Order Paper until the evening before the documents were to be taken. If an hon. Member wants to amend the Government motion, he has to go to the Table Office the night before to see what the motion is. Hon. Members who wish to table amendments can do so only by going to the Table Office.
I asked the Lord President whether he would perhaps review this practice and follow the normal procedure of putting motions on the Remaining Orders of the Day before bringing them forward for debate. To my surprise, my right hon. Friend said:We are following the normal practice of the House in these matters.… At the moment, we are following the general practice of the House."—[Official Report, 11th July 1977; Vol. 935, c. 25.]From my observations, the direct reverse is the case. Frequently, and almost invariably, we get notice that business is put on the Remaining Orders of the Day—properly by convention—and no one quarrels with that. But my point is that EEC documents of this sort are not handled in that way. They are not given time for hon. Members to consider them or for amendments to be put down or, indeed, for representations to be made.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) present. He and I have had occasion to make representations, sometimes in mutual accord and sometimes not. We need time to do that. The usual channels and this House cannot work unless there is a period of reflection and consultation. But the practice of the Government with regard to EEC papers does not enable that consultation and, therefore, the quality of debate and the convenience of the House might thereby be imperilled.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. This position arose only three weeks ago and he was able to resolve it hastily to the mutual satisfaction of everyone concerned. But that was only by good fortune and good luck.
I therefore close the short contribution by urging that we debate these very important matters because I know that 986 the Lord President has the future of this House, and the proper handling of these matters, at heart.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
If the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) thinks that that was a short contribution, he must be even more in need of a holiday than he knows. I put that proposition with diffidence because I want to argue that the recess is too long.
One important matter which needs clearing up urgently is the position which has arisen from the incident last night, when the House, although told by Mr. Speaker that it was clearly entitled to have some papers, was unable to proceed without a prolonged wrangle on points of order because it appears that there is no provision in the rules of order as to what happens when the House is denied what it is entitled to. The Chair was put in an invidious position, and the Leader of the House found himself in a difficult situation in which he was unable quickly to resolve the nonsense that had occurred. If the House has an entitlement, it must be an absolute entitlement, and if it is denied its rights there must be an absolute remedy, and that remedy must be enshrined in our proceedings.
If we are to be confronted with shortages of papers arising from a printing dispute, inadvertence or incompetence, or whatever, it is important that the proceedings of the House should cover such an eventuality. I hope that those responsible for these matters will turn their attention urgently to it during the recess so that we do not have any repetition of last night's nonsense. I am sure that the Leader of the House made the right decision, but I am equally sure that it should not have had to be a matter of consultation or discussion. There should be an instant and absolute remedy available to the House in order to defend its rights. I hope that I carry the House with me in that.
I share the wish expressed by other hon. Members for debates on several Early-Day Motions—and I do not exempt from that the Early-Day Motion on the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). That matter should be debated. There are two sides to the question. It 987 is arguable that if the right hon. Gentleman feels that this place should not be a club, it was wrong and inappropriate for him to speak as if he were the oldest Member and thereby had some authority. If we bestow on him the title "Father of the House", and this is not a club, it is as well that he should not attempt to set himself up as the conscience of the House. It was because of the inappropriateness of his behaviour that I added my name to the Early-Day Motion critical of him. I shall be happy to debate that motion.
I do not lightly add my name to motions, but I am as capable of developing passion as the hon. Member for Newham, South is this afternoon, because there are other matters to which we should turn our attention. One of these is that, broadly speaking, we have too much to talk about in this House against the limit that we are up against in that there are always those who would rather vote than talk. The recess has to be as long as it is because the Government think it more important to keep hon. Members voting whilst they are here than to allow some of us to remain here and talk without voting.
The answer is to have less legislation. I am in favour of that as a part-solution. But Parliament's reputation and standing in the country depend to a large extent not on the number of the votes that we notch up, nor on the midnight hours when we are marching through the Lobbies, but on our success in showing that we are aware of the crises worrying our constituents, talking about them and voicing their anxieties. Our constituents do not necessarily send us here as Lobby fodder. They criticise us when we become Lobby fodder. They criticise us for failure to reflect what is in the mind of the nation.
In this respect, the Government are doing the House a disservice by curtailing a Session which could continue without debates forced to a vote but do a great deal of useful work in enabling a number of subjects to be fully voiced. Unemployment is an obvious example. We need also to call Ministers further to account about the situation that the hospital services are in. That is another example. In my constituency, typically there are mentally handicapped and 988 mentally ill patients who urgently need hospital accommodation or residential accommodation but cannot get it because the National Health Service is being starved of funds.
There is a crisis in education. It finds its most ludicrous recent manifestation in the decision of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) to educate his daughter at home so that she can be apprised of current affairs by listening to her father's table talk. That is the sort of thing that happens with the abolition of grammar schools. I say that with some bitterness, because, in the last week, two grammar schools in my constituency have had their death knell finally sounded.
There is a crisis in defence. We can see that in the latest deliberations within the Labour Party. We must get further assurances from the Government about what they intend to do in the continuing crisis in overseas trade. That is a matter of vast concern to this country. There is, in particular, the situation developing from the progressive incursion by Russian and Eastern bloc ships into areas where they have little or no traditional right to expect a share.
There is a particular example in the East African Conference, where already two Eastern bloc allies, Poland and East Germany, have forced their way in to the point where they have 23 per cent. of the trade between this country and East Africa. Now the Russian maritime fleet is trying to elbow its way in as well, undercutting, as an outsider, by 30 per cent. the rates which prevailed within the conference, using a variety of tactics, such as sweet reasonableness and, no doubt, commercial dumping, to assert itself and push its way forward in a manner to which we have become increasingly familiar throughout the world.
I know that Ministers are involved in discussions on this subject. The Under-Secretary of State for Trade is to go to Russia in the autumn after some preliminary discussions have taken place. I hope that he will think it right to give the House some assurance before going that he will stand up for our interests. We have seen the pamphlet "Red Duster versus Red Flag", issued last year. It voiced the anxieties of the General Council of British Shipping. I hope that it will be taken to heart, and that the 989 Under-Secretary of State for Trade will make it clear to the Soviet authorities that he is prepared to negotiate on a basis of right and reason on both sides, but that if they do not give the appropriate response we shall be willing to resort to the statutory powers enacted within the lifetime of the present Government. That is another important matter to which the House should turn its attention.
In general, if we live, as we do, in an era of hand-to-mouth politics, in which the Government do not know from day to day what sort of deal they must cobble up with someone else in order to get a majority tomorrow, there is all the more reason for Parliament to remain sitting so that hon. Members can monitor the deals and try to find out which compromise is likely to stick and which is likely to come to pieces in the hands of whichever minority party it is that thinks that it has the Prime Minister finally boxed up.
There is a general point which underlies the need for more time for the House —the great difficulty that hon. Members are increasingly finding in succeeding in catching the eye of the Chair on substantive subjects. I make no complaint about the tendency of certain hon. Members to fail to note the passage of time while they are on their feet, but there is a feeling among some of us that that failing affects Privy Councillors particularly, perhaps because they get the opportunity to demonstrate it more often than we do.
It is also true that the eye of the Chair—and I am not being critical of the Chair—appears likely to favour the Government's partners in compromise and that they take up time which ought to be the time of her Majesty's Opposition. The Liberals, who are not now with us, and other minority parties too numerous to mention are taking a totally disproportionate amount of the time which should be available to Her Majesty's Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has already drawn attention to this.
The situation is made worse by the fact that, if a debate drags, the Government Whips are careful to see that their own time-killers come in and administer a general anaesthetic to the Chamber by making well-chosen 25-minute speeches. 990 That may be a useful service to the Government Whips, but it is not a useful service to Parliament. I hope that while the Leader of the House is turning his attention to other matters in the recess some person will turn his mind to the possibility that, in future, the length an hon. Member takes when he rises to speak may count against him rather more than the number of times he actually intervenes in separate debates. There is much more to be said for the opportunity for Back Benchers to make five 10-minute speeches in five separate debates than there is for making one 50-minute speech on one debate. Our procedure succeeds in preventing other hon. Members from getting into the debates.
Having said that, I shall not give way nor shall I go on for long. I bid for an extra week to be restored to the House for debate. The motion is tolerable as it stands only if it is designed to clear the way for an October election.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) for curtailing his speech. When he calls for the Session to be protracted I hope he will not plant in the minds of our constituents the thought that we spend the recess at languid ease reclining in deck chairs, enjoying sleep and lack of work. It is true that we sleep a little more, and I hope that we shall spend a little more time with our families. It is right to pay tribute to our wives and children for what they have to put up with as a result of our public lives. It is right to express concern about hon. Members of the House who do not succeed in that direction in the way that we would wish. This is not an easy life, either when the House is sitting or when we are in recess. I believe that the length of the recess is right. I hope that we shall use it to good effect on behalf of our constituents in the way that we use our time here.
One wonders whether an extra week would be of any use. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) talked of the need to discuss matters that we have already discussed many times. There would be no point in having another debate on the same subject.
I had hoped that the hon. Member would raise the question of the way in 991 which the courts have upheld the decision of ACAS and have called upon the Grunwick management to recognise the union and give its workers the right to join the union. The hon. Member made no mention of that.
I had hoped that he would mention the unanimous decision of the House of Lords in the Gouriet case to uphold the right of the Attorney-General to decide whether a case should be brought rather than having a plethora of private prosecutions in an area which is fit only for the criminal law.
There has also been no mention of another important matter. I am ill at ease at the thought that we should leave for three months without discussing the way in which private and public companies and organisations are trading with President Amin. I wonder how much trade will go on publicly and privately before the House resumes. I should like to debate that subject.
The trade comes within three areas. First, there is the area covered by the Crown Agents, a public body which has received heavy subsidies from the Exchequer. We have not been able to debate that subject. The Crown Agents are supplying goods not merely for Ugandan armed forces but for the police. That is admitted in a written reply. The Minister for Overseas Development agreed that 38 trucks and two Land Rovers are awaiting shipment to Uganda. I attempted to raise the matter under Standing Order No. 9 but I was told that it was not proper to do so. This is my only opportunity to bring the attention of the House to this trade.
I asked a further question about what goods were being sent out and about the trade that is being carried on with Uganda and my right hon. Friend declined to answer. She said that detailed information about individual transactions was commercially confidential as between the Crown Agents and their principals. I regard that as a scandal, because the commercial confidentiality of the most illegitimate trade since the dealings with the Nazis should be revealed to the House and the country, particularly when it is carried on by a public body.
I also asked my right hon. Friend how much would be lost if we ceased this 992 trade. I was told that the Crown Agents could be sued by the Government of Uganda if they were in breach of their agency agreement to ship the vehicles.
I say to the Crown Agents that they should cease this trade forthwith. If President Amin wishes to come to this country and sue in our courts for breach of contract I dare say that there are counter-claims that could be brought and actions that could be willingly joined.
The Crown Agents should have no part in this disgraceful trade.
That is not all. It came to light last week that the same organisation which is supplying our own forces is knowingly supplying goods to the army and air force and police of President Amin at the rate of £80,000 a month. When the head of NAAFI was asked about this he said that it was a matter about which he had some unease. He said that the organisation was run independently and that it supplied the Ugandan forces from Kenya under an arrangement, made long before independence, with the King's African Rifles. That trade is allowed to continue. The matter should be brought to the attention of the House immediately.
The Chairman of NAAFI has said that he was waiting for a directive from the Foreign Office. If he has not been given that directive the Foreign Secretary should say why. He should direct that the supply of goods to the armed forces of this dictator should cease. This dictator is as bad as any other in this century. The fact that he has killed thousands of Africans rather than Europeans does not make the people he has killed any less dead.
There is a vast amount of trade that has not been revealed, which is carried by private organisations, private companies and private set-ups, all of which answer questions by saying that it is none of the House of Commons' business. I suggest that this trade is a disgraceful form of money-making and that those who are prepared to make money knowingly out of selling goods to Amin's armed forces are industrial Draculas, prepared to gain commercial sustenance from the blood of innocent Africans.
One detail came through a few days ago. About 10 days ago a consignment 993 of Land Rovers manufactured by British Leyland, which is also a public concern to a large extent, was shipped over to Port Sudan to go on overland to Uganda's armed forces via Oman. It was shipped on a Danish vessel and the people concerned knew perfectly well to whom it was going. Panwoods Marine Ltd. was involved. The consignment then went to the forwarding agent, Farlo Forwarding Ltd., a spokesman of which told me that I had no right to knowledge of its business. The spokesman refused to identify himself and said that it was a business matter. He did not see why he should not sell to the Ugandans. I suggested to him that if he had been operating before the war he would not have cared if he had been sending goods to Hitler's army. There is no distinction between that situation and the present one.
We should not be supplying goods to these people. Those concerned well know to whom they are sending goods. The consignment was addressed to the Minister of Defence, P.O. Box 2796, Kampala, Uganda. It went on the Danish vessel "AES". The stevedoring company knew. The people who sold it knew. The forwarding agents can number was 23504. They knew to whom it was going. Abbey Hill Vehicle Services supplied some of the Land Rovers. It has been a long trail of deception, trodden by people who are not anxious that their activities should be known, because they are ashamed of them.
It is a duty of the House to stir up the sand, to reveal the iniquity of that sort of trade. It is only in the House that one can do it without fear, that one can do it openly. It is only here that we can reveal what is going on, whether by the agents or the bodybuilders—Reynolds Boughton Ltd., which has in its hands the vehicles that are still waiting to go to the Crown Agents—or Mr. Neil Honour, of Little Chalfont, on whose land the vehicles are still standing. All those people should now say "The time has come for this scandal to end. We want no part in it." Before the House returns, the unions concerned should say "Our men will not drive these vehicles". I believe that the individuals concerned in the trade are deeply ashamed of it, or they would not be so upset when hon. Members found out about it and sought to reveal it.
994 There is an iceberg of trade. There arc people who are willing to supply goods to whoever will pay. It is a disgraceful trade. The tip of that iceberg has now been revealed. Let us hope that before the House reassembles my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will give his directive to NAAFI to cease its trade and that the Crown Agents will say "We are not prepared to make money in this way any more." Let us hope that British Leyland will say "We are prepared to be sued. We shall sell the goods elsewhere.", and that all those in British industry and commerce who are connected in any way with the supply of goods to this dreadful dictator will evoke the shades of Archbishop Luwum, Mrs. Dora Bloch and the 90.000 people who the International Commission of Jurists found had been slaughtered in Uganda, and say "We do not want to soil our hands with this trade any longer."
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I am sure that the whole House understands the deep feelings of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) about the matter to which he has just referred, over a wide range of which I suspect he would find wide agreement. But I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not take up that matter but bring the House back for a few minutes to a direct House of Commons matter. Incidentally, I am obliged to the Leader of the House for having been in his place most assiduously throughout the debate.
The matter to which I wish to refer has been mentioned, but not the particular point that I want to raise. I suppose that for most hon. Members the decisions that they had individually to make after Tuesday's debate and all that led up to it will rank in their minds as some of the most unpleasant that they have had to make during their membership of the House, for to sit in a quasi-judicial capacity upon one's colleagues is exceedingly un pleasant.
I very much resent the statements that have sometimes been made, though not, I think, so far in this debate, that decisions were made on the basis of some party consideration. I set clearly upon the record that I was approached by no 995 party Whip and by nobody acting in my party for a group of any kind. Of course, I consulted hon. Members—as a matter of fact, on both sides of the House. Of course, I took counsel and listened to others. But in the end I came firmly to my own view, and I would justify to anyone the votes that I cast, which are on the record. I very much resent the imputation that there was some kind of conspiracy in the matter. That kind of assertion does no credit to those who make it.
But what I do accept is that what happened on Tuesday has once again thrown the searchlight, or should throw it, upon the way in which the House has decided —I think rightly—that hon. Members' interests outside the House should be recorded. It is this point that I seek to take up with the Leader of the House.
It will be a very poor day for the House when hon. Members are not enabled, if they so desire, to have outside interests. One reason, but by no means the only one, why I hold that view is that as I see it the present and increasing danger is the growth of the party machines against individual Members of the respective parties. For example, there are tendencies, through the sums of money that the House has now thought it right to vote for the leaders of opposition parties in particular, greatly to increase those leaders' patronage. I am against it, but the will of the House may eventually be that substantial sums of public money should be made available to the political parties, which will in effect again substantially increase the patronage of the party leaders concerned.
I am making no reference to individual party leaders. Far less am I making any criticism of any holders of those offices. I am talking in general terms and in terms of principle. If the day comes when all hon. Members are solely and completely dependent upon their parliamentary salaries, their ability to stand up individually against the strength of the party machines will be considerably weakened.
It is for that reason, partly, and for others, that I have always had outside interests. I have always declared them. They are on the Register, as they should be. It is that matter that now causes me concern, because the truth is that, quite rightly, one cannot be a secret mem- 996 ber of one of the learned professions. One can be looked up in the appropriate records, as I can. I am a company director. One rightly cannot be a director of companies, large or small, secretly, for one can be looked up in the Register. But one can be a representative of an interest. One can be what in America would be called a lobbyist—or one could until recently—without anyone knowing anything about it.
I do not think that there is anything wrong with industry and commerce increasingly equipping themselves with the weapons to understand and be informed about this place, for this place is daily and increasingly involving itself in the commercial and industrial life of the country. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who has now left the Chamber, corrected himself as a result of a helpful intervention, but the inference was clear in the early part of his speech that it was really only on the Conservative Benches that there should be concern about the matter. Let me say clearly, from personal knowledge, that industry and commerce increasingly equip themselves with, and want, the advice of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I remember a personal experience, when I was approached by a substantial combine that had recently bought an industrial complex in my constituency. This is going back some years. It asked me very courteously and pleasantly to accept a retainer. I refused it, in considerable anger. I was then told—and the combine was very apologetic—that it was very sorry, but it also operated in another part of the country where its Member of Parliament was, as it happened, a then hon. Member of extreme Left-wing tendencies, who regularly berated the private enterprise system. It had given him a retainer and felt it right to even the matter up by giving me one as well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] I do not name former hon. Members.
Such an episode can no longer occur —or I hope can no longer occur—because of the Register. And it is the Register of our interests to which I direct my attention, for I believe that it is in grave danger of becoming devalued.
I do not think that sufficient attention has been given to the special report from 997 the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which reported to the House as long ago as 21st December 1976. I have always been an advocate of this Register and of ensuring that these matters are brought out clearly in the open. However, the last paragraph of that report has not had the attention that it should have had. It states that:Your Committee are of the opinion that until the House has enforced its original Resolutions and upholds the integrity of the Register, by this or other means, it will diminish Your Committee's standing to publish a further edition. They are not, therefore, prepared to commend such a further Register until the House has expressed a view on the force of its Resolutions".I have been in correspondence with the Leader of the House on this matter, and he wrote to me on 4th May. The last paragraph of his letter stated:As to the question of debating the Register I am sure that the House will wish at some stage to return to this matter, perhaps in the wider context of standards of conduct in public life generally, but I am afraid that I cannot promise time in the near future".It is now proposed that we should reach the end of term without having had that debate. We all know what the difficulty is. It is that there is one right hon. Gentleman, who is known to us all—the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—who refuses to obey what I regard as the rules of the House as they now are and to supply the necessary information. I would add, incidentally, that in accordance with the traditions of the House I gave written notice to the right hon. Gentleman that I intended to make this personal reference to him, and I received written confirmation from him.
Because of the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to obey these rules we are apparently hamstrung. I regard it as intolerable that one right hon. Member, however distinguished, should be enabled by his action or lack of action completely to hamstring what the rest of the House by a majority believes to be right. I make clear, so that there should be no misunderstanding, that I suppose that I dislike the right hon. Gentleman's policies as much as any other hon. Member in the House, but if there were one right hon. or hon. Member above any other who I could not believe was capable of wishing to hide some kind of com-998 mercial interest it would be the right hon. Member for Down, South.
I must go on to say something that is not easy to express, and I shall try to put it as delicately as possible to the Leader of the House, and without innuendo. It is a fact that the Leader of the House is now in a weak position politically in this matter because, as we all know, he and his colleagues have come to what one might call an arrangement or an understanding with a number of Unionist Members—an arrangement that is related to or hitched to the Speaker's Conference on representation in Northern Ireland, about which I shall say nothing. Therefore, it behoves the Leader of the House to be particularly careful to avoid the slightest suggestion—which I accept is not in his mind—that he is dealing less firmly with the right hon. Member for Down, South for that reason.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Although it has been reported in the Press that such an arrangement or understanding has been reached between the Government and representatives of the Unionists, no such understanding in any sense whatever has been reached, and I therefore intervene at once to repudiate any such suggestion.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
If that is what the right hon. Gentleman tells me I accept it without question. I think it is fair merely to say that a reading of the speeches of some leading Unionists—not the right hon. Member for Down, South—would lead a reasonable observer to have reasonably supposed that some kind of understanding was in existence. However, be that as it may, this is a House of Commons matter. There is one distinguished right hon. Member, a former Minister, who is refusing to fall in with the wishes of the House in a week in which we have seen, sadly, the departure from the House of one hon. Member. I shall leave it flatly at that. We have had an unhappy debate this week and none of us would ever wish to have to debate again the conduct of any hon. Member.
In this week it seems important that we should do everything we can to restore public confidence in what I believe to be our corporate high standards of behaviour. 999 One of the mechanisms for doing this is to ensure that any outside interests that any of us may possess are stated openly and clearly. I shall not be prepared to adjourn until I hear the Leader of the House assure us that he intends very soon to move with firmness in this field.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I wish to raise a matter which became admitted public knowledge only at the beginning of this week. Therefore, there has been no opportunity to put down questions, to raise the matter on the Adjournment or to obtain a statement on it from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
The matter concerns an article in the Johannesburg Sunday Times quoting an interview with Mr. Alexander Van Wyk, deputy director of the South African Bureau of State Security, which is commonly known as BOSS. The interview contained the admission that BOSS agents are operating in this country. I should say in fairness that since the publication of that article Mr. Van Wyk has claimed on BBC radio that the story is inaccurate and that he has been misrepresented. It is equally true that the editor of the Johannesburg Sunday Times has also been questioned about Mr. Van Wyk's original statement and his subsequent denial, and the editor has maintained complete belief and faith in the integrity of his reporter, Mr. Hooper, who I understand is a journalist of good repute and reliability.
These admissions are extremely serious and warrant the fullest investigation by the Government. Mr. Van Wyk tended to give he impression in his article that BOSS was a benign organisation concerned simply and solely with the security of South Africa and that it was not much more than an intelligence-gathering operation. In fact, BOSS, as all who have fallen under its control know well, is a secret police organisation that carries out the most harassing methods of interrogation and is feared as an enemy of democracy as part of the South African apartheid régime.
These admissions go even further than saying that agents have been operating in Britain for the past five years. Mr. Van Wyk is reported to have said: 1000All countries have intelligence services. Most Western countries have under-cover agents here"—by this he means South Africa—I know those from America, France, Britain and Germany. Every now and again we get together to discuss our mutual interests.That is a very interesting admission. Mr. Van Wyk also said that BOSS agents abroad looked after South Africa's external security and stated:Their job is certainly not to try to overthrow a British Government whether pie like this one or not. There would be no sense in it and anyway we don't have the money. It would mean paying huge sums to people with the influence to do something tangible. Britain is thousands of miles away. If it were Tanzania that was involved it might be a different matter.Mr. Van Wyk denied that BOSS engaged in criminal activities while engaged in this, but he admitted:We have entered some places to make photo-copies, but obviously an efficient intelligence service gathers its information without the person involved knowing about it—otherwise there would be no point.That is also very interesting. Mr. Van Wyk also revealed that BOSS taps telephones in this country. That is certainly a criminal activity. Among the other things that he mentioned, according to a report from Johannesburg, was that BOSS has had secret agents working abroad for the past five years who were trained in the United States and Western Germany. These are very serious matters and one might ask what evidence there is, apart from the Press reports, of BOSS activity in the United Kingdom. Anyone who is active against apartheid, as I am, as Chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, knows that offices are broken into and that the homes of South Africans are raided, but that in each case nothing is stolen and only papers are disturbed. Money is left untouched. That is the kind of harassment or calling card for which BOSS is responsible. It is saying "We know where you are. You may have left South Africa. but we can follow you."
We know of the disruptive attempts to make the work of the Anti-Apartheid Movement extremely difficult by interfering with its petitions against the supply of arms to South Africa and by issuing bogus petitions. It would be surprising if all these things were done by anyone other than those connected with South Africa.
1001 I have specific questions that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House should look into before we rise. West Germany is a member of the EEC. Why should it be involved in the training of South African agents? Some Press reports say that the United States Government are complaining bitterly that the British Government are dragging their feet in their policy over South Africa. Why should the United States be involved in the training of South African agents? Are these agents known to the United Kingdom security service? Are there these cosy little chats about joint policy and objectives and the pooling of information? That is something that should be answered.
We have been constantly assured over the years that there is no contact between South African personnel and our police, security services and defence forces. Strangely enough, only recently a man called Brigadier Visser came on a private holiday from South Africa to Britain but stayed for only one day before returning. I refuse to believe that he was not here to have contacts with Scotland Yard. He said in South Africa that one of his reasons for coming here was to lecture Hendon Police College on crowd control. That man was involved in the Soweto business, in which many people were killed.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that these are very damaging admissions. At least he should give us an undertaking that the South African Ambassador will be summoned to the Foreign Office and told that the matters are so damaging as to require his withdrawal unless the activities cease, never to happen again in the future. A further point should be made to him. It is that we regard members of the Commonwealth as allies and partners, and that any attempt by BOSS security agents to subvert the Government of Tanzania or any country of the Commonwealth would be treated seriously, and that we would protect the country in question.
I want to deal with the thread that has run through a number of speeches concerning Tuesday's debate. In particular I want to refer to Early-Day Motion No. 465 in the names of a number of hon. Members. Those hon. Members have sought through the motion to criticise the Father of the House by 1002 expressing no confidence. They put the motion down knowing that it would appear at a time when it could not be debated and knowing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) would have no opportunity to reply to any charges made against him. No charges are specified in the motion. The general charge is that he had the temerity, in the view of those hon. Members, to put down a motion of censure and suspension against one right hon. Member and one hon. Member, both of whom are still in the House. Why pick on the Father of the House? Why not censure all the signatories to the motion, or all those who voted for it?
The curious difference here is that when both Members made their statements on Tuesday and withdrew, a strong plea was made in the House that they should be allowed to return, to get fair play and to be able to listen to what was being said against them. Mr. Speaker agreed to that, and we all welcomed it.
However, when two hon. Members who are signatories to Early-Day Motion No. 465 were in the House a few moments ago and were asked to explain what the motion was about or to withdraw it, they declined to take part. They said that it was not worth bothering about. I believe that a motion of no confidence in any hon. Member, let alone a motion concerning the Father of the House, is an extremely important matter.
The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said that he hoped that Tuesday had seen the end of the episode as far as he was concerned. If Conservative Members think that by tabling organised motions against the Father of the House—motions which amount to attempts by thuggery to intimidate hon. Members against standing up for what they believe in—they can hope to hear the last of Tuesday's debate, they are making a stick to break their own backs and they will very much regret their cowardice.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I wish at the outset to comment on one part of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I think that it could have been interpreted as meaning that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. 1003 Powell), in deciding not to comply with the resolution of the House and to make a declaration of his interests, was refusing to do so in order to bring about the situation in which we find ourselves, namely, that the Select Committee has refused to publish any further reports. I think that my hon. Friend assents with the sense in which I am speaking—
§ Mr. van Straubenzee indicated assent.
§ Mr. Gow
However, it is clear that the purpose of the right hon. Member for Down, South—and who am I to seek to defend him or explain his remarks, since he is well able to do that?—in refusing to make a return of his interests is wholly unrelated to any wish to prevent publication of future editions of the register. I say that having heard him explaining on the radio his reasons for refusing to comply with the resolution of the House. I find myself in respectful disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman, although I understand and respect his motives in the matter, which, as we would expect from him, are honourable.
There are two reasons why the House should not adjourn today for the long recess. The first relates to the deeply disturbing situation in the N.W.2 district of London concerning the collection and delivery of letters. I want to reply to a criticism levelled at my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) because there was some element of consternation on the part of Labour Members that my hon. Friend should seek to raise this issue. Two comments need to be made. When we are sent to this place we come as Members of Parliament as well as representatives of our constituencies. It is perfectly proper for an hon. Member to raise issues of great public interest which affect the operation of the Post Office Act and the whole principle of the monopoly under it, even though the particular incident is outside that hon. Member's constituency.
It is the duty of a Member of Parliament to draw attention to issues such as this which affect legislation that we have passed in this House and legislation that we might pass in the future.
Secondly, only a comparatively small number of hon. Members have constituents who are not affected by this issue. 1004 Many of our constituents wish to write to people living in NW2 or wish to receive letters from that district. They are being gravely inconvenienced and many of them are suffering financial loss.
§ Mr. Spearing
I made some remarks on this issue earlier. I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not deny the hon. Member the right, or, as he sees it, the duty, to raise this matter. My point in criticising the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was that he was prepared to take up cudgels on behalf of the NW2 postal district, but that when, earlier in the year, 20 postal districts in East London were in an equally serious situation, he took no interest in the matter.
§ Mr. Gow
As we are debating whether the House should adjourn for the Summer Recess, as there are yet no problems in E2 and as there is a very real problem in NW2, it does not seem to be in any way unreasonable that my hon. Friend and I should want a reply from the Lord President on this subject before the House rises.
On Monday of this week my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) asked a Private Notice Question of the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State replied that he was considering whether the Post Office monopoly should be lifted in this case. Indeed, he went further, and said:The Post Office has put to me the suggestion that the Government should consider revocation".That is, revocation of the monopoly.I told the Post Office when it put it to me, that at this stage it is the view of the Government"—and he added—the political view of the Government—that to do that would exacerbate the situation."—[Official Report, 25th July 1977; Vol. 936, c. 31.]I believe that that was a very serious statement, because the Secretary of State was telling us that to remove the monopoly would exacerbate the situation. The Secretary of State does not seem to have understood—my hon. Friend and I seek to impress this upon the Lord President—that the situation has been very gravely exacerbated for those who are living and trading in NW2, and that the prospects of increasing the already fearfully serious level of unemployment if this continued 1005 interruption of the mail goes on is very grave.
I was with my hon. Friend last evening when those who are carrying out trade in NW2 came to the House. It is perfectly clear that unless the dispute is resolved and unless, in the absence of a resolution of the dispute, the Post Office monopoly is lifted, there will be businesses in NW2 which will go bankrupt. I ask the Lord President when he replies to the debate to address his mind very clearly to the very real hardship and anxiety—my right hon. Friend on Monday referred to pension books being held up—involved in this immensely serious situation. It is placing in jeopardy the livelihood, the solvency and the employment of many citizens living only a few miles from the Palace of Westminster.
I turn to another serious situation. I wish to refer to what was said by another Minister on Monday. I do not believe that we ought to go into the Summer Recess without a further statement from the Government about Rhodesia. There was one very disturbing passage in the Secretary of State's answers to supplementary questions. The Secretary of State said this:If it had been in my power, I would have removed Mr. Smith the day that I took office. I make no secret of that. I do not believe that he has a contribution to make to black majority rule and peace in the country."—[Official Report, 25th July 1977; Vol. 936, c. 42.]I do not think that the Secretary of State was making a contribution to the important peace initiatives on which he and the American Government are now engaged by talking in those terms about a person with whom he is negotiating and, whether we like it or not, upon whom there will rest a very real responsibility for leading Rhodesia in the coming months.
On Monday the Secretary of State explained, rightly, that though Mr. Ian Smith was not the de jure Prime Minister of Rhodesia, he was the de facto Prime Minister of Rhodesia. It is the Foreign Secretary who has sent his own envoy, Mr. John Graham, to Salisbury to carry out discussions with Mr. Smith. It was very unfortunate that the Secretary of State should talk about Mr. Smith in these terms in the House when these discussions are continuing and when there may 1006 well be a further mission from London to Salisbury.
If we are to try earnestly to seek a solution of the Rhodesian problem, we ought to avoid language of that kind. I hope that the Lord President will tell us that we are not going to have any further language of that kind, but that we need now to operate within the de facto framework in which we find ourselves, and that comments of a personal nature about the personalities involved are not in the best traditions of British diplomacy.
Therefore, I hope that when he replies to the debate the Lord President will address himself to the very serious situation for traders in North London, and will also tell the House that we are to have a higher standard of diplomacy when referring to the Prime Minister of Rhodesia.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I intervene to draw the attention of the House to an industrial dispute in my constituency between the National Union of Journalists and the proprietors of North of England Newspapers Ltd., which publishes the Northern Echo, the Evening Despatch and the Darlington and Stockton Times. The dispute is on the issue of the closed shop. Over 100 journalists have been on strike for the past eight weeks. Feelings have been running high, and about 40 people have been arrested for incidents arising from picketing outside the premises of the newspaper.
Since the dispute began the Royal Commission on the Press has reported and made certain recommendations on the subject of the closed shop which, in my view, if adopted by the management would lead to a speedy settlement of the dispute. The report sets out what it calls "essential safeguards" in a situation in which there is a closed shop. These safeguards are set out on page 163. I shall not weary the House by reading out the six paragraphs appertaining to these safeguards. The NUJ has agreed to accept every one of them, but to date—
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
I must correct the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) on a very important point of fact. The NUJ annual delegate meeting, which is the central governing body of the NUJ, specifically 1007 rejected one of the most important of the safeguards. It refused to give journalists the freedom from disciplinary action for anything they might write.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The information that the hon. Gentleman has is different from mine. I am in contact with the leaders of the strike and I understand that they are prepared to accept the six principles set out in the report. I am certain that if negotiations could commence between the newspaper proprietors and the journalists on these six principles some accommodation could be reached. I am advised that in principle the six recommendations are accepted by the NUJ.
§ Mr. Aitken
The hon. Gentleman is putting his finger on what is essentially wrong with the NUJ. Any wildcat chapel in the NUJ can and does make pledges and say things that are subsequently dishonoured by the central governing body—the annual delegate meeting. That is specifically why the management in this dispute cannot put any faith in what a bunch of chapel leaders are saying.
§ Mr. Fletcher
To add to that, many wildcat proprietors can take a particular stand. We know of a Scottish newspaper proprietor who will not allow a trade unionist on his premises. So one cannot pick out a particular type of trade unionist and say that his views represent the view of the majority. Nevertheless, although there may be reservations in some quarters of the NUJ, I have not seen any statement from the Newspaper Proprietors' Association that it is prepared to accept these six safeguards.
Those of us who were involved in the Committee stage of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 know of the hysterical campaign waged by the newspaper proprietors, led by that jack-of-all-trades, Lord Goodman, against the right of journalists to the restoration of the position that appertained before 1971, that is, the right to struggle for a closed shop. That is all that the Act did. It has long been the policy of the NUJ to strive for a closed shop in its industry.
The argument is put forward that the closed shop would undermine editorial freedom, but this has always seemed to 1008 me to be a phoney argument, because journalists employed by the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express and many other newspapers, not only in Fleet Street but in the provinces, work under closed shop agreements. As far as I know, there have been no complaints from the editors that their editorial freedom has been interfered with in any way. Indeed, the printing staffs of North of England Newspapers Limited are engaged under closed shop agreements. If the rule applies to the printing staffs, there seems to me to be no reason whatever why it should not be applied to the journalists.
The issue of editorial freedom, in my view, is a smokescreen. The real struggle, the real strife, the real antagonism, is about money. The proprietors are concerned that by conceding a closed shop they will add strength to the bargaining power of the NUJ, and the possibility is that they will have to pay higher salaries. The salaries of journalists in Darlington are disgracefully low, compared not only with what is paid in Fleet Street but with what is paid in other provincial centres.
My purpose in raising this problem in our Adjournment debate is to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will give a categorical assurance that he and the Government accept the six principles covering editorial freedom laid down in the Royal Commission's report, and, if they do, whether the Government will convey their views to the proprietors of North of England Newspapers. Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is possible for the Government to intervene to bring the two sides together, so that the problem can be solved?
The printing unions have now decided to support the journalists who are on strike at Darlington, and have suggested that they will take every possible action to support their colleagues who are now on the picket line. This may well mean a disruption of the industry in Darlington, and if it is extended nationally it may have great repercussions on an industry already suffering severe financial problems. No one wishes that to happen.
I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance that he will do his best to induce the employers to accept the section of the Royal Commission's report to which I have referred, 1009 so that negotiations may commence and the dispute may be amicably settled.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I hope that the House will not adjourn for the Summer Recess until the Secretary of State for Defence has had an opportunity to make a statement to the House about the future of a particular project which is giving rise to considerable concern at the moment in the defence industries.
I refer to a project with a rather arcane title—the 7511 lightweight torpedo project. I have here a copy of a letter which the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, has sent. Trained observers of this scene can detect the type of phraseology that spells potential cancellation. The letter, which is dated 7th July 1977, says such things as this:As is done periodically on all our major projects, the 7511 torpedo is currently undergoing a review of the technical progress, time scales and costs, and these factors, together with the results of trials, when available, will be considered carefully before reaching a decision. I recognise the importance of the project to the preservation of jobs at Marconi, but, as I explained when I met members of ASTMS on 8th December last year, while it is our principle to buy British whenever possible, there are many factors in the pocurement decision to take into account. As you know, we must provide the service with the best available equipment we can afford within the required time scale. In order to do this we must need first to consider fully all the various options open to us, including the possibilities for collaboration with our NATO partners and for foreign purchasers.That sounds fine as far as it goes, but I feel it necessary, in view of what is involved, to say a few words about the history of the matter. The torpedo industry, if I may so describe it, has had a rather fraught history in the years since the war. Twenty years ago a project called the Mark 24 was started by the Admiralty's underwater weapons establishment. This ran into great problems, and in 1969 Marconi Space and Defence Systems Limited was called in and asked to make it good. It managed to do so. At the same time, it was asked whether it would, in effect, become the main Government contractor—in fact, the centre of the future Royal Naval torpedo expertise
To meet this request, Marconi spent over £3 million of its own money. Since that time it has deployed over 500 personnel in building up its capability. The 1010 7511 programme in question was started shortly after that time. It would be foolish to deny that it has had its problems, but these have now been satisfactorily overcome. I understand that the Royal Navy is perfectly satisfied with the progress of the project. Most of the complaints come from the direction of the Treasury. Indeed, it has been said that the Treasury has shot down more Royal Air Force projects than the Luftwaffe ever achieved, and the Treasury now seems to be on its way to sinking more ships and disposing of more torpedoes than the Germans managed to destroy in the last war.
The present state of affairs is causing great concern not only in Marconi Space and Defence Systems but in all the other companies which are sub-contractors to it. It is estimated that at the time when the 7511 enters service, in 1982, about 5,000 people will be employed on the project. Moreover, they are very highly skilled and highly specialised people. This is the really key point of which the. Secretary of State ought to take particular note.
It has taken about seven and a half years for this particular capability and expertise to be developed in this country, virtually from scratch. If we look at an allied and related industry, such as the guided weapons industry, we see that the ability of British industry is second to none any where in the world, but it has taken at least 20 years to develop that capability.
It seems that there is now the possibility of the purchase of an American project, which is the development of something called the Mark 46. To make matters worse, it apparently performs less well than the British project. The 7511 represents a new generation of technology, whereas the Mark 46, I understand, represents an extension of an already considerable life. There is the possibility of a loss of technology in this country which would be involved in a purchase across the foreign exchanges, and an increasing reliance of the Royal Navy on a foreign source. It would be a quite considerable slap in the face for the Marconi company, which has invested over £3 million. Several hundred people came into the industry, having decided to make their careers in it in the belief and understanding that there was a future for them in British underwater technology.
1011 I hope very much indeed that no decision will be taken on this matter and quietly slipped in during the considerable length of the Summer Recess. I express the hope that it will still be possible, even at this late stage, for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House to allay the considerable fears that exist on this matter.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
I think that many hon. Members regard such debates as this as charades. But I suspect that if the motion were defeated it would leave many hon. Members thunderstruck and extremely unhappy. Indeed, it would cause great grief to many hotel and package tour operators and others who are eagerly awaiting the departure of hon. Members from the House to other places.
I should like to mention three particular matters before we rise for the Summer Recess. At the outset, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council for the extremely diligent way in which he has attended throughout the debate.
§ Mr. Madden
Indeed, throughout this week. The interest shown by my right hon. Friend, especially today, is in sharp contradiction to the outrageous allegations made against him in the early hours of this morning by Opposition Members regarding his attitude to the House. I hope that many of those who made such allegations in the early hours of this morning will have reason during the recess to ponder on and to withdraw them.
First, I should like to comment briefly on a subject that I have brought to the attention of the Lord President and of the House on a number of occasions. I refer to the serious problems facing the British textile industry. During the next few months, while the House is in recess, that industry will have cause for grave anxiety because of imports, uncertain world trading conditions and uncertainty about the outcome of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement that lies at the heart of any assured guarantees for the industry over the next four years.
1012 The short-term crisis demands that the Government should give the industry assurances about the extension of the temporary employment subsidy. Some 250,000 workers rely on the subsidy for their employment. A high proportion of that total arc employed in the textile industry. I hope that tonight my right hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance to the industry that TES will continue. It is of great importance to many textile workers and their families to know that before we go into recess.
The situation surrounding the renegotiation of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement is uncertain. Talks collapsed this week. It is clear that the negotiations are being led by the Common Market and that British interests are being represented by a Common Market negotiator. Therefore, we face an extremely grave position. There is pessimism whether an agreement can be reached on which the British industry can face the future with any confidence.
Our industry demands that the conditions that have been laid before this House as the British negotiators' position in those talks are honoured. If we cannot achieve the conditions that the House has agreed to, the industry expects the Government, with or without the support of the Common Market, to take unilateral action to protect it. I understand that the Common Market comes back into being earlier than the House of Commons. The Commission and all the other institutions affecting the Common Market begin their work again in September. I hope that the British Government and their negotiators in those talks will insist on the conditions that we have agreed being honoured and, if they cannot be honoured, will insist upon Britain taking unilateral action at a later date this year.
Secondly, I should like to refer briefly to the matter so ably argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher). I refer to the dispute that is going on in his constituency between members of the National Union of Journalists and the proprietors of the North of England Newspapers Ltd.
I declare my interest as a member of the NUJ, and express support for my colleagues who have been in dispute in Darlington during the past few weeks. I believe that the dispute could be 1013 resolved quickly if good will were to prevail on both sides to the same extent as it prevails on the part of the NUJ.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said that the journalists are happy to accept the principles that have been set out in the report of the Royal Commission on the Press. I believe that those principles could form the basis of an agreement that could bring about an early resolution of the dispute. Indeed, it could set the foundation for a much happier atmosphere in the national and provincial Press than has prevailed for some time.
I believe that the Royal Commission report has served the very useful purpose of exposing the fallacies, myths and hysteria that have been associated by hon. Members with the post-entry closed shop policy of the NUJ, which is no different from the policies pursued by many other unions.
I hope that we shall get a statement from the Government tonight stating that they accept the principles set out in the Royal Commission report. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is under an obligation, as from March this year, to draw up a Press charter. I think that progress made on that matter will not only help to resolve the Darlington dispute but make sure that there are no further needless disputes of this kind.
I finish this section by commenting briefly on the views of the newspaper proprietors who are involved in the Darlington dispute. They are representative of the last-ditch opposition within the newspaper industry to the acceptance of journalists operating a post-entry closed shop policy. Other enlightened and progressive newspapers have already agreed to these arrangements in recent months. One proprietor in East London has been thrown out of the Newspaper Society for his pains. That is an indication of the reactionary views that prevail within the Newspaper Society.
I certainly hope that we shall have a statement tonight that we are making progress and can reach agreement on these principles, because that would be the beginning of a much happier situation within the newspaper industry.
1014 My last comments concern matters referred to by others of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I should particularly like to follow the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton).
I should make my position clear as a member of the Select Committee on Conduct of Members. I was extremely unhappy about the way that the House dealt with the Committee's report on Tuesday evening. It was a travesty. I believe that anybody who read the report objectively could not have come to the conclusion that the House reached on Tuesday. I suggest that that opinion will become widely shared as time goes on and more people read the report. Earlier my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that there were matters in the report that the House could not ignore. I believe that there are very important matters in the report that cannot be ignored. The matter is not settled.
The House took note of the Committee's report. The Committee asked that matters that it believed to be of importance should be considered by the usual channels and by the House as a whole. The report is far from dead. The Committee referred to live, topical issues of concern, and, as was said earlier, the House will discharge those matters at its peril.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Would the hon. Member draw upon his experience as a member of the Select Committee to admit that, whatever else may be said, a body of 10 people sitting around a table is a pretty imperfect judicial system and that this is a weakness that has been revealed by the events of Tuesday?
§ Mr. Madden
I do admit that it has its weaknesses. But the Select Committee members were elected by the House, and the Select Committee was established by the House. The form of the Select Committee's inquiry was known before it was established, and it was agreed by the House. Many people find it extremely difficult to accept that, having had the support of the House on each and every stage of the establishment of this Select 1015 Committee, the House should merely have taken note of the Committee's report. I think that this ill becomes many Conservatives and some hon. Members on this side of the House. The House should have taken to heart the messages coming out of the report.
I draw attention to the rôle in this affair of Mr. Paley-Phillips and the story in the newspapers about Mr. Poulson on 17th June 1973. I quote from page 7 of the report, which says:Inquiries within New Scotland Yard soon established that this story was based on a bogus document prepared by a Mr. Paley-Phillips, who was a Higher Legal Executive Officer in the Police Solicitor's Department at Inner London Crown Court. There had not been any intention to question these Members, or any grounds for so doing, and Mr. Paley-Phillips was aware of this. By 21 June the truth of the matter was published in the press. Mr. Paley-Phillips was promptly obliged to resign. Your Committee at first found it difficult to understand why Mr. Paley-Phillips was not prosecuted. Possible reasons for this were given in evidence to Your Committee. To pursue this matter, however, would have taken Your Committee outside their terms of reference.Question No. 50 in our report shows the tasks facing the House. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) asked the former solicitor of the Metropoltian Police:If the Director is right that there is no offence against the Forgery Act and no other serious offence revealed by this forgery, does that not show a very serious gap in the law?The reply was:Yes it possibly does.I hope that many hon. Members will agree that this exposes a very serious gap in the law. How many hon. Members can justify a situation in which there was a malicious intent to forge a document accusing hon. Members in the most disgraceful way and causing them considerable embarrassment? Then a few days later it was found that it was all a hoax—a hoax that has been dragged up time and time again and held against those hon. Members in a most disgraceful fashion.
In a happier situation perhaps we could have stayed here in order to remedy this. It would have been an extremely useful couple of days' work to plug this gap in the law.
In the introduction to the report on page 5 we read:On October 19 1976 the Attorney General informed the House 'there are not sufficient 1016 grounds to merit the commencement of any further prosecutions or continued inquiry into the possibility of obtaining further evidence of criminal offences. I have accordingly agreed that the investigation (into the affairs of Mr. Poulson) should now be brought to an end.' (HC Deb 917 c 361). The Prime Minister quoted this statement in his speech to the House on 1 November 1976, recommending the appointment of Your Committee. He reminded the House that in 1972 it had been decided that Parliamentary inquiries should not be started until a statement such as this could be made, lest they should prejudice decisions about possible prosecutions. Your Committee's task, therefore, was precisely defined. It was concerned with the activities of Mr. Poulson only in so far as they affected persons who were, or at the relevant time had been, Members of the House. Further, in view of the Attorney General's statement, the inquiry was not concerned with criminal activities, but with action which might have been contempts of the House, or which might have fallen below the standards the House was entitled to expect of its Members.Therefore it is very clear that the Select Committee was established only after it was seen that there would be no further prosecutions and that a continued inquiry into the possibility of obtaining further evidence of criminal offences, and after the criminal investigations on these matters, had all been brought to an end. Presumably that statement was made solely about the offences and inquiries into matters relating to the United Kingdom activities of Mr. Poulson. Presumably it did not affect any other matters relating to Mr. Poulson outside the United Kingdom.
These matters were taken up in a book published in 1974 by two excellent journalists entitled "The Story of Reginald Maudling and the Real Estate Fund of America—a Little Pot of Money". The book was written by Michael Gillard, with an introduction by Paul Foot, who is the nephew of the Lord President. The foreword to that book says:On 18th July 1972, Reginald Maudling, Britain's Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister in the Tory Government, resigned from office. The reason he gave at the time was his involvement with John Poulson, the bankrupt architect from Pontefract who was facing investigation by Scotland Yard's Fraud Squad. The unanimous verdict of the Press was that this was a piece of bad luck for Maudling, who had inadvertently strayed into undesirable company while seeking 'a little pot of money for my old age' (his own words) during his time in Opposition. The public, on the basis of the facts available, were persuaded to sympathise with this point of view.But what Maudling did not mention in his resignation statement was that for almost two 1017 years he had continued as Home Secretary while the Fraud Squad had been looking into another venture in which he had previously been involved. That was the Real Estate Fund of America, an "offshore fund" which crashed in December 1970 owing its investors some £4,000,000.REFA was the brainchild of Jerome Hoffman, an American who had been run out of New York for a fraudulent mortgage scheme.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many hon. Members have been waiting here for a long time to make a brief contribution. The hon. Member has been speaking for nearly 20 minutes and he could have made all these points in his speech in Tuesday's debate. Is his action not an abuse of the custom of the House when other hon. Members wish to speak briefly about the Summer Adjournment?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The hon. Member asks me whether it is proper for long speeches to be made. That is not a point of order. However, I have grave doubts in my mind whether the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) is right in criticising the conduct of an hon. Member of this House, which can be done only on a motion.
§ Mr. Madden
I have been here since 4 o'clock this afternoon. I have explained that it would not have been in order for me to raise these matters on Tuesday when we were discussing the Select Committee Report because the report was identified and defined as a full inquiry into matters relating to this House as they were affected by the business affairs of Mr. John Poulson. The matters to which I am referring now were outside the terms of reference of the Select Committee inquiry, but I believe that they are urgent and should be brought to the attention of the House and the public before the House adjourns.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member wishes to criticise the conduct of another hon. Member of this House he can do so only if he puts down a motion.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Surely an hon. Member can be criticised at any time without any kind of motion having been 1018 put down. That is what this place is all about.
§ Mr. Madden
I shall continue quoting:REFA was the brainchild of Jerome Hoffman, an American who had been run out of New York for a fraudulent mortgage scheme. Maudling became first President of the company that managed REFA and, although he had resigned, remained a major shareholder until the Fund's collapse. Despite this, little has been said in the Press about Hoffman or REFA, although Maudling's involvement with both companies was considerably more significant than with the Poulson companies. This book puts the record straight. It is the untold story of Reginald Maudling, who nearly became Prime Minister, and Jerome Hoffman, who went to jail for fraud. For the first time it reveals the details of that bizarre and ultimately fateful association and considers the responsibility borne by public figures who lend their names to promote the business schemes of others.It is extremely important that we should know before the recess whether the Leader of the House could give us an assurance that there is no reason to believe that any right hon. or hon. Member faces any cause or impediment that would prevent him from visiting any overseas country. It is also important for the House to know before the recess whether the Leader of the House has been notified by any authorities of countries outside the United Kingdom that there is any such cause or impediment or that there is any possibility of proceedings being taken against a right hon. or hon. Member that has not been reported hitherto. These matters are important. They cannot be brushed under the parliamentary carpet.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)
May inquire whether the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) has followed the invariable practice of the House, and has informed my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) of his intention to make this attack today?
§ Mr. Madden
I follow the practice, as a full-time hon. Member, of being here to attend important debates and I expect the same of other right hon. and hon. Members. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I should have thought that my answer was explicit in that reply. I should have thought that the action that I have taken had been made clear by what I have said.
§ Mr. Tapsell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the invariable practice of the House that if an hon. Member intends to launch a personal attack on another right hon. or hon. Member he writes to inform that other right hon. or hon. Member of that in advance? Would it not be wise for us to continue to follow that procedure?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I should be wrong if I indicated that there was any practice other than the one that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Horn-castle (Mr. Tapsell), I have always understood that it is normal practice to send a note to an hon. Member if there is to be a personal attack on him.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not within your recollection, or that of your distinguished predecessor in the Chair, that this issue has already arisen in the debate? I made a personal and critical reference to a right hon. Gentleman. I expressly made it clear that I had written to that right hon. Gentleman and had received a written acknowledgment from him, saying that he had received my reference to the effect that I intended to make a personal reference to him.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Chair accepts that proposition, is it not also important that hon. Members should give notice to other right hon. or hon. Members when tabling hostile Early-Day Motions about them?
§ Mr. Madden
I wish to conclude by quoting someone whom I have never previously quoted. That is the new British Ambassador to Washington. He recently published a book in which he said:The Government and the governed become more and more alienated from one another".He was referring to the United Kingdom. He went on:The governors believe the governed to be irretrievably greedy, feckless, idle and recalcitrant, while the governed believe the governors to be stupid, corrupt, power-crazed and unrepresentative".1020 I do not agree with the solutions that the new Ambassador to Washington advocated to deal with that malaise. However I agree strongly with that analysis.
The events of Tuesday have done nothing to remove that unhappy situation from our shores. I hope that we shall in future—during the recess and after it—address ourselves to what lies at the heart of our report, which is that as long as hon. Members are allowed to have outside financial interests, a potential conflict of interest between an hon. Member and his outside interests will present a problem. It is a situation in which private commercial interests can have superiority over public interests. That is wrong, and my view is shared by many hon. Members and by the overwhelming majority of the people that we represent in the House.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I shall be as brief as possible. I wish to raise a serious matter concerning the prison in my constituency. I should not normally do that, but I do so because the Prison Officers' Association in Maidstone has indicated to me that it has confidence in neither the Home Office management nor the prison governor.
In my personal experience, the prison governor is a most excellent man and I can make no criticism of him without knowing far more about the matter. However, I am extremely concerned about the Home Office management and, in particular, about the attitude of Lord Harris of Greenwich. The noble Lord has a habit, which is particularly irritating to those of us who live in Kent, of signing his letters "Harris". There is in Kent a much-loved figure who is also called Lord Harris, but who is a very different person from Lord Harris of Greenwich.
The difficulty from which we suffer in dealing with Lord Harris, who is the Minister responsible for prison matters at the Home Office, is that the noble Lord has never had the advantage or disadvantage of being an hon. Member. Therefore he believes every little bit of codswallop that his civil servants dish up to him, and he regurgitates it for the benefit and edification of hon. Members who write to him.
That is why I seek to raise the matter tonight. When I meet prison officers 1021 from the gaol tomorrow morning they will tell me about all sorts of grievances —half of which I know already. The House is about to rise for the recess—unless I can stop it—and because of that I shall have no recourse to any action except writing to Lord Harris of Greenwich. I know as surely as anything that the rubbish that I should get back from him would be pure civil servant-ese containing no merit, no sympathy and no depth of consideration for the point of view of the prison officers, who are themselves civil servants. The prison officers are people of great integrity, doing a most unpleasant, dangerous and difficult job. I therefore urge the Lord President to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to my few short remarks tonight and to urge that the Home Secretary should attend to the complaint that I expect to lay before him during the next few days.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I should like to make a plea that the House does not rise until we have had a statement from the Home Secretary on a very important matter—the refusal of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis to intervene in the proposed National Front march in Lewisham on 13th August.
I received a letter today from the Commissioner in which he says that he has taken all available factors into account but, after careful consideration, has decided that he cannot on this occasion seek the approval of the Home Secretary for an order to prohibit the march. I understand that under the Public Order Act 1936 the initiative to stop such a march must come from the Commissioner. The local council has to be consulted and the Home Secretary has to give his approval.
The Commissioner's decision is a gross error of judgment. The march will take place in an atmosphere that is extremely tense following the recent arrest of 21 young black men in Lewisham. The march clearly has only one aim—to stir up racial tension in an area where it is very high and where it is very difficult for those who care about public order to keep it in check.
The proposed starting point for the march, which has been agreed by the police, is Clifton Rise in Lewisham. This 1022 is an area where black people live and gather. The route goes right through Lewisham High Street on Saturday afternoon when my constituents want to get on with their shopping in peace.
Responsible people in Lewisham have decided to hold a separate and peaceful march away from the National Front march, but many people in Lewisham and throughout London are so affronted by the decision of the National Front, which is joining the British Union Party and the National Party on this occasion, that there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to prevent a probable serious breakdown in public order in Lewisham on Saturday 13th August.
Two days ago, I went with a fairly high-powered delegation including the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), the Bishop of Southwark, in whose See the march is due to take place, and the Mayor of Lewisham, to plead with Metropolitan Police officers to take into account our experience of what might happen in the town during August before coming to a decision. Within 48 hours I have received a letter saying that they had listened to us but had not taken our advice.
I have mentioned the affront that will be caused to ordinary citizens who want to go about their business in peace and have also referred to the breakdown in public order that is almost certain to occur however much those who care about law and order want to prevent it.
I was moved more than anything by the Bishop of Southwark's memories of the East End in the 1930s. When we went to see the police, the Bishop said that after the 1930s when the Second World War broke out, Church and community leaders were accused of keeping silent and doing nothing while the East End marches went on. The Bishop felt that it was his responsibility not to make the same mistake twice in his lifetime.
I know that the initiative must come from the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, but the Home Secretary has one right. He may seek an audience with the Commissioner at any time. I 1023 plead with the Leader of the House to ask the Home Secretary to seek that audience and to request the Commissioner to reconsider his decision.
If the march goes ahead, my colleagues and I will do all that we can to ensure that the citizens of Lewisham obey the law and behave in as responsible a manner as possible, but all the civic leaders in the town are frightened of what may happen. I should not feel happy to start the Summer Recess until the Home Secretary has at least made a statement about the danger and until we have taken the sort of precautions which, if there is a serious breakdown of law and order, we would wish that we had taken while the House was sitting.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The House should not adjourn for the Summer Recess until it has considered a most important matter that deserves urgent attention, namely, the attack made upon our security services by the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). Given the source of the attack, it must surely warrant the attention of the House and the Government, but we have not yet had any statement from the Government. Are we treating this matter as seriously as it deserves to be treated, considering the source of the attack?
The news of the attack burst upon the world on the front page of the Observer on Sunday 17th July. An article in the names of Colin Smith and Andrew Wilson said:Evidence with the Observer shows that on two separate occasions M15 (as D15, the counter-intelligence service, is still commonly known) formally advised Wilson that, contrary to their personal declarations, two of his Ministers had connections with Warsaw Pact countries. Both these charges proved to be almost comical cases of mistaken identity.It went on:Sir Harold's suspicions were voiced in a long series of meetings with two journalists, Barrie Penrose, 35, and Roger Courtiour, 36, who, at the start of their meetings in May last year, were working under freelance contract for the BBC. They have since made available to the Observer their notes of these meetings and others they had with Sir Harold's political secretary, Lady Falkender.The article contains a long series of criticisms of MI5 and includes quotes 1024 from the right hon. Member for Huyton. The Daily Express was not slow in getting in on the act. On the following day, an article under the name of Chapman Pincher included a paragraph saying:some politicians believe that Sir Harold Wilson fought a battle in the last few months of his Premiership against MI5—writes Don Coolican.One wonders how we should treat these matters. After all, they concern a person of considerable influence and power—a man who wielded almost absolute power within our democratic society while he was Prime Minister. He apparently made the assertions in an attributable briefing and presumably we must take them seriously. Yet some of them seem to take us into the world of Agatha Christie and James Bond.
The Sun said of this affair:Even the one great genuine conspiracy, Watergate, started off as a series of gigantic dangers, and the conspiracy proper did not start until after the cover-up.Are we witnessing a British cover-up? Why was the right hon. Gentleman's normal method of dealing with such problems—a Royal Commission—not adopted? That was the course he adopted over the problem he had with the doctors over pay beds; a Royal Commission was set up when this Government had a certain amount of trouble with the lawyers.
This is a problem concerning the most significant and most important institution, in a way, within the State. Allegations have been made by a former Prime Minister and apparently nothing has been done. Surely the present Prime Minister, who is constitutionally responsible for the security services, should make a statement. Surely he should say whether his predecessor was telling the truth and whether his allegations are justified. If they are justified, there must be an inquiry. Of course, it may be that the right hon. Member for Huyton was not speaking very seriously. Perhaps he was sounding off in a fit of pique. These are, however, matters of importance that must be set against the fact that many people still do not know why the right hon. Gentleman deprived us of his services as Prime Minister. There are many questions to be answered. Surely this is a matter that should be dealt with on behalf of the Government before we adjourn. The whole business should be cleared up.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I apologise to the House for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. I shall be penitentially short. There are two matters that I wish to raise, one of them being an echo of some of my hon. Friends' remarks.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will be in a position to reply to the first matter that I wish to raise. I have written to the Ministry concerned in the hope that it will have briefed him so that he will be able to give us a detailed account that may be satisfactory and may enable us to go away in peace, so to speak.
The first matter concerns the long saga of Lonrho. It will be recalled that last year there was a report under Section 165 of the Companies Act that criticised in considerable detail the activities of this remarkable multinational conglomerate. The report especially criticised its sanction-breaking activities and the extravagant financial incontinence that it apparently permitted to take place for the enrichment of its directors, who seem to have been living the life of Reilly at the expense of shareholders' profits and to the detriment of the investment that would otherwise have taken place. That was in July of last year.
In a debate that took place on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill certain hon. Members complained of the bullying activities of Lonrho's directors, which I thought amounted to about as near a breach of privilege of the House as one could gel. No doubt it was intended to deter the ventilation of certain matters. I am glad to say that that was not the case. Some of us ventilated them during the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) raised them again in another debate later in the day. We still do not know the answers.
I understand that certain matters were put before the Director of Public Prosecutions. I want to know if and when we shall get some results. It may be that the evidence does not warrant prosecution in any of the matters that have been brought forward, but the issue cannot be left in abeyance. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say a word 1026 or two that may be of comfort and reassurance to some of us.
My hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and Sowerby (Mr. Madden) referred to last Tuesday's unsatisfactory events. I do not propose to go over those grounds. Whatever may be thought about the judgment of the House in respect of various persons, the finality of that judgment must be accepted. However, after my right hon. Friend has had a well-earned rest, which I am sure he will have in the next few months, I hope that he will brew over the question whether it is time that we had legislation that demanded of hon. Members standards of conduct in relation to pecuniary interests at least as stringent as those that are demanded of local councillors.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows the provisions of Section 94 of the Local Government Act 1972, which repeats earlier legislation. It not only debars a councillor from speaking but provides a severe penalty for councillors who vote or speak in a matter in which they have an interest. We know that in local government to make a disclaimer or an avowal of one's interests does not act as a sort of immunisation certificate. Local government demands far more of a local councillor than we demand of hon. Members.
I cannot help thinking that several hon. Members would have been out on their ear long since—not necessarily in respect of the events of this week—if local government conditions had applied in the House. Although their behaviour has been permitted for many years by the usage of the House, it is to my mind quite inexplicable that it is permitted. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give an answer before we depart.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
Earlier this week it was announced that unemployment in the United Kingdom had reached the staggering and disturbingly high figure of 1,600,000, representing 6…8 per cent. of those seeking work. What is more, the trends are in an unfavourable direction. When we compare the figure with 12 months ago, or with last month, it is clear that it is increasing. The national trends are also reflected in the West Country. Unemployment in 1027 Cornwall and Devon is getting worse, despite hopes in the far South-West that the worst of the economic crisis had passed.
Cornwall's current unemployment rate is precisely 10 per cent., representing 12…3 male unemployment and 6…3 female unemployment. The figures published earlier this week show that there are local variations. There have been some marginal improvements in the tourist areas, especially at coastal locations, but this is only a temporary respite and the prospects of finding employment in the medium and long term are still bleak.
In spite of local reductions in holiday resort areas, the total number of unemployed in Devon increased by 1,607 to the worrying total of 27,674. Plymouth, a key industrial and commercial centre in the region's economy, showed an increase of over 1,200 people, making a total of 11,685. There were corresponding increases in the associated employment exchange areas in my constituency of Saltash, Gunnislake and Torpoint.
Before the House adjourns for three months we should have a statement from the Government that they are aware of the high level of unemployment in rural areas, especially the far South-West. I say in no facetious manner that we are lumped together in the South-West with areas such as Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol. Whitehall looks upon the region in that way, with the result that the unemployment rate appears as 7…3 per cent. in the statistics. It is a fact that the further west we go so the lack of job opportunities increases, unemployment levels increase, levels of income decline and the industrial base narrows.
We have had a succession of statements from Ministers on the action that they are taking, especially to deal with youth unemployment. We had a major statement from the Secretary of State for Employment on 29th June in which he announced measures costing a total of £160 million a year. However, I hope that we shall have a statement that will acknowledge the severe situation that exists in the far South-West and in rural areas in general, that the Government measures will be sufficiently flexible and adaptable to take account of our particular requirements and, finally, that we shall get a firm indication that part of the 1028 further sum of £100 million for the building and construction industry will be made available to areas such as those I have described.
As we do not have a wide industrial base in Devon and Cornwall, we are even more dependent than are most regions on the building and construction industry, both for employment and for our overall economic prosperity. Therefore, I urge upon the Lord President to take my observations on board. This is a very serious and very disturbing problem at present in Devon and Cornwall.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
In common with the hon. Members for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) and Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), I wish very briefly to say that the House should not adjourn until it has given consideration to some of the present difficulties that are being created by the closed shop legislation in journalism.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute in Darlington, to which I shall turn briefly in a few moments, the fact of the matter is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government's legislation which encouraged and facilitated the closed shop in journalism is steadily poisoning the flow of free communications in this country. It is causing divisive bitterness between journalists, serious disputes between unions and managements and industrial disruption in the newspaper industry which, if the present trend continues, will almost certainly lead to title closures and losses of journalists' jobs.
Ever since the present Government so misguidedly offered in their legislation the potential power of controlling access to the Press to one monopoly union, the National Union of Journalists, we have seen continual outbreaks of industrial disturbance and industrial action—at Kettering, at the Press Association and at many other places, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, now in Darlington, where the NUJ strike has been deliberately escalated in a direction which could possibly halt the entire Westminster Press, which owns 65 separately edited newspapers.
In Darlington, the NUJ members struck because they refused to accept the employment of a woman sub-editor, whose only crime was that she preferred 1029 to join not the NUJ but the IOJ. The consequences of the strike have now been made far more serious by the decision of the print unions to back the strikers in their demand for this sub-editor's dismissal.
The most extraordinary aspect of this strike is that it is blatantly political. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Darlington said, it has little or nothing to do with legitimate trade unions demand for better pay and conditions. I say this because the Westminster Press has effectively shot the NUJ's fox by offering the striking journalists a review body which will examine all journalists' wages in order to guarantee that they will not suffer in their wage packets for the lack of a closed shop. This offer completely destroys the theory that only by flexing the increased bargaining power muscle of a closed shop can the NUJ negotiate satisfactory pay and conditions for its members.
As The Sunday Times said in a fine editorial last Sunday, the Westminster Press offer is a sensible and imaginative one, and one which, if it found favour throughout the newspaper industry, could be the solution to the divisiveness of the whole closed shop problem.
But the NUJ, which is my own union—I declare an interest—will have none of this. It never even bothered to consider this proposal seriously. The hon. Member for Darlington was not even good enough to mention it. The NUJ is sticking to its insistence that all journalists must be members of a single monopoly union—the NUJ. Why? Not because of pay and conditions. If it cared about that, the Westminster Press offer would have been accepted or at least seriously negotiated. No, the blunt truth is that in certain NUJ chapels, extremist leaders are forcing industrial action entirely for political reasons. They may be wild men out of control. Certainly they have nothing in common with the official voice of their spokesman, Ken Morgan.
These political strikes are doing a lot of damage to the interests of readers, to the security of employment in the newspaper industry and to members of the IOJ, but possibly also to the NUJ itself, which is split and is tearing itself to pieces.
1030 We must come back to the memory that this in-fighting, with all its disastrous consequences for jobs and titles, would never have been necessary and would never have happened if the right hon. Gentleman, in his previous incarnation as Secretary of State for Employment, and the Government had simply had the sense to preserve the fundamental freedom of a journalist to write for the Press, to whichever of the two trade unions he belongs or even if he belongs to no union.
However, the right hon. Gentleman, as we all remember, was deaf to all entreaties during those long debates on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. The right hon. Gentleman paid long panegyrics of praise for the moderation of the NUJ and he poured scorn on the theory that employers might sometimes find it difficult to resist NUJ demands for closed shops. How wrong he was! How sick his optimistic words look now alongside the duress and ruthless pressure that the NUJ and its allies have mounted at Darlington and elsewhere. In those debates the Government failed miserably to hold the ring and to preserve certain basic freedoms.
But there is still time for a rethink. As the hon. Member for Sowerby mentioned, under the legislation the Secretary of State for Employment still has to lay before Parliament a Press charter. If that Press charter is as feeble as the safeguards suggested by the Royal Commission on the Press, we might as well forget about it because those safeguards are quite inadequate, simply because the NUJ, which is the most volatile union in the country, shows time and again that it simply cannot stick to any policy or any of its guarantees.
The time has come, with this long rest for the Government, to do a serious rethink to see whether they can prevent these disastrous disputes and preserve the basic freedom of the Press.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said some hours ago that one of the problems facing the House is that there is too much to talk about. I rather think that this debate has, in a sense, proved his point. At the end of it, the Leader of the House will have much to answer for, and that at the end 1031 of a Session of a greatly reduced volume of legislation—a situation that he and his right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary achieved by accident and by inadvertence rather than by design. As a consequence, the House was enabled to debate a great many more matters of general political interest than otherwise would have been the case. We have also prevented ourselves from afflicting and inflicting upon those we seek to represent an excessive volume of legislation. I can only say that I hope that future Governments, of whatever colour, will take due note of what has happened this Session.
A great many points have been made about the House of Commons and matters relating to the House. I do not think this is really an appropriate debate in which to have a discussion about all the various problems that hon. Members have raised in relation to the House, but I should like to mention just one or two of them. There was concern about the procedure in relation to the Select Committee whose report we discussed last Tuesday and whether or not that procedure was appropriate. As I said in the course of the debate on Tuesday, among others, this is a matter that the House of Commons certainly could and should look at.
I certainly go along with those hon. Members who stress the importance of our principle of declaring our interests. I agreed very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said on this subject, and I also agreed with what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said about its importance.
Perhaps I may say to the hon. Member for Newham, South that he gave the impression, whether he meant to do so or not, of such purity on the Government side of the House as to come close to the description of a mob given by the Leader of the House last Tuesday. I do not think that the Lord President is alone in the view that he takes about that.
§ Mr. Spearing
I was trying to correct what might have been a wrong impression during my speech. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that any hon. Member on the Government side of the House who becomes involved in remuneration for certain commercial activities 1032 will not entirely get encouragement from his colleagues, whereas it is apparently a virtue on the Conservative side of the House?
§ Mr. Pym
I do not want to be drawn into a great argument on this now. The only point I was making is that the hon. Gentleman sounded as though he was giving a quite different impression.
Some of us think that the connection between Labour Members and the unions, and the unions and the constituency Labour parties, is not often referred to in this House, and that it is a mistake for each side of the House to suggest that everything is purity on its own side and all offence on the other. It is not like that.
It is regrettable that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) did not warn my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) of the deliberate and calculated personal attack that he decided to make. That is a transgression of the conventions which the hon. Member for Newham, South and others have rightly said are extremely important. It is most regrettable that that did not happen.
I support very much my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham in what he said about the Register. This is one of the matters on which the Lord President ought to say a word. It is perhaps the most important of those House of Commons matters which ought to be referred to by him now.
My. hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) mentioned Prime Minister's Questions. The trouble is that the Prime Minister does not really give proper answers. I am sure that if challenged about that the Prime Minister would say that he was using his best endeavours. I give credit to the Leader of the House for the fact that undoubtedly his best endeavours are better than the best endeavours of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Tebbit
I am not clear in what respect my right hon. Friend meant that. Did he mean it in the sense that he thought the Lord President's answers to parliamentary Questions showed better endeavours than the Prime Minister's or does he think that the Lord President's best endeavours to stop the Bill on direct elections to Europe will prove to be much 1033 better endeavours than those of the Prime Minister to get it passed?
§ Mr. Pym
In a fit of extreme generosity I was expressing the view that the best endeavours of the Leader of the House in answering Questions were superior to those of the Prime Minister.
I want to say that the procedure governing recess Adjournment debates, as experience today might prove, seems to be rather loose. An enormous range of subjects has been raised which places the Leader of the House, whoever occupies that post, in an extremely difficult position. If he were to cover in any substantial way all the subjects raised, we would not need a Consolidated Fund Bill at all, because all the subjects would have been covered before that began.
This Adjournment debate has given rise to an enormous range of subjects. There are only three on which I should like to speak for a short time. The first concerns the subject raised by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the sheriff in Scotland and the actions being taken in respect of that sheriff and the procedure in Parliament to deal with that situation. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to make the point that, as matters now stand, it seems that that sheriff will continue in office until about Christmas time. That does not appear to us to be entirely right and we should like to hear a word about that.
There are two most important matters to which I wish to refer. The first is the postal situation in NW2. This matter was originally raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). The point is that a large number of people—private citizens, businesses and companies—are being grievously disadvantaged. To say that they are inconvenienced is greatly to understate the problem. This matter has been going on for some time and there is little prospect of its coming to an end.
I have no doubt that every effort is being made to bring it to an end, but it is continuing, and it is an immensely serious situation which affects citizens who have legitimate grievances. We should like to hear what are the Government's intentions.
1034 The other matter relates to the situation in Rhodesia, which was originally raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Every hon. Member is concerned about what happens in the southern half of Africa. I think there is obviously a risk —I hope that it does not arise—that the situation there could deteriorate. The Lord President must give an assurance that if it does deteriorate he will not hesitate to recall the House in order to explain to right hon. and hon. Members what has happened.
In respect of those two matters—Rhodesia and the postal situation—we have the possibility of a recall during the course of this recess, which will last for about three months.
I conclude on the general situation in our country and the predicament into which the Government have led our country. I should like to do so by reminding the House of one sentence that was used at the beginning of this Session. I take it from the Gracious Speech. It sounds full of confidence and hope. It reads as follows:The achievement of our national objectives will be possible only if the inter-related problems of unemployment and industrial performance arc tackled successfully.Here we are nine months later and there is nothing but distress and failure on all those fronts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) referred to unemployment, which is immensely serious. We know that everyone in the Government is no less happy about that. But by their policies they have not dealt properly with inflation, they have allowed unemployment to rise, and industrial performance is basically static. That is a wretched record.
The country would have had an opportunity of pronouncing upon that record were it not for the so-called pact that was entered into with Liberal Members of Parliament back in March. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was the only Liberal Member to express doubts about it at the time, and he has expressed them more strongly lately. Many of us feel that his were very wise remarks in relation to the pact.
1035 After all, the only real basis for the pact was in order to allow the Government to negotiate a phase 3. That they have absolutely failed to do, and there is no longer the remotest justification for continuing the pact. Although the right hon. Gentleman has doubts about it, it will at any rate be continued for the time being and, of course, there is an electoral price that will have to be paid in the end.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister is laughing his head off because he is able to stay in office when he ought not to be able to stay in office, in view of the wretched economic performance of this Government.
If we do adjourn tomorrow we shall perhaps come back for a Prorogation and, thereafter, I hope that we shall take the political argument back to where it properly belongs, to the hustings, where we shall allow the British people to say once again which Government they want to have to control the affairs of this country.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I thank the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) for the words of sympathy that he has expressed to me in having to deal with the huge number of subjects raised in the debate. If I do not cover them all as fully as they ought to be covered, I hope that hon. Members will excuse me, because to do that would mean making a speech of appalling length.
However, I hope that I shall say enough to dissuade the House forcibly from the course which has been prescribed —that we should not depart in a day or so. It will take all my powers of eloquence to do so.
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that, subject to completing the parliamentary business of both Houses, it is expected that the sitting on 26th October will be a formal one for Prorogation immediately after Prayers and not for the purpose of announcing an immediate General Election as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. As the House knows, the new Session will be opened by the Queen on Thursday 3rd November. To mark Her Majesty's Jubilee Year, it is pro- 1036 posed that the proceedings should be televised.
We shall then proceed to the full Session of that Parliament. The House will fully expect me to set aside the lighthearted comments of the right hon. Gentleman. That Parliament will probably go through its full period and then the people of this country will have the fullest and best opportunity to pronounce their verdict.
I shall take the speeches in the order in which they were delivered. If I make an error I hope that hon. Members will call it to my attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) gave us a forecast of the subject that he intends to raise later. I shall not comment upon that. He also made a comment about some of the judges. I shall not comment on that, in the circumstances in which he raised it. He also commented on clothes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend's reference to my sartorial elegance. I shall pass that on to my wife later tonight. One of the phrases that have always drilled into my mind on the subject is one by Thoreau who said:beware of all enterprises which require new clothes".I have always treasured that. It was in my mind when I was appointed, much to my amazement and the country's astonishment, to the Department of Employment. The difficulties have been overcome in the meantime and I am glad that my sartorial habits have been so well noted by one so qualified to pronounce upon them.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of pay negotiations. There are a whole series of important pay negotiations that will be taking place and my hon. Friend gave a list of them. The way in which the negotiations develop is a matter of major importance for the country. I certainly take account of the seriousness and importance of them. I do not think that he can expect me to comment on them.
My hon. Friend also referred to the Salmon Report, as have other Members. He raised the question of what might be the Government's attitude to the recommendations in the report. The Government are still considering their attitude. I agree that we should have a discussion on the report. I have my own doubts 1037 about the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Salmon. I doubt whether his recommendations take full account of the requirements and rights of the House. I should have to have strong evidence to suggest that we should move in the direction that Lord Justice Salmon recommended in his report. I believe that he is a great expert on the law and on the operation of justice in this country. No doubt he is one of our greatest justices but some of our greatest justices might not know what is the position of the House and some might not know what is the history of the House and how it is essential to protect its supremacy in these matters. I still hold strongly to that view.
The main question raised by my hon. Friend was that of the debate that we had earlier this week on the conduct of Members. It would not be right to reopen the question of these matters in this debate. That would mean that the subject would be only partially covered.
Those who have raised this matter have a good excuse for doing so because of Motion No. 465 on the Order Paper. I believe that that motion is disreputable and should never have been tabled. Certainly, those of us who know the Father of the House—and I happen to have known him since 1934 and, therefore, perhaps longer than anyone else here—know that he has a splendid record of service to the House in a whole range of spheres as Minister, Father of the House and Back Bencher. He has given his brains and energies to the House unfailingly over this period. For any hon. Member to have put his name to that motion in criticism of him for having exercised his right to make a speech and to ask for votes upon it is disreputable. I hope that all those who have put their names to it and who have been so sanctimonious in their criticisms will take off their names before the end of the Session. I shall be glad to hear that recommendation made. I believe that his services to the House are such that no hon. Member in any part of the House should have engaged in putting down a motion of that character.
§ Mr. Tebbit
The Leader of the House has not quite established, in my mind at any rate, why it is not proper for the Father of the House, or indeed any other 1038 hon. Member, to put on the Order Paper or to say in the House things which are critical of other hon. Members, however distinguished they may be. I believe that that is a proper right. I cannot therefore see that it is outside the normally acceptable rights of other hon. Members to place a motion on the Order Paper which is critical of the Father of the House, if that is what they believe.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not complaining of hon. Members making strong criticisms of other hon. Members. That is what the place is for. What I object to is that a motion of this character should be put down at the end of the Session when it is known that it cannot be debated properly. They could have made their protests during the debate. They could have said then that they objected to what the Father of the House asked of hon. Members. I disagreed with my right hon. Friend's recommendations, but for this motion to be tabled is a most disreputable affair.
I now turn to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). He raised the shipping supply problem in Orkney and Shetland. This is the responsibility of P & O Ferries. That has been the situation for many years. We are confident that the company can make suitable arrangements to cover any such emergency. When one of the company's ships is withdrawn for overhaul a vessel is chartered from the Scottish Transport Group fleet. I shall ensure that the right hon. Gentleman's representations are passed to the Scottish Office.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also raised the question of Rhodesia. I can assure him that if there were a major development in Rhodesia which involved decisions that had to be made by this House, we should recall Parliament according to the normal methods. I recognise that that might be a requirement and that the House would wish it. I give that assurance in response to questions by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked of guillotines on constitutional Bills. It would be premature to discuss that. Some difficulties arise even if guillotines are mentioned only a few 1039 days before they are brought into operation. To announce a guillotine three and a half months in advance of when it might be introduced would outrage the constitutionalists who are around me. I do not intend to be tempted on that course.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the length of holiday versus the legislative load. He is entitled to the view that we should try to lighten that load, and indeed everybody would wish to do so. However, I notice that many who urge a lightening of the load are the very people who also urge at that moment that there is a paricular piece of legislation which they believe to be abso-that there is a particular piece of very good legislation which should be put through.
§ Mr. Foot
That lesgislation was subjected to a little trouble for a while and we had a little difficulty with the Opposition. However, we eventually carried that legislation through and, despite our difficulties, it was more effective. We intend to resume that course when we come back in November, and also in 1978 and 1979.
I turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). He raised some query about Prime Minister's Question Time. He noted fairly the fact that, because of the swamping of Questions, some Questions had been transferred by the Prime Minister. The figures go far to show how much care has been taken by the Prime Minister to try to ensure that the new system will work better than did the old system. However, it was an experiment, and we shall take into account the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, who is so great a participator in those sessions. The hon. Gentleman made some suggestions to vary the form of Prime Minister's Question Time. However, the principles laid down by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Procedure Committee still stand and considerable discretion is still to be retained in the hands of the Prime Minister. I do not think that it is possible to deal with the situation solely by laying down rules.
1040 The hon. Member for Chingford said—and I noted his words—"Sometimes I do try to be fair". I think the hon. Gentleman must have been speaking under some strain, but he finally broke down at the end of his remarks and said that he would couch the rest of his speech in a generous frame of mind. That just shows what a fruitful legislative session does for the hon. Gentleman's normally bitter soul. Perhaps that is also the effect of the skill and devastating success scored by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the various Prime Minister's Question Times.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It related more to the effect of the generosity of the Prime Minister in inviting me to share in the seminar with him in the recess. That took me somewhat aback. But if I may be serious for a moment, is it the right hon. Gentleman's opinion that the present arrangement, which expires at the end of this Session, should be renewed? Has he a view how this matter should be discussed?
§ Mr. Foot
If the matter were to be more generally examined, it would have to be referred again to the Procedure Committee. The matter has already been examined by that Committee, and indeed has been examined on occasion by the whole House. I believe that the best way in which to deal with the matter is to try some experiments. We are more likely to find a solution in that way than by having another Procedure Committee making fresh recommendations, and I believe that that is the way we should proceed. I am sure that all hon. Members, whatever their political views, will acknowledge that the Prime Minister has made a genuine and persistent attempt to assist the House. That should be accepted and acknowledged.
I turn to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). I hope that he will excuse me if I do not comment on the sheriff incident. I know how careful everybody must be in commenting on judges, even if they are called sheriffs. Therefore, I must be careful in commenting on the subject, and indeed I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock is a greater expert on these matters than I am. I agree with my right 1041 hon. Friend about Early-Day Motion No. 465 and I shall not return to it again.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman can take it that I shall do what I have done in the past. I shall continue to give history lessons to members of the Conservative Party. One of the troubles of a public school education—and reference has been made to that aspect today—which most right hon. and hon. Members opposite have had to endure, as have some of us on this side of the House—is that those schools do not teach people about the proper history of this country. Every now and again I have to come forward to remind those people of the history of Parliament. It is the House of Commons which has had to establish the rights of trade unionists and it is this House which, time and again, has had to rectify what may have developed in the courts.
That is the history to which I shall constantly draw attention, and when the House resumes in the new Session these are some of the matters that will be brought forward. I intend to repeat what I have said on this subject, and I hope that on future occasions the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and others will quote more accurately what I have said on these matters. The more accurately they quote it, the better their knowledge of history will become.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock spoke in strong terms about a recent debate. I shall not reopen that subject, but I agree with what was said by my right hon. Friend. I do not think that it would be a sensible course for the House to reopen that question now, but there are some aspects of it that must be dealt with when we meet afresh. One relates to the recommendation of Lord Justice Salmon and what we shall do on those lines. I shall not repeat what I said before.
There is also the question of the Register, to which I shall come in a moment. There are other aspects of the matter, some of which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden). There are a number of matters with which we have to deal. We 1042 must conclude that the Select Committee proved itself a better way of dealing with this subject than have tribunals which have gone into these matters in earlier years. Select Committees are certainly much more just to individuals. I am not referring to individuals whose conduct is being investigated, but to the many other individuals who are involved.
It was scandalous in some of the previous tribunals, whether they be Lynskey or Vassall, how the form of cross-examination then adopted meant that innocent people who had done nothing wrong found themselves dealt with in a most outrageous way. They found their names smeared all over the newspapers in a way of which the newspapers themselves should be ashamed. It was very harmful to them. We set out to guard against that, and I believe that the Select Committee reported in a way that achieved that end.
If a Select Committee of that character is set up, I do not say that it is necessary for the House to accept its recommendations or report. Of course not. The House has the supreme power, which it exercised during the past week. But if we are to protect this superior system of dealing with these matters and seek unanimous reports to the House, which was what was secured by that Committee, then if that unanimity is broken asunder when the matter comes to the House, the arrangements and conduct of the Select Committees will be put in greater difficulty. That is another aspect that we should consider. Therefore, I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising these questions in the way that he did.
I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who is not present. He and his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire and his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) raised a very important point concerning the postal situation. I have little to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry said on this subject a few days ago. A derogation from the Post Office monopoly would be required to provide independent postal services in NW2. It is not relevant to the problem of gaining access to mail trapped in the Cricklewood sorting office. As my right hon. Friend made clear on Monday, a 1043 derogation at this stage could well exacerbate the situation. It would be for the Post Office in the first instance to consider the details of any proposals for alternative services put to it.
During the 1971 postal strike—I am entitled to refer to it, because the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury referred to it, though perhaps in misleading terms—all mail caught in post boxes, sorting offices and so on at the beginning of the strike had to stay there for the duration. No arrangements were made for the collection of such mail. What was said by my hon. Friends who referred to that previous occasion was perfectly relevant.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman made contact with the Department of Industry last night, asking for a meeting on the subject today with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The ground of his great complaint to the House an hour or so ago was that this request was not granted. Ministers were unable to rearrange their programmes at such short notice to meet the hon. Gentleman's request, but he was offered a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister of State early next week. I understand that he has not yet taken up that offer. If the hon. Gentleman were to be fully candid with the House, he might have told us that that was proposed, because the impression he left was that he had been treated discourteously and that no proposition had been made for a meeting. If the hon. Gentleman regarded the matter as being of such importance, as indeed it is, he should not have given the impression, which could be misleading, that Ministers had refused to meet him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who raised some questions on that subject which I hope I have covered, also raised the question of the manner, form and timing of some of our motions on EEC matters. I am extremely grateful to him, as the whole House should be, for the way in which he keeps surveillance over these questions. We have a Scrutiny Committee, but my hon. Friend is a one-man Scrutiny Committee all on his own—in some respects as effective as the rest of the Committee put together. I say that not in criticism of the Committee, but in compliment to my hon. Friend.
1044 We shall reconsider the timing. I think that the answer I gave my hon. Friend was strictly correct, but we shall see whether EEC business can be tabled earlier when the occasion permits, when the terms of the motion and any supporting documents are finally available. We shall reconsider whether we can bring forward the time for putting it down, but I cannot give my hon. Friend absolute guarantees, for reasons that I am sure he fully understands.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has departed, so perhaps we can treat his speech with all the solemnity it deserves—and I move straight on to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who has also departed. The question now is whether we should give him equal treatment to that of the hon. Member for Woking. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] That seems to be the unanimous wish of the House. I shall comply with that requirement. The subject that he raised, that of trade with Uganda, is extremely important. I am not giving my hon. and learned Friend any further direct response because it is the wish of the House that I should move on, not because we regard the subject as anything other than extremely important. The Government are watching very carefully how we may make our policies towards Uganda as effective as we can.
I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who touched on the general question of the debate that we had earlier this week and particularly raised the question of the registration of Members' interests. There is a slight misunderstanding by some hon. Members—not, I think, on the part of the hon. Member for Wokingham—about the situation that derives from the motion that was put down on the Order Paper by members of the Select Committee. The fact is that the Register is still sustained and maintained, and anyone who wishes to read it can do so.
The Register has not been abandoned because of the attitude taken by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). However, we did have a motion from the Committee on this subject and members of the Committee would clearly like the House to take further steps. We have not yet had a debate on this, and I 1045 certainly agree that it would be right for the House to debate the matter. I would much rather reserve what I wish to say on this subject until we have that debate because I believe that some other questions are involved in the form of the motion that the Select Committee had put down.
I think that the House, for the reasons that I gave in the debate in another connection, has to be very careful about interventions between hon. Members and their constituents. I know that that is a slightly different application of the principle in the case of the right hon. Member for Down, South. I believe that the House has to be careful in that respect. I repudiate once again any suggestion that a pact, understanding or arrangement has been reached between the Government and some representatives of Northern Ireland in the House. That is not the case, and it is quite wrong for anyone to suggest it. I say this not in criticism of the hon. Member for Wokingham but because of the false reports that have appeared in many quarters on this subject.
What the Government have done is to propose, on its merits, that the matter should be referred to a Speaker's Conference. We have consulted all the parties concerned with this and, after consultations with the official Opposition and other parties, we have constituted a Speaker's Conference representing all parties and groups. The Speaker's Conference will be able to look into this subject on its merits and come to a conclusion. It has nothing to do with any arrangement or any deal that we have. It is the proper way to deal with this matter and it has now been accepted in all parts of the House as the proper way of dealing with it.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has not been accepted in all quarters of the House, because it has not been put to a vote in the House?
§ Mr. Foot
If I have overstated the case, I apologise to my hon. Friend. I should have thought that the representations of those on that Committee would indicate that the Government have done everything in their power to ensure that the representation should be wide and will include people who may perhaps have different views and to ensure that all sec- 1046 tions of the communities of Northern Ireland shall be fairly represented in the way that the matter is looked into. That has been our desire. I believe that when the report comes forward the whole House—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) is an expert on this subject—will have the chance of examining any recommendations made. I believe that we have gone about this in the proper way.
I have already covered most of the subjects raised by the hon. Member for Eastbourne. He also referred to Rhodesia. I have given an undertaking that I do not accept the criticism of the hon. Member for Eastbourne of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about Mr. Smith. It had to be said and I think it was right that it was said. It was necessary that that view should be made clear.
I come now to the question raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), and Sowerby and, in a somewhat different sense, the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken). That question concerns the closed shop and the strike at Darlington. I shall not pass judgment on the details of the dispute. I hope that a solution to it can be found, but I believe that what was said by my hon. Friends constituted a much more helpful contribution than what was said by the hon. Member for Thanet, East. The hon. Member appears not to understand the situation.
There has been a report by a Royal Commission on the Press. That report has not been produced by those who are associated exclusively with the Labour Party in any sense or solely associated with the NUJ. The report contains recommendations about how closed shops and union membership agreements should be arranged. The report recommends how that can be done so as to protect the freedom of the Press.
I welcome the recommendations by the Royal Commission, all the more since they are almost exactly the propositions that I put forward when I was Secretary of State for Employment and was trying to deal with the situation. The hon. Member for Thanet, East disagreed with me then and now he disagrees with the Royal Commission. He and his hon. and 1047 right hon. Friends suggested throughout the country in newspapers such as The Sunday Times that I was a wicked tyrant who was proposing methods which would interfere with the freedom of the Press. They were, of course, nothing of the sort.
At this point in the controversy the Royal Commission has come forward with conclusions which are almost 100 per cent. in line with what I was saying and almost 100 per cent. against what was said by most of the Conservatives. I remember the debates vividly. I was told at the time that I should wait until the Royal Commission came forward with its impartial and understanding verdict. Now we have that impartial verdict. It is 100 per cent. on my side and the Conservatives are angrier than ever. They want to revoke the Royal Commission.
When I went to Durham I met a deputation from the NUJ of those who were on strike. I made it clear to them that I was not arbitrating in the dispute and that I had no power to do so. I simply listened to what they said and promised to report their views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I am glad to report to the House what they said. It was that they were prepared to accept the conditions for the maintenance and sustaining of the freedom of the Press laid down by the Royal Commission. They said that they were prepared to accept that and that surely on that basis there was a chance of securing a settlement.
That is the record of what they said. Unfortunately, it has not been printed in many of those freedom-loving newspapers. Many of them have hardly managed to get the point across. I stress, however, that the members of the NUJ who are on strike have said that they are prepared to abide by the conditions laid down by the Royal Commission without any of the exceptions suggested by the hon. Member for Thanet, East.
We have to find a solution which meets two objectives. They are to sustain and protect the freedom of the Press—and I am as much in favour of that as anyone in the House—and to protect legitimate trade union and industrial rights for those who work in the newspaper industry. 1048 Those two objectives can be secured. The Royal Commission has said, to its great credit, that that can be done, and it has said how. I agree with it. I am not in charge of drawing up the charter, but I believe that that charter will follow closely the recommendations that are made by the Royal Commission. That is the correct approach.
When we are able to solve the problem on that basis, people will be able to look back on the controversy and say how unwise it was for hon. Members or for eminent editors such as Mr. Evans of The Sunday Times to say that what they wanted was a special law to protect editors and to protect the position of journalists. I have always said that such a special law would not merely prevent proper trade unions rights from being established but would exacerbate the position in the industry and would raise very awkward questions about the rights of editors. I did not believe that that was the way to proceed.
§ Mr. Aitken
In having his oratorical fun, the Leader of the House has missed the central point. The central point is not just that the Royal Commission's safeguards are thought by some of us to be unsatisfactory—though they are, because they are a compromise with certain principles of freedom. It goes much deeper than that. It is simply that the guarantee of the National Union of Journalists—either its national executive or any one of its chapels—is worthless. It is worthless because the central safeguard of all—No. 4, I think, of the list of six, namely, that a journalist should be immune from being disciplined by his union for something he wrote—has been specifically repudiated by the central governing body—the annual delegate meeting of the NUJ. Therefore, these guarantees are worthless.
§ Mr. Foot
What the hon. Gentleman is saying—nothing could be more disruptive within the industry—is that because he does not trust the NUJ in any of its operations, therefore no agreement ought to be made with it. That is the only deduction to be made from what he said. He is in a rather awkward position, because he continues to insist—he does it openly—that he is not prepared to accept what the Royal Commission on the Press recommends as a fair way of settling this 1049 problem. I believe that we can settle it on that basis. I believe that neither proprietors nor journalists will be foolish enough to follow his advice.
§ Mr. Madden
Does the Lord President agree that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), together with many of his colleagues, are adept at selectively offering the view of the NUJ? Would he agree that what the hon. Member for Thanet, East is saying is in direct contradiction to the evidence given to the Royal Commission by a spokesman of the newspaper company with which the hon. Member and his family were once involved before they sold the three newspapers that they owned to a hotel proprietor?
§ Mr. Foot
I will not go into those latter matters, but I believe that what the Royal Commission on the Press did marks the way in which the question can be solved. I hope that any hon. Members, particularly those connected with the newspaper industry, will be careful before denouncing the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Press on this matter. I say that especially because the Royal Commission on the Press has also vindicated the view, which I have put forward many times, that our legislation was neutral on this matter. The Royal Commission says so. That is signed not merely by those who happen to be supporters of the party on this side but by the majority report of the Royal Commission. Therefore, I recommend all of those who have been misled by the newspaper editors on the subject to read what is in the Royal Commission's Report.
We are reviewing the project to which the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) referred and evaluating the results of the current programme of trials. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence has already informed the House, we are considering all the options open to us, including the possibility of foreign purchase. We shall certainly take into account the employment and industrial considerations, but we must also take into account financial considerations and the need to get the best value for money for the defence budget.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) asked me some questions, 1050 which I promise to answer. I must say that if he puts his questions in as discourteous a manner as he did, I do not see why he should be entitled to answers. If the hon. Gentleman comes here and merely seeks to abuse the Ministers to whom he has been putting the questions, I do not see why we should trouble too much. However, in the generous spirit in which we are all departing, I will give him an answer, or at any rate some advice.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the situation in Maidstone Prison. I shall see that his comments are passed on to my right hon. Friend, with all the abuse suitably edited out. It would be of help if the hon. Gentleman would specify, more clearly than he felt able to do in his speech, the points which exercised him on this occasion. If he will give me a letter tomorrow on that subject, I will see that it is passed on to the Home Secretary and that the hon. Gentleman gets an answer as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Wells
My point, which the right hon. Gentleman seems to have missed completely, is that the prison officers and I are dissatisfied with the Minister responsible. I have already raised this in an Adjournment debate and made no progress and had no comfort. I shall be seeing the prison officers tomorrow morning. I shall write to the Home Secretary tomorrow afternoon, and I hope I shall get an answer from him and not from the unsatisfactory Minister.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman will have to pursue these matters in the way he thinks best, but if he wanted a courteous answer he might have framed his questions in a more courteous manner.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) raised an important question and one that was strictly within his rights in an Adjournment debate, that is to say, the National Front march and the provisions being made for it. I shall see that his representations are passed on to the Home Secretary, who is fully aware of the constitutional position of the Police Commissioner and how that must operate in such circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) 1051 asked whether we could have a fresh debate on Lonrho. I do not know whether we can do that. There are some investigations still going on, which might make it difficult, but I shall certainly see whether there is any possibility of returning to that subject, or any requirement to do so. I have covered my hon. Friend's remarks in some degree in the response that I have made to some other hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) raised the extremely important question, both for him and the country, of the very high levels of unemployment in the West country. He quoted the figures for many parts of Cornwall, and also for my native city of Plymouth. Certainly no one can look at them and feel anything but abhorrence at such levels of unemployment. I have not the exact totals here. I am, however, quite willing to guess that in Cornwall especially, in some parts of Devon, and in many other rural areas, the unemployment position, especially among smaller firms, would have been much worse had it not been for the Government's introduction of the temporary employment subsidy. That is one of the best things that the Government have done.
I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby to the last statement made by the Secretary of State for Employment, in which he referred to the continuation of the temporary employment subsidy. We shall have to see how it can be maintained. As one who had the privilege of introducing that proposition to the House, I believe that the temporary employment subsidy has been invaluable, especially in small pockets of areas in which the unemployment figures are otherwise not quite so deplorable. There are pockets in which individual factories have been able to survive during the recession only because the temporary employment subsidy has been available to them. I am proposing to go to Cornwall myself at the end of next week and will be able then to look into some of these matters. I shall certainly come back no doubt even better informed than I am now, if that were possible. I shall check on the implications of the important questions posed by the hon. Gentleman.
1052 I believe, trust and hope—I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members share the hope—that brings me to the end. If all my speeches could demolish the arguments of those who vote against the Government as easily as this, what a happier place this would be. We shall have plenty of time ahead to repeat this experiment. We shall be back again at the end of October and the beginning of November to proceed with devolution and other measures for which the House is crying out. We shall seek to introduce a whole series of legislative measures. We shall deal with many of the economic problems mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central. We shall go from strength to strength.
Some critical remarks were made about the Lib-Lab arrangements. I should have thought that it would be more tactful and intelligent of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and his hon. Friends to conceal their annoyance on that subject. They could have passed it off in a lighthearted manner, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman is at his lighthearted best on these occasions. But a sombre note came into his voice when he referred to the Lib-Lab arrangement, and all the fury of his invective was unleased on our absent Liberal friends. I was sorry to hear that. I must try to encourage both the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition not to be so furious with the Liberals. It does not help them. They will not ease the situation that way. The more abuse that poured from their lips—I am shocked at any kind of abuse from the Opposition —on the heads of the united absent Liberals, the more my heart was torn.
I hope that the House will accept the motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Wednesday 26th October.