§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 13th June.—[Mr. Tinn.]
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Before we pass the motion I wish, briefly, to ask the Government some questions on two subjects. The first subject is fishing. I have taken part, either in debates in the Chamber or in meetings with Ministers, in fishing discussions practically weekly. As Ministers are aware, the importance of the British plea for a 50-mile national limit is very great. They have said that, to some extent, it strengthens their hand in Brussels if it is constantly reiterated.
In taking a constituency point of view, apart from the general arguments in favour of the limit—namely, the need for conservation and an adequate future for our fishing industry—if the stocks in the North sea were seriously depleted, as they would be if a free-for-all were allowed within a 200 mile limit, some of the Shetland Islands would be without any form of employment. The inhabitants on Skerries, for example, might well have to be evacuated.
Apart from the fishermen, fish processing naturally depends upon fishing and is vital to the islands. Nor is the situation made any easier by oil. There is a danger that the fishermen, seeing their future in jeopardy, may go to the oil industry, which may be of very short-term duration, taken against the history of Shetland.
The particular issue that I wish to draw to the Government's attention, and to ask them about, is the interim judgment given by the European Court on Saturday last, which concerns the Irish claim to extend their limits. It is an interesting judgment. It begins by indicating that the Irish claim might present great difficulties to the common fisheries policy, which indeed it might. It goes on to state that it is not prepared to suspend the Irish claim. In the report in The Times, it appears that the court stated:Although such suspension may appear justified in principle, it is appropriate also to take into account the consequences for the conservation of maritime resources, of the simple abolition of a measure whose efficacy and appropriateness can only be definitely 1578 assessed in the context of the proceedings on the substance of the case.It goes on to state:It is therefore appropriate, before giving judgment on the interim measure requested by the Commission, to give the parties an opportunity to agree within a short space of time upon an alternative solution which might be substituted for the measures forming the subject matter of the proceedings".The court has asked the parties—namely, the Commission and the Irish—to go away until 18th June, which is just after we return from our so-called holiday. The court will resume its sittings on 22nd June. What happens in the intervening period will be of the greatest importance to North Sea fisheries. Am I right in thinking that the Government have no standing in the case? For instance, could they ask to be re-represented? If that is not possible, do they intend to send an observer when the case is re-opened? Will they consider asking whether they can take some part in the discussions?
What is decided for Ireland will be important to the British case. I have long argued that as far as possible we should work in collaboration with the Irish, whose interests basically are very much the same as our own. There is a common need to protect fish stocks around our islands. I hope that the Government will say something about their attitude to the interim judgment and what part they hope to play in the discussions that are to take place.
The second matter to which I draw attention is the statement made in Committee on the Price Commission Bill about the future of the prices and incomes policy. It would clearly be out of order to debate the matter in detail at this stage, but surely it is important that a further statement is made by the Government as soon as possible, if not before the recess, about the implications of the statement.
As I understand it, the Minister takes the view that it represents nothing new. He indicated on Second Reading that the policy probably will not continue beyond next year. He has said that this means that it will not be automatically renewed. He has left open the issue whether the whole matter should be brought before Parliament again. I do not express any view about that, but it appears to be widely accepted throughout 1579 the country that there has been a departure from Government policy. It would be useful to know the true position of the Government.
There is a great deal to be said for a return to a greater degree of free bargaining, but we should not delude ourselves, as free bargaining can take place over only a limited part of the economy. So long as much of the economy is in the hands of public monopolies, there is no reality in free bargaining. What their workers can get is what the nationalised industries can obtain from the Government, the Government obtaining their resources through the taxpayer.
I also think it highly undesirable that, as happened before, pressure should be built up behind the dam, which would suddenly burst on the country with great demands for higher wages, salaries, prices and dividends all at once. There may be a case for a change in the structure, but, until production rises, there can be no case for an overall increase in wages, salaries and dividends. I think that the House should spend a little time on this matter before we leave for the Whitsun Recess.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in what he said, except to say that he will stir up a lot of support on both sides of the House about the treatment of the fishing industry and the unsatisfactory position in which it finds itself in the negotiations.
For my part, I intend to intervene only briefly to express the hope that, before the House adjourns for the Spring Recess, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will indicate more precisely than has been done so far the extent and scope of the inquiry that the Government intend to institute into the issues aroused by the actions of the Daily Mail.
In so doing, I shall follow strictly Mr. Speaker's ruling yesterday and confine myself to previous parallel cases not now the subject of judicial proceedings. I have raised this matter with Mr. Speaker informally. While everyone fully accepts that his ruling is binding in judicial cases and follows the report of the Select Committee of 1963, accepted by the House, I presume that, in so ruling, he was not 1580 in any way qualifying the ruling given by his predecessor Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd in the early 1970s in relation to civil actions.
It will be recalled that at that time the House was anxious about the fact that there had been the Distillers' case on thalidomide—a libel case lasting 11 years—in which no action was taken to bring it to court. Speaking from the Opposition Benches, and with the support of a considerable number of Conservative Back Benchers then sitting on the Government side, I asked that the House should not be inhibited from debating it. Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd made an important breach in past practice, and the House was able to debate the matter. I presume that is not in any way set aside because of the different circumstances today from that particular unpressed, unprosecuted thalidomide claim.
The Daily Mail—this goes back beyond the active memories of the oldest hon. Members of this House, though perhaps not beyond that of the noble Lord Shinwell in another place, but none of us here can recall the details—has been a pedlar of forgeries through the years for one aim only: to influence General Elections either in process or in prospect and to discredit Labour leaders. I say nothing of last week's events, but we can draw our own conclusions.
The record of the Daily Mail goes back to the Zinoviev letter, now widely accepted by all the authorities to have been a forgery. That letter was peddled by the Daily Mail with devastating results on the 1924 election. I refer hon. Members who would like to refresh their knowledge of this matter to the full account in the biography of Ramsay MacDonald, recently published by our late colleague David Marquand, on page 381 and the considerable number of pages which follow.
Then there was the Milhench case. The Daily Mail knew at sight that that letter was a forgery. It said so in evidence at the trial. Yet it splashed it with the title "Was it a forgery?" If it knew that it was, why ask, why publish it, except that it knew, or thought, that an election was impending? It had been told earlier by my Press Officer that it was a forgery, though it had at the beginning regarded it as something real and as a means to discredit me in election week.
1581 I take another case—also the Daily Mail. I do not think that other newspapers in Fleet Street behave like this. They have not the same track record in the matter of forgeries. There was a case which greatly disturbed hon. Members on both the sides of the House at the time. There were allegations that the then Leader of the House, Edward Short—now a noble Lord—had a secret numbered bank account in Zurich. There was no such bank account. It had never existed. That was proved, though reported with rather less space when it was proved. The only allegation had come from a Trotskyite paper of indeterminate origin, but the Daily Mail could not resist splashing it. We see it pontificate about the extreme Left-wing danger to our system of society, but it is not above using a most extreme and irresponsible Trotskyite publication—it did not even carry its address—to discredit a Labour Government.
One must, therefore, ask about its standards. Why? Because, since the first Rothermere was rocked in his cradle, he imbibed from his nurse the doctrine that mud always sticks.
Because of Mr. Speaker's ruling, there are questions that we cannot put about the present situation. It is the first time in my experience that the whole of the rest of the Press has been highly critical—no doubt for good reasons. It may be something to do with a circulation battle. I would not know about these matters. There are questions that we cannot put in this House at this time. But the Royal Commission, which has been asked to look into the matter or any other inquiry can.
There are one or two general issues arising from the earlier cases which may become germane later when all these judicial proceedings are over. In common with the vast number of hon. Members, other than hon. and learned Members, I am no expert in the law. I have never tried to be. If I had, I should never have succeeded. I know that I carry most of the House with me in that.
If, in any of the cases to which I have referred, the Daily Mail believed that the documents were true, genuine, not forgeries, it must equally have believed them to be stolen.
1582 Is there no law about receiving stolen property in this country? If a crook robs an old man of his gold watch and hands it to a fence, the receiver, as I understand it, is open to a charge of being in possession of goods known to have been stolen. So, in any of these cases where the Daily Mail published documents in what, if I may coin a phrase in that connection, is good faith, believing them to have been genuine, it must simultaneously and by that very argument have believed them to be stolen. Therefore, it knew either that they were forgeries or that they were stolen. In either case, it is not a creditable position for it to defend.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has great exepertise in everything except the law, although he pontificates on the judiciary to great effect. I do not ask for a legal ruling today, but I hope that he will take note of these questions which I want to put to him. Is there one law for the underworld, which involves prison sentences for those receiving stolen property, and another law for the Daily Mail?
We hear of "slush money". That phrase has been used a lot in the last seven or eight days. Other papers, not necessarily unprejudiced, have printed stories—as far as I know, they have not been denied—of the thousands of pounds paid in respect of some of the forgeries, or truthful documents, printed by the Daily Mail. All we have had from the Daily Mail has been a statement that it was not £50,000. Of course not, it was £12,000. That, as far as I know, has not been denied. I am not in a position to express any authoritative view about these matters. But I have no doubt that very large sums were paid in the Milhench case for a story which the Daily Mail reporter on oath in court, claimed to have recognised on sight as a forgery. It paid that money for a forgery.
Of course, that is not true, because, two days before polling day, the Daily Mail approached my Press officer and tried to suggest that I had written it and put forward all kinds of assumptions. In the end it got a little frightened by the answers and did not press it until after polling day. The then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), was hoping to defeat us on the Queen's Speech, and the Daily Mail resurrected the story 1583 because it thought that there was another election in immediate prospect. It knew in any case that the election could not be delayed more than six months. No one knows whether the Daily Mail paid for this, but, knowing that it was a forgery at sight, as it claimed, it went on with it because an election was in prospect and because of the doctrine that mud sticks—at any rate for the duration of an election.
I have said that I am not an expert in the law. The House will accept that by this time. But if the law allows anyone to be in possession of property that is known to be stolen, I submit that the law needs changing. It needs changing by this House. Equally, if the law allows payments of sums, large or small, of "slush money" by the Press for stolen property, legislation is needed. I say that this is also an issue for Parliament.
I have mentioned four cases. I shall conclude by asking the House whether this newspaper has ever acted in this way in respect of a Conservative Prime Minister. That is why I say that it is a little biased, to say the least.
I have placed in the Library my evidence to the Royal Commission about some of the incidents. That is contrary to precedent and proved to be a little difficult because if a Minister refers to a paper he must lay it on the Table of the House. I understand that the House has no facility for receiving documents from Back Benchers. But in this special case I have placed the evidence in the Library. There it stands and I stand by it.
My evidence refers to an incident in November 1964, soon after the Labour Government took office. There was a party at Downing Street for the successful Olympic athletes. The party had been arranged by our Conservative predecessors. The drink was bought in their time. The following Monday morning at 6 a.m. the Westminster refuse vehicles came to clear the dustbins. The Daily Mail was there photographing dustbins and empty bottles. Dustmen were induced to pose raising empty bottles to their lips. The photographs appeared in a double page centre spread in the Daily Mail to discredit the Government—what might be called dustbin muck-raking. Did that 1584 happen to any Conservative Government? I do not believe that any other Fleet Street paper, some of which are very politically committed, would have done that.
Two months ago an ex-Labour Prime Minister was preparing to move into a new Westminster flat. Certain security precautions were taken, but while the decorations were being done, a Daily Mail representative trespassed, drew an architect's map of the flat and published it. Two Conservative ex-Prime Ministers have moved to premises within a few hundred yards. Did that happen to them? No the Daily Mail did not invade their flats.
I ask my right hon. Friend to consider that before he replies. I hope that he will give the assurances for which I have asked and that the inquiry foreshadowed by the Prime Minister yesterday will be thorough and will not be a one-off incident.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Will the right hon. Member accept from me that many hon. Members on this side of the House are equally disturbed by what the Daily Mail has done recently and pay it no credit for it. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he is not suggesting that the Conservative Party has had any influence on the actions of the Daily Mail? The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps inadvertently, gave the impression that he might have believed that the Conservative Party had organised these events for its benefit.
§ Sir H. Wilson
I can give that absolute assurance. The Conservative Party does not have standards of that kind. Secondly, it can be only embarrassing for any party to read about such things by someone who claims to be an ally. I accept that this is probably all that happened. The hon. Member did not need to say what he said, but I am glad that he has put it on the record.
The Daily Mail and other newspapers are continually warning against the threat to our democracy from various kinds of Left-Wing doctrines, including Trotskyists. The Daily Mail is not above using such sources for headlines, as it did in the Ted Short case when it published scurrilous accusations which were lifted, without checking, from Trotskyist sources. When the Daily Mail published that story, of course it said that it could not be true. 1585 But it was printed because mud always sticks.
What happened last week, and what has happened from the same stable in the past, is designed not to make Government impossible but a Government of which it disapproves impossible—at least for an extended period. The inculcation of this type of cynicism—the "mud sticks doctrine"—is a bigger threat to our democracy than anything that the Daily Mail seeks to publish.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I want to raise with the Leader of the House his statement this afternoon to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the prospects of legislation for direct elections. What are the Government's intentions on this legislation? The Leader of the House told my right hon. Friend that he intended to bring a communication before the House in the week after we return. I raised this matter with Mr. Speaker on a point of order. There was a further exchange between the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition when the Leader of the House deliberately did not clarify his previous comment. He also failed to reply to one of his hon. Friends who asked him the same question. Can the Leader of the House expand on that matter before we rise for the recess?
Why is it necessary for him to be so secretive about the Government's plans and intentions. The Government told us months ago that they would use their "best endeavours" to bring forward legislation for direct elections to the European Parliament. During the past year we have had debate after debate, questions have been asked of the Foreign Secretary and many questions have been asked of the Leader of the House at Business Questions on Thursdays.
We read in the newspapers that there are divisions within the Cabinet. I do not know whether those reports are accurate. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) will probably have a view about them. We read that the Leader of the House is a leader of the faction in the Cabinet that is deliberately stopping this legislation from being published and coming before the House.
§ Sir A. Royle
The hon. Member may say "good" but this Government have made the promise and public pledge to our allies and friends in the European community, to the country and to the hon. Member's constituents that they will use their "best endeavours". For the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Lee) to mutter about that situation being "good" means that he is encouraging his Government to break a pledge and to dishonour their best endeavours to bring forward legislation.
If the Leader of the House is not leading such a faction or is not part of one, no doubt he will be able to tell us. As a democrat, why is he afraid of the House discussing the legislation and voting upon it? Perhaps the House will turn down the legislation. It may be that there will not be a majority for the Second Reading. There may not be a majority for the various clauses within the Bill when it comes before the House. However, surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the time has come when the House should be given a chance to see this legislation and to vote upon it.
We know that the legislation is in draft and that it could be sent to the printers tomorrow if the Cabinet would reach a decision on the type of system, which I understand—so we read and so I hear—is possibly the reason for the delay. If the Government would reach a conclusion quickly in Cabinet, the Bill could be published. It could be published this week, so that we could go away for the recess and consider it carefully, so that the Liberal faction in the House would be able to consider their position with regard to their allies, the Labour Government. We would then be able to return fresh from our recess, in a fortnight's time, having considered carefully the details of the legislation, and could have a swift debate on Second Reading and move into the Committee stage.
Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to think about this matter again and to try to give us his views on the subject in a more meaningful way before this debate on the Adjournment motion finishes. It is not good enough to say to us "We shall be producing a communication when we come back". Will 1587 the right hon. Gentleman please come clean with the House and tell us why the Government cannot either print the Bill now and introduce it in the first week that we come back, or at any rate introduce the Bill in that week? If he cannot give us that assurance, will he please explain why he cannot?
The second point that I wish to raise is a matter that I think will be coming before the House in the debate that is to follow, but it is a point that I wish to raise now because it affects the whole of the London area in a very major way. That is the proposal by the London Airports Authority to go ahead with the construction of a fourth terminal at London Airport. The construction of such a fourth terminal will inevitably mean an increase in traffic at Heathrow Airport. This will affect drastically the residents living in the London area.
The details of this proposal will no doubt be discussed in the debate on airport policy that is to follow. However, I should like to have an assurance from the Lord President this afternoon before we decide to adjourn for the Jubilee Recess. If the London Airports Authority is not prepared to carry out proper consultation with the various local authorities in the area around London Airport, I believe that this House should not rise at the end of this week. I believe that we should sit next week and that we should ask the Lord President to insist to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the London Airports Authority should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and myself have pressed on the Minister on several occasions, consult, for instance, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, which it has totally ignored in the consultations that it has been carrying out.
I have raised this matter on many occasions, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, and the Authority has still ignored the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Other boroughs will also be affected by any increase in traffic into or out of London Airport.
We know that during this time of the year, particularly over the next month, there will be a dramatic increase in charter flights and shuttle flights. I should like to know—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham 1588 would share my questioning on this aspect of the subject—why these shuttle and charter flights cannot go into other airports in the United Kingdom. Why should most of them come into Heathrow? This is causing a great deal of concern and worry. During the next fortnight, when we rise for the Jubilee Recess—or the Whitsun Recess, Spring Bank Holiday Recess or whatever one cares to call it—there is no doubt that the shuttle flights and charter flights will increase into London Airport, and the inconvenience and disturbance to my constituents in Richmond will get worse, and inconvenience and disturbance to residents living in the London area will be very grave indeed.
Therefore, I should be most grateful it the Lord President, when he answers the debate, could answer, first, the points that I made about the Bill on direct elections and, secondly, give an assurance that instructions will be given to the London Airports Authority to consult all the local authorities that will suffer from an increase in traffic into London Airport before we decide to pass the motion.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
While in no way dissenting from the proposal to adjourn, I feel that the House should not do so until it has had the opportunity of considering a matter which has for so long been discussed and on which nothing satisfactory has been resolved. I refer to the proposal to set up information booths at Euston Station and Victoria Coach Station, where young people coming to London might be advised in such matters as accommodation, jobs, social services and the like.
Concern for the homeless led to the setting up of a number of voluntary associations in the late 1960s, and in Parliament in the early 1970s an all-party group, the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless—usually referred to as CHAR—was set up to work with the voluntary organisations. Regular meetings and visits to projects dealing with this problem were undertaken. There was complete liaison with the various organisations in all parts of the country, including Scotland. In particular, we welcomed the Yorkshire Television documentary "Johnny Go Home" in July 1975, which captured the public interest and led to the demand for action to deal with the 1589 problem of those young people who come to London completely unaware of the pitfalls that might beset them. We are concerned that the momentum should not be lost.
The idea of information booths at the main points of entry into the capital was an obvious corollary to the concern aroused by the television presentation, and in September 1975 the London Council of Social Services set up a working party of interested voluntary agencies. The value of this idea of booths was that it would be effective but also relatively cheap. In March 1976 it published a document—"Help For The Other Travellers". This recommended two information booths—one at Euston and one at Victoria Coach Station. At all times the working party was in complete contact with the Government Working Group on Young Homeless People, a group which was set up because of public clamour and parliamentary insistence.
I do not want to weary the House with a history of the intricate negotiations between the interested bodies. It is sufficient to say that while at first British Rail and the National Bus Company seemed to be responsive and co-operative, these attitudes became more and more negative, so that at present nothing has been accomplished. It is true that the Home Office offered possible financial support to existing agencies for alternatives, but it was felt that none was viable without the support of these booths.
We should not confuse the need that those agencies are serving and that of the booths. Those agencies are grant-aided because they have argued their case in terms of the need for them that at present exists. They and other agencies feel that there is a gap in the chain in making early contact with those young people who will need the services of those agencies and in intercepting those who initially do not need social support but merely accommodation before they need both. This service is currently not provided by any statutory or voluntary body. There is no duplication in this matter.
When people arrive in London for the first time, whether by train or coach, or even by hitch-hiking, there is nowhere they can turn immediately to obtain a 1590 free comprehensive guide to facilities, accommodation, employment and sources of help. Even if they happen to know or accidentally stumble upon a particular agency, it may be closed, or they may feel apprehensive about asking for help. This was very well illustrated in "Johny Go Home", where there was an evident aversion to the official approach. Indeed, if the booths were set up, they might be so designed and manned as to attract people, especially the sort of person who is wary of asking for help.
As a result of this lack of direction combined with an alarming overall shortage of suitable accommodation, too many people, particularly young people, fall into a destructive life-style, which may include petty crime, drugs, prostitution and alcohol, not long after arriving in London. This points to the need for a preventive service aimed at reaching on first arrival people who need accurate information and individual guidance.
As I have already indicated, there has been some question whether setting up booths is the best way of dealing with the problem. I am informed that there is already a precedent in other countries where such services have been available for a long time. At the very least, let us set up a scheme for an experimental period in the first instance.
By careful monitoring, some useful information might be garnered about the mobility among the homeless young. This gap in knowledge has been pointed out in reports and is especially important in the context of rising youth unemployment, about which the House heard so much in Tuesday's debate.
The House might recollect the Gleaves case. Indeed, there may be many hon. Members for whom that unsavoury scandal is now a whisper from the distant past. But unless the Home Office shows a willingness to take positive action, the occurrence of such another case will cause a storm of public reaction. I hope that my right hon. Friend will draw that to the attention of the Home Office. The Home Office should make a firm commitment to the principle of the information booths, and by acting with some urgency overcome the obstacles which have been raised in various quarters during the past two years.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
I believe that the House should not adjourn until it has considered further some of the unpleasant and unacceptable implications and effects of the Government's closed shop legislation, namely, the Trade Unions and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976, which was piloted on its somewhat stormy passage through the House by the Lord President in his previous reincarnation.
I wish to draw attention today to one particular case which highlights the evils of this legislation and to discuss the case of my constituent, Mr. Kenneth Edwards, of St. Peters Park Road. Broadstairs, who has been dismissed from his job simply and solely because he has declined, on genuine grounds of conscience, to join a trade union. As a result of his conscientious objection, and for no other reason, Mr. Edwards has been victimised by the trade union and compulsorily thrown on the dole without any compensation.
This is a classic case of the denial of a man's right to work and the abuse of trade union power. I believe it is right that the House of Commons, which traditionally has been a forum where individual liberties are upheld, should hear the details of an individual case which demonstrates only too painfully how the closed shop legislation can viciously penalise an innocent man who simply wants the right to work.
My constituent is a forty-year-old skilled worker who until the end of March was employed by Petbow Holdings Limited, a highly successful company based at Sandwich specialising in the manufacture of generating equipment, for which it has won several Queen's Awards. Mr. Edwards had his job for more than four and a half years. He was a highly skilled panel wireman, a job for which he was earning, with bonuses, about £80 a week. He was a first-class worker—that is universally acknowledged—and the company wanted to continue to employ him.
However, in February this year Petbow signed a closed shop agreement with the trades union leaders who were representatives of the ETU, AUEW, GMWU and the Boilermakers Society. It may well be that all the parties to this agreement signed it in the sincere belief that a closed 1592 shop at Petbow's would benefit industrial relations. Nevertheless, it has become clear from subsequent events that this closed shop agreement made woefully inadequate provision for safeguarding the individual rights of any worker who for reasons of deeply held personal conviction or conscience wished to continue his job at Petbow without joining a union.
§ Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)
I am sure that my hon. Friend would wish to emphasise that Petbow has up to now had an enviably good reputation with regard to its employees and has made an almost unparalleled contribution to exports, having won the Queen's Award four times.
§ Mr. Aitken
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, in whose constituency this company has its main factory. He is absolutely right in what he says. Before I end my remarks, I shall indeed be paying special tribute to the efforts that Petbow have made not only to industrial relations in general but also in trying to solve the particular difficulties of this individual.
Mr. Edwards is a man of good character, quiet disposition but a certain independence of mind. In no way does he deserve to be labelled as a trouble maker, a member of the awkward squad or a Right-wing militant. He has never been a member of any political party and describes himself as "non-political". Although he has never been a member of a union, he has on at least one occasion supported industrial action taken by a union at Petbow. Thus it can hardly be said that he is someone who is always out of step with his fellow workmates.
However, where Mr. Edwards personally drew the line in his relationship with other workers was when he refused, on grounds of sincere personal belief, to be compelled to join a union. I would quote Mr. Edwards' own words:I believe it is entirely wrong that trade unions should be allowed to force people to join a trade union under threat of denying them the right to earn a living. It should be the right of everybody to decide which organisation they wish to join or not to join without far of reprisal. Therefore my conscience will not allow me to support or follow the unions in any way.Mr. Edwards stuck to his principles and as a result, on 25th March this year, he received a letter from Mr. A. C. Pate, 1593 the personnel manager of Petbow, whose opening paragraph said:Dear Mr. Edwards, I regret to inform you that with effect from 31st March 1977 your employment with the company will be terminated as you did not join the appropriate trade union within the specified period of 28 days. This is in accordance with the company/union close shop agreement.Thus the unfortunate Mr. Edwards was fired. He is now on the dole and he and his wife and two children are undergoing considerable financial hardship. When he came to see me at a recent constituency surgery I told him that I would do everything to help him, including raising the case on the Floor of the House. Since then the Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been doing its best to break the impasse. As a result, Petbow has offered to reinstate Mr. Edwards to his former job and has also offered to pay an annual sum of money equivalent to Mr. Edwards' union fees into the funds of the relevant union, in this case the ETU.
I do not think that in all the circumstances Petbow could have done more to put right the original wrong done to Mr. Edwards. I think the company has behaved honourably. Unfortunately, the leaders of the unions at Petbow have not made a comparable response. To their great discredit, the unions have so far refused to meet the company's offer half way or, indeed, any way at all. I understand that they are insisting that Mr. Edwards signs a membership form for the union, but that is precisely what his conscience will not allow him to do.
I must say that I regard the attitude of the union leaders as an indefensible denial of a man's right to work, and I appeal to Mr. Edwards' fellow workers at Petbow to think again. Surely the unions can exercise a little tolerance towards this genuine conscientious objector. The House will recall that 47,000 men were allowed to be conscientious objectors in the last war. Cannot the trade union movement tolerate a much smaller handful of conscientious objectors in British industry who feel deeply about union membership? Cannot the 800-strong work force at Petbows tolerate one single conscientious objector in their midst? The working people of Thanet and East Kent are traditionally a sensible and moderate sector of the community. I appeal to those of them who work at Petbow to see 1594 whether a better balance between trade union power and freedom of individual conscience cannot now be struck.
When the Lord President answers the debate, I hope that he will support this appeal and urge the unions to take a more conciliatory stand. I believe it is a moral outrage on our society that anyone can be denied the right to work simply because he has sought to express his sincere personal conviction. It is also a most weird aspect of the Government's closed shop legislation that Mr. Edwards' objection to union membership would have been acceptable under the Act if it had been made on religious grounds. How bizarre that the Labour Party, with its long history of support for freedom of conscience for athiests, unbelievers or anyone else, should now take that view and confine itself to accepting only the narrow grounds of religious objection with regard to closed shops.
But the case of Mr. Edwards is by no means an isolated one. Up and down the country there are individual workers who do not want to join trade unions but who are being blackmailed and bullied by the threat of dismissal into signing on the dotted line against their will. One such man is Mr. Edwards. There are many others at this time, particularly in the world of journalism where many uncomfortable pressures are building up.
I wish to comment on the extraordinary speech by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). When he rose to his feet I hoped that he would speak in the tone of an elder statesman. It was deeply disappointing to hear a speech which sounded like a tired old gramophone record playing out the same tune of paranoia of his dislike of the Press. It was the right hon. Gentleman's legislation which introduced the closed shop in journalism which is causing so much chaos today. We as MPs are sent to this place not just to pass laws but to preserve liberties, and I hope that my short speech will encourage people to champion the cause of individual conscience in trade union membership.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
It is ironic that I should be following a member of the Aitken family who has been speaking about pressures on newspapers. I wish to raise a subject which should be urgently considered before this 1595 House rises for the Whitsun Recess. I do not believe that it should rise for the recess until my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has secured from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection an undertaking that any bid for Beaverbrook Newspapers shall be referred to the Monopolies Commission should that bid come during the recess.
We are all somewhat alarmed at what is happening to the crumbling Aitken family empire. I hope that the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) will listen to what I shall say, because I do not intend to make a rancorous speech, simply to defend the interests of our fellow NUJ members who are deeply worried about a possible take-over of Beaverbrook Newspapers, and even of the possible closure of the London Evening Standard.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Thanet, East, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who was once the boy-editor of the Evening Standard in a previous incarnation, will agree with me about the qualities of that newspaper and what a loss it would be, not merely to the City of London but to journalism in Britain, if it were to be summarily closed or were to be permitted to continue briefly in some atrophied existence as a 100,000-plus circulation publication for the City of London alone.
What has been going on in the Beaverbrook empire? Over the past few months it seems that Sir Max Aitken and his family have been considering to whom their empire should be sold. There have been negotiations about a possible merger between the Evening Standard and the Evening News. Hon. Members, of all political persuasions, have had representations made to them by members of the work forces at both the Evening News and the Evening Standard. It is no purpose of mine to make odious comparisons between the qualities of the two newspapers. I tend to read the Evening Standard, but many people read the Evening News and enjoy it, and London would be the poorer without either. The capital should be able to support two evening newspapers with a joint circulation of 1 million-plus.
There is a growing danger that those who work for this ailing newspaper empire, which is now about to be broken 1596 up and sold off, will be put in pawn to people who should not be allowed to buy up those newspapers and those livelihoods, perhaps closing down these places of work, without some serious scrutiny from the Monopolies Commission. I shall come later to the position of Mr. Vere Harmsworth and all he represents. I do not wish to make any great attack today on the editor whom he refuses to remove or on the Daily Mail. I gather that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) has already done so, and I endorse some of the things he said.
When we look at the activities of that newspaper and the three or four onslaughts that it has made upon some of the political parties in this House in recent years, I think that we can call to mind the old phrase which occurs, I think, in one of Ian Fleming's books:Once may be happenstance, twice may be coincidence, but three times is enemy action.We have had, three times or more, examples of the way in which a particular newspaper within the Associated Newspapers Group attacked unscrupulously not only this Government but prominent people in the Labour and Liberal parties and those associated with them. So there is cause for concern about one of the potential piranha fish presently threshing around in these murky waters.
There is particular concern because, whoever buys up the Evening Standard, or the whole Beaverbrook group, whether it be Sir James Goldsmith of Cavenham or Mr. Rowland of Lonrho, or whether it is the wilting empire of the Rothermere family, there will be a significant diminution in the quality of newspapers and journalism in this country.
We have been told that the various bids by Sir James Goldsmith and Mr. Tiny Rowland have been rejected and that they are unsatisfactory to the aging and ailing Sir Max Aitken. The two representatives of these great newspaper dynasties, who are so loud in their protestations about the need to maintain and uphold the traditional freedoms of the Press, have, I understand from a Sunday newspaper, had a meeting to determine the terms upon which the Beaverbrook empire might be sold to Associated Newspapers. I do not think that that can be done without this House and the Government taking an interest. I believe that 1597 they should take an interest because it would be a fundamentally and very seriously damaging blow to British journalism were we to allow the whole of this newspaper empire to be taken over and bought up.
We are told in one of the Sunday newspapers that there has so far been no more than an offer for the Evening Standard, and that this would mean an Evening Standard and Evening News merger. The companies are now considering the future of the entire Beaverbrook group, and Associated Newspapers will make a bid if it can get the approval of Sir Max Aitken. Associated Newspapers and its bankers, Warburg, have been to see Sir Max about this.
The Evening News and, in a different way, the Evening Standard, are making losses. It is no answer to the problems of Fleet Street to close them down, or to attempt to cover up the losses of one by buying out another in the hope that one might be able, by this cannibalistic blood transfusion, to continue with the practices of hitherto.
§ Mr. Aitken
May I ask the hon. Member to accept what is common knowledge, that for some time I have had no personal professional interest in Beaverbrook Newspapers? The hon. Gentleman is living in cloud-cuckoo land when he makes this great tirade against Sir Max Aitken and Vere Harmsworth without mentioning in any way the basic economic facts of life which are that, due to quite disgraceful overmanning and excessive costs in the industry, Beaverbrook Newspapers and every other newspaper company in the country is losing money. Beaverbrook is more vulnerable than any other because it has no outside interest to sustain it. All the tirades against the proprietors are one-sided if they do not include some comment on the overmanning and excessively high costs in the industry.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I did not think that I was launching a tirade against Sir Max Aitken. I have a certain sympathy for the position in which he finds himself. I understand that he is not the man that his father was—perhaps he never was. Because of the hereditary patterns of ownership in British newspapers, he is perhaps disposing of the fortunes of the 1598 people who work in three major newspapers, at least one of which—the Sunday Express—is, I understand, making a profit.
I accept the personal comment by the hon. Member for Thanet, East, and I do not in any sense attempt to draw him into this. It simply seemed ironic that I should be speaking after him in view of his remarks about journalism and the threats to it.
As for his last intervention, I think that I accept, as do all the journalists who have been to see me, that it may well be that the new technologies are the saving of evening newspapers with the problems that they face, particularly in the metropolis, and that serious attention will have to be given to the problems the hon. Gentleman raised. This is perfectly well understood, even if it has not been adopted across the negotiating table.
To close down the Evening Standard or to reduce that paper to one of mini-circulation and of an up-market quality will leave us with—God save us all—the Evening Mail as the only mass circulation newspaper, based on, of all things, the Daily Mail. This would be disastrous, especially to those of us who rely very much on the news media for our information. It would be a threat to democracy as such.
As I told the hon. Member for Thanet, East, I was not launching a tirade against Sir Max Aitken, but there are elements of reproof in what I have said about Mr. Vere Harmsworth. I stick to those comments. Speaking at a dinner given by the Institute of Public Relations Mr. Harmsworth said:Integrity of reporting, justice, tolerance and fairly held opinions: these are the criteria that I believe are vital not only to the future of our Press but to the future of our whole nation.I must say to the House that in the practice of running his own newspapers Mr. Harmsworth has hardly lived up to that. Is he a fit and proper person to take over the Evening Standard? Maybe the hon. Member for Thanet, East thinks that he is.
I quote from the words of a distinguished former editor of the Evening Standard, Mr. Charles Wintour, who expressed very proper concern about Mr. Harmsworth. He said:May I suggest that the only reason why Mr. Harmsworth is chairman of Associated 1599 Newspapers is that he is the son of the second Lord Rothermere. And the second Lord Rothermere had the job because he was the son of the first Lord Rothermere. And the first Lord Rothermere had the Daily Mail because he was the brother of a real newspaper genius, Lord Northcliffe.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
If the hon. Member says that newspaper owners and proprietors are becoming, to put it kindly, hyperbolic, or, to be more blunt about it, hysterical, because they are worried about falling circulation and lack of profitability, what ultimate solutions are there to achieve the restoration of profits, other than subsidisation? What is the hon. Member proposing?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I will come to that if I have time, but I realise that this is a very brief debate. Next week we shall see the publication of the report of the Royal Commission on the Press and that might give the hon. Member for Harrow. East (Mr. Dykes) his answer. Certainly I have views. All I am saying about this is that there should not be this kind of enforced merger going through, leading to possible closures, without recourse to the Monopolies Commission and without this House and the country generally having an opportunity to study what the Royal Commission says in its report.
When I was a member of the Annan Committee inquiring into the future of broadcasting, considerable concern was expressed about whether there was a need for subsidy, or transfer of resources, or whether most newspapers should live within their means—a solution that would be painful to the print workers as well as the proprietors.
Some of the practices going on at present on the London evening newspaper scene cannot be seen as proper commercial practices. I quote again from Mr. Wintour's speech when he said:Why is Mr. Vere Harmsworth chairman of Associated Newspapers? Why is he in a position to squander millions of his shareholders' money in an effort to force the Evening Standard out of business? Why has he been able to sell his evening newspaper (the Evening News) at an uneconomic price, to offer cut rates to advertisers who switch from the Evening Standard to his own paper, to start up costly and uneconomic ventures in the suburbs and to maintain an uneconomic circulation area—all with the aims of compelling his competitor to surrender?Mr. Wintour is parti pris, because for 18 years he was editor of the Evening Standard. I cherish the Evening Standard 1600 sufficiently—and its present editor, Mr. Simon Jenkins, is one of the youngest and ablest men in the job since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—and I want to see the paper go on. I do not want to see it swallowed up by Vere Harmsworth without undertakings from the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. The House should not adjourn before we have those undertakings tonight.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Before the House adjourns for the Whit-sun Recess there are certain matters affecting Northern Ireland which should be brought to the attention of hon. Members.
It seems that yesterday it was announced that the Prime Minister had written to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) informing him that the Government had decided to refer the question of increased parliamentary representation for Northern Ireland to the Speaker's Conference which would be asked specifically to deal with that separate issue.
The announcement passed unnoticed here. The reason why it did not cause the slightest ripple of surprise in this House was that we are already aware that the matter cannot be delayed any longer, whether the Government like it or not. The Conservative Party has indicated that it would have placed the matter before a Speaker's Conference.
However, for some reason—and I think it was another propaganda exercise by the Government—the statement received widespread publicity in Northern Ireland yesterday. It was as if some major breakthrough had taken place. It sickens me that another attempt is being made by the Government, in collaboration with those arch-collaborators of the Unionist coalition group, to brainwash the Ulster people into believing that progress is being made towards peace in the Province or towards a political solution.
Of course it is right that Ulster should have proper representation in this House, particularly as the people bear the same burden of taxation as in the rest of the country. But it is political deceit for the Government, and the rump of the Unionist coalition group who are sustaining them in office, although they are not providing an adequate security policy for 1601 Ulster, to give the impression to the Ulster people that they should go down on their knees in gratitude to the Government.
The Ulster people do not have to express their thanks. They go down on their knees every day and night in the hope that they will live through the night. It seems to me that whatever protection they get comes from God and not from the Government. This Government continue to pursue a policy of low profile.
Ulster will not receive full democratic rights from this Government and there is little sign of justice being done to the Province by this Government, who talk so much about the protection and democratic rights of people in all parts of the world but deny a proper democratic system of local government to Northern Ireland with adequate powers, deny us Stormont Parliament and deny representation of Ulster at the present time in the Common Market Parliament.
It is a disgrace that Northern Ireland, which is going through a period of crucifixion and a campaign of terror, should be treated as a second-class part of the United Kingdom. The righting of the wrongs which I have mentioned should come as a matter of priority before any increase in the number of Members from Northern Ireland.
Above all, many innocent people in Northern Ireland and gallant soldiers and policemen are denied the right to live. The recent workers' action strike caused the Secretary of State to put 3,000 extra soldiers into the Province, to mobilise the UDR and to put the police on 24-hour duty. There were road blocks everywhere and the Army was seen in force. Yet within three days of the ending of the strike the Secretary of State withdrew 2,000 of the troops, mobilisation ended most of the road blocks vanished and the soldiers who remained went back to the low profile policy adopted by the Government. Why were the extra troops not left in Northern Ireland, and other security measures maintained, in order to make a determined effort to defeat the terrorists who have been slaughtering and maiming innocent people in all parts of the Province for eight years—far longer than the Second World War, which nearly exhausted the British people.
1602 It is extraordinary—and I deprecate the smile on the face of the Leader of the House and his humorous comments to his colleagues—to witness the restraint shown by the Ulster people in the face of terrible and bloody provocation over a period of eight years. It is sad that this House cannot work itself up into a fervour over adequately protecting the Ulster people. Not long ago a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman grabbed the Mace and waved it at Left-Wing Members because the Government had got through a Division and the Left-Wing was singing the Red Flag. I should like to see more fervour demonstrated in this House on behalf of the Ulster people who even today, and this very night, are under threat of death from the Provisional IRA.
As a result of the strike, the Secretary of State made certain promises about security to the Ballylumfort power workers, and subsequently to politicians who saw him, including myself. It is strange that some of the politicians should have expressed satisfaction with the proposals which, in my view, are too little and too late.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the increased numbers of the UDR and the police, and mentioned taking certain other steps. But why were those measures not taken years ago, because the situation remains the same? I was astounded to hear Unionist politicians emerge from talks with the Secretary of State saying that they were pleased to hear that the shortage of radio and other equipment for the police, including proper firearms, was to be made good by November. By November many other Ulster people will be dead. Surely the measures which are being taken now should have been taken years ago, and no further delay should be tolerated. It is not satisfactory to the Ulster people that this House should go into recess for a fortnight and that no proper measures will have been announced by the Government and no determination shown by them to take steps to rid the country of the IRA.
Last week the IRA spearheaded an attack on the Protestant population of the Duncairn area in Belfast in order to drive them out of the area and to take it over—as they did in New Barnsley, Ormeau Road and along the border and 1603 elsewhere. What was the response of the Secretary of State, who has shown such determination and strength during the strike? It was negative. Where were the masses of security forces who were displayed in that strike? Why were they not in evidence to end the intimidation of women and children who were being intimidated in order to drive them out of their homes? Seemingly, the Protestant people must suffer in silence, as must the Roman Catholics—and this should be made clear, too—who live in areas dominated by the IRA, and controlled by fear. Those people, whether they be Protestant or Roman Catholics, want the Government to take the strongest measures against the IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland because they want to see peace restored to that country.
Northern Ireland has suffered 1,750 dead and 75,000 injured. This in terms of the population of Great Britain amounts to 70,000 dead and 120,000 injured. If only a tiny fraction of that number died or were injured in Great Britain, there would be an outcry in this House. Neither the Government nor this Parliament can shrug off responsibility to the Ulster people and talk of political solutions to end the violence. The gunmen in Northern Ireland have been defeated in election after election, and they are not interested in democracy or elections or a political solution. They are interested only in the creation of an Irish Marxist Republic—a republic governed by fear.
The fifty years of the Stormont Government, with all its faults—and every Government I have seen in this country and elsewhere have had their faults—were years of relative peace and steady progress. But the years of direct rule have been disastrous for peace and good government. Until the campaign of terrorism started in Northern Ireland, that Province probably had the best behaved and disciplined population of the United Kingdom with only 3,000 policemen—the smallest number of police per head of the population in the whole of the United Kingdom. Now, with 11,000 police, the Province has become ungovernable because of the criminal laxity of Government policy.
Before this House decides to adjourn for a two-week recess, the people of Northern Ireland—some of whom will 1604 be murdered or mutilated or have their homes or their businesses destroyed in those two weeks—are entitled to have some concrete evidence from the Government that, at long last, they intend to give maximum protection to the people, maximum power to crush the IRA, and maximum power to the courts. The terrorists in the IRA should be put behind bars so that they cannot endanger the decent, ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) will forgive me if I do not take up his theme on Northern Ireland—except to say that hon. Members who represent constituencies in all parts of the United Kingdom have the deepest sympathy for the people whom he and others represent in this House in the appalling experiences they have had to undergo in Northern Ireland in the last few years. Perhaps we cannot share the passion of the hon. Gentleman in putting forward his case, but that does not detract from the fact that we have the greatest concern for the suffering which has taken place in Northern Ireland in the past few years. I share with him the wish that one day that suffering may end. I hope that the Government will be able to give him satisfactory assurances.
I wish to return to some remarks made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle). I believe that the House should not adjourn until we have some clear answers on the subject of direct elections to the European Parliament. I do not think it is unreasonable for me to put certain matters to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I know that he is a splendid House of Commons man, that he will try to be as clear in his answers as he usually is, and that he will not take refuge in obscurity.
We were told by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that when the House returns after the recess we shall be afforded some mysterious communication. We eagerly look forward to that communication, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm several matters relating to it? In what form are we to expect that communication? Does it mean that the Government are still bound by their two earlier commitments to the House—namely, that they will use their 1605 best endeavours to get through a Bill on direct elections in time for them to be held in the summer of next year? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is still the Government's position?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that it is still the Government's intention that this House should be genuinely afforded the opportunity of a free vote on the system of elections to be held at that time, if there are to be direct elections at all? Will he confirm that, whatever communication comes from the Government, that second condition will continue to be met? I am sure he would agree that it would be a great breach of faith by him if, in fulfilling the undertaking that we should have a free vote the Government were so to arrange matters that the House would not be offered a genuinely free vote. In other words, I hope that the arrangements will not be so made that there will be no opportunity for one or other system to be genuinely decided by the House, and I hope we shall not be told that by then it will be too late for one or other system to be used.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if that were to be the case, the House would not have a free vote? It would face the country with a totally different situation, and that would be a breach of numerous undertakings given by Ministers to the House.
This matter has had far too long a history. The House should decide it, one way or the other, in the near future. During the last few years we have had repeated debates and White Papers, and there was as recently as last month a two-day debate. Yet we still await the Bill.
Suspicion grows daily here and elsewhere that there is double dealing about whether we shall have direct elections at all. I ask the Leader of the House to dispel suspicions that the Government are somehow manoeuvring the House into a position where there will not be a genuinely free vote on the system of elections to the European Assembly—if there are to be any elections at all.
I was not here when the Leader of the House discussed the merits and demerits of proportional representation in any 1606 future Scottish Assembly, but I read his fascinating speech with great interest. I agreed with much of what he said, and many other hon. Members also agreed with him—indeed that was reflected in the Division on that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman might also find that a similarly large number of hon. Members agree with what I suspect are his views on the merits of proportional representation for the European Assembly. However, we must be allowed to have a fair method of expressing that view. The Government must allow time for debate and the House must be allowed to vote genuinely.
In conclusion, I ask the Leader of the House to impress upon his colleagues the suggestion that was put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) during an earlier debate—that if the House were to give Second Reading to a Bill to hold direct elections, the House could then be given an opportunity of expressing its views on the system of direct elections. The House could subsequently continue its discussions on such a Bill—if it wanted it—having decided what the system of election should be. We should not be cheated of such fair opportunities.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to lift the curtain of suspicion about what is proposed on this matter. Not only tonight, but when we return after the Whitsun Recess, the Government should be fair in their dealings with our partners in Europe and with all parts of the House in the matter of direct elections so that—whatever conclusion may be reached at the end of the day—we shall have had a fair opportunity to put our case and for the system of election to be decided democratically in time for it to be introduced.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I do not dissent from the motion that the House should adjourn until 13th June, but before the House rises I should like to take this opportunity to highlight a matter of the utmost importance. It is the intrusion of the EEC into domestic British policy-making and the readiness of the Commission to take legal proceedings against this country—as it has done on at least two occasions this year.
One could quote a number of examples from different sectors of British industry, but the one that I wish to highlight 1607 tonight is the situation that now faces the oil platform construction industry and the possible effect on the Labour Government's North Sea oil policy of the solutions that have been unofficially proposed by the EEC to solve the present difficulty about the subsidy that we pay to that industry.
The present aid amounts to interest rate rebates on 3 per cent. of buyers' credit for up to 80 per cent. of the value of major orders placed within Scotland. The Commission did not object to that in 1973 when the aid was introduced but now, due to the decline in the construction industry throughout the rest of the EEC, it has begun to object. The Commission began under the Treaty of Rome to take legal proceedings against this country earlier in the year.
The Commission's request must be refused if we are to project jobs in this country. I am worried—even more than I am worried about the Commission's decision to take this country to court—about a rumour that began to emerge in London after the visit here of Commissioner Vovel. He is the Commissioner responsible for co-ordinating energy policy throughout the EEC. The rumour was that the Commission might be prepared to overlook the Government aid that is being given to the oil platform construction industry if this country was prepared to allow crude oil produced in the North Sea to be refined in Germany and other EEC countries.
I do not need to remind the Leader of the House that this is the kind of trade-off between policies that we in the Labour Party—and I hope the Labour Government—cannot condone or accept. If the rumour is correct—and I have grounds for believing that it is—in no circumstances should such a trade-off be accepted. I also have no need to remind the Leader of the House or other hon. and right hon. Members that, during the referendum campaign, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), who was then Secretary of State for Energy and who is now Secretary of State for Industry, said that that was the very sort of deal that the EEC would require Britain to make—a deal that would require crude oil produced in the North sea to be refined in other EEC countries.
1608 It is not without some significance that we were discussing in the House last week Commission papers relating to energy policy in the EEC and that one of the recommendations put forward by the Commission was a reduction of 15 per cent. in the crude refining capacity throughout EEC countries. One point of that must be to ensure that there is an increase in the refining capacities of some individual countries in the EEC. This country might need additional refining capacity to meet production from the North Sea, and yet it would not be able to go ahead with increasing its capacity without permission from the Commission. The Government must continue to refuse and to oppose such policies.
I again refer to the Secretary of State for Industry because, when he was Secretary of State for Energy, he said that it was Government policy—and I believe it still is—that upwards of 60 per cent. of the total crude oil produced in the North Sea should be refined in this country. We must maintain that as a minimum. In the interests of national energy policy, and as a matter or urgency. I should like to see that figure substantially in excess of 60 per cent. Under no circumstances should we accept the bully boys from the Commission in Brussels coming to individual Ministers and the British Government saying, "We are prepared to overlook your subsidy to the oil construction industry in Scotland if you will let us have some oil to keep the refining capacity going in Germany and Holland".
This Government and the Labour Government that we shall have after the next election must ensure that this country gets the full benefit of North Sea oil production. I ask the Leader of the House to urge the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement to the House in the first week after the recess on the issues that I have raised.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
As a regular attender at these Adjournment debates, I have never heard a more surprising speech than that delivered by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) who has only recently joined the Back Benches. He 1609 comes to them with a considerable reputation, and has certainly neither surprised or disappointed those of us who have listened to him—and hon. Members can take that in any way they like.
The right hon. Gentleman commented on the Daily Mail and its inexcusable behaviour in the last few days. There has been widespread disquiet and there will be a wide measure of agreement on what he implied about a free Press in a democracy having to exercise some form of self-discipline. Otherwise, the whole system of democracy will be brought into disrepute.
I should like to raise three matters as briefly as I can. The first is the position of pharmacists. The Leader of the House may not be aware that many are exceedingly angry and are threatening to withdraw their services unless the Government amend a regulation included in a letter sent to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee by the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Security, Sir Patrick Nairne.
The pharmacists are threatened with a reduction in their net profit margins from prescriptions, and at a time of severe inflation it is hardly surprising that they take it very badly. The public will suffer if pharmacists carry their anger to the point of withdrawing services, and if that happens the public will suffer as a result of the letter sent by Sir Patrick Nairne, presumably on the instructions and advice of the Secretary of State.
I shall be grateful if the Leader of the House will see what can be done to alleviate the disaffection felt by pharmacists. I have had many letters from my constituency on this subject.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Is my hon. Friend aware of the problems being faced by pharmacists because their monthly cheques are arriving several days late? As a result, they are having to bear costs of several hundreds or thousands of pounds, which they can ill afford with their profit margin of 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. on turnover.
§ Mr. Adley
I was aware of that, but I was seeking to be brief. If the Secretary of State was not aware of this, my hon. Friend has highlighted the problems being faced by this specialised 1610 and very valuable section of the community.
The second matter that I wish to discuss is the renegotiation of the Bermuda Agreement generally and the continuing uncertainty over Concorde's landing rights at Kennedy Airport in New York. The behaviour of Mr. Brock Adams in the last few days has been extraordinary and unbecoming for an American Secretary of State for Transportation. I should like an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government, who have been renegotiating the agreement, will not allow themselves to be bullied into renegotiating it without including in it a re-confirmation of Concorde's landing rights at Kennedy Airport.
I understand that the Americans' negotiating position is to maintain the status quo as much as possible, and that must mean maintaining the existing treaty landing rights for Concorde at Kennedy Airport. Many hon. Members have watched with concern the way in which President Carter has managed to take apparently no responsibility for a decision that was signed by and is presumably due to be upheld by the Federal Government of the United States of America.
The last point that I wish to raise concerns the unsatisfactory position of this Parliament and the Government as a result of the Lib-Lab pact. The Chairman of the Christchurch and Lymington Liberal Association recently eulogised the pact in a letter to the Lymington Times. He then stood for election and, not surprisingly, was roundly defeated. He has now taken violent exception to being described as a "Lib-Lab", to the point of threatening to take up a case for defamation unless he receives a full apology from the local Conservative Party.
I see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) is laughing. I admit that on this occasion it is difficult, when puting one's tongue in one's cheek, not to stick it through the side of one's mouth. Where do the Government stand on the question of the pact? The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) has just been referring to trade-offs. I can think of no better way of describing the arrangement between the Liberal and Labour Parties in Parliament. For the Liberals, 1611 the sequel to the "Twelve Just Men" must be the "Thirteen Sordid Politicians", whose sole interest is in saving their own skins and avoiding the electorate.
I understand that many of those who share the political views of the Leader of the House feel that the Labour Party has no mandate to do a trade-off with the Liberals if it means trading off any of the principles of the Labour Party. The other side of the coin, for the Liberals, is that the wish of their 13 Members to remain in the House has resulted in their taking a position that is in flagrant violation of the wishes of a very large number of those who voted Liberal at the last General Election. This has been highlighted by the massive reduction in the Liberal vote at recent elections.
I hope that the Leader of the House will have a word or two to say about political parties in general, and Governments in particular, that seem prepared to clasp to their bosom the votes and views of anyone in the House in order to avoid an election, especially when it is clear from recent parliamentary by-election results that the people of this country who voted a minority Government into office have had enough after three years and want another election so that they can get rid of them. What the Government are doing is politically dishonest. It is clear that they and the Liberals are denying the people the choice of a new Government at a General Election.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham Handsworth)
I wish to raise two dissimilar matters that should delay the Adjournment of the House until they are answered by the Leader of the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) have raised, in different ways, the conduct of Associated Newspapers in general and Vere Harmsworth in particular. In general I endorse all that they have said, but I wish to raise a disturbing aspect about the conduct of the BBC in having permitted an ex-President of the United States to engage in a series of what are, no doubt, lucrative exercises in television.
1612 I have raised with the Chairman of the BBC and the Home Secretary the question of the undesirability of allowing people of notorious character, and especially a person who is a criminal by international standards, the facilities of public broadcasting. The Home Secretary replied, in the correct constitutional way, that he does not have the power, except in very dire circumstances, to interfere in the internal running of BBC affairs. This has been the policy of successive Governments and any departure from it would not be easily countenanced by many hon. Members.
When debates on public standards have arisen—notably this matter was canvassed extensively in 1963 at the time of the Profumo affair—Members in both Houses deprecated cheque-book journalism, whereby persons of criminal or notorious character used their notoriety to derive financial benefit from it. The Chairman of the BBC, in answer to my queries, sought, rather disingenuously, I thought, to establish that Mr. Nixon was not an ordinary kind of criminal—which may well be true. Indeed, he is not.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine):
The hon. Gentleman should relate his remarks to the responsibility of a Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Minister is not responsible for BBC policy.
§ Mr. Lee
I do not want to enter into an argument with the Chair. However, I understand that the Home Secretary answers questions on broadcasting matters in this House. To that extent he must have some overall, if only residual responsibility. Rather than enter into an argument that may bring me into conflict with the Chair—as I maintain that the only authority I shall not allow myself to get into conflict with is the Chair—I shall leave the matter alone. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will ingeniously find a way of commenting 1613 on what some of us regard as a public scandal.
There have been far too many examples of corruption in public life, such as the Poulson affair and the series of local government corruption trials over the past few years. Many of us have felt disturbed about some aspects of public life. It is scandalous that the arch criminal of the Western world should be given the kind of publicity he seems to be obtaining. I cannot believe that Lord Reith—one of the founders of the BBC—would ever have tolerated that.
I turn to another matter that is within the competence of the Government. I have raised it on previous occasions in concert with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I refer to the future of the Ocean Islanders, the Banabans. A rumour is current that a statement may be forthcoming.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
There will be a statement on this matter tomorrow. I hope that my hon. Friend will put his question then.
§ Mr. Lee
It had better be a good statement. I give my right hon. Friend fair warning of what will happen if it is not. When I say a good statement, I mean a statement that will do justice to a people who have suffered grievous injustices at the hands of successive Governments for 75 years. Let me say what a number of hon. Members and I specifically require. We wish the matter to be discussed. We shall take advantage of the situation provided by the Gilbert Islands independence Bill if that statement is not satisfactory. I give my right hon. Friend fair warning that unless provision is made to enable the people of Ocean Island to choose, if they so wish—as I believe is the case—to affiliate with Fiji and to have their island hived off from the Gilberts, some of us will hold up the Gilbert Islands independence Bill when it comes before the House. As, by constitutional usage, all measures of that kind must be taken on the Floor of the House, it does not need much imagination to understand the warning. It does not take more than a handful of hon. Members to gum up the Government's work.
The next matter has been raised by a number of Euro-fanatics. After the 1614 recess a statement may be made about European elections. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) may rest assured that we shall discuss—and go on and on discussing—every conceivable form of proportional representation. I believe that there are 67 different forms of proportional representation. I am sure that there will be enough hon. Members who will put down amendments—I see that the hon. Member for Holland With Boston (Mr. Body) will assist us—to enable us to keep the subject going for a long time. The House can rest assured that hon. Members had better enjoy the recess, because if the motion is passed a great deal of work will have to be done when we return. Many of us will keep the subject going for a long time.
I give my right hon. Friend fair warning on the matter of the Ocean Islanders. He will find his timetable in as much of a mess as it was over the Scotland and Wales Bill in the earlier part of this year.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I apologise for not having been present at the beginning of the debate, as the result of an unbreakable commitment outside the Chamber.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr. Channon) on the subject of direct elections. I hope that the Leader of the House will, as usual, pay diligent attention to what I say about the vital subject of direct elections. I am grateful to him. Although I know that he may have heard this before, I hope that he will not use that fact as an excuse for not listening again. It is supremely important for the Government to consider far more solemnly than they appear to have done so far—I refer to the Lord President and, regrettably the Prime Minister—the whole matter of direct elections.
It was unacceptable and inadequate that the Leader of the House during business questions today promised some kind only of metaphysical communication on 13th or 14th June when the House resumes. It is still within the power of the Leader of the House, even at this late hour—this is why I suggest that the 1615 Government should not propose the adjournment of the House yet—to say more than "I undertake to give the House a communication in mid-June". It would be within his power to give much more guidance now, even if of a provisional and understandably tentative nature, on the kinds of proposals that the Government intend to bring forward at the date of the introduction of the Bill.
It is appalling that the Leader of the House, who has a reputation as champion of Parliament, its procedures and the robust nature of the House of Commons, should have allowed this matter to slide back to a degree that makes us look foolish to the other member States in Europe.
That is not our principal reason for raising the objections to the Government's tardy behaviour on this occasion. Hon. Members may be concerned about the Banabans, but in view of its relative importance, the question of direct elections should command the primary attention of the Government before the recess.
A week ago the French Cabinet proposed the outline of its Bill. Other Bills will be introduced later on by some other member States. The French Bill will take only a few weeks to pass through the French National Assembly. The other member States, which have apparently less of a smooth parliamentary tradition than we have, have already introduced Bills. I exclude Belgium, where there are problems facing the two ethnic communities. These proposals have already been published, at least in draft form, in European countries, including Germany. Italy is further ahead than many of the other member States.
However, no proposals have been made by the Government embodying the promise and commitment contained in the Queen's Speech, and which have been reiterated, at least by way of hints, earlier this year. Although it was not firmly spelled out as a commitment in verbal terms, the idea was presented that the proposals would come much sooner. Last year the Select Committee proposed to fix the end of February, under one set of structural proposals, for the direct elections as being the right kind of time limit. Therefore, the Bill had plenty of time. We are miles ahead of that. There are still no legislative proposals.
1616 Therefore, the suspicion is more than just lingering—it is fundamental—that the Government are indulging in curious and unjustified Machiavellian behaviour, with only the Leader of the House knowing, perhaps, what kind of final objective is in view. Is the idea to sabotage the whole thing, to produce a shaky agreement with the Liberals, so that, at a late stage, some sketchy Bill can be produced proposing one system? The Leader of the House has a solemn duty not to ignore this subject because of difficulties in the Cabinet and the Labour Party's National Executive.
Before we go into recess, he should accept his duty and give us at least provisional guidance about what he thinks his communication will contain in mid-June. We should not adjourn till we have that explanation.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
The Leader of the House has been exhorted to do a number of things that are so incredible and unlikely, bearing in mind his party, his ideology and his powers, that I am glad to be able to raise an issue with no party political implications, which is not restrictive of his ideology and powers and to which I know his beneficent and generous nature will make him only too ready to respond.
I wish to speak about the citizens' advice bureaux, and specifically to request that before the House rises for a recess that we badly need the Government should undertake to do something to help to prevent these organisations from going out of business.
If citizens' advice bureaux were of doubtful value, if they were about to disappear because there was no legislation for their counsellors to explain, or because everyone was so affluent that he could afford a solicitor, or because we Members of Parliament were so well paid for our offices that we could afford to keep a fully efficient organisation to do their work, it might not be a bad thing to let them go.
Unfortunately, there never was a time when these bureaux were more necessary or were doing such excellent and beneficial work—I give particular credit to the bureau in Burton-on-Trent, but I am sure that the same is true of all the others—mostly for people from the very 1617 sections of society most desperately in need of help and advice.
Last year, the bureaux answered well over 2½ million inquiries—approximately double the number they used to answer 10 years ago. That means that one in 16 of our population over the age of 14 had a query answered by letter, phone or personal interview—at a cost of about 60p per inquiry. There never has been such a massive outpouring of legislation on social security, employment, race relations and women's rights, or such an increase in the amount of divorce, or such complex outpourings from district and county councils. From all sorts of sources those myriads of rules and regulations desperately need to be explained to confused people. There never has been so much confusion or lack of comprehension in our society about what is being ordained by governing bodies to those who are governed.
The work of the bureaux is well worth the small cost. Camden Council reckoned that last year the voluntary workers in the bureaux in that borough saved them £25,000. I hope that the Lord President is leaving the Chamber because he is already convinced by the strength of the argument and for no reason of discomfort.
The need for the 670 or so bureaux is beyond doubt, but whether they will continue to exist in the present financial climate is very much in doubt. There is an expected deficit of £20,000 next year in the finances of bureaux in the West Midlands alone, which takes no account of what is expected to be the inevitable growth in their use, of about 6 per cent.
Since the burden of financing these bureaux fall on local authorities, which will have to make rigorous cuts in their expenditure this year as a result of Government policy, there is a real danger that they will be extremely vulnerable. Some are threatened with closure at the moment. I therefore ask the Government to consider, in the current climate, the need to promise reasonable central Government aid for the bureaux.
Although no one feels more strongly than I about the need for curtailment of Government spending, there is room for a substantial reordering of priorities. I hope in the next debate to be able to 1618 suggest how £20 million or £30 million may be saved. No one feels more strongly than I about the need for local control in financing local activities, but the citizens' advice bureaux are now an arm far more of central than local government. Over 50 per cent. of their cases deal with purely central Government matters. Bureaux act as distribution centres—probably the most efficient ones—for Government leaflets and literature. And it is in the general public interest that they should continue to advise, inform, mediate for and represent people in trouble.
I ask for an undertaking that the Government will open discussions with the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux to see how Government aid might sustain them when the chop comes from local authorities and when the very existence is threatened of the most under-praised and unassuming of our national social services, providing its services free through the generous sacrifice of time and effort by thousands of public-spirited voluntary workers. I hope that this plea will not fall upon deaf ears.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I want to return to the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) during business questions today, when he asked for a full-scale debate on immigration. The Leader of the House said that he thought that that was a suitable subject for a Supply Day, but that answer is not good enough. The last time that we had a full-scale debate on the issue was 5th July 1976—almost a year ago.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that there is tremendous public concern on this issue. Many people feel that politicians are totally out of touch and have no conception of the problems faced by some areas. The Government are far too complacent. They want to maintain a wall of silence, possibly in the hope that if the problem is swept under the carpet it will disappear. It will not. Far from disappearing, the problem is getting worse and tension is growing.
There has been a change in attitude in the House. At one time, anyone who dared to mention this subject was immediately branded a racialist, but we have recently seen a disturbing growth in 1619 support for the National Front, whose policies are very dangerous. I am concerned that, in the last GLC elections, almost 120,000 people voted for National Front candidates. The National Front has played on the fears and anxieties of many people. Many who voted for the National Front are not racialist, but simply wanted to show their discontent with the immigration policies of successive Governments. As long as people are unsure whether the Government have the will to tackle this problem organisations such as the National Front will continue to grow in strength.
I do not think that the position has been helped by the statement by Mr. Praful Patel, who demanded censorship of the official population figures on the grounds that when stories appeared about a baby boom in Britain, especially a coloured baby boom, they played into the hands of those whom he called "Those racist people." It does not help the cause of good race relations and it does not do much good to the cause of the immigrants.
It is necessary for this Government, or, if this Government will not do it, the next Conservative Government, to give the British people the prospect of an end to immigration. I believe that this is necessary for the immigrants who are already here and for the indigenous population.
I do not think it is any good for the Lord President to repeat what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West earlier today, that this should be a subject for a Supply Day. It is wrong that we should leave for the Spring Recess before this vital subject is fully aired. Since the collapse of the Government's Bill on devolution, I would have thought that the Leader of the House had to spend a great deal of time looking for subjects to debate. It is disgraceful that we have not had a full-scale debate on this very important issue for almost a year. Therefore, I ask the Lord President to make sure that the subject is ventilated before the House adjourns for the recess.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) that the worst way to treat the subject of immigration is to pretend that it is not a problem and in that way create even greater anxiety 1620 among people not only in the urban areas but in rural areas, where I regret the anxiety is increasingly felt.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House about another matter. The right hon. Gentleman's record on Early-Day Motions is not very good. I believe I am right in saying that since he has been Leader of the House not one Early-Day Motion has had time allocated for debate in the House. One motion that should be discussed by the House, which was referred to earlier today by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), is Early-Day Motion No. 236, on the subject of the proposed new passport, which is to have the words "European Community" emblazoned across it. I thought that the Leader of the House said this afternoon that he had referred to this matter on 4th May, but I could not find it when I looked up the Hansard for that day. It was a Wednesday, so I do not think that it could have been 4th May. I also looked at Hansard for 5th May, but I could still find no trace of a statement.
As far as I know, the right hon. Gentleman has not given an undertaking that the House should reach a decision on this subject. I realise that it is essentially a question of the Royal Prerogative, but surely the House has the right to express an affirmative opinion, to say "Yea" or "Nay" whether it is in favour of such a passport. I accept that it might not be the final decision and that the decision should rest with the Royal Prerogative. However, it is wholly wrong that the House should be barred from voting on this subject.
I hope that the Leader of the House will give an assurance that we shall have not only an opportunity of discussing this subject but a chance of voting on it. The reason why I urge a vote is that it is time we flushed out those of our colleagues who are European federalists at heart, who yearn for a super-State, and who would cherish European citizenship. It is time that we knew their identity.
The Leader of the House has promised us a communication on direct elections as soon as we come back after the recess. I have no doubt that he will spend some hours during the recess considering what that communication should be. I ask him to spend some time ascertaining how far other States have gone. My hon. 1621 Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) seemed to be very anxious about this. I do not see why any of our hon. Friends who are so enthusiastic about a federal Europe should feel anxious. Is not the Leader of the House aware that he has arranged for the House to give more parliamentary time to direct elections than any of the other eight Parliaments of the Community? We are ahead of them in discussing the principles of this subject. Am I not right in saying that only four of the other eight countries have got as far as publishing a Bill? It may be that one or two more have made some progress recently.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
Surely it is not a question of time. It is a question of the Government's taking a decision. They failed to take a decision to introduce the Bill.
§ Mr. Body
A decision was made, surely, to use "our best endeavours". That decision was announced in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the parliamentary year, and a decision has been made to introduce legislation. I am saying that the Government are in the vanguard in the march towards direct elections. They have made more progress so far than any other Government in the Community. Perhaps the Leader of the House will do a little homework in the recess and say whether I am right or wrong about this when he makes his announcement.
The other matter that the House should discuss immediately is that of the fishing industry, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). It is high time the Government gave at least one day of their own time to debating the future of our fishing industry. I do not think that the Government realise the gloom that now pervades the fishing industry. Our fishermen see that their competitors in Norway and Iceland have secured their own 200-mile limit, and they know that those countries can now pursue their own independent conservation policies to make sure that there will continue to be fishing industries in Norway and Iceland in years to come.
Our own fishing industry cannot do that. Our fishermen have been told that there will be no chance of any 1622 national 200-mile limit. At one point we sought a 50-mile limit, but this was rejected by the European Community and we now have only a 12-mile limit over which we can claim some sovereignty, and that will go in 1982. That may seem rather distant, but it is not if one is planning the future of a business in the fishing industry or seeking to invest in new ships, which are more expensive than ever.
I represent a constituency that has a number of fishing firms. Even for inshore fishermen the very high standards required for vessels will mean the investment of many thousands of pounds before these boats can be launched. It is right that that should be so, but those in the fishing industry do not dare to commit themselves to such high expenditure in the present state of uncertainty about the future of our fishing industry and the uncertainty about the extent to which we shall have any control over the conservation of fish in our own waters.
1 hope that the Leader of the House will find time, as soon as we return after the recess, to debate properly and sensibly the future of the fishing industry so that all hon. Members who have fishing interests—and there are many—will have an opportunity to express their fears about the industry.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
Since the debate began a couple of hours ago with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) raising the very important matter of the 50-mile fishing limit and the problems facing the British fishing industry, which were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), we have had the usual hors d'oeuvre of a debate on the Adjournment motion. Some dishes have been more significant and interesting than others.
The most disappointing contribution was the speech of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). I am bound to say that it was an extraordinarily trivial contribution. The right hon. Gentleman had something on his mind and he expressed his views to the House, but I felt that his speech was unworthy of the office that he held. If not unworthy of himself, it was unworthy of the position that he now holds in this place as 1623 an ex-Prime Minister. I regret that. His remarks had no more connection with ministerial responsibility than the issues raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), or with the newspaper problems raised by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who seemed to be concerned about Beaverbrook Newspapers and the Evening Standard. As far as I could divine, his positive suggestions were a combination of re-appointing the Lord President as editor and the expenditure of public money.
Out of this hors d'oeuvre I have no doubt that the most important single issue is that of the Bill for elections to the European Parliament, which was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), South-end, West (Mr. Channon) and Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). I shall not cover the issues that they raised and the points that were made at Question Time.
I must tell the Lord President that the Opposition feel that the way that the Government have used their endeavours to get the Bill through Parliament has not been in any sense genuine. We feel that they have been positively misleading. At the time of the Queen's Speech, it was quite fair to say that they would use their best endeavours, but earlier in the year, when there suddenly appeared more space than originally expected in the parliamentary programme, it soon became clear that there was no such Bill standing in the wings ready to be introduced. As far as we know, no such Bill exists today, except, perhaps, in draft form. The Government have been extremely misleading. Once time emerged in the parliamentary programme to enable the Government to make progress with a Bill, they could not claim to be using their best endeavours if they did not produce one.
In the meantime, the issue has become further confused by the arrangement that has been established between the Government and the Liberal Party. There is a conflict of interests in respect of the Bill between the Government and, if they can be so termed, their new-found friends. This has added to the muddle. If the Government were genuine in using their best endeavours, whatever their own difficulties with their own party and however strong anti-Market feeling may be in 1624 some parts of it and in a very small part of my party, which I accept still exists, surely it was the Government's clear duty not only to produce a Bill but to produce one in such a form as to give the House of Commons a reasonable chance of coming to a reasonable conclusion and to make progress with it. We consider it to be an extremely serious matter that the Government have not produced such a Bill.
We are all conscious of what seems to be almost the encouragement of the anti-Market views that are being expressed on the Labour Benches. Certainly the mishandling, as I call it, of the Bill gives encouragement to the anti-Marketeers. It is clear that in no circumstances can we have a direct elections Bill passed through the House this Session. That is not a possibility. An attempt will have to be made next Session. Perhaps there will not be a next Session with this Government. If they remain in office, perhaps the next Session will not last very long, in which case the matter will have to be handled after the General Election. However, in no sense is the delay in bringing forward the Bill of benefit to the country or to any individual in it.
There was a great feeling of resentment about the word that the Lord President seemed to enjoy using, namely "communication". Was it a suggestion that some message might come down from another place to indicate that a particular view has been taken on a certain matter? It is a word that has a particular connotation in the House. My right hon. and hon. Friends hope very much that the Leader of the House will give a more specific indication of precisely what he means.
The main issue that remains is that in our view the right hon. Gentleman has let down not only his own party but the House and the whole country by not being genuine when his Government said that they would use their best endeavours. Indeed, the Prime Minister said today at Question Time that after the referendum the Government accepted the result. If they accepted it genuinely, they would have made progress with the Bill. As I have said, we feel very strongly on this issue.
A range of important but singularly less significant matters have been raised. The case of the individual raised by my 1625 hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) was most important. It is an example of an individual who is suffering as a direct result of the Government's legislation. There is wide interest in the matter. It is by no means the only such case. It is one that happens to have been raised by my hon. Friend, but there are many others. It is extremely serious when an individual who holds strong views—he is surely entitled to do so—should be seriously disadvantaged as a result of legislation passed by the Government.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke of Northern Ireland and the inordinate delay in establishing a Speakers' Conference to deal with the representation of the people of Northern Ireland. I am certain that there are a great many extremely important matters to which a Speakers' Conference could attend with advantage to the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole, but the hon. Gentleman raised a specific matter that must be considered.
As I have said before, it appears that the Government have no policy on Northern Ireland. We do not know in which direction they are trying to lead the Province. There is an enormous gap in the Government's general strategy.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will reply to the many other issues that have been raised—for example, the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) to citizens' advice bureaux and topics such as immigration.
I raise one other matter, namely, phase 3 and the issues that arise from it. There is an enormous amount of uncertainty about phase 3. For months it was heralded by the Government as a vital part of their economic strategy and incomes policy, but in recent weeks we have heard Ministers using phrases that indicate that they are getting weaker and weaker on it all the time.
For example, some weeks ago we heard that the Chancellor wanted a single-figure settlement—in other words, less than 10 per cent. No such figure has been used recently. Instead of a firm agreement we have words such as "understanding" and "arrangement", which suggests that it will be a weak arrangement and not what the Government would like to have. The 1626 uncertainty created by that atmosphere is something that can be cleared up when the right hon. Gentleman replies.
A report has emerged recently on the remuneration of doctors and dentists. It raises a number of problems. In the second paragraph it states that this extremely important professional body has had its standard of living reduced by about 20 per cent., which is a very great reduction. Members of the profession are feeling extremely frustrated and angry, as are many other people throughout the country. It is not an exclusive feeling, it is one that is shared by those who are employed in factories, for example. We know what the strike at London Airport was about and we know the circumstances of the toolworkers' strike at British Leyland. This is another example of the same sort of thing. The review body regards the matter as being so serious that it views the profession's future with some misgiving.
The review body, in paragraph 3, states:We also see very real difficulties in the way of continuing to function as an independent Review Body unless it again becomes possible for us to have full regard to the principles behind the aims so clearly expressed by the Royal Commission on Doctors' and Dentists Remuneration.In other words, it is not just the professional people whom this body is there to help who are worsted by what has happened. We have reached the position, in this extremely important profession, where the people who are trying to advise the Government on a fair and reasonable range find themselves in an unacceptable position. So much so, they have grave doubts whether they can continue at all.
That is the kind of mess and muddle into which this Government are getting the country. Every time we have these debates—there cannot be many more before the next election—the situation gets worse. Since the Easter Adjournment motion, the Government have lost Stechford and Ashfield. They were lucky not to lose Grimsby. At any rate, their majority has gone and the extent of their minority is increasing.
Many of us feel that the Government's authority to govern has gone. So long as they can command a majority in this House they have a certain authority to 1627 govern, but, looked at in the round, looked at from any outside point of view, their genuine authority to govern and their legitimacy seems no longer to be real. By far the best thing that they could do would be to allow the country to have a General Election so that people who are longing to vote and to express their view can do so. I think that we can genuinely say that they are longing to vote, because the poll at the local government elections was certainly a great deal higher than usual.
We can understand the Government struggling along to try to keep themselves in power. I suspect that they will do so at the price of losing by an even wider margin at the end of the day. That would not be so significant, but for the fact that in the meantime, by the absence of authority and the steps that they are having to take to survive, they are damaging the true interests of this country and in no sense benefiting any family in this land. For those reasons, the sooner they go, the better.
I do not suggest that the House should vote against the recess motion. However, that in no way alters the fact that the state to which the country has been reduced is causing the utmost dismay to the Opposition. The Lord President has a great deal more to answer for today than he had before Easter.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I shall seek to answer the more general questions posed by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) later in my remarks. I think that I should begin by commenting on some of the other speeches which have been made.
I start with the speech made by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) not only because he fully recognised that the Government had set the pace on the question of direct elections—a point not noted by all his hon. Friends—but because he gives me the opportunity of correcting a date which I gave in reply to a business question today. I referred to a reply of mine on 4th May. I apologise for the fact that the hon. Gentleman should have had all the trouble of looking up an utterance of mine which was not made on that particular 1628 date. My reference was to a statement made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 4th May, but he was reiterating what I had said on other occasions on the question of the passport—the matter raised earlier today by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).
My hon. Friend, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold), announced:There are two main features of the design still to be agreed in Brussels. They concern the layout of the cover and the languages to be used inside the passport. In addition, there are other matters of detail to be discussed with our Community partners. … We are agreed that the House should have an opportunity to discuss the subject…my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary … accepts that it is proper that the House should be given an opportunity to debate the matter before the Government are finally committed on the issues under discussion in Brussels."—[Official Report, 4th May 1977; Vol. 931, c. 447.]Of course, there should be a debate in this House on the matter. I hope that meets the point made by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston and the point made during business questions by the hon. Member for Banbury.
§ Mr. Channon
The right hon. Gentleman has, in effect, quoted an answer given by one of his hon. Friends. Will he confirm what his hon. Friend said in reply on that specific occasion—namely, that the Government were committed in principle to the introduction of such a passport although a lot of practical details had to be finalised?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not going back on what was said by the Minister of State on that occasion. The Foreign Secretary gave an undertaking, and I also gave an undertaking on an earlier occasion, that the matter would have to be settled by 1629 the House. It is on that basis that it will have to be brought forward again.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston also referred to fisheries and asked for a general debate on the subject. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) began the debate with a reference to fisheries questions, indeed, he put a specific point about the Irish fish conservation measures. I understand that the European Court gave an interim decision last Saturday to the effect that the Irish could carry on with their boat length measure whilst seeking an alternative solution in consultation with the Commission and that the Court would give a final decision on 22nd June, which the United Kingdom awaits with considerable interest.
Several hon. Members have asked whether there should be a general debate on fisheries questions. We have had previous debates on fisheries. They have shown how strongly my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has put this country's case in all the discussions in Brussels. I think that is recognised by both sides of the House. If there is to be another debate—I am not altogether excluding the possibility of such a debate in Government time—it is a good candidate for a Supply Day.
I give a similar reply to the hon. Gentleman who mentioned the possibility of a debate on immigration. He seemed to think that a debate chosen by the Opposition for a Supply Day was in some way unsatisfactory. That is not so. The whole purpose of Supply Day provisions under our parliamentary arrangements is to give the Opposition the opportunity to raise important matters. That would be a perfectly proper matter to be debated on a Supply Day. I am sure that in the Conservative Party, just as in the Labour Party, representations can be made through party arrangements regarding the subjects to be chosen for Supply time. The hon. Gentleman can certainly put his case to his Front Bench on that matter.
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to the operation of citizens' advice bureaux and the possible effects upon them of changes in local government finance. I confess that I did not understand the absolute urgency of the case that he was making. I did not 1630 fully appreciate why the matter had to be settled before we departed for the Whitsun Recess. I am sure that it must have been my failure, rather than his, that I did not get the proper connection between the two.
As far as I know, there has been no alteration in the general support that is given to citizens' advice bureaux. I acknowledge that they do a fine job. They certainly do in my constituency. I believe that they should be supported in every possible way. I do not know of any alteration in policy which affects them. If so, it would be a proper matter to be raised under the normal procedures when we return after the recess.
The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), among other matters to which I shall come later, referred particularly to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee. I gather that negotiations about an increase in chemists' profit margins, the shelf life of drugs and calculating the value of stock have been proceeding for about a year—quite unknown to me originally. Sir Patrick Nairne, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Security, wrote to the Chairman of the PSNC at the end of March explaining why the Department could not agree to the committee's case.
The chairman replied last week and held a Press conference. The reply said that Sir Patrick's explanation was not acceptable and that they would have to consider what further steps to take. They said that they would be approaching Ministers. That approach has not yet been made. We shall have to depart for the Whitsun Recess without having solved that question.
Mention has also been made of the Prices Bill and how it will work. There have been several questions and discussions about some of the votes and decisions in the Committee on that Bill. The Bill will be returned to the House in the first week after the recess. We shall then have debates on these issues. That is the proper time for major question on that topic.
I shall turn in a moment to the two major questions concerning direct elections and the other vital matter that has been raised. But, first, I must deal with a few other issues. My hon. Friend the 1631 Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) mentioned information booths. The Home Office Voluntary Service Unit is giving grants in excess of £60,000 to help homeless young people arriving in the West End of London without adequate accommodation. I understand that an additional fund of £10,000 towards the improvement of existing services has been rejected by the voluntary organisations that are promoting the idea of information booths. The Home Secretary is considering whether the money should be used as a contribution towards an improved advisory service at one of the main terminals.
The hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) raised the important matter of the operation of the closed shop. He mentioned the case of Mr. Kenneth Edwards. I shall not comment on the case or anything to do with it. It would not be right for me to do so without surveying all the facts. This is not the correct occasion on which to deal with the individual case. That is particularly so if representations are continuing or dicussions taking place between the unions and the employers concerned. I am not sure whether the hon. Member said that the matter had been concluded.
There is considerable misapprehension by the hon. Member and others about the nature of the legislation. It was not intended to enforce closed shops, nor did it favour closed shops. The legislation was designed to remove the ban on closed shops that was incorporated in previous legislation. We lifted the ban partly because it had been proved in the courts that it was impossible to operate and partly because it could be a potent cause of strikes and injustice to individuals.
For those reasons we believed that the provisions of the 1971 Act had to be abolished. They were abolished, but that did not mean that the Government were laying down the terms of union membership agreements that could be made in different places, different trades and different operations. That is still a matter for negotiation between employers and trade unions. In the case raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East a large number of trade unions are involved.
In that legislation, we also said that in dealing with unfair dismissal there should be exemption on the ground of religion. 1632 We went through all the arguments why provisions should be defined clearly and accurately and why the issue of conscience could not be provided for in the same way. It is not proper for me to reply to an individual case. I am not passing judgment one way or the other. It would not be right for me to do so in the course of my reply.
§ Mr. Aitken
The Leader of the House suggested that he would try to encourage conciliation procedures that are still open in this case. I hope that he understands that we on the Conservative Benches cannot allow him to get away with this parrot cry, which suggests that the Government were neutral on the closed shop. They were about as neutral on the matter as a green traffic light. The Leader of the House must understand that this case would not have arisen had it not been for his legislation.
§ Mr. Foot
Before our legislation was introduced there were many arguments about people having their livelihoods taken away from them because of the closed shop. The hon. Member for Thanet, East is not right. I know that it is propaganda for people to take that view, but it is not true to say that the law that we introduced favoured or condemned closed shops. Our legislation removed an unworkable law that the Conservatives sought to impose upon the country. They said that closed shops should be illegal, but that was found to be unenforceable and the ban was removed.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
How can the Leader of the House possibly say that the legislation was neutral on this issue? When a person is dismissed he is entitled to compensation except when he is dismissed because of a closed shop situation. Does that not mean that the employer is encouraged to enter into a closed shop agreement and that the employee has no redress, as a result of the Government's legislation?
§ Mr. Foot
We went through all these arguments at length. Parliament came to a different conclusion. We never accepted the view that the hon. Member seeks to present. We said that it was impossible to try to make closed shops illegal. It was found to be so in the courts. The 1633 courts said that they could not enforce that law. Few closed shops were effectively banned by the operation of the 1971 Act. It was an unworkable Act.
With the concurrence of the Opposition we said that we must remove that unworkable law. We changed it, not because the Government wanted to insist on closed shops. We said that it was for trade unions and employers to act in a liberal manner in these matters.
I am not pronouncing about the employer or the individual concerned in the case raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, East. It would be a great mistake if we went back to that legislation and returned to the unworkable methods forced through the House in the 1971 Act.
I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I do not think that he should have spoken about the security measures and the difficulties in Northern Ireland in the way in which he did. Everyone in the House agrees with what has been said by another hon. Member. Everyone agrees with what has been said about the appalling difficulties with which people have had to contend in Northern Ireland, and how bravely it has been done by both the security forces and the people of Northern Ireland. I should certainly accept everything that is said by anyone on that subject. However, so far from assisting people in Northern Ireland, I believe that it can do positive injury to suggest that the Government are not seeking to do everything that they possibly can to provide proper security and protection, and to do it in concert with members of the Unionist Party, among others, and other leaders in Northern Ireland.
There have been discussions between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Mr. West the leader of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland—with which I understand the hon. Gentleman is in some respect still associated. Of course there have been discussions to try to improve security measures all the time, and some of those discussions are already bearing further fruit. However, I believe that all hon. Members from Northern Ireland, whatever views they may hold, must know that the Government have 1634 taken every possible step that we think is advisable to try to deal with the appalling difficulties there.
I also think that it was very ill-advised of the hon. Gentleman—I think that this applies to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire as well—to talk about an inordinate delay in proceeding with the proposal to refer to the Speaker's Conference the question of representation from Northern Ireland. We are the Government who have taken the step of proposing that this matter should be specifically referred to the Speaker's Conference. We hope that we shall get agreement from all sections of the House to carry that forward as a specific reference. We agreed to that and made that statement in the debates that we had a month or so ago in this House, and I am sure that those from Northern Ireland with whom we had discussions will agree that we are carrying through our obligation.
As a Government, we are absolutely committed to carrying through that discussion and referring the matter to the Speaker's Conference, and, in my belief, to securing from that Speaker's Conference a rectification of the injustice that Northern Ireland has suffered in this respect. It is a great pity if any hon. Members, in any quarter of the House, cast doubts on our intentions about this matter, or repeat any attack on our good intentions, because we are determined to carry through the pledge that we gave to the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and those who came to see us then.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux: (Antrim, South)
I thank the Lord President for giving me the opportunity to confirm what he said. The Prime Minister wrote to me on Monday last setting out the arrangements for the Speaker's Conference to deal with Northern Ireland as a matter of priority.
§ Mr. Foot
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said. I certainly hope that there will be no delay in carrying through that discussion and in producing the results.
I think that I have dealt with almost every other subject except the main one—although that is not to pass any judgment—
§ Sir Anthony Royle
Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to the main subject—direct elections—will he cover the points that I made about the fourth terminal at London Airport?
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that that is dealt with somewhere in the maze of papers before me—although it is the subject of the next debate. So much was I on tenterhooks to reply to the hon. Gentleman on this subject that it almost escaped my attention that he would be able to raise the matter in the next debate. I should not like to interfere with his greater elaboration on the subject. I am sure that the rest of the House will be eager to stay to listen to every word that he wishes to uttter on the subject, but if by any chance there is any hon. Member, in any quarter of the House, not in that curious position, I am prepared to give the hon. Gentleman an answer on the subject.
I understand that the British Airports Authority's proposal to build a fourth terminal at Heathrow has been the subject of consultation between the Authority and the local planning authorities already directly concerned. In the light of their views, my right hon. Friend is considering whether it would be expedient for there to be a direction making the proposed development the subject of normal planning control. That would be an essential first step towards the statutory public inquiry.
I hope that that, perhaps, will relieve the House of having to hear another speech from the hon. Gentleman—in which case I shall be doubly applauded.
I turn now to the references to the newspapers, introduced first by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. White-head) and one or two others. I do not see why people should be so sensitive about these matters being raised. After all, the newspapers are not always so reticent in making comments about us, and I think that occasionally it may be possible for us to indicate the feeling of Members of the House. I shall not comment at all on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton. I think that he expressed the matter admirably. I hope that what he said will be reprinted on the front page of the Daily Mail 1636 tomorrow. We shall all look forward to reading that newspaper on that account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North asked me whether I would give an undertaking, or whether there could be an undertaking, that any question of the amalgamation of the Evening Standard with the Evening News, or any other amalgamation of the Beaverbrook Press with other newspapers, would be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I cannot give that guarantee in those terms. However, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's general view. I think that the possibility of the destruction of the Evening Standard should be a matter of great public concern and interest. I say that not only because of my past connections with the newspaper but because I believe that the Evening Standard is one of the finest newspapers in the land. Up to a year or so ago it was edited by one of the very greatest of modern editors, Mr. Charles Wintour. I quite agree with the remarks that my hon. Friend made on this matter, and I should like to see Mr. Charles Wintour's comments printed very prominently in the other newspaper, too.
All those newspapers, perhaps, engaged in the argument about the freedom of the Press a few years ago. I think that they might also ensure that what Mr. Wintour has said is fully printed. In saying that, I certainly mean no adverse comment in any sense about Sir Max Aitken, who is a very old friend of mine. I hope that with full health he will be able to play a leading part in saving his newspaper. I wish him the very best of success in doing so. He is one of the Few who saved this country in the 1940s. I believe that it is in that spirit that we should speak of him. I wish him the greatest success in trying to deal with a highly difficult situation in the newspaper industry.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about the desirability of trying to sustain as many of these newspapers as possible.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the loss of the Evening News and the Evening Standard would have an almost irreparable adverse effect on millions of Londoners? Even if these two great newspapers were melded together, that would not be altogether satisfactory. However, 1637 it would be a terrible tragedy if the people who owned the Daily Mail ran any evening newspaper. We should then be in the terrible situation of never receiving honest news or maintaining good standards.
§ Mr. Foot
I have said previously that I believe that the collapse of the Evening Standard would be a tragedy for London and a tragedy for journalism and for newspapers generally. It would also be a tragedy if the Evening Standard fell into the hands of Harmsworth. I believe that the best comment on the whole of this situation has been made today by Charles Wintour, and it is on that comment that I should like to rest.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I endorse everything that my right hon. Friend has said, particularly the way in which he has spoken personally about Sir Max Aitken. However, in the event of there being an announcement, during the recess, of a successful Associated Newspaper bid for the Beaverbrook Group, will the Government stand by or will they not?
§ Mr. Foot
The Government are deeply concerned about the situation and have had discussions with various people to see how they can assist. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Use your best endeavours."] I am coming to that in a moment. We certainly wish to do anything we can to ensure that a wide range of newspapers is sustained. It would be a tragedy for London, and for the country, if the Evening Standard were to be destroyed.
§ Sir H. Wilson
This is an Adjournment debate, which has ranged very wide. I have played my part in it. What we are trying to do is debate the case before the House goes into recess. The House will be rising for two weeks. I know that this is a hypothetical situation, but my right hon. Friend has referred to the possibility of there being an agreement about a merger, including the one he has specifically referred to, namely the Evening Standard and the Evening News. It might go wider than that. Can he give an assurance that if there is such a merger requiring the fiat of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection no action will be taken to confirm it without reference to the Monopolies Commission? Will my right hon. Friend also say that no such action 1638 will be taken without the House having the opportunity to express its view?
§ Mr. Foot
I certainly understand what my right hon. Friend has said. He is a greater authority than I am on the merger clause of the legislation. But there are some provisions in it under which the merger can take place in particular circumstances where the Minister cannot intervene. However, I am in no sense seeking to detract from what I have said before. We are very much concerned about this and we are eager to assist if we can. I do not believe that the danger that we have discussed still remains.
I turn to two or three other points that have been raised. First, with regard to direct elections, the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) put a specific question to me. I hope that I can reply satisfactorily. He hoped that I would not take refuge in obscurity. I trust that will be the case. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we are still bound by the commitment that appeared in the Queen's Speech. We are. He asked whether there would be a genuinely free vote on the form of voting. That was one of the agreements that the Prime Minister and I reached with the Liberal Party. There was a special clause in that understanding which referred specifically to this question. We are, of course, bound by the undertakings that we gave. I am glad that this understanding is now getting wider and wider acceptance in all parts of the House. I believe that what we have agreed can be of benefit to the country as a whole.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire professed to be greatly mystified because I used the word "communication" when I was speaking earlier. Perhaps he thought it had some real significance and, maybe, that Jubilee Year had gone to my head. I think it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, because there are different ways in which the matter can be dealt with or communicated to the House after the recess. It can be done by a statement, or by the presentation of the Bill itself, or by some other indication. I do not think there is any need for the right hon. Gentleman to be mystified.
What I was doing when I made that statement was to allay the doubts of 1639 hon. Gentlemen who asked that there should be some early indication to the House of what we propose to do. I indicated that in the week when we return there will be a communication to the House, and I am sure that that will enable everyone to understand how we propose to proceed on the matter. But we shall be seeking to carry out all the obligations that we have undertaken to the House and to all those with whom we have discussed the matter.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman is now putting a different point. I have already answered the question that he put in his speech, but he does not seem to be satisfied. He will have to wait for another fortnight to understand this question. The hon. Member for Southend, West asked that I should lift the curtain. I have lifted the curtain. The hon. Gentleman can now see that I have nothing at all to conceal. I therefore hope he is perfectly satisfied. The House does not need to work itself up into any great passion about this matter. I used the word "communication" for the very good reason that it covers all eventualities but the House will learn exactly what we are proposing when we return.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
I asked a specific question about what part the right hon. Gentleman played in Cabinet with regard to the faction opposing the bringing forward of the Bill. He seems to have left that question unanswered.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman knows that that was a fatuous question and that I was not going to reply to it. I have mentioned on many occasions that it was Lord Chatham who once said that all British Cabinets are divided. That was said a couple of centuries ago. It is, of course, true that occasional differences of opinion arise in Cabinet but it is no mystery that what Cabinets do is to argue about the different points of view, resolve them and communicate the result to the House. The word "communication" must have come from Lord Chatham himself.
There was finally the question of phase 3. The right hon. Gentleman was very disturbed because he did not think that 1640 we would achieve a phase 3 in quite the precise exact form that he would wish. I must say that I remember what the Opposition said about phases 1 and 2. Some Conservative Members were not sure what they should do about phase 1. When we came to the House in 1975 and secured an agreement which we believe to be highly desirable in order to tackle the menace of inflation the Opposition did not know what to do. They did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. But when we discussed the first main clause in Committee they said that it was a constitutional monstrosity, even though they had allowed it to go through on Second Reading. They then said that they did not think it would work, but a few months later it became apparent that it was working and they were even more angry.
They were also not at all sure what to think about the second year. They were slightly more critical in that period, but it was a marginal affair, because they did not want to say which side they were on. All that the Opposition say with regard to phase 3 is that it should be near to phases 1 and 2.
§ Mr. Foot
The Government have indicated that they wish to secure a phase 3 agreement between themselves and the trade unions. We have said that on many occasions. We are having discussions to secure it. But the right hon. Gentleman, who never secured any agreement with the trade unions, must not be too impatient. After all, the Conservatives landed the country in absolute catastrophe with the worst industrial relations situation that we have known for a quarter of a century.
Between 1970 and 1974 more days were lost in industrial disputes than during any other comparable period in British history, apart from the year or two after the First World War. We will not therefore accept any lectures from the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends about how to deal with these matters. 1641 They did not secure any worthwhile agreement on any form of incomes policy. All they did was to leave us not merely a record balance of payments deficit—five to six times as great as the record deficit they left us in 1964—but record inflation in the pipeline. The rate of inflation the following November was 17 per cent. and in the following January and February it was 24 and 25 per cent. All that was in the pipeline. I can understand that the Conservatives do not want to rake all that up again.
The right hon. Member mentioned the subject of a General Election. Of course the Conservatives would like to have one. This point was raised in connection with the understanding that has been reached between the Government and the Liberal Party. We understand why the Conservatives do not like that agreement, and we understand that they do not want the Government to command a majority in the House, but they must learn to put up with it. A General Election may be some time off—quite a long time. When we debate the Whitsun Adjournment in May 1979, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will still be raising these matters. I hope that by then the 1642 question of direct elections will have proceeded in some form or other. No doubt we shall have dealt with the London terminal. Possibly the Opposition will have plucked up enough courage to have debates on the subjects proposed by some Conservative Members. We shall be prepared for a General Election at the proper time and for the return of a Labour Government who can forge ahead with policies that will save the country. Therefore I ask the House to pass this motion with an enthusiasm that might have been even greater before I got up to speak.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising to-morrow do adjourn till Monday 13íh June.