Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Tuesday 24th October.—[The Prime Minister.]
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I am sure that before we decide upon this matter the House will wish to consider what happened at Question Time last Thursday, when the Prime Minister, who I see is still in his place, said that the Government's undertaking given by the Lord President to refer to the Scrutiny Committee proposals for improved arrangements for debating EEC legislation had been faithfully carried out. Indeed, he added the words "to a scintilla" with the learning which we expect of him.
But the Lord President a few minutes later, in answer to business questions, asked to be released from that undertaking. That is a very unsatisfactory situation, and we should not be expected to adjourn for the Summer Recess without an explanation from the Leader of the House of his failure to honour the firm undertaking that he gave in the debate on 28th November with regard to finding better methods for dealing with EEC matters in this House. That is, of course, a question of immense importance to the country.
The right hon. Gentleman deserves to be quoted accurately, and, therefore, I refer first to Hansard of 28th November, at the foot of column 102. The right hon. Gentleman said:I believe that it is of major importance that we make a fresh effort to see whether we can establish a better arrangement and a better record beween the procedures of the House and the procedures of the Common Market.Later he went on to say:The Government are conducting a fresh examination of all these procedures.He then referred to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who, in the words of the Leader of the House, askedfor a specific undertaking that if there are to be fresh procedures the matter should be discussed with the Scrutiny Committee. That is a most reasonable request",258 said the Lord President. He added:In any case, it would be an absurdity for the Government to embark upon a new method, and a new relationship between the Scrutiny Committee, the House of Commons and the EEC itself, without taking into account the experience of the Scrutiny Committee and without giving that Committee the opportunity to comment on any proposals that the Government might make. I give the right hon. Gentleman that undertaking, therefore.He went on to pay tribute to the Scrutiny Committee and the work that it does on behalf of the House.
We are entitled to be told by the Lord President, if I may have his attention, exactly what, if anything, he has recommended to the Scrutiny Committee and, if he did recommend anything, what transpired.
I should also, in fairness to the Lord President as well as to the House—because it is part of the foundation of the case which I seek to make—refer to column 108 of the Official Report of 28th November 1977. As he was concluding his speech, the Lord President said:I hope very much that all the proposals that we have"—[Interruption.] On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not find it disconcerting, but I have to raise my voice rather in order to overcome the endless hubbub on the other side of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Every hon. Member is entitled to be heard in silence in this House, or, if not in silence, in reasonable silence.
§ Sir D. Renton
At column 108, the Lord President is reported as saying:I hope very much that all the proposals that we have for better parliamentary control will be brought forward in this Session, but I give the undertaking that if that is not possible the House will have an opportunity of deciding this matter if we have not been able to reach agreement on the more general question."—[Official Report, 28th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 102–9.]That was a more general question to which he referred.
That was eight months ago, and surely that is long enough for this Government or any Government to make up their minds on this extremely important matter. It is not that it is a matter of great complexity. Moreover, only one of the proposals put forward in the debate could 259 be said to be, in principle, controversial —that is to say, the "loophole", as it is now known. If I may remind the House, the loophole is the occasion when, even when the Scrutiny Committee has asked for a debate, a Minister might go to the Council of Ministers without a debate taking place and make an agreement with them so long as he comes back to the House as soon as possible and gives an explanation as to why the flatter was not debated first in the House and why he had to be in such a hurry to reach agreement with the Council of Ministers. That is the "loophole", and the question is still open and unresolved. There are different views about it on both sides of the House.
But there were other matters raised in the debate and constructive suggestions were made. I was then speaking from the Front Bench and I made five suggestions asking the Government for more time on the Floor of the House to discuss EEC legislation and other EEC matters. I also asked for important matters to be raised at a reasonable time and not so late at night, as so often happens. Admittedly, that would have meant using a bit more of the time of the House in ordinary hours for EEC matters. It would have meant using a bit less time for other matters. I grant that. But surely we must get our priorities right.
Whether we like it or not, our agricultural, economic and social policies are increasingly being decided by the Council of Ministers This is a continuing process.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
How did the right hon. and learned Gentleman vote?
Yes. Would the right hon and learned Gentleman explain to the House how he voted on the Common Market? I think that some of us had the right to get up in this House and explain that that sort of thing would happen, but, it I remember rightly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was one of those who supported our entry into the Common Market and supported the legislation put forward by his hon. Friends. I regard what he is saying as a slight cheek
§ Sir D. Renton
I am so grateful for that interruption, because it enables me to remind the House that I have always voted for the Common Market. I have always hoped that this House would work out procedures which would enable the Common Market to do better, as well as enable us to do better in the Common Market, in order to make a reality of our partnership in the EEC and in order that we might take the fullest advantage of our membership of it. There is no question of the hon. Gentleman being able to accuse me of inconsistency in this matter. Indeed, this speech is an attempt to further the views that I have always held and put before the House.
§ Sir D. Renton
Unless we develop practices which will enable the House to consider European affairs more thoroughly—[Interruption.] I know that the Left wing does not like this, but it must face up to the reality of the situation. Unless we make better arrangements, we shall fail to get the best advantage of our membership of the EEC.
That is why it was a great shock last Thursday to hear the Lord President ask to be released from his undertaking, having meanwhile, presumably, failed to propose better arrangements for debating EEC affairs. Certainly he failed to give the House the opportunity that he promised we should have of considering how to do so.
Indeed, but for this matter having been raised during business questions last Thursday by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs Castle), among others, we might not have this opportunity now. But, now that we have the opportunity, we expect the right hon. Gentleman to explain his breach of his undertaking. The electors will want to know the reason why. If it is something that has happened behind the scenes, that is a case for asking for more open government. We are asking why the Government are unable to help us to achieve these better arrangements so that, in pooling our sovereignty with others, not only do we gain an important stake in Europe but this Parliament is enabled to influence what happens there.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
As it is likely that a Conservative Government will be in office within a reasonable time, and as my right hon. and learned Friend said that at one stage he was speaking from the Front Bench, may I take it that what he is now saying should happen would happen if a Conservative Government came into office? In the light of a coming General Election, it is important to know that.
§ Sir D. Renton
That is a question which should be addressed to the Front Bench. All I can say is that my speech on that occasion was not made without careful consideration and consultation.
However, we are not today challenging the Opposition Front Bench but are challenging the Government for their failure. We are challenging the right hon. Gentleman for a breach of his undertaking. We wonder why there was a discrepancy between what the Prime Minister said at Question Time last Thursday and what the right hon. Gentleman said ony a few minutes later. I trust that we shall now receive the explanation we deserve.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am loth to worry the Chair unnecessarily, but I am somewhat disconcerted. I had hoped to seek the leave of the House to bring in a Ten-Minute Bill on the subject of libel, but I appear to have been overtaken by hon. Members complaining of the need to adjourn. I wonder whether you could explain exactly what has happened, Mr. Speaker. I should be exceedingly loth to see the House adjourn before I had had the opportunity to introduce my Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Lady will have noticed that her motion to seek leave to bring in her Bill is the fourth on the Order Paper. Her motion is not Government business, as well she knows. Therefore, it is not covered by the provisions of the 10 o'clock business motion. Like any other business today, it is subject to interruption at 7 o'clock, when opposed private business will be taken.
If proceedings on the hon. Lady's motion are begun before 7 o'clock—if the debate on the Adjournment motion collapses—-and if the hon. Lady begins before 7 o'clock but has not completed her speech before that hour, she can be 262 assured that it can be resumed after the completion of the opposed private business, if that has finished before 10 o'clock. However, if the opposed business runs until 10 o'clock the hon. Lady's motion is subject to the rule of interruption at 10 o'clock and cannot be continued beyond that hour. On the other hand, if the hon. Lady's motion is not reached at all before 10 o'clock, which is a possibility, it can be moved after that hour only if there is no objection or opposition.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If there should be a decision to adjourn, in the terms of the motion now before the House, would there be a great deal of point in the hon. Lady's proceeding with the introduction of her Bill, as it will be difficult for it to obtain a Second Reading, go through Committee and go to another place? Has not the hon. Lady even more difficulties than you have already outlined, Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Speaker
Several hon. Members have had difficulties in the past few weeks in bringing in Ten-Minute Bills. May I repeat that we have opposed private business at 7 o'clock. A large number of right hon. and hon. Members have indicated that they hope to take part in this debate. I hope that that will be borne in mind.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I shall be brief, but I wish very strongly to support the protest of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).
I can understand the feeling of cynicism of some of my hon. Friends when we hear those who supported our entry into the Common Market now corn plaining when they find there are difficulties in exercising proper control by this House of Commons over what happens in the Community.
The point we are discussing this afternoon is not related to the merits of the proposition that was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on 28th November 1977. I think it is too modest a proposition to warrant all the excitement that it has caused. All that he was asking was that, where the Scrutiny Committee 263 recommended that a piece of legislation or a Commission proposal to the Council of Ministers was of sufficient importance to be considered further by the House, it should be considered on a motion before any decision was taken by British Ministers in the Council of Ministers.
That gave us no absolute control. Indeed, the proposal was so modest that I find it incredible that any Government should have difficulty in accepting it. It certainly would not have involved an amendment to the Treaty of Rome or any of the profound reforms that some of us would like to see. Therefore, I am not concerned with the merits of that, but I am concerned about the fact that my hon. Friend put a motion before the House which was withdrawn as a result of an undertaking by the Government. That undertaking is not being kept.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman read out most of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council on 28th November 1977. I have no doubt where the Lord President's heart lies. It is that which makes me even more anxious about what has happened. I am absolutely convinced that, left to himself, my right hon. Friend would have come back to the House with proposals even more radical than those of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. His speech on 28th November demonstrated clearly where his own instincts lay. But what matters is that he promised us an examination of the whole question as to how we could improve the control by this House of Commons over decisions in the EEC.
My right hon. Friend said:If we find that such an examination is taking so long that my hon. Friends begin to say that the procedure is being used as a device to avoid considering this kind of motion, we shall have to bring the matter back to the House. That would be done by the Government, and not by individual Members."— [Official Report, 28th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 108.]When challenged as to whether the proposals would be brought back before the end of this Session, my right hon. Friend gave the undertaking to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has already referred.
That undertaking has not been kept. I find it profoundly disturbing that what 264 has happened is that some of my right hon. Friend's colleagues in the Cabinet have not allowed him to keep his word. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is obvious. I am no longer a member of the Cabinet. I am divining, just as any hon. Member would. But, knowing my right hon. Friend, that is quite clear to me. He would not cheat on his word. I say advisedly that this matter is very worrying. It is the second time within a matter of weeks that some members of the Government have refused to honour an undertaking.
I refer to the undertaking to introduce a freedom of information Bill which was included in our manifesto at the last General Election, laying the onus on public authorities to justify why information should be withheld. We were merely told "We are not going to do it." That, effectively, is what we have been told. We are told that talks with the Scrutiny Committee have not been concluded, and all the rest of it. But that undertaking was given in November 1977. It was not given yesterday. There has been plenty of time.
I rise this afternoon to support my right hon. Friend and, through this debate, to tell his Cabinet colleagues that we are profoundly alarmed by the indication of their collective unwillingness to do anything effective about strengthening the control of the British Parliament over what happens in the EEC.
§ Mr. Marten
Was the right hon. Lady here at Question Time last Thursday when I raised the matter originally with the Prime Minister? I suggested on that occasion that there should be an all-party agreement on the matter right now, before we go into recess, in case there is a General Election and in case the Government change, in which event the Conservative Party will be able to accept the undertaking given by the Leader of the House. Does the right hon. Lady agree with that?
§ Mrs. Castle
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. I agree entirely with what he said in the interruption he made in the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire. I do not expect enlightenment from the Opposition Front Bench. In fact, I expect far 265 greater obscurantism from that Bench. The Opposition Front Bench will not fight for the rights of the British House of Commons. After all, the Conservative Party took us into the EEC in the first place, on terms that were derisory from the point of view of protecting the interests of the British people.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is quite right. An all-party agreement would be the right solution. But, clearly, the initiative must come from the Government. The tragedy is that we have not even had an initiative to get an all-party agreement. It is right, therefore, that this House should register its anger at the way in which its trust has been betrayed. My trust in my right hon. Friend remains as strong as ever. I speak this afternoon only to back him up.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in this debate, because I believe that the House should not adjourn until it has considered a most important and little-publicised document entitled "Future World Trends". It is a discussion paper on world trends in population, resources, pollution and so on and their indications, which was published by the Cabinet Office back in 1976 and which, to my knowledge, has not been debated in any adequate way since that time. The Government said in that document that it was an interim document. I hope, therefore, that the Government will feel able to publish the results of their continuing discussions arising from the document and that we shall be able to have a fuller debate on the matter in this House in the not too distant future.
The first subject dealt with in the document was population. The document pointed out—I believe quite rightly—the difficulties of demographic forecasting. It said that whereas the population of the developed countries might not stabilise—according to the projections—until about 2050 at about 1.5 billion people, the population of the developing countries seemed likely to grow, according to the authors of the document, from the present figure of some 2.8 billion to about 10 billion in that same year. There is a considerable imbalance between the two.
266 The authors pointed out that a delay of less than one generation by the Governments in the developing countries concerned in achieving what is known as zero population growth could mean an increase of as much as 80 per cent. in the eventual population of those developing countries. Even if fertility rates were reduced to replacement level now, the age structure of the populations in those developing countries would mean that the overall population growth in those parts of the world would continue for at least another two generations. Hence the importance of the conclusion of the Bucharest conference on population some time ago that the necessary precursor to population control is adequate economic development in the developing countries themselves.
The second subject that the document dealt with was food and agriculture. The document pointed out in a quite unexceptionable way that agricultural production throughout the world is limited by natural resources and by economic maldistribution. It also pointed out that about one-quarter of the globe's land surface is cultivable but that of that area only about 15 per cent. is now irrigated. The conclusion was that perhaps twice as much could be irrigated as is presently the case. That is an important implication for the development policies of the countries in question. However, the document made clear that this implied the need for appropriate capital investment in rural development in the developing countries and the need for adequate labour and distribution systems and, furthermore, the prospect of reasonable economic returns for the people farming the land.
In all these ways the responsibility, as paragraph 26 of the document made clear, rests very firmly in the first place with the Governments of the developing countries themselves. But it still leaves unresolved some very real world-wide problems concerning food and agriculture, such as the different dietary patterns ant' demands of different countries and societies and the fact that if people are encouraged to eat lower down the food chain they are being fed in a more effective way; the influence of climatic changes, which people are now beginning to investigate to a greater degree; the impact of multinational companies upon the development of food and agriculture, particularly in 267 the tropical zones; and, above all, the different models of development that there are for these societies in the developing countries and the fact that, if the model of development is one of single cash crop economy with a view to getting scarce foreign exchange, this may be fine and dandy from a foreign exchange point of view but it is not very well equipped for providing the country with the possibility of self-sufficiency in agricultural production.
The third subject on which this excellent document touched concerned minerals. It is interesting that the records, so far as they are available, show that the average real price of many minerals has remained almost constant for about 80 years. The remaining recoverable reserves of minerals in the world are therefore very much a function of price, investment, technology and now, of course, politics itself. We know how much political considerations intervene in all these matters.
It is significant that the House should know that recycling is now an important aspect—or ought to be—of minerals policy. The United Kingdom, for example, gets about 26 per cent. of all its aluminium and about 62 per cent. of all its lead in this way. In paragraph 34 of the document there is a clear pointer to the fact that there ought to be a more coherent policy on mineral availability than this Government, or any Government, have had for a long while.
It is rather deplorable that, in answer to recent parliamentary Questions which I have put down to the Prime Minister and other Ministers asking where the ministerial responsibility lay for minerals policy, I got the very clear answer that it was divided, that there was no clear division of main responsibility, and the rather wet reply:The procurement of raw materials is primarily a matter for the industries exploiting or using them."—[Official Report, 18th July 1978; Vol. 954, c. 152.]The Government ought to think very carefully about the examples of Canada and Japan, where there are Government Departments which take the prime responsibility for minerals procurement for the countries in question, and a certain Department or Minister should focus very much upon ensuring that, as far as possible, conditions are right for investment by mining companies and waste in the 268 use of minerals is eliminated. The Government should consider the possibility of strategic stockpiles of one or two important minerals—something which is already done in the United States—and the Department of Industry should look very seriously at the whole area of product durability, because it is not until we eliminate the degree of planned obsolescence that we now have in many of our industrial processes that we shall be able to use our minerals and other scarce materials to the greatest effect.
The next area touched upon in the document is that of energy. Because that has been well discussed recently in the House and elsewhere, I shall not go into the matter in any detail. Suffice it to say that the document underlined very clearly the critical relationship between future energy growth and future economic growth. It made clear that the forecasts of future energy gaps, although slightly vague and indeterminate, none the less have been sensibly refined during the period since the document was written.
However, this has left the House and the country with one or two key problems to consider regarding energy. These include the lone lead times in supply and demand which make decision-making so difficult; the enormous investments required in the energy sector; the need for international co-operation—it is increasingly difficult for any one country to secure its energy supplies on its own—and the success or failure of Governments and societies in achieving energy conservation. In many ways energy conservation can achieve much more, much more quickly and much more cost-effectively than energy supply.
This still leaves one or two key questions for the future in relation to energy. For example, there is the rate of depletion of our offshore oil and gas reserves. There is the extent to which we regard a return to import dependence as acceptable and how we propose to handle that. There is the extent to which we believe in an essentially centralised energy supply, or a more decentralised one. Above all, there is the mismatch, if I may call it that, between the technological and political time scales involved.
One of the dilemmas of energy policy —indeed, it is a dilemma with which the 269 document is shot through—is that so many of these questions require sustained, honest effort by Governments over a period of a decade or more, and yet, of course, we know that this Government are shortly to come to a well-deserved end and, therefore, the political time scale is out of tune with the technological one.
The document also touched upon the question of pollution as a residual result of many of these matters. It is important for the House to recognise that pollution is a matter of increasing concern among people in this country and abroad. We are often told by Ministers that the United Kingdom has been fairly successful in dealing with air and water pollution, but, of course, there are considerable gaps, to which I hope that the next Parliament will pay attention. For example, there is the problem of motor vehicle emissions, which no Government have dealt with adequately.
It is also essential, as the document make clear, that the principle of the polluter paying for pollution should be established in every area. Clearly, the whole area of safeguarding the environment is a legitimate one for Government intervention. Yet much more must be done on an international scale if we are to ensure that the measures we introduce and the standards that we set in this country do not jeopardise the competitive position of British industries.
I believe that the public will be right to demand progressively higher standards of pollution control and that this will produce public goods which benefit the less-well-off sections of our society a great deal more than the rest. Perhaps it is significant that, within the OECD countries as a whole, the average spending on pollution control, taken overall, is still less than 2 per cent. of their GNP. There is, therefore, need for further effort. There should be no complacency in this area, because pollution is something about which advanced societies such as ours should care and about which they should be prepared to act.
Therefore, my final point is that all the strategic policy issues raised in the document draw our attention to one or two areas of wider concern, which I believe the House ought to be able to consider before it rises for the recess. 270 These include the extent to which the market can or will solve all these problems. I instance energy as a good example. There is the extent to which Governments have to intervene to do what will not be done naturally within the normal process of industrial events. Here one thinks of pollution. There if the extent to which, above all, we cam modify existing institutions or evolve new ones which take more account of these future considerations.
It was interesting that in a recent article in The Guardian by Harford Thomas in his "Alternatives" column, entitled "After 1984—the danger years", it was pointed out, quite rightly, thatNeither the parliamentary nor the Whitehall systems encourage serious consideration of long-term alternatives".That is precisely what this Government, via the Cabinet Office, sought to do some years ago, and it is what I seek to illustrate and highlight in my speech this afternoon.
I hope that we shall get an assurance from the Leader of the House when he replies that in the fag end of the present Administration we shall have more serious consideration devoted to these long-term issues mentioned in the document. I hope, too, that we get that assurance from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), when he replies from the Opposition Front Bench on behalf of the new Conservative Government who, I am sure, will come in the autumn. I hope that consideration will be given to the establishment of a new, independent institution to bring these factors to the attention of successive Governments and that politicians in all parties will be prepared to attack what has been called by Mr. Ronald Higgins the "seventh enemy"—namely, ourselves—and the fact that all too often our time scales are not sufficiently forward looking. If we are to cope with what are often ignorance, myopia and apathy among the public about these important long-term issues, we in this House must set the example.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I think that I might take as a cue, in making one or two remarks this afternoon, the point made by the right 271 hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). He spoke of open Government and, indeed, half-way through his speech I felt that we should have been talking about open Opposition. If I recall correctly, the right hon. and learned Member honestly admitted that he voted for the Common Market. Therefore, calling for controls at the present stage seems to some of us somewhat hypocritical. During our debate an amendment was tabled to improve the powers of this House. If my memory serves me correctly the right hon. and learned Member voted against that amendment.
§ Sir David Renton
There was no vote. While I am on my feet, may I point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly consistent to be enthusiastic about our membership of the EEC and at the same time to want the House of Commons to be as close as possible in its consultations so as to have the right point of view expressed by Ministers in the Council of Ministers?
§ Mr. Prescott
There certainly was a vote on the amendment to which I referred and I tried to check it with the Library. Time is short, but I should still like to check that point. There certainly was a vote on the amendment to which I referred.
My background is a seafaring one and many of the people I represent are seafarers and fishermen. They are very concerned about their safety and livelihood. I want to put on record my appreciation of the Government's recent proposals to improve safety for seamen. Their death and accident rates are high. The announcement yesterday by the Government about improving safety by statutory controls for seamen is a considerable advance and I congratulate them on it, having demanded it for the last 10 years.
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that fishermen who are not covered by this safety recommendation are facing an increase in the number of deaths in their occupation. For example, between 1961 and 1963, taking the average of those three years, the death rate for fishermen was four times that of miners and 10 times that in manufacturing industry. Between 1974 and 1976 the rate had increased to 10 times that of mining and 50 times 272 that in manufacturing industry. I hope that the Government will bring in legislation dealing with statutory controls for fishermen. The Government are committed to reintroduce legislation in the next Parliament, but the Opposition have made clear, apparently, that they do not give a new Merchant Shipping Act a high priority. I hope that we shall have a statement from the Opposition to the effect that they will reconsider that attitude in view of the carnage in the seafaring and shipping world.
The second matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the House is the strike which began today, closing a number of the ports, and affecting my own as well as many other constituencies. This is of considerable importance and justifies a debate in itself. Part of the trouble is the attitude of the Opposition to the dock labour scheme. We witnessed this attitude a week ago. It is due in part to the application of the Government's inflation policy.
It is made clear that these men, who do engineering and maintenance work on the docks, were promised three years ago that they would have parity with the dockers within two years from 1974. They were promised by the British Transport Docks Board, as I am informed, that from today, 1st August 1978, they would receive that parity. Apparently they have gone on strike from today, arguing that if it can be paid, who is stopping it?
I put this question to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and perhaps he can pass it on to the appropriate Minister: are the Government denying payment of this parity agreement? Even though the White Paper is mentioned on these occasions, a close reading of it and the debates does not necessarily lead one to the conclusion that the Government are in any way directing—and it is supposed to be a voluntary principle. There is a great danger that the inflation policy will become self-defeating.
That is the second factor which could, within the next few weeks, cause a prolonged and continuing strike in many of our major ports, with considerable consequences for the Government's inflation policy, the continuation of commerce, and my constituents' livelihoods in the Humberside area.
273 The main point I draw to the attention of the House, in this short opportunity to ask the House not to adjourn, concerns prison policy. In Hull, there is a high-security prison. Almost two years ago, it was the centre of a particularly violent dispute—a riot, in fact—lasting five days. It was a riot which reflected considerable concern and distress within our prison system. It reflected a considerable lack of policy implementation—namely, that there had been developments within the prison system which were not following any coherent pattern, and that the policy tended to differ from prison to prison—so much so that governors in different prisons were considerably influencing the nature and type of policy being pursued at that time.
I want to bring recent developments to the attention of the House, some of which are before the courts and, therefore, I am not entitled to pass comment on the possible consequences of action. But there are, by the very nature of the charges being brought, certain implications that are very important in the development of problems within the prison service which may lead to similar explosions in our prisons, at witnessed by the Hull prison riot.
At that time, when one investigation was taking place into the causes of such riots, allegations were made about brutality—prison officers assaulting prisoners. This was denied by the authorities. It was certainly rejected in the report of the Fowler inquiry that took place into the causes of the Hull riots—the report was produced almost 12 months later—to which I gave considerable evidence of my investigations. The Fowler inquiry found that the charge was not proven and that the reaction in the prison was due to a number of reasons other than any possible assault on a prisoner.
The inquiry agreed that assaults had taken place and that four prison officers had been involved with a prisoner, but the inquiry found—as did the board of visitors—that the one prisoner had assaulted four prison officers. That is a matter on which one must make judgments. But the important point to gather from this interpretation is that it was argued, certainly by many of the prisoners to whom I was given access in a number 274 of prisons around the country after their dispersal from the Hull prison, that brutality was one of the major reasons for the riot.
In my own report, I referred to this. In paragraph 3.9, I said:Certain matters, such as the allegations of assault by prison officers, are of a criminal nature and are presently being investigated by the authorities. I am not able to judge the validity of these allegations but mention them since, if they are substantiated by the inquiry, they will he extremely pertinent to the occurrence of the incidence.By "the inquiry", I meant the Fowler inquiry, and it did not find proven the charge that assaults had taken place. However, these allegations were put to the police authorities. After two years of investigation, the police have now issued charges against 13 prison officers, one of them an assistant deputy governor. The nature of the charges are such that the events took place after the men—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is pursuing a matter where charges have been made. He will realise, therefore, that the matter is sub judice.
§ Mr. Prescott
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I did not intend to stray into that, and perhaps I have done so in making those remarks. The point I wanted to make is that it has been substantiated by the two year inquiry that there was sufficient evidence for the courts to consider a case. That is now before the courts. The whole case within my own inquiry and report was that I was not in a position to ascertain the justification for such charges. That is for the courts to do, and the matter is now under the due process of law.
I have no intention of reflecting whether these matters are substantiated. My point is that it appears that if one takes this matter, in advance of the process of charges, with other matters which have recently been announced, we have a breakdown in the prison system which is a matter for concern and debate by the House. I refer to those other incidents now.
For example, it has been announced in a case before the High Court, which does not affect individuals, that Parliament decreed, in a ruling, that prisoners have the right when allegations or charges have been made inside the prison system to make their case to the board of visitors 275 with the best possible opportunities available to them. They are entitled to a proper defence before the visitors' board. Apparently the courts have now ruled that even though Parliament decreed that that should be the aim, if it is denied to them—as in the case that is before the courts—there is no way in which any authority can see that it is implemented outside the Home Office.
At this stage, a prison board investigating any acts of indiscipline committed by a prisoner inside a prison should be able to consider the case. But if the members of the prison board decide that they will not listen to witnesses regarding the charges against an individual defendant, the defendant is denied the very elements of justice before the prison board which has the power to take away remission and deal with him in the way the courts deal with people outside prisons.
To that extent, Parliament has decreed that each man has the right, even in prison to the elements of justice. Apparently, the courts have ruled now that they cannot interfere, even if that justice is denied to a prisoner.
The second fact that causes concern about prison policy is the recent television allegation of the involvement of prison officers in gun-running and drug-trafficking. It was revealed in statements on television and by the prison officers involved. It has been announced publicly that two men have been suspended. I notice that the incidents at Hull did not lead to suspensions, but a television show did. That is another cause for concern for this House—justice and the happenings in our prisons.
The third matter was announced in a report published yesterday by the Home Office on increasing violence in prisons. Also it was announced yesterday in the press that there is an increasing number of murders inside our prisons, all connected with certain practices that are continuing unabated in our prisons.
The fourth area is the public reaction to some of these events by the prison officers—that if there is a further incidence of rioting or of trouble within our prisons, the officers will remove themselves from the place of trouble, go to the perimeter wall and allow to take place whatever may take place.
276 Whatever the reasons for the breakdown of confidence between the prison officers, the Home Office and others, there is no justification for their action. The matter causes considerable anxiety to my constituents, particularly those who live just outside the wall and who have to face the consequences should a similar prison eruption occur.
In addition, there is the present public conflict between the BBC, the police and the prison officers—access by the media into the workings of the police and the prison officers being refused for whatever reasons—so it must be recognised that it is time for Parliament to discuss these substantial breakdowns of confidence.
All these matters contribute to a breakdown in definitions and in the present operation of prison policy. I welcome the opportunity of a meeting soon with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when I shall spell out some of the things that I believe need to be done, which were spelt out in my evidence to the Fowler inquiry. Since the riot two years ago matters have not greatly improved, a fact which causes me considerable alarm and leads me to believe that we shall see a greater breakdown of confidence and more violence within our prisons.
The House will accept that this speech is not an election winner. To say what I am saying does not necessarily gain votes, but it is a matter that concerns justice. It is a matter of a breakdown in an area for which we have entire responsibility. If we cannot provide proper time for debate of such an important issue at this stage, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will find the first opportunity to provide us with such time on our return after the recess.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
May I briefly return to the subject raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), who was followed by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). They seemed to be referring to two matters, one of which was the specific and clear undertaking given to the House and to the Scrutiny Committee by the Leader of the House in connection with the control of this House over EEC 277 legislation. The second matter raised by both, although not so directly, was the content of any motion or formal procedural matter which the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, might bring before the House.
I should like to make one comment on the first matter as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee. Last Wednesday the Leader of the House invited me to exchange one or two comments with him about his undertaking to the House. As it happened, this was just before the final meeting of the Scrutiny Committee in this Parliament before the House rises for the Summer Recess. After discussion with my colleagues in the Scrutiny Committee, I made clear to the right hon. Gentleman that it was not possible to comment properly on any resolution or any matter of that kind which we had not had sufficient time or opportunity to consider in depth.
I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will understand that though we might wish matters to proceed apace it is not possible to do justice to a matter of such substance at very short notice. Therefore, I accept the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend that there is a considerable amount of time between last week and November—a point which I am sure the Leader of the House also accepts—but that as between Wednesday of last week and the introduction of any motion, or any other matter that he might have had in mind, it is quite impossible for the Scrutiny Committee to do it justice.
The second matter, upon which I advance only a personal view, concerns the content of any resolution of the House, should we ever reach that point. I do not speak as Chairman of the Committee but advance a personal viewpoint derived from a practical observation of these matters during the time that I have been in the Chair of that Select Committee.
I believe that it would be impossible to have a resolution which did not allow for the exceptional activity which is often generated within the EEC. There have been occasions, are occasions and undoubtedly will continue to be occasions when it is in the interests of this country, and therefore obviously in the interests of the House, for Ministers of the day to proceed to an agreement in the Council 278 of Ministers before invoking the full scrutiny procedure in the House. It is most important that they are enabled to continue to do that, but that they should also be accountable to this House for the action they take. They must answer to the House and must justify to it any agreement to which they have been party, if, in the process of coming to that agreement, they have not invoked the full scrutiny procedure.
That said, there should be little difficulty in devising a resolution which would meet all the proper interests of the House. I am naturally anxious, as is every other right hon. and hon. Gentleman, that we continue to exercise effective scrutiny over EEC legislation and that the voice of this House is heard and observed by Ministers of the day.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)
Later this evening, or in the early hours, a number of London colleagues and I will hope to catch the eye of the Chair to talk generally about the problems of London and about the fact that decay is taking place faster than regeneration. I want to take the time of the House during this debate only to emphasise one separate, important event in London, about which the House should hear more before we adjourn, because it is a matter that goes far beyond the context of London.
I want to ask the Home Secretary for a statement to the effect that he will personally, preferably within the next few days but certainly within the next few weeks, visit the Brick Lane area of East London to try to reassure the local community about his concern with events there and to say that the Government will contemplate taking strong action to resist the outbreak of obscene racialism which has occurred there in recent weeks.
My right hon. Friend will perhaps realise why I referred to the later debate when I say that in the other context I shall be urging that non-London Members should visit London generally, because I think that they can get a false impression from looking at Trafalgar Square, the Mall, Whitehall and wherever they stay overnight. There are many aspects of London life of which they may be unaware. Certainly there is a general 279 sense of rundown and of social deprivation to be seen in the East End of London and, indeed, in some parts of my constituency of Paddington in the West. Many of us believe that it is those conditions that have made the Brick Lane area ripe for National Front recruiting and have provided the opportunity of exploiting those circumstances for racialist purposes.
I understand that the Home Secretary is prepared to consider—but no more than that at the moment—making a visit to the area. A number of us have been visited here this week, at our request, on behalf of the Labour Party in London. We have met representatives of the five East London boroughs and their community relation officers, and also of the Bengali community in the Brick Lane and Spitalfields areas. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is aware—I doubt whether the House is aware—of the seriousness of the situation we now face in those East London boroughs. I have no wish to trespass on a constituency matter, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) will recognise that this is certainly an issue which now has an all-London dimension.
What the community relations officers and the Bengali community have asked for in particular is that there should be a public judicial inquiry into events in Brick Lane. I hope that the Government can say before the House adjourns for the Summer Recess whether this is likely to happen. Whether it can be a public or a judicial inquiry may be open to question. But if there cannot be a public judicial inquiry, a public inquiry or a judicial inquiry, at least let the Home Secretary or the Government satisfy the local community that there is to be an inquiry of some sort.
I want briefly to underline the case for such an inquiry, and for a special interest by the Home Secretary, by referring to seven specific doubts which the local community feels. Whether those doubts are justified—whether or not some of the allegations are correct—does not matter. What matters is that very large numbers of people in the East End of London believe these things to be true. Since they believe them, some action to reassure them or to prove their doubts invalid is required.
280 First, there are complaints of the harassment of anyone whose skin is anything other than white in the belief that he may be an illegal immigrant, and of constant demands upon those people to produce papers to establish their right to presence in the country. That is one of the things that has undermined confidence in the police in that community in the East End. I understood that there had been assurances that, in general and at large, the police were not going to indulge in swoops of that kind.
Secondly, there is the belief that there is insufficient diligence when acts of violence occur—as they increasingly do—in the East End of London. It is true that the police have now arrested three youths charged with the murder of the Asian who was killed there not so long ago. But the local community believes that it is exceptional for the police to pay attention and to make arrests within a relatively short time.
The third point certainly warrants urgent attention from the Home Secretary. There is a belief—true or not—that within the police force in the East End there are some constables who are National Front sympathisers. The local community needs to be disabused of that suspicion. Indeed, when the Home Secretary recently gave an assurance that there were now 3,000 additional policemen in the East End of London, and when we suggested to the community relations officers that that should be some comfort to them, the response from people who are professionally concerned with trying to improve community relations was, "We do not want more police like those we are complaining about."
Mr. Fergus Mongomery (Altrincham and Sale)
The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious accusation against the police. It is the tradition in this country that all policemen wear their number, prominently placed. Before the hon. Gentleman makes such allegations in the House of Commons, should he not check the numbers?
§ Mr. Latham
Perhaps I could give way to the other hon. Gentleman, to see whether he listened to what I said.
§ Mr. Aitken
I wish to put it to the hon. Member that he is in danger of abusing parliamentary privilege by making such an allegation without substantiating it and without giving the definitive evidence of the names of the individuals concerned and the grounds for suspecting that they are National Front members.
§ Mr. Latham
I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the record will show me to be in order and that you would have drawn my attention to the fact if I had made such an accusation. I shall repeat the preamble to my remarks. These are things that are believed by very many people in the East End of London. I went out of my way to say that I do not know whether they are true. But I believe that the existence of these doubts, fears and anxieties makes the case for an inquiry and for positive official attempts to reassure the local community. I hope that the hon. Gentlemen who have just intervened will listen with care to my four remaining instances of the doubts of the local people and will understand why the local community has these fears and suspicions.
Fourthly, there are suggestions that not merely in the lower ranks of the police force but at higher levels there is not sufficient concern about arresting racist activity and dealing with National Front provocation in the East End. The Leman Street police station has been mentioned, and many of the local community who have themselves offered to be witnesses by personally arriving at Leman Street station complain that they have not been treated as members of the public coming forward to give information as evidence but have been herded off into a room and treated as though they were offenders in some way. The reception, treatment and attitude at Leman Street police station discourages these people from going there and lends credence to the suspicion that the police, if not antipathetic towards that community, are certainly not as sympathetic or as impartial as they should be.
Similarly, there were acts of violence against Asian workers leaving a brewery in the East End a short time ago. In any other situation, any hon. Member of this House would have supposed that given that act of violence one evening as workers left that brewery, the next evening there would at least have been police 282 present, however few in number and however inconspicuous. But their presence was so inconspicuous that it was totally out of sight, because it was non-existent. The fact that when Asians have been attacked by racist thugs one evening and the police are not present to watch events the following night is one of the pieces of evidence that encourage the local community and the Asian workers at that brewery to believe that the police are not doing the job that they should to protect them.
There is an even more worrying incident for which I have testimony from fellow members of the executive committee of the London Labour Party who were present to witness events in Brick Lane on the Sunday morning of the weekend before last. There is regularly a National Front pitch at the junction of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road. Some members of the community decided that it was about time that something less obscene and anti-racist was distributed from that pitch. They arrived at 5.30 a.m., so that they might be the first to stake a claim to stand and distribute their literature. They found the police there to bar them, and they were prevented from using that pitch. On the following Sunday morning, the police were there, not to prevent members of the National Front from occupying the pitch, but to provide them protection in order to do so.
When incidents of that kind occur, is it any wonder that the local community ask on whose side the so-called forces of law and order may be? Similarly, when a colleague was proceeding from one end of Brick Lane to the other during one Sunday morning confrontation, at one end were the Anti-Nazi group and at the other end were the National Front. When people passed from what I shall call the Anti-Nazi end of Brick Lane to the National Front end, they were diligently and assiduously searched by police for weapons. But when they moved back from the National Front end to the Anti-Nazi end, there was no similar interest to ensure that offensive weapons were not being carried. That occurred several times with people moving from one end of the road to the other. If that account is true, is it any wonder that people have doubts about the way in which the area is being policed?
283 Those are the seven points which it seems to me give cause for anxiety, and I believe that a visit by the Home Secretary and an announcement of his intention to do so is vital before the House goes into recess. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to announce this on behalf of the Home Secretary today so that he will have the opportunity to hear these matters at first hand and to sec some of these incidents at first hand. I hope, too, that the fact of his visit will be a contribution towards reassuring the local community.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Holland (Carlton)
I believe that there is a strong case for delaying the beginning of the Summer Recess beyond 3rd August, particularly as we may well be talking about not just the date of the Summer Recess but the date of the end of this Parliament. My view is based on the need for this House to consider a matter of growing public concern—namely, the rapid spread of bureaucracy by the proliferation of unelected, unrepresentative bodies beyond the reach of Parliament and in many instances not accountable to anyone for the expenditure of large and growing sums of public money. I refer, of course, if I may coin a phrase, to the quango explosion. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have indicated their concern about the extent to which individual Ministers are bypassing parliamentary checks. They are doing this by exercising a growing power of personal patronage that currently fills 8,500 paid and about 25,000 unpaid, but influential, appointments.
Increasingly these jobs are being filled by present or past trade unionists, by Left-wing academics, who seem to have a lot of time on their hands, by ex-politicians from local and national levels, and by anyone else that the Minister who hires, fires and pays them thinks will acquiesce in the implementation of his plan. I do not criticise anyone for accepting a job in a quango. I am criticising the Ministers who appoint them and the way they are selected. The public have a right to know the sort of people who are being given these new positions of power in the land and why they are getting them.
§ Mr. Holland
I shall give way in a moment.
These people who have been selected and appointed are our new masters in some respects and we have no say in their appointments.
§ Mr. Rooker
I am grateful to the hon. Member. So that we can raise this debate—the hon. Gentleman has raised an important subject—out of the gutters of the Tory Party to a level where reasonable men can discuss what is a particular problem, would the hon. Member give an example of a previous Conservative Minister ever advertising a quango job, as some of my right hon. Friends have done since 1974?
§ Mr. Holland
If the hon. Gentleman will have a little patience, he will hear that what I am proposing are changes for the benefit of the House of Commons and to restore power to the House of Commons for the future. I accept that all Administrations in the past have created bodies such as this. I am opposed to the way in which it is being done now and I am saying so. If the hon. Gentleman will have a little patience, he will find something in my speech that will be of interest even to him, although that is a rather difficult objective to achieve.
§ Mr. Holland
The new Executive style, currently, is to pass social laws designed to favour narrow sectional interests in our society and then to entrust their operation to official bodies composed of representatives of the very people they are intended to benefit.
Under the present Administration, even those quangos that were set up with the best of intentions have been degraded into predictably partial pressure groups. So we now have a conciliation service that is seen by many to be operating as a recruiting sergeant for the big battalion trade unions. We have an Equal Opportunities Commission that seeks to make women into stevedores and men into chambermaids whilst distorting the 285 English language with the need for such abortions as "chairperson".
The trouble is that the myth has been created that if we set up a separate body outside the confines of Government and Parliament we shall hear the voice of the people through the members of that body. Of course, all that we hear are the voices of those who are on that body and who have been carefully selected for their views. The present Government are stuck in tramlines on the quango trail. They feel compelled to create more and more quangos.
We are to open a fourth television channel, so let us have five large new quangos at the public expense. We must give the unions even more control over industry—I am sure that some Labour Members will agree with that—so let us set up an industrial democracy commission to duplicate some of the functions of that other quango dedicated to union power, ACAS.
In the past four years the present Government have set up 42 major, national, powerful quangos, each of which has either multiplied within itself or has spawned a number of satellite quangos. The Price Commission, in two years, increased in size from seven members to 16. Last year the Central Arbitration Committee increased in size from 34 to 82 members, all paid. The Health and Safety Commission has produced 10 new little quangos. Earlier Socialist—
§ Mr. Holland
My hon. Friend may like the little quangos because they are subordinate to the big quangos.
Earlier Socialist quangos included the 1969 Metrication Board, which was composed of a chairman and 12 members. It very quickly set up eight steering committees requiring eight more chairmen and another 104 part-time members. The 1968 British Tourist Authority and its four attendant national boards were followed by a whole new family of regional tourist boards. Incidentally, hon. Members will recall that the Metrication Board was set up without the knowledge or approval of Parliament, at the whim of the Minister of the day, who simply informed Parliament in a Written Answer to what was probably a "planted" Question when 286 it was a fait accompli. Parliament had no say at all in the setting up of the Metrication Board.
So the multiplication of bodies continues, and at such a pace that the explosion is totally out of control. No one Minister has overall responsibility for them. Official lists are out of date. Nobody even agrees how many quangos there are in total. Why is the "Directory of Paid Public Appointments made by Ministries" not published annually? Why is the list of members of public boards of a commercial character not yet published for 1978? Last year it was published in April.
§ Mr. Holland
I heard what the hon. Gentleman said from a seated position. He may be interested to know that in answer to Questions I put down earlier this year we were promised publication of both lists this year, but they have not yet appeared.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when some of us got into Government after the 1974 General Election we wanted to bring in a system whereby people could be appointed on the basis of selection committees, which is what happens with local authorities? The hon. Gentleman may know of a book called "The Great and the Good" When we went into the matter, we were told that selection had always been done in the present way and that nothing could be done about it.
The hon. Gentleman has a good point, but he is making a mistake in implying that a Labour Government are responsible for the system when we inherited something that had been with us for the past 50 years. It is about time the House put the matter right, but not on the basis that it is something for which the Labour Party is responsible. On the contrary, Labour Members in and out of Government have been trying to do something positive about it. It is the Opposition who have resisted change in the past.
§ Mr. Holland
I was delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, because it looks as though we might achieve all-party agreement in the future 287 to get something done, which I should welcome.
As for the hon. Gentleman's later remarks, the present Government are making matters considerably worse by accelerating the growth of quangos and abusing the way in which appointments are made. I am attacking the Government for that reason, not because they started the system. I accept that all Administrations in the past have pursued a policy of setting up official bodies. The time has come when we ought to get together in the House and do something about it.
Hon. Members are in the dark about such matters. Some Oral and Written Questions receive answers, but some answers refer us to the quango in question. There is no working definition of a body's day-to-day activities, nor are there any agreed limits to the responsibility that a Minister bears to the quangos that he makes.
Ministers answering parliamentary Questions about quango membership get their facts wrong and send letters, often weeks later, to correct them. For example, on 2nd May I was informed in a Written Answer that Mr. J. L. Jones CH, was a member of 13 quangos, which were listed. Twelve weeks and one day later I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Employment informing me that the information supplied in respect of three of those quagos was inaccurate and that Mr. Jones had now resigned from two others. I was glad to have the correction. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Employment has corrected the mistake made by his Department.
That is an example of how even senior members of a Government lose track of quango membership. They are losing control of quangos. It is clear from my researches over more than two and a half years that there are about 900 national and regional quangos ranging over every aspect of life, work and leisure. Quangos have been established to tell us what we should, can or must do in certain particulars in our day-to-day activities. Some even tell us how we should think, and some dictate our moral behaviour. In the event of any lapse in our prescribed behaviour, in certain circumstances there are some quangos with the power to prosecute us before other quangos.
288 As if the present were not bad enough, "Labour's Programme 76", which we are told is to be the basis of its manifesto—or, at least, of its programme for the next Labour Government, if we have one—promises us a national planning commission, an agricultural land commission, a housing finance agency, a national transport planning authority, a communications council, a public broadcasting commission, a national youth body, a central advisory committee on education, a co-operative development agency and a statutory energy forum. And the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) asked me why I was concerned about the present position.
The remedy lies, first, with the Ministers to stop and reverse the present growth trend by sharply reducing the overall number of quangos. Those that escape the pruning knife should be made properly accountable to Parliament. The hon. Member for Walton has already indicated that he would agree with that.
Most of all, however, urgent steps should be taken to correct what I regard as the present ministerial abuse of the appointments system. This does not go far from what the hon. Gentleman said. When members of official bodies are paid out of the public purse, there is a strong case, first, for requiring an increase of parliamentary control over the nominations, secondly, for limiting the number of such appointments that ran be held by a single individual, thirdly, for making Ministers answerable to Parliament on the question of attendance records and other details that arise out of that appointment, and, fourthly, for a clear accountability to Parliament through the Select Committee system.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am wondering, if my hon Friend's recommendations were implemented and all this quango business were stopped, what would be done with Labour ex-councillors who had lost the confidence of the electorate and, therefore, their seats?
§ Mr. Holland
I, like the hon. Member for Walton, slightly mistrust intellectuals, but I had not recognised any intellectuals among my hon. Friends.
289 In answer to my hon. Friend, I do not regard it as any solution to remove people of one political party and replace them with people from another political party. I want to see the quangos peopled by those who have the qualifications to do the job and by people of merit who are suitably equipped, rather than by people chosen for their political persuasion, of one side or the other. So I do not advocate, as my hon. Friend suggested, taking off all the Socialists and putting on all the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Holland
I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I believe that people who are incompetent should be replaced by people who are competent.
I suggest, too, that for all full-time paid appointments advertisements should be used stating the qualifications required. A short list of applicants should then be submitted to the Minister for his selection. Certainly, in the case of the commercial and industrial boards involving full executive positions, the Minister's selection should be submitted for approval to a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Nationalised industries. The time has surely come to call a halt to appointments made irrespective of merit or ability and simply to reward political service. There is another much-maligned but far cheaper way of rewarding voluntary and political service.
Let me emphasise again that I am not criticising people for accepting appointments on quangos. I am gravely concerned at the present massive spread of bureaucracy outside the control of the elected representatives of the people. A great constitutional change is taking place to concentrate power in the hands of the Executive and its nominees. It is time for that power to be restored to the elected representatives of the people. It is time that it was returned to this honourable House, and I believe that we should not rise for the Summer Recess until some of these problems have been resolved.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I want to raise two matters before we pass the motion for the Summer Adjournment. Before I do so, however, I want to com- 290 ment on the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) about quangos. Before this word gained the fashionable currency that it now has, I thought it meant that somebody had a speech impediment and could not pronounce "tango". But "quango'" now has an accepted definition, although I have seen an argument in The Times that there is also an American definition.
§ Mr. McGuire
I know that a lot of my hon. Friends have been waiting for some time in order to speak, so I shall get on.
In the unlikely event of the Conservative Party being returned to power, whenever the General Election comes, I believe that it will find it not quite so easy to abolish these quangos or whatever they are called. My experience has always been as an unpaid member of a quango. Most Labour Members find that when starting off their trade union careers—becoming committee men and the like, and gradually becoming branch secretaries—they are invited, almost as a matter of course through the trades and labour council and through the trade union movement to submit names to serve on various committees connected with all kinds of Government Acts, down to the very lowest level.
For instance, people may be asked to serve on committees of one sort or another. They may be asked to serve on the local disablement committee or on the local hospital board. One could give a whole list of such committees. However, I merely emphasise the general principle. Members of such committees are selected by their peers, who may vote for Joe Bloggs or Bill Smith, or in some cases a miner is nominated by custom and practice. As a result one gives up a lot of one's time. I did not get paid for it, and I do not think that the majority of Labour committee members got paid for it.
As a result of Government Acts, these bodies are often at evelated levels. I do not know what salary or honorarium is given, although sometimes it is reported to be quite big. I suppose that if one serves on several of these committees one is not doing too badly. But I get the impression that what really hurts the Conservative Party is the fact that some of 291 our lads have their snouts in the gravy train, whereas at one time it was entirely the lads of the Conservatives. I am not defending quangos by that argument. All I am saying is that I believe the Tories will find it very difficult to abolish them.
§ Mr. McGuire
Just a moment. The hon. Gentleman has had a good say and I have hardly got a head of steam up. I believe that the Conservative Party will find it almost impossible to abolish these quangos per se. However, I believe that the Conservatives have a deeper grievance, which is that more of our lads now serve on these committees whereas previously the Conservatives had a greater share.
I remember talking to a former Member of this House who was once identified as our shop steward. He has now gone to another place, so there are no prizes for guessing his name. When he was making an inquiry, he discovered quangos going back for a couple of centuries. Eamonn Andrews once hosted a programme on which a person signed in and did a bit of mime. I know one person here who signed in and as a result got several thousand pounds a year. These things have been going on for a long time and have a very long history.
§ Mr. Holland
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I only wanted to make the point that the whole essence of my drawing attention to this problem now is that I recognise that there is a strong vested interest throughout all parties in maintaining a system of patronage which is to the benefit both of those who give out the patronage and of those who receive it. I was delighted when I heard the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) suggest that something should be done about this. The more we can make this issue an all-party one, the better.
§ Mr. McGuire
I believe that this is an unsavoury business and I think that there should be an inquiry into it. I do not know what form such an inquiry should take. The hon. Gentleman follows a long line of hon. Members who have raised this matter. The late Maurice Edelman was one. He used to put down 292 a whole string of Questions in order to find out what patronage various Ministers had. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is doing a worthwhile job.
I am not opposed to discussing this matter. It is good to ventilate it. Far too much secrecy surrounds it. But I do not know what form we should decide upon in order to achieve a better system. However, the more light we throw upon it, the better. What I am saying is that, first, it is foolish to pretend that one can abolish these quangos by a change of Government. Secondly, I believe that within the ranks of the Tories there is a feeling of resentment that they no longer control these quangos and that we now have our share of them.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
How would my hon. Friend deal with a comparable situation—namely, the appointment by a Prime Minister, such as Harold Macmillan, who appointed 10 of his relations to his own Government, and some of them just on the right side of imbecility?
§ Mr. McGuire
I had better not follow my hon. Friend in that argument. I have said that I do not know what form the change would take. The only answer I can give my hon. Friend is that if one is going to do things like this, it should be done in style.
The two points I wish to raise are on a much lower level and relate to my constituency, although they have wider implications for the south-west Lancashire area. The first is that I now believe that this House needs to discuss the Government's industrial policy. A theme that I have raised several times already relates to the way in which Government policy, in terms of development areas, special development areas and assisted areas, is in some senses carried out almost capriciously. It is not carried out with the kind of forethought and planning which I would expect of a Labour Government.
I give one simple example. As I understand it, Government policy is designed to assist areas which are disadvantaged in that their traditional industries have disappeared. I regret that one of my hon. Friends who is listening to me now, though not on the Front Bench, is charged with the duty of administering this policy 293 but has so far not been very helpful to me. However, I hope that he will be converted, having heard what I have to say.
Broadly, it can be said that in areas which are disadvantaged, because their traditional industries have disappeared over a number of years or have suddenly collapsed, the Government have a policy of helping those regions, areas or districts to attract industry, the help being given on the basis that if such an area did not receive this help the industry would go elsewhere. In other words, this is an inducement to industrialists to come into a specific area in order to provide jobs. They receive assistance depending on the three grades. There is the intermediate area, which virtually covers the whole of the country bar the south-east, and perhaps a few isolated pockets. There is also development status, and then there is the higher grade of special development status.
I have already raised the question of the Wigan travel-to-work area, which at present has a 9 per cent. unemployment rate. I have suggested that Wigan should be given such help because its traditional industries have disappeared. It has a higher rate of unemployment than 14 other areas which at present enjoy the highest form of grant aid, namely, special development area status.
But the Government's answer has always been that one should not spread the jam too thinly. They say that there is only so much jam to go around, and although they recognise that there is a lot of merit in Wigan's case they maintain that this would spread the already thin lump of jam too thinly and, as a consequence, the taste would go out of it for everyone.
I believe that that is a false argument, because in a sense the Government do not provide a lump of money to be distributed equally. What they provide is an opportunity to a certain area to attract industry. If it does, certain benefits will go to that area. But other areas can attract industry without any inducement, because certain industries feel that whatever advantages the Government offer are outweighed by geographical and marketing reasons or whatever. Where regions are at a disadvantage, it is illogical to say that an area fulfils all the relevant criteria but, because the jam is not to be spread too thinly, 294 nothing can be done for it. Because of its unemployment rate, no jam will be taken away from anybody if the Government confer on Wigan special development area status.
I hope that when we return in October, as we surely shall, whether or not we have a General Election, one of the first priorities of the Government will be to examine this policy. I hope that they will investigate whether the "jam" argument has any relevance. The Government's duty is to ensure that areas are not put at a distadvantage compared with other areas suffering the same high unemployment or environmental problems.
The second point I wish to mention relates to the basic unfairness in our rating policy. Last week, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Newton (Mr. Evans) and St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), I attended a meeting in St. Helens town hall. It was obvious from that meeting that the pattern of rating which has emerged has had a bad effect in St. Helens. I should make clear that a part of my constituency comes within the St. Helens metropolitan district. It appears that following the last rate support grant scheme the older industrial areas lost out considerably. I believe that the scheme needs to be fundamentally rejigged. There is obviously something wrong when one examines the lists of authorities and finds the boroughs of Stockport, Bury, Rotherham, Wigan and St. Helens almost at the bottom of the list. There appears to be an imbalance which puts some industrial areas at a disadvantage. This applies particularly to the older industrial areas.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to stress to his ministerial colleagues that the rate support grant needs to be greatly rejigged Furthermore, I wish to emphasise my earlier point—namely, that the Government's industrial strategy needs to be examined, particularly in regard to whether an area is given development status or special development status. I believe that there is an excellent case for Wigan to be afforded special development status.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
There are many people outside this House who 295 would regard it as odd if the House were to adjourn without being given some statement, at the start of what the public are pleased to call our "holidays", about the way in which a certain situation may affect theirs. If it comes to our holidays, there may be many Labour Members who will find themselves working harder during this Summer Recess than they have worked for some time past. However, among the great British public there must be growing concern about the effects of the air traffic controllers' dispute in France on people's prospects of arriving safely at their destinations and enjoying a well-earned rest. I believe that we should put in a word for the great British public.
I very much hope that the responsible Minister will feel it his duty to come to the House, having spoken to the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, and assure us that he is content that the effects of this dispute on the safety of air travel, on the security of British aircraft and British air passengers, and on the general economy of the tourist industry are such that there is no need for him to take action—or, if he sees a need for action, to assure the House that he is taking it.
It is worrying to see what is happening at our airports. It is also worrying to read what is being reported in the press about the emergency and makeshift measures of air traffic control which are being put together in order to get aircraft round French air space to their destinations. If something serious should go wrong, there would justifiably be an outcry. Therefore I believe that it would be appropriate for Ministers to come to the House to give us the assurances which I seek.
My second point also concerns air traffic controllers and aviation. I refer to the serious effect that is beginning to be felt on the development of British North Sea oil interests because of the curtailment of operating hours at Sumburgh airport. I know that this may seem a rather remote subject, nor is it closely connected with holidays. It is also a subject in which I immediately declare that I have an interest; but I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that, despite my interest, it is not improper of me to raise the matter now. I believe that, because of what is happening in Samburgh, the national interest is becoming seriously involved.
296 Because of shortage of staff, the hours of operation at the airport are now restricted, from Mondays to Saturdays, to between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on Sundays to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Operators using the airport were given an assurance some time back that the situation would be put right by the end of July or early August, by the recruitment or training of additional staff, by the appointment of a new airports manager, and by an increase in remuneration for the air traffic controllers at Sumburgh. If those steps are taken and taken now, it will still be six weeks or more, so I am told, before the airport can return to the full operating conditions which the airport management wants to achieve, and which the users and all those concerned with the exploitation of North Sea oil around the Shetlands also want to achieve.
Unhappily, although the matter was first referred to the Government six weeks ago, for a decision on a Sumburgh allowance for air traffic controllers, so far that decision has not been forthcoming. I understand that the matter has moved from the Department of Trade to the Department of Employment, and for all I know, it may have gone from there to the Department of Energy. What matters is that it now appears to have come to rest in a committee chaired by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.
§ Mr. Onslow
No, it is not a quango. I can reassure my hon. Friend on that score and I am being serious, because this is a serious matter.
I enter a plea that the House should be told before we rise that that necessary decision will be made without further unnecessary delay or minuscule quibble over the decimal pointage of pay policy. It will cost this country enormous sums of money if we are forced to delay these North Sea operations and accept operating handicaps, well into the winter, when the hours of daylight get shorter and shorter and the weather gets worse and worse. We shall all pay for that in the end.
I hope that the Leader of the House will not just tell the House that it is all very difficult. I hope he will say that a decision is to be taken and that if it 297 means a breach in pay policy, that will have to happen. Let us get the North Sea oil going, and for once in a while let us not let the sacred cow of pay policy dictate every consideration about our future.
My third point is also connected with pay policy and with the unions. This matter was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party in an intervention at Prime Minister's Questions earlier today, although he got remarkably little change out of the Prime Minister on it—not that there is anything new about that. I refer, of course, to the subject of the ban on new telephone installations by the members of the Post Office Engineering Union. I am sure that the Leader of the House knows that this dispute has been grinding on for nearly nine months. It is true that until May this year the Post Office was maintaining a low profile on it, for reasons of its own. Local managers were loyally not revealing to prospective customers the full awfulness of the situation and Post Office management was doing its best to sort out the situation with the union.
In May I received a letter from the managing director of Post Office Telecommunications, which set out the history of the dispute briefly and concisely. It said:The engineering technicians, on the instructions of their union, the Post Office Engineering Union, have been taking this action against our customers since November 1977 in an attempt to achieve a 35 hour net working week without loss of pay (at present they work a 40 hour net working week). We consider that claim to be unjustified and if it were conceded it would result in a reduction of the level of service we could offer to our customers and would increase our costs.We have made repeated attempts to settle the dispute in a way that does not conflict with the Government's pay policy, and which will give our engineering technicians some shortening of their working week. We have also told the union that we would be willing to have the dispute referred to independent arbitration. The union has so far refused every offer we have made including arbitration.When I received that letter, I wrote to the responsible Minister. His reply, dated 8th June, included this immortal phrase:…highly sensitive industrial relations issues of this kind can usually be best settled by responsible negotiations between the employer and his employees.298 In other words, the Minister was saying "We should not do anything unless we have to". But since they had to do something, the Minister concluded by saying that Lord McCarthy had been appointed to conduct a special review. That appointment was made in the first week of June. We are now in the first week of August and the situation has not improved in any way.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House must know that there is mounting evidence throughout the country of the social and economic effects of the union's action. I have tried to draw Ministers' attention to this. About a fortnight ago I wrote to the Secretary of State for Trade instancing some of the cases that were known to me. In due course I received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Industry.
At an earlier stage I had also tabled a parliamentary Question in an endeavour to stir things up. On 24th July I asked what representations the Secretary of State had received concerning the effect of the industrial action, and what estimate he had formed of its effect upon the import and export trade. The answer that I received was not exactly encouraging. It was to the effect that it is for the Post Office to estimate how many people are affected by this sort of industrial action. The Minister had received a number of letters drawing his attention to the fact that the dispute had affected certain groups. He could tell me only that he was aware that an early settlement of the dispute would be of benefit to all concerned. That was a fairly blinding glimpse of the obvious.
The letter that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Industry was not much better. It contained the following soothing passage:Naturally we sympathise with people who are prevented from getting the use of a telephone and we understand the significance in circumstances such as you describe. However Lord McCarthy is conducting the special review and is fully aware of the urgency of the problem. We hope to have his report soon. You will no doubt agree, on reflection, that in the meantime it would he inappropriate to seek to exert influence on either party.I do not agree. I believe that influence should be exerted on somebody even if it is only Lord McCarthy, who has had two months to deal with this "intractable" problem. If it is an intractable problem, at least he should now say so.
299 The problems are not confined to families that may have clubbed together to buy their parents a telephone because either father or mother is in failing health and may urgently need to call a doctor. Nor are they confined to families that are separated, where mother likes to telephone at the weekend to make sure all is well—though I know of one instance where the Post Office has lost at least £50 as a result of the mother's inability to use the telephone in that way.
The problems are not even confined to those experienced by the Continental Bank as reported in the press over the weekend, where the bank has been deemed by the local branch of the Post Office Engineering Union no longer to exist.
Significant examples have come to me concerning business men involved in the import and export trade. I instance the case of one of my constituents who is the managing director of one of Britain's major flour milling companies. My constituent needs to conduct a great deal of business outside normal office hours. He buys large quantities of grain for the United Kingdom market from the North American market. He cannot do that now as efficiently and smoothly as should be possible, and it is inevitable that the national interest is suffering as a result.
Companies that are selling to the Middle East and to other parts of Britain are finding that their efficiency is suffering. Those who used to conduct business from their own homes are being prevented from doing so because they cannot have telephones installed.
It is high time that somebody exerted some pressure. I hope that the Leader of the House will now be able to tell us, after diligent inquiry, when Lord McCarthy expects to be able to produce his report, and when the Government expect to be able to act on it.
It seems likely that this is the last time that we shall have this debate in this Parliament. Parliament will be none the worse for that. The prospect of the Summer Recess is welcome in some respects but in others I find it nauseating because we shall see a continually mounting campaign, as if it had not already begun, on the pal t of the Government's good news machine. It will use all the serried ranks of information officers on the public payroll. It will make any 300 campaign conducted by the Conservative Party appear modest in the extreme. Let there be no mistake about that.
There will be a positive crescendo of artificial statements or purported good news shovelled out on to the unsuspecting public throughout the summer, culminating, perhaps, in a grand charity football match at Wembley Stadium between the Prime Minister and all his family on one side and a selected team of quango All-Stars on the other. No doubt the match will also have full television coverage on all three channels.
I may be a bit pessimistic on that score, but when we look back on previous Parliaments it is clear that we have had bad ones and mad ones. This Parliament is the worst that we have ever had, and good riddance to it.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I shall not take up the time of the House for long. I shall comment briefly on some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Government's propaganda and PR machine being supported by taxpayers' money, the implication being that the Tory Party uses private money for such purposes. The main advertising contractor to the Manpower Services Commission—a quango, of course—is doling out hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on a campaign to explain to the people the Government's policies to curb unemployment.
The main contractor, Saatchi & Saatchi Compton Ltd, is getting the benefit of State money, but it is now in the pockets of the Tory Party. Before the House Roes into recess I raise as a matter of urgency the conflict of interest that must occur when an advertising company takes money from the public purse, from the Manpower Services Commission, to work for the Government to explain their policies to our fellow citizens, and on the other hand takes part in the thoroughly disreputable, misleading, cheating and lying advertising campaign of the Tory Party. It is a campaign based on the Tories' twisted view of unemployment.
We should have an urgent debate and bring before the House the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission to ascertain what he is doing on this score. 301 We should abolish, if we can, the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd., which is a private Quango and totally ill-equipped to deal with these matters. We should set up a State-funded proper Advertising Standards Authority. Surely there must be a massive conflict involving public interest, and the Tory Party is in it up to and over its neck.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is equally disturbing that in the queue shown in the posters that have been distributed far and wide throughout the country to appear on all the main poster sites it is Saatchi & Saatchi employees who are shown on them, some of them having been photographed at least five times? It seems that they are overemployed in trying to create a good image for the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Rooker
It is clear that the Tory Party will come unstuck by using that advertising firm, as it came unstuck by using a public relations exercise to beef up the image of some of their Front-Bench spokesmen. That did not work either.
I rise to oppose the motion for reasons that have caused me to oppose similar motions in the past. I am against the House of Commons having long recesses. I am prepared to say that from the Government Benches and, rue the day, from the Opposition Benches if ever I am on that side of the Chamber. I am raising an important matter concerning democracy.
We live in a complex society in which the Government are held, sometimes unfairly, to be responsible for everything that happens. It is wrong that we should go into long recesses. We should be in continuous session except, possibly, for a month's recess during August. We should not go into recess for three months. We should have only a month's recess so that Back Benchers are able to raise matters in the House affecting their constituents. At present we have to write to Ministers during the long Summer Recess and wait two months or three months for a reply. It is an issue that affects Opposition Back Benchers just as much as Government Back Benchers. It is of fundamental importance and lies with the manner in which we arrange our business
302 I hope that one of these days we shall make some changes, although I suspect that they will not take place while my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House remains in his present position. I think that he tends to like the way in which we arrange our business. I am not saying that I do not want him to be a member of the Government—far from it. It may be that I should like to see him in another job. I implore my right hon. Friend to give consideration to making the changes that I suggest. I hope that he will do so before we come to the Summer Recess next year before the General Election of October 1979.
I oppose today's motion because I want an urgent debate with the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The health clinic at Warren Farm in my constituency is to close. It is in a part of my constituency that is extremely badly served by community facilities for the elderly and the youngsters. It is to be closed and moved half a mile away. It is the building that is important. There are no community facilities in that part of my constituency for youth clubs, pensioners' meetings, or play groups, for example. We have a public asset that will soon be standing empty.
I understand that the area health authority has refused to implement the ideas that have been put forward that would enable us to have a community centre for the physically handicapped during the day and a youth centre for the evenings. There would be joint funding arrangements between the social services department and the area health authority. The money would come centrally from the Department of Health and Social Security and, therefore, the Minister would be responsible. Discussions have gone on for the last six months. I understand that the city education department has secured a part-time youth worker to be based at the centre.
The last thing that I and councillors who represent the Kingstanding ward want is this public facility to be bulldozed to the ground. This massive pre-war council estate was built without any idea of community in that not many community centres were built. The area is deprived. The chance of obtaining this building for use as a community facility must not be missed. I think that the 303 Secretary of State owes it to my constituents to explain why the regional health authority and the area health authority have refused the proposal put forward under the joint funding arrangements for the use of this building as I have described.
This is an important matter. Unlike some matters raised today, this really is urgent. In three months the building may have been bulldozed to the ground and I shall have lost the opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment or at Question Time. That is why I am raising it today.
I hope that in the short time that is left before 7 o'clock my right hon. Friend will have the wires tapped and working and will come up with an answer to the effect that no decision will be taken on this matter by the regional health authority or the Department of Health and Social Security until Parliament comes back in the autumn and the hon. Member for Perry Barr has been able to pursue the matter on behalf of his constituents.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I find it strange to speak in this debate. Earlier this year we were told that we would have two weeks for Easter. We were then told that we were to get only a week and that it was hoped that we should get two weeks in the spring. When the Spring Recess was announced, we got only a week and a day, because it was said that the Government hoped that the House would rise at the end of July. Now here we are in August.
Many hon. Members have raised different issues. I should like to raise only two. The first is to bring up again with the Leader of the House why we have not had a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. That report was printed on 13th March this year—almost five months ago—and still there is no sign of a debate.
As the Leader of the House knows, on successive Thursdays he has been asked when we are to have the chance to debate this important report. All he could blandly suggest was that the Opposition should give up a Supply Day to debate it. I hope that when he replies 304 he will give me one example when an Opposition Supply Day has had to be taken to debate a Select Committee report. I believe that Select Committee reports should always be debated in Government time.
According to The Observer of 30th July, we can expect a report later this week from the Select Committee on Procedure in which one of the recommendations will be that the Government have to respond to Select Committee Reports within a fixed time span and allot a specific day for their reports to be debated by the Commons. I hope that recommendation will be accepted. It will prevent Governments, such as the one with which we are now lumbered, from sheltering behind evasive answers.
Will the Leader of the House tell me why the Government have refused point blank to debate this report? I do not know why the Government want to sweep the whole question of immigration under the carpet. Perhaps their purpose is to sweep it under the carpet until after the General Election.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
The Opposition have a number of Supply Days—29. If the Leader of the Opposition wished to devote one of those Supply Days to debate immigration, the House could have debated it. Other hon. Members were calling for a Supply Day to be allocated to that subject, but the Leader of the Opposition, or the Shadow Cabinet, refused to allocate a day to it.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to make a speech, not an intervention. I can only assume that he is some kind of political Rip Van Winkle who has been asleep during the whole of the debate. If he had been listening, he would have heard me say that it was wrong that an Opposition should have to give a Supply Day to debate a Select Committee report.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The important point was to discuss this issue on the basis of the Select Committee report. The Select Committee consisted of Members of Parliament from both sides of the House. Therefore, the report should have been considered very seriously. Obviously it is not considered serious enough by the Government to be debated.
305 About a year or 18 months ago, when we had a discussion on this matter—again, on the Adjournment of the House—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) made a speech in which he brought up the question of immigration and used the phrase "Enough is enough". I think that the vast majority of British people would agree with that phrase. The strange thing is that at that time there was no great leaping around on the Labour Benches. No one said a word. Labour Members did not say boo to a goose. There was not a cheep out of any of them.
Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, not in a prepared speech but in answer to a question in a television interview, stated that the British people must see an end in sight to immigration. Then we saw the hullabaloo that arose on the Labour Benches. The Leader of the House and his Cabinet colleagues—particularly the Home Secretary in a most hysterical way—launched a vicious attack on my right hon. Friend. Since that time the whole tenor of Labour Party propaganda on immigration and race relations has been to try to put across that the Conservative Party is a racist party.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman should be very careful about what he says. I should like proof that the Conservative Party is racist. What does the hon. Gentleman find wrong in the policy that the Opposition are putting forward? Perhaps he believes that there should be no immigration control at all. Perhaps he believes in the open door policy. If that is his view, I hope that he will stand up and proclaim it so that people in his constituency will know exactly where he stands on this important issue.
We have had disgraceful examples of immigrants being told that the next Conservative Government will repatriate them. It is a disgraceful way for the Labour Party to campaign to get the immigrant votes which it hopes will save it from defeat at the election.
The people of this country are entitled to know where the political parties stand on this vexed question of immigration. It is a matter of great concern to millions of people. I hope that the message will 306 not be lost on the electors that this Government prefer to ignore the problem rather than face the difficulties.
The second issue is totally different. It concerns the importation of Christmas cards made in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I am quite staggered that a non-Christian country, such as Soviet Russia with its infamous record on persecution of Russian Jews and dissidents should consider going into the Christmas card business.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
My hon. Friend refererd to the Soviet Union as a non-Christian country. I remind him that there is a great Christian tradition in that country. Unfortunately, Christianity, like every other religion, is persecuted and repressed in that country.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I stand corrected. I agree with my hon. Friend. It is the regime in power which is persecuting and suppressing Christian beliefs. In view of the recent trial of dissidents, it is ironic that we should receive into this country Christmas cards printed in Soviet Russia.
The facts, as I understand them, are that an American computer firm contacted a card or stationery firm in this country regarding a possible trading deal. The idea was that Russia wanted American computers, that Russian Christmas cards would be dumped and sold in this country and that the proceeds from the sales would be used to pay the American firm for the computers. If this information is correct, it means that Russia will gets its computers, that the American computer firm will gets its money and that poor old Britain will get absolutely nothing.
It is even worse than that. I think that the Leader of the House and the Department of Trade must consider the effect that this avalanche of Russian Christmas cards will have on our own industry. There is some discrepancy about the number of Russian Christmas cards which will be floating around in this country at Christmas. Press reports say that they will number about 20 million. I have been told that the number will be 36 million. There will be 10 cards per pack and 72 packs in a carton. Those who defend this deal say that 20 million Christmas cards represent only 2 per cent. of the total market. But the total market includes not only Christmas cards but 307 birthday cards, anniversary cards and so on. I suppose that it also includes commiseration cards. I hope that there will be a great demand for them for Labour Members after the next election when the Government Front Bench are swept out of office. These 36 million Christmas cards will be a much higher proportion than 2 per cent. of the Christmas card market in this country.
I am told that the cleverness of the plan was that it was originally intended to have the words "Printed in Georgia" on these cards so that any unsuspecting person would believe that they had been printed in Georgia in the United States. I am pleased that the Department of Trade showed some gumption here and turned down that proposal. Each card must now bear the stamp "Printed in the USSR".
I am particularly concerned that apparently this episode is merely a trial run and the talk is that if all goes well, next year the number of Russian Christmas cards coming into this country will be doubled so that we shall have about 72 million of them.
I am interested to see that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) finds this so hilarious. I hope that he has no printers in his constituency who could find themselves putting stall out of work because there is no demand for British-made Christmas cards.
Some may argue that it is important for us to trade with other countries, but they must realise that this order is not a question of importing from Russia but the commissioning of work to be done in Russia that was formerly done in this country. It seems that the purpose of the deal is to safeguard the jobs of Americans in the greeting card industry in America at our expense. If the Russians are getting American computers, I cannot understand why the Christmas cards could not have been sent to the United States so that the Russians could receive their money from sales in America.
I hope that before the end of the debate, the Leader of the House will be able to discover from someone at the Department of Trade exactly what Britain is gaining from this deal.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Member for Selly Oak was so busy talking to a Minister on the Government Front Bench that he did not hear what I said. I hope that he has no stationery or printing firms in his constituency or that such firms in his constituency do not have to implement redundancies. If they did, he and the people concerned would not think that it is as funny as he seems to believe at the moment.
I have a fairly large Jewish population in my constituency and they have been trying for years to secure the release of Felix Aronovich so that he may be allowed to leave Russia to go to Israel. He is not a criminal and he has done nothing wrong, but the Russian Government refuse to allow him out of the country. His mother, his wife and a child aged two, whom he has never seen, are living in Israel, but the Russian Government refuse to allow this man to join his family.
There was a great deal of dissent from the Government Benches when I talked about immigration. I see no dissent there now. No one with any humanity could condone the attitude that the Russian Government persist in adopting in their treatment of Russian Jews. I cannot see how this treatment equates with the Russian signing of the Final Act of the Helsinki conference. Far from going into a deal from which we get nothing, we should be showing our disapproval of the inhuman conduct of the Russian Government.
I hope that before the House rises for the Summer Recess, the Leader of the House will be able to give me some information on the two important issues that I have raised.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I do not intend to detain the House for long. I hope that my constituents will continue to buy Christmas cards that are made and printed in the Isle of Wight. If the Russians' Christmas cards are as good as their motor cars, my constituents will know which cards to buy.
We have had pleas from two Labour Members about inner urban properties and demolition. My first plea is that the Leader of the House should arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about the problems faced by people living in inner urban 309 areas, including Moncriell Street, Southwark, Cumberland Road, Portsmouth—there was a great march through Portsmouth last weekend—Ilford, Cambridge and other parts of the country, who face having their homes demolished after acquisition by local authorities.
This is an outdated procedure, particularly in Portsmouth, where a three-lane highway was supposed to go through the site concerned. That is no longer going ahead, but the local authority still intends to pull down the houses. The area, of course, is not in my constituency, but I have made my peace with the local Member. It is disastrous that we should continue with such a policy.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made his plea about a local community centre and I am pleading on behalf of perfectly decent people who own their own properties and who are facing their loss through demolition. I see that the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) is here. In Southwark, 15 houses are in jeopardy because of a proposal to build a car park for a Sainsbury supermarket on the site. I marched—for the first time in my life—with these people through the streets of London three weeks ago. The Secretary of State is their last resort and if he does not step in, their autumn will be a bleak one indeed.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) spoke about prisons, and I agree that the morale of prison officers is at a low ebb. In my constituency, where we have three prisons, there has been a dispute going on at Parkhurst prison for eight months. Fortunately, the prison officers at Albany and Camp Hill resolved in May to accept the formula for settling the dispute. The prison officers at Parkhurst have not accepted the formula, and this has caused considerable problems in the other two prisons. It is causing a fall in the income of civilian employees and is undoubtedly costing the taxpayer a great deal, because much of the work that is normally done within the prison confines now has to go to outside contractors. It is also causing problems for prison officers in other parts of the country because they are not taking their right allocation of prisoners and I am sure that this must lead to overcrowding.
310 I do not know the answer to the problem, but an attempt must be made to settle the dispute. It has undoubtedly gone sour. I have made this plea to the Home Secretary on a number of occasions and I urge again that someone should try to resolve the dispute at Parkhurst—and the sooner, the better.
I am sure that we are all sad that the Secretary of State for Social Services has been ill recently but I urge that his Minister of State should reconsider the decision not to allow the pharmacists' dispute to go to arbitration. The pharmacists are still suffering badly from the refusal of the Government to allow the terms of the new contract to go to arbitration. A local chemist has written to me to say that pharmacists hope that the superficial arguments recently uttered by the Minister will be retracted in favour of good common sense and that the well supported plea for their case on remuneration to go to arbitration will be allowed to proceed. I cannot see why that cannot be permitted when we allow arbitration in so many other areas.
I wish that we had heard the Government's attitude to the report of the Select Committee on the National Land Fund. There is an urgent need to stop the flood of our priceless heritage to all parts of the globe. This will go on during the recess. We have two leading auctioneering companies in this country. I have no doubt that they are experts at their job, but their representatives are touring this country encouraging people to bring items forward for auction. That is a fair process, but while there is the inability in this country to be able to purchase these items they are going out of this country in wagon loads.
Oak Welsh dressers, which I consider to be part of our heritage, were fetching £30 or £40 about 10 years and are now being sold for more than £2,000 to buyers in Holland, Germany and Australia. The way we are going on, there will be very little left in this country.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
If it is too late to have a debate on this important subject, even though the Select Committee report was published several weeks ago, does the hon. Gentleman agree that before the recess we should have from the Government their comments on the report?
§ Mr. Ross
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The report includes some good recommendations and the Government must make more money available to our museums and art galleries. Important items conic up at auctions week after week, and it is disastrous that we cannot follow the recent German example of buying back some of our heirlooms. The situation must change.
I should have liked to see a statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the Government's attitude to the continual slaughter of whales. This is a subject which has pad the attention of the House. During the four years in which I have been a Member, there have been at least half a dozen motions on this subject. They have received a large number of signatures. Every time I have tried to get a debate on this subject in the House, the Leader of the House has said that there are other ways of raising the matter. I have tried to raise it on the Adjournment and have failed to do so.
Anyone who has watched the recent films on television must be concerned at the continued slaughter of whales—30,000 were slaughtered last year—and the way in which the Japanese just go on and on doing it. I think that if the Japanese were prepared to give it up, the Russians might follow. I do not deny the Eskimos their whales. However, we are ignoring this matter and we shall suddenly find that all of the whales have gone.
I am grateful for the fact that the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence says that no longer will whale oil be used to clean army boots. That decision may well have been influenced by his wife, who is a well-known supporter of the campaign. If that is so, I congratulate her.
However, the British Government should surely follow the lead of the United States and at least ban the import of whale products, because very soon we shall have to find alternatives, anyway.
When I put this question to the Japanese Foreign Secretary and asked what the Japanese would do about stopping the mass slaughter of whales, I did not get a very helpful response. Apparently they will do nothing until all the whales have gone. It is up to our Government to put 312 some pressure on the Japanese in this sphere, too. We might stop taking some of their cars if they will not stop killing these wonderful creatures.
Finally, I ask the Leader of the House whether he can obtain from the Secretary of State for Industry his blessing for something which has just occurred in my constituency, after a very long period of suspense. The Fairey Britten Norman Aircraft Company is about to be taken over by Pilatus, which is a subsidiary of the Oerlikon group in Switzerland. I think that it is very sad that this, our last remaining sizeable light aircraft industry, which has sold over 800 of the Islander aircraft world-wide, has unfortunately suffered two receiverships. Apart from that, it has been a very successful company in selling its aeroplanes. It is sad that money has not been found in this country to keep the firm afloat. It has been two banks, first Barclays and then the National Westminster, which have put the firm into receivership.
However, I very much welcome what has happened and the fact that the takeover will be by Pilatus, which is a successful private aircraft company based in Switzerland. I believe it to be in the best interests of my constituents, and I believe that the vast majority of the employees of the company welcome it. I hope, therefore, that there will be no obstacles put in the way by the Government for a smooth take-over.
There was a move at one time to suggest that the firm might have been taken over by a nationalised company. I am sure that the bid that Pilatus has made is substantially higher than that of Shorts. But I am quite certain—I have made this point to the Secretary of State on previous occasions—that so far as the future prosperity of the company is concerned, and the interests of my constituents, it would be much better if the Pilatus take-over proceeded smoothly. I should like to receive that assurance before the House rises for the recess.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
I have no doubt that if we were not proposing to adjourn, in the next few weeks we would be discussing at some length, and no doubt with some heat, the prospect of Common Market interference in our energy policy. I 313 simply want to express to my right hon. Friend the hope that the Government, in the absence of the House of Commons, will take all possible steps to resist such interference by the Common Market and will not allow the EEC to keep this matter nice and quiet until it thinks that a more favourable time has been arrived at. I am quite sure that my constituents share with me a very robust feeling that this is something that cannot be tolerated.
However, my main purpose in speaking on this motion is to bring to my right hon. Friend's notice the fact that before the House reassembles on 24th October we shall know that it will have proved impossible in many areas of the country, including the West Midlands I fear, to ensure that the agreement which was reached with the firemen way back in January is in fact implemented. I am deeply concerned about this matter. I believe that the situation is so serious that we should not adjourn until it is aired.
In January an agreement was arrived at with the firemen which involved the implementation of a 42-hour week in November. Nevertheless, the employers decided to take no steps towards recruiting, and it was not until June of this year that they even started trying to recruit additional labour.
But not only have the county councils been dilatory in this matter—in my view, they are actually trying to sabotage the fire cover arrangements that we have in Britain. By reducing fire cover they are trying to pay for the agreement that was reached to shorten firemen's hours.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had to draw to the notice of the county councils the fact that fire cover is a matter in which the Home Office is deeply and statutorily concerned. The county councils are also proposing to abrogate existing arrangements about the status of fire stations. For example, they are proposing to take unto themselves the right to decide that fire stations which are at present manned full time will go over to being part-time retained fire stations. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has had to draw county councils' attention to the fact that these matters are the subject of previous collective agreements which cannot be 314 simply unilaterally abrogated by the county councils.
However, this situation demonstrates the attitude of the county councils and their determination to escape from their responsibilities if that is at all possible.
I take the situation in the West Midlands as an example. It is a fair example, because I believe it is by no means the worst situation. In the West Midlands, from 1974 when firemen's hours were reduced to 48, we have been consistently and permanently undermanned. In 1974 the shortage amounted to 400 men—a very considerable number. Recruitment has taken place throughout 1977, yet at the end of the strike there were 1,861 men in post in the West Midlands—still substantially below the 1976 target figure—and after six months' further recruiting the figure now stands at only 1,865. That is a net increase of four firemen. This means that the strength of firemen in the West Midlands is 267 below the optimum figure of 2,132 that was agreed in 1976 as being necessary for the present 48-hour week, and 79 below the lesser target of 1,944 then fixed.
My right hon. Friend will see from these figures that it is clearly impossible to have a 42-hour week worked in the West Midlands in November without substantial risk to the fire cover, yet it is equally impossible for this agreement to be simply ignored. The firemen want and expect their 42-hour week, and are entitled to it.
I understand from the West Midlands fire brigade that the main reason for the lack of success in recruiting and the maintenance of strength is the large number of established firemen who are now leaving the service due to low morale in the brigade. This has been caused in no small part by the lack of good faith that has been shown by the local authority employers in their negotiations on the 42-hour week, and by the uncertainty created by the West Midlands county council, which is again, at this stage, doing an in-depth study of the standards of fire cover for the county, which will not be completed until mid-August.
Therefore, the authority is faced with the enoromus responsibility of recruiting people to carry out an agreement solemnly entered into for a level of hours of work which is taken for granted by the rest 315 of the population today. But instead of getting on with that job the West Midlands county council is conducting yet another study on manning levels and fire cover, thereby creating uncertainty and showing its evasive attitude to the problem of recruiting.
The Government's reputation is tied up in all this, and that is why I want my right hon. Friend to ask Ministers with departmental responsibilities in the matter to impress even more fiercely upon the county councils their duties in this respect. I have no doubt that if the agreement is not honoured by the employing authorities they will seek to pass responsibility for that off on to the Government. I have my criticisms of the Government for their original handling of the firemen's dispute, but I do not hold them responsible for what has now arisen. It is abominable that the county councils should play ducks and drakes with fire cover in the West Midlands and the rest of the country. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to ensure that everything possible is done to secure full implementation of the agreement in November.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
I wish to raise a specific point that has come to my attention this afternoon. It is important to the extent that the House should consider it before rising for the recess. In replying to the debate the Lord President should assure the House about action that the Secretary of State for Scotland might take on the matter.
This matter relates to a decision by the Lord Advocate. It was disclosed in April 1977 that irregularities had arisen in the allocation of local authority houses under the control of the Glasgow district council. An immediate outcome of that disclosure to the public was that the then deputy housing convener, a Mrs. Cantley, was forced to resign. The administration was at that time under Labour control. It was alleged, among other things, that Mrs. Cantley had arranged a house for her son and that this arrangement had taken precedence over everyone else on the housing list in Glasgow. In addition to Mrs. Cantley being obliged to resign, the assistant director of housing in the authority resigned and his assistant was fired.
316 Clearly these irregularities were substantial. An internal investigation took place under police direction, and a report was prepared for the Crown office in Edinburgh. I learnt today, to my great surprise, that the Lord Advocate has advised the Glasgow district council that no criminal action is to be taken against anyone involved in what can only be described as a serious breach of public confidence in the district council's affairs.
It is impossible for anyone to imagine how the Lord Advocate reached this surprising decision. Presumably it was made entirely on legal—perhaps technical legal grounds. One can only hope that that was the case and that no political motives could be attached to it, bearing in mind that an election might be coming along—
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hesitate to intervene, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) is casting a gross reflection on the Lord Advocate's integrity in his quasi-judicial functions. Whatever other general criticism he may make, it surely cannot be in order for the hon. Member to make such comments.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I have heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) so far and I hope that he will not trespass on the subject of the Lord Advocate's functions. The hon. Member is on dangerous ground because neither he nor the House knows any of the reasons which have led to the decision.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I have already said that it is impossible to know on what basis the Lord Advocate made the decision—
§ Mr. Fletcher
—and let me say for the benefit of those on the Labour Benches who are becoming excited that I wrote to the Lord Advocate as soon as I heard of his decision and told him that I intended to raise the matter here. Regardless of the reasons behind the 317 decision. it is obvious that this is an extremely urgent and important matter. The House should know that a forgery of the housing records is believed to have occurred at the time of these irregularities. Nevertheless, no prosecution is to be made.
I understand that this morning the district council's housing sub-committee, which comprises Conservative, Labour and nationalist Members, unanimously decided that in view of the Lord Advocate's decision the Secretary of State should be asked to set up immediately an independent inquiry into these affairs. Clearly it is most unsatisfactory for everyone concerned, regardless of his or her political label, for this matter suddenly to be drawn to a close with no one knowing precisely what the affair was all about. There must be some public examination, and I hope that the Lord President will press upon the Secretary of State for Scotland the need to arrange that immediately and to announce the setting up of an independent inquiry before the House rises.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also agree that there must be no suspicion of any kind of political or administrative cover-up. The House should not adjourn without a Government statement about an independent inquiry so that the people who are governed by the Glasgow district council may know that the housing affairs of that authority are cleansed of any kind of irregularity and that in future they will be managed in a way that commands the confidence of all concerned.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I hope that before the House adjourns some consideration will be given to a question that affects the lives and interests of many Darlington citizens. It arises fom a planning application by William Morrison Supermarkets Ltd., to transform a derelict site in North Road, Darlington—the former railway workshops—into a supermarket and a bowling centre.
The application was carefully considered by the Darlington district council which agreed that planning consent should be granted. The matter also went to the Durham county council which also agreed that the development should he allowed to proceed. For some reason, however, the Department has called the planning 318 application in, and we cannot discover why.
This imaginative scheme will clear up a derelict site which is seen by anyone entering Darlington from the north. Further, it will provide an up-to-date and modern shopping amenity. There are few shopping amenities in the locality and I have had many letters from old-age pensioners who would welcome the development of the site as a supermarket.
At no cost to the local authority or to public funds, Morrison has agreed to complete a bowling centre with this development. We have a very vigorous and thriving bowling club in Darlington of over 500 members, with no facilities whatever for bowling. They have to travel to Teesside in order to enjoy a game of bowls. There is a potential of 2,000 members for the bowling club, following the construction of the bowling centre.
Another vital reason for allowing the development to take place is that the supermarket will employ 250 staff. In addition, the two most favoured builders who are likely to get the contract are Darlington firms, providing employment in a locality in which we have particular problems with unemployment.
Every consideration is on the side of the people who want to see the development go forward, yet when contracts were signed, and the developers were prepared to allow the builders on the site, the Department of the Environment stepped in and said that it was calling in the planning application. This caused consternation in the town. I have had scores of letters from old-age pensioners who were interested in the scheme, from shoppers, and from bowls enthusiasts who have done a lot of work in trying to get this facility. They want to know why the Department is calling in the scheme.
I believe that the Department should not allow a week to elapse before looking at the scheme and telling both Darlington and Durham local authorities that this development can go forward. I hope that the Department will not delay it for a public inquiry, because that might well take over six months to complete. We shall then have the winter period with us and building will not be able to take place during the winter months. In addition, there is every possibility that Morrison might have second thoughts 319 and pull out from the scheme if there is a long delay. Every six months' delay will add at least 5 per cent. to the building costs of the development.
I have been inundated with correspondence, and there have been deputations and petitions to the Department of the Environment from the enthusiasts who want the bowling club. The club will, incidentally, cater for all age groups, between 9 and 90, who play bowls, and will be a great social centre. I cannot however, obtain from the Minister the reason for calling in the application. There is no question of adjudication, because there are no interests between which to adjudicate. As far as I know, there is not an inhabitant of Darlington who would not welcome the scheme. Members of the local authority from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party are all behind the scheme.
I want to know when we are likely to get an answer which will allow the development to proceed. I hope that it will be possible for a decision to be made within the immediate future. The House will soon be adjourning until 24th October, and I shall not have any further opportunity of pressing the Government on this matter if the House adjourns before a decision is made. The decision should be taken in a matter of days rather than weeks or months. Even if the Department has to go through the formality of calling in the planning application, I cannot see why a decision should not be made in the course of a few days.
I therefore ask the Leader of the House to take action in this matter immediately, together with the Secretary of State for the Environment, in order to ensure that a decision is made at the earliest possible moment. I realise that in a debate of this sort many weighty matters are raised by hon. Members from each side of the Chamber, and that this may well seem to be a trivial matter in relation to national politics, but I can assure the House that it is a matter in which thousands of Darlington citizens are vitally interested. If the application is delayed, it will rebound to the discredit of the Secretary of State for the Environment in particular and the Labour Government in general.
320 I therefore ask that serious and urgent consideration should be given to this matter, and that before the House adjourns I should be in a position to tell my constituents that the development will be allowed to proceed.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Taylor (Croydon, North-West)
I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the Summer Recess before the Secretary of State for Industry has explained to the House a new avenue of expenditure which has recently been embarked upon by the National Enterprise Board without discussion in this House.
On 27th June it was announced in the press that the National Enterprise Board was backing an entrepreneurial venture in the Middle East, and that it intended to open an office in Jeddah in conjunction with a private group of companies which is not yet established over there. The purpose of the venture is to promote a presence in the Middle East for the British building industry. In this context, I understand that the building industry includes professional consultants, contractors and builders' merchants.
No details were announced at that time, and none has been announced since, as to the division of shares in this new enterprise, but the NEB is to be joined by a group of companies which is a trade publishing house, and also by a prominent Saudi Arabian business man, together with a management consultancy and the representative of a trust fund.
If we can go by previous form, which we have examined in the Public Accounts Committee, the private shareholders are likely to have in excess of 50 per cent. of the ordinary equity, and the NEB will have the balance, plus probably 100 per cent. of the non-voting debenture loan and preference stock.
At this point I think it right that I should declare my interest. For 20 years I have been in the builders' merchants field, and for the last 12 years of that period I have been actively engaged in exporting. In addition, although I do not today claim to speak on behalf of its members, as we have not yet discussed the matter, I am currently chairman of the Building Materials Export Group, which has Government recognition and Government support.
321 Following the announcement of 27th June, I attacked the proposals outside the House, and a substantial report of what I had to say appeared in the business section of The Times. It brought forth a sarcastic response from the spokesman on behalf of the sponsors. Conversely, however, the director of the Export Group for the Construction Industries backed up my view, and he is reported in the New Civil Engineer, a very respected trade magazine, as saying:I find it strange the NEB should be involved. We ourselves would not wish the NEB to be involved in any overseas construction work. I just don't believe the NEB could help in a matter like this.In addition, the assistant director of the British Consultants Bureau, representing all the professional firms working over there, said that he thought it was likely that Middle East Building Services, the new company, could be duplicating the work of the British Consultants Bureau.
The extraordinary situation to which hope the Leader of the House—and, through him, the Minister—will direct his attention is this. The Government, in order to help the export drive for the construction industry throughout the world, have appointed three focal points, as they term them, or three organisations, to take part in that export drive and, indeed, to spearhead it on behalf of the Government.
The three focal points designated by the Government are the Export Group for the Construction Industries, the British Consultants Bureau and the Building Materials Export Group. The three focal points appointed by the Government to spearhead the export effort of the construction industry are the three which find this new proposal alarming. As far as I am aware, the NEB did not bother to consult any of these bodies which were appointed by the Government. Indeed, as recently as 22nd June I was at a meeting of the Joint Consultative Council of the Construction Industry, under the chairmanship of the Minister of State, and he was unaware of this proposal.
It is relevant to this new venture to remind the House that, in the Eighth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts in the 1976–77 Session, paragraph 41 reads: 322We recommend that the NEB, in addition to giving the Secretary of State reasonable notice of smaller investment proposals involving controversial policy issues, should also have regard to the need, evidenced in the case of Thwaites and Reed Ltd., for adequate consultation with the trade.That recommendation, accepted by this House, has been totally ignored in respect of this new venture.
At the moment, British firms in the Middle East are finding intense competition from France, Germany, the United States, Korea and Japan. It is a dismal prospect that they will now face competition from British companies which have not yet made the effort to go out there but which will arrive subsidised by the taxpayer, through the NEB.
In the prospectus sent out by the NEB to encourage firms to join it in the venture, recipients are told that the cost is estimated at between £7,000 and £15,000. In addition, the descriptive publicity entices companies to join by suggesting that 33i per cent. of this expenditure can be reclaimed from the British Overseas Trade Board under the market entry guarantee scheme.
I want to warn the Government in all seriousness, from 20 years' experience in the trade and a great involvement in exporting, that if they, through the NEB, intend to entice companies to enter the tough Middle East market at little or no cost, companies which take up that offer are unlikely to have the management drive and expertise which will enhance the British reputation for delivery and service. The failings of these companies, coming in on a shoestring, can do untold harm to the efficient British companies competing in that area. I ask the Leader of the House to convey that message to the Secretary of State for Industry in the hope that the NEB can be prevailed upon to change its mind.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
I should not like the House to adjourn until I have had at least a few seconds to raise the question of defamation, particularly of the dead. I had hoped that we could have had a full debate on this subject.
Although the laws of libel are meant to protect the individual and it is open to anyone to take his case to the courts—itself a fairly time-consuming and expensive business—no such protection exists 323 for those libelled after their deaths. In a recent case, indeed, it seemed necessary for the people concerned to wait until everyone connected with the case was dead; 21 years were allowed to pass and then again the whole business was dragged into the open and people were allowed to say whatever they liked, with no question of being attacked in the courts.
It may be true that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me." However, many people in public life have had reason to learn that it is not necessarily so. If anyone believes that I am referring only to politicians, he should think again. When we changed the laws on theatre censorship many people found themselves open to attack. In a recent article, it was said that had those laws not been changed, plays like the one which accused Winston Churchill of conspiring to murder a former general of the Allies during the war would not have been allowed on the stage.
In a recent letter to The Times, Lady Clarissa Eden felt moved to point out that in an instance in which she had taken part and which was now being discussed after the death of her husband, remarks were said to have been made which she had never heard. So let it not be believed that only politicians are affected. People in the Armed Forces and those who have been involved in public accidents and lost their lives are also affected. They have families who are bitterly hurt and deeply upset by the fact that, after the death of the person libelled, there is no action that the family can take to defend his reputation.
One of the arguments used by those who appear to have a vested interest in going for easy circulation for the popular papers is that any attempt to extend the law of libel beyond someone's death would cut off the right of the genuine historian to comment in a way that would contribute to the sum of human knowledge. That is a specious argument. A true historian works from facts, does not seek unnecessarily to bring people's reputations into disrepute for no good reason. It is better in most cases if he writes at a proper distance from the events that he describes. Those are not the people who would be in difficulty. The 324 people who would be in difficulty are those who seek to leap into print the moment anyone is dead in order to attack his reputation—frequently people who themselves were involved in many of the incidents of which they are talking.
We should seriously consider the state of the law of defamation. This is one of the few countries which do not have this kind of protection. If one wants to defame the dead in France, one must be careful, because there are means for the immediate family to take action. In West Germany, anyone who disparages the memory of a deceased person will be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine. Prosecution may be started only on petition of the parents, the children, the spouse, the brother or the sister of the deceased person. In Australia, a draft defamation law sought to increase penalties of this kind. Therefore, in some ways, we are not giving our citizens the protections offered by other countries to theirs.
It is widely held that politicians or men in public life have neither friends, family nor blood in their veins. Those of us who enter public life are said to be open to any criticism. As the fourth generation of a family involved in politics I accept that wholly, provided that criticism is informed, honestly meant and aimed at attacking politics. But I have suffered since I was a child from the defamation that arises often from motives of pure malice. I do not believe that this House is seeking to protect decency in public life if it allows that situation to continue unchallenged.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
The House will be pleased that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) was able to make her speech, although on a different motion from the one she originally expected.
I shall be brief, because this is essentially a Back Bench occasion, and there are many more Back Bench debates to come. The House will want to know what the Leader of the House has to say in reply to the points made. I acknowledge that he does his best on these occasions to give the best replies he can.
I want to deal with only three or four of the matters raised. The first was mentioned by my hon. Friend the 325 Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow)—the consequences of the industrial dispute in civil aviation, which could be serious at our airports, where thousands of people are waiting to go overseas. Many thousands of British people are waiting to go on holiday, but also many United States citizens are wishing to go back to the United States.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) raised an important matter when he spoke about prison policy and the danger of breakdown, although not in any emotive sense. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) referred to circumstances at Parkhurst. I have no doubt that what is happening in our prisons concerns justice and is a matter of widespread concern in this House. However, a Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee is investigating prisons at present, so I have no doubt that in due course there will be a debate. Nevertheless, there is public concern, and I think that some reassurance from the Leader of the House would be helpful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) spoke about quangos. Judging from the reception that his speech received, it is a very sensitive topic on the Labour Benches. Of course, the system is not new; it has been in existence for quite a long time. However, my hon. Friend's speech concerned the way in which it has been expanded and extended in recent years so as almost to alter the nature of quangos themselves. What concerns hon. Members is the scale of what is happening now, with thousands of people being appointed in this way. The total cost of them is not possible to guess in terms of figures, but it is happening on a very widespread scale. What is more, the system is unscrutinised by this House and therefore there is a sense of irresponsibility about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton made a number of constructive suggestions which appeared to find a certain amount of favour, at least as an immediate reaction, on both sides of the House. It appeared that hon. Members on both sides of the House wanted to be involved in these appointments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton went on to talk about the possibility of Select Committees being involved in some way. At any rate, I am sure that it is a matter of great importance, because 326 we do not want appointments to be made by the Government on such a widespread scale without any reference to this House. I am certain that that is a matter about which we shall hear a great deal more.
The matter of European business was raised in the first speech in the debate by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and supported by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). There is no doubt again about the dissatisfaction on both sides of the House with our present arrangements and, to be fair to the Lord President, I am sure that he would add his name to that point of view. We presume that he has been looking for ways to try to ameliorate the position in the House. Unfortunately, what was taken by the House to be an undertaking on his part has not been fulfilled, and naturally the House wishes to know what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about it.
It is significant that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire should have raised this topic because he is also a member of the Select Committee on Procedure which is due to report later this week. It must be presumed from that fact alone that that Select Committee has not spent much of its time in looking at this aspect of our procedure, and when he gave that undertaking, the Leader of the House in no way sought to hide behind a possible future report of the Select Committee on Procedure. We should like to know what proposals the right hon. Gentleman intends to make.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn spoke about an attempt at an all-party agreement. On a matter of this kind, I am bound to say that all parties should be involved in trying to find between them the most satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. Certainly I subscribe to that view.
We do not know what the future holds. It may be that this will be the Lord President's swan song in his present capacity at debates of this sort. I dare say that he will say in his usual optimistic way that he will be here for years to come. However, even the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) thought that it might not be a 327 bad idea if the right hon. Gentleman moved on from his present post. But all that is for the future, and it is not for me to interfere in the internal affairs of the present Labour Government.
There is something slightly academic about a debate suggesting that we should rise on Thursday until Tuesday 24th October. I think that that is a decision which must be taken by the incoming Government. It will be for them to decide when the next Parliament shall meet. Of course, the present Government are entitled to go on beyond 24th October if they wish, but I think that they would be ill advised to do so.
I think that we should be adjourning from this House in order to ask the people for their verdict. The Government very largely have run out of ideas. They are getting into a good deal of difficulty, and I think that the evidence for that has come out in this debate because a variety of matters have been raised about which hon. Members in all parts of the House are dissatisfied. If the debate had lasted another three hours, I have no doubt that the number of issues raised in this way would have been multiplied two or three times. That seems to be the evidence of the need to ask the people what they want.
On that basis, I shall not oppose the motion. I think that we should adjourn, and that we ought to be going out into the real world and asking the people what they want, and then letting the incoming Government decide on what precise day the next Parliament should meet.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I think that it would be convenient for the House—certainly it would be convenient for me; I cannot say that I put forward this view in an entirely altruistic mood—if we could conclude this debate at seven o'clock or shortly before. There is some very important private business to be transacted. There is then the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, in the debate on which many hon. Members have important matters to raise. If we could reach that conclusion, I think that it would be of benefit to all concerned.
328 I shall devote most of the later part of my speech to the major matters raised in this debate, by which I mean the subject raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and the question of so-called quangos. However, before coming to those, I propose to deal as swifty as I can with the many other matters which have been mentioned, although in doing so I do not seek to minimise their importance in any way.
Perhaps I may deal slightly out of sequence with one or two of the industrial disputes to which reference has been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) spoke about the hold-up and deadlock in the firemen's dispute. I know that this is causing a good deal of concern in many parts of the country, and not only in the West Midlands where my hon. Friend has special knowledge of the subject.
Negotiations in the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades on the employers' proposals for the introduction of a 42-hour week in the fire service broke down on 14th June. Since then, there have been talks between both sides of the NJC and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to find a way of bringing about a resumption of the negotiations. We understand that both sides have now agreed to a proposal by ACAS that a third party should be appointed to submit without commitment a report for clarification recording the position reached in the NJC in relation to the introduction of the 42-hour week in the tire service. Both sides have also agreed that the third party should be Professor Wood, chairman of the Central Arbitration Committee.
My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Employment have had meetings with the Fire Brigades Union on the subject in recent days. The Government's commitment to the introduction of the 42-hour week is not in doubt. The Home Secretary made this clear to the Fire Brigades Union and to the employers in the meetings which he had with them. In the Adjournment debate on 15th May and in answer to a Question on 8th June, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department told the House that the Government remained committed 329 to their desire to see put into effect the agreement which ended the fire service dispute in January. That is the present position.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) referred to two disputes. One was the Post Office engineering dispute. Other hon. Members indicated to me that they, too, wished to refer to it, even though they were not able to take part in the debate.
When it became apparent in June that there was deadlock between the Post Office and the POEU, the Secretary of State for Industry appointed Lord McCarthy to look into the dispute and to try to find a solution That is not an arbitration, but an attempt to seek a solution by discussions. We are awaiting the report, which I hope will come very soon. I very much hope that it can lead to a solution to the dispute. We are approaching the matter with a proper sense of urgency and are aware of the great inconvenience that is caused.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The Department of Industry told me today that the report was due to arrive tomorrow. That being so, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State to make a statement about it if at all possible before the House rises?
§ Mr. Foot
I cannot guarantee a statement, but there is a case for considering it. As I have said, I believe that the report will be available very soon. I do not give an absolute commitment, but I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I know that he was one of those hon. Members who was seeking to intervene in the debate.
The hon. Member for Woking and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) also asked for a statement on the latest position in the air traffic controllers' dispute on the Continent which is causing such trouble in this country. I am not sure that it would be helpful to have a statement on that subject as well before we depart on Thursday, but I shall see what are the possibilities.
I am grateful for the appreciative remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about the recent announcements relating to safety at sea. The report on the safety of merchant seamen at work 330 and the code of practice to be published later this month mark a notable step forward in reducing the risk which seafarers face in going about their work. I am sure that at the top of the list of measures that we shall wish to introduce next Session will be the Merchant Shipping Bill, to which my hon. Friend has contributed so much. I should also like to express gratitude for my hon. Friend's assistance in producing the safety regulations that are now being made statutory.
My hon. Friend referred also to the question of prisons and mentioned that he is to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary very soon. I understand that the meeting will be as early as tomorrow. In the circumstances, the best thing would be for my hon. Friend to take up the points that he raised and press them afresh when he meets my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pad dington (Mr. Latham) urged that there should be a public judicial inquiry into what occurred in the Brick Lane area. He gave the reasons that had been put to him by many of his constituents and others in London on the subject. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take into account the representations that my hon. Friend and others have made. I have nothing fresh to add.
A number of important questions were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire). In particular, he asked for a fresh review of development area policy and the allocation of development areas. I am sure that there will be discussions on that subject over the coming weeks and months, as there are continuously, but I do not believe that I can make any further statement before the House departs. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also have discussions with the Ministers concerned about the rate support grant when we return in the autumn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) asked some particular questions about his constituency. I hope that he will excuse me if I do not go into the details of those matters. I am sure that he will press them with my right hon. and hon. Friends. There are still two parliamentary days left, and I understand that my 331 hon. Friend will be quite active in those last two days. I have already had indications to that effect.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) raised afresh the question why we had not had a debate on immigration. I have nothing to add to what I have already said on the subject. The Government have made their view absolutely clear. When the Select Committee made its report my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement which was very well received, certainly on the Labour Benches, as one which relieved the anxieties of many coloured people throughout the country after what had been said in the previous three or four weeks. My right hon. Friend also indicated the Government's attitude to the Select Committee's recommendations.
There is no doubt that the Government's views on the matter are being made quite clear to the country. If the Opposition had wished to have a debate on the subject, they could have chosen to do so. They could have challenged the Government's views, but they did not seek to. In that sense, the responsibility must rest on their shoulders, not on the Government's. The Government have nothing to hide.
Four or five subjects were raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). One related to the prison service, to which I have already referred. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I reply by letter on his other subjects. If I tried to reply to all of them now I could hardly fulfil my obligation to some of the hon. Members to whom I referred earlier.
Whatever I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about—and I did not disagree with very much that he said—I entirely agree with what he said about the whales. Appalling events are taking place. I agree that we in this country should do everything in our power to ensure that the world looks on these matters in a different way. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the question. I am sure that many people throughout the country believe that this country's influence should be exerted to the limit in the matter, that we should exercise some imagination and recognise what is 332 required from civilised communities in dealing with such questions.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) will excuse me if I do not give him a particular answer.
I make no apology for not referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher). The less said about it, the better. The hon. Gentleman chose to use his speech to make an attack upon my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. If he intended to make such an attack, he should have given my right hon. and learned Friend notice and should have raised the matter in a different way. His speech was not the normal way in which such matters are raised in the House.
I turn to the two principal matters raised in the debate. They are extremely important, and I do not seek to minimise their importance in any way. I asked the House last week to relieve me from the undertaking I had given in the debate last November because I was fully aware of what the undertaking was. I had said that I believed that we must bring the matter in question back to the House for debate and decision. Because I was not proposing that course, I asked at the Dispatch Box that the House should release me from the undertaking. I do not give undertakings lightly, and as I was unable to fulfil that undertaking, I believed that I should ask the House to proceed in that way.
I may be asked "Why did that happen?" The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it had any relation to the report of the Procedure Committee. He was correct in saying that in the debate in November I made no reference to the Committee. It is true that we had hoped that the Committee's report would come earlier. That might have influenced the way in which we would proceed. I am not taking shelter behind that. Even so, we have sought to see whether we could bring the matter forward for debate and decision in the House.
It is a fact that we did for a period—and this accounts for part of the delay—hope that there would be a report from the Procedure Committee appearing some weeks earlier. We thought that the Committee would be making some recommendations on the subject. However, it is 333 also the case, as the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, said in a perfectly fair comment on the matter, that in the debate I gave an undertaking that I would consult the Scrutiny Committee before bringing any such matter before the House. I did have the kind of consultations with the right hon. Gentleman which he has described. I am not blaming him or the Scrutiny Committee for replying to me "We would like further time to discuss the matter in the light of what has gone before." That is a perfectly reasonable attitude.
If, in these circumstances, we had sought to bring forward a motion in which was to be enshrined the practice of the House I do not believe that at the end of the Session, we would have established that rule in circumstances which would have been satisfactory. It is not the case, as the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting, that there is no controversy left in the matter or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) suggests, that there would not be any controversy raised. There are points of controversy. There is the point, for example, of the nature of the loophole, as it has sometimes been described. This concerns making commitments about having debates on matters recommended by the Scrutiny Committee and reaching decisions to make them absolute. There are some who advocate that. That is one point of controversy.
There is another point of controversy as to whether this matter should be dealt with at all by resolution. Some think that it should be done in that way while others disagree. There are considerable issues involved in that, too. These are controversial matters and we have not yet found what we think is the satisfactory solution.
§ Sir David Renton
Bearing in mind what the right hon. Gentleman has said, may I ask him to tell us why it was that nothing was submitted to the Scrutiny Committee until so very recently, just in time for it to consider the matter at its last meeting on Wednesday last?
§ Mr. Foot
I have already given some indication of the reasons. I do not want to repeat everything that I have said. Part of the reason was that we thought that there could be some approach to this matter through the recommendations that 334 might come from the Procedure Committee, or at any rate we might take into account what the Procedure Committee might recommend. Part of the reason arose from discussions we had among ourselves as to what might be the best way of approaching the matter.
What I do say is that we shall return to this matter afresh. Of course it is not settled. There must be a fresh approach to it. I have a long record on this subject, going back much beyond November 1977. My record goes back to the debate in 1972, which I do not think the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire recalled accurately, and which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. If we had been able to carry the motion in that debate many of these matters might have been settled long ago. This argument has to be taken into account when we approach the subject.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Whatever may have happened in the past, do I understand from my right hon. Friend now that he is anxious to reach some sort of agreed resolution covering this matter and is willing to have discussions about it, whether on an all-party basis or in Rome other manner?
§ Mr. Foot
When we return we must have consultations and discussions. I certainly think that we must seek an approach to this matter which carries out in some form or other the undertaking that I put in the statement to the House in August 1976. I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, do not think that that undertaking goes far enough. Other hon. Members think that it goes too far, while other; believe that it is satisfactory as it stands. I want to secure a resolution that can guarantee—not unanimous support because I do not suppose that that is ever likely on this subject—but at least fairly wide support. That is necessary to make the resolution effective.
§ Sir John Eden
Since the right hon. Gentleman has referred to consultations with the Scrutiny Committee, I must make clear that the exchanges that he had with me do not in any way constitute consultations with the Scrutiny Committee. At no time did the Scrutiny 335 Committee have any proposition before it.
§ Mr. Foot
There is no dispute or misunderstanding about this. I believe that the Scrutiny Committee took the view that in any case we could not reach a simple, easy, solution in the time available. I do not blame it. The Committee has had considerable experience in these matters and that has to be taken into account in reaching a solution. I fully understand the strength of feeling on the subject. We have to secure methods by which this House may exert its authority on these matters. We have not yet found the way in which to proceed. We must continue with the search.
Once again, I apologise to the House in that I have not been able to carry into effect the undertaking that I gave in November. I do not wish to qualify or mitigate the apology, to dodge the issue or blur the words. I want everyone to understand what we are seeking to do and where we have proceeded.
There was one other general subject raised in these debates, namely, the alleged quangos—the so-called quango explosion. There is a great deal to be said for examining the ways in which people are appointed to jobs and posts. I am all in favour of trying to make those appointed bodies democratic and democratically responsible. That is one of the reasons why I have striven so hard in this Session to get the devolution measure through the House of Commons. This will be interfering in many respects with the work of the quangos. Many appointments are made in a number of important areas, some of them in the most important of all. The whole system of appointment in the Health Service has to be altered as a result of devolution.
I am glad that there has been this conversion on this aspect on the part of Opposition Members. It is a great boon to me, at the end of this hard Session, that we have had almost unanimous support from the Opposition for our devolution proposals. I even suspect that I might get some support from some of my hon. Friends, too. I would be happy to end on that note of unanimity. Not one further word would I wish to say. I hope that in the course of examining 336 these quangos and making them genuinely more democratic we shall not have a smear attack upon such institutions as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service such as we have had in this debate and over the past few days.
That service does not provide jobs for the boys. It is one of the best services that has been established in this country. It has saved us hundreds of millions of pounds and is pointing the way to much better industrial relations. It was conceived on the highest grounds of principle, and I say that because I appointed that body. On that happy note I hope that the House will be prepared to depart for the Recess.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Tuesday 24th October.