HC Deb 20 March 1978 vol 946 cc987-1076

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising on Thursday, 23rd March do adjourn till Monday, 3rd April and at its rising on Friday, 28th April do adjourn till Tuesday, 2nd May.—[Mr. Foot.]

4.2 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

Ulster Unionist spokesmen have frequently in times past questioned the wisdom of the House adjourning at critical times for various recesses, but I am quite sure that right hon. and hon. Members appreciate that in Northern Ireland the Easter Recess season is one of particular concern because of the emotions and myths kept alive for the past 62 years.

This occasion is different for another reason. Hitherto, IRA terrorism was thought to be an internal Irish quarrel, but it is now recognised as an Irish dimension of a worldwide revolutionary technique to overthrow society by force.

The Northern Ireland security debate of 6th March has been continued on both sides of the Irish Sea. In a sense, it has become a debate between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been subjected to vicious and, I feel, a great deal of unwarranted criticism as a result of his reply to a suggestion made by the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic that only 2 per cent. of violence emanated from south of the frontier. Facts, not opinions, provide the Secretary of State with the most effective defence for which he could wish.

It was from a Dublin Government that Ministers had to resign in 1968 following Press exposures of their links with the present IRA campaign. It is the present Dublin Government who stand isolated as the only EEC member country which refuses to sign the European Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism. It is the same Dublin Government who repeatedly reject the generally accepted principle of extradition. It is a Dublin Government who permit the headquarters of the Provisional IRA political wing to operate in their capital city. It was in the Irish Republic that the terrorist kit, described recently by the Home Secretary in the House, was assembled for shipment to the Home Counties.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was provided by the attack on a security post in South Armagh by terrorists who retreated south of the frontier on the very day that Mr. Lynch was seeking to deny that the territory of the Irish Republic was used as a haven of refuge and base for terrorists.

It is not my purpose to embarrass Mr. Lynch and his Government. Indeed, I respect the claim of the Irish Republic to being a sovereign independent State. That, of course, does not include that part of Ireland which is, and will remain, part of the United Kingdom. But, in all charity, I have to ask Mr. Lynch to look at his own behaviour through the eyes of Ulstermen, other citizens of the United Kingdom and perhaps the inhabitants of other civilised nations which the Irish Republic seeks to influence and aspires to lead.

One wonders whether Mr. Lynch is aware of the question mark which now hangs over his name and of the serious doubts about the capacity of Dublin politicians in general to co-operate in constructive efforts to create that climate of good neighbourliness which is greatly desired by all of us in Northern Ireland and by our fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. I am afraid that no such atmosphere can be created or is possible until Mr. Lynch and his entire Government—that includes some reluctant Ministers—give their unreserved support, as we have done, to all measures designed to stamp out murder, whatever name it bears. Such a change of attitude has been made essential and urgent following the examples of terrorist ruthlessness seen in various countries in the past week. It is now clear that any statesman who ducks the challenge will forfeit the respect of his fellows.

Today in Europe the statesmen who even subscribe to the objectives of any terrorist movement will become outcast, because all protestations and so-called explanations and clarifications will class the vocal supporter of terrorist aims as being as guilty as the one who pulls the trigger or lights the fuse.

Revolutionary guerrilla warfare has increased in scale and ruthlessness in the three years since Dr. Clutterbuck wrote his book "Living with Terrorism". Indeed, for many in the British Isles the option of even living with terrorism has been closed. But Her Majesty's Government and this Parliament can do much to contribute to the eradication of revolutionary violence by meeting it firmly and resolutely. In that respect they will have the full support of my right hon. and hon. Friends and, I trust, of the entire House. We can also, as good neighbours, seek to persuade the Irish people that they deserve something better than Gaddafi-type politics.

4.8 p.m.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

It will be within your memory, Mr. Speaker, that I have several times recently raised with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the question of having a debate on the Belgrade Conference and the coming United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. Therefore, while I appreciate the pressure of time on my right hon. Friend, it is disappointing that we are not to have such a debate, particularly as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to visit President Carter during the course of this week.

I understand that the purpose of the Prime Minister's visit to the United States is, in the first instance, to discuss not the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, but the possibilities of economic recovery for the Western world. Nevertheless, I feel sure that at some time during the talks the question of the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament will arise.

It would have been better had the Prime Minister been able to go to the United States with a firm understanding of the different feelings in different parts of the House on this matter. We cannot say that the two-day debate that we had on the defence White Paper last week was sufficient. Many hon. Members were anxious to speak in that debate. I always think that it is rather unfair that on the first day of a two-day debate right hon. and hon. Members have a fairly free rein. Several speeches on the first day were up to half an hour long. Those from the Opposition Benches were particularly long. The Front Bench spokesmen spoke for an inordinate length of time on both days, with one honourable exception—the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), who opened the debate for the Opposition on the second day. He was certainly reasonable in the length of time that he took.

Many of us waited a long time trying to get into the debate. When we did we were required by courtesy to our fellow Members, if nothing else, to truncate our speeches. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House appreciate how difficult it is to argue a case in six or seven minutes, particularly when several aspects are covered, as they were in the defence White Paper. I am disappointed that we have not found time for such a debate.

There have been a number of developments recently in international affairs which require our attention. The Belgrade Conference has finished and the Government's White Paper has been issued. I was disappointed with the final communiqué. Although it cannot be said that the conference was a complete failure, it was not the success for which most of us had hoped.

I think that we have lost ground since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act on 1st August 1975. On our side we have concentrated too much on the question of human rights. I appreciate that this is an important aspect of the Final Act and that there is a basket which is particularly concerned with that matter in the Final Act. It is also mentioned in the seventh item of Basket I.

No one would deny that it is important but there are many faults in the 35 countries which are signatories to the Final Act. There are some matters in this country of which we cannot be particularly proud. Similarly, the United States has some swill to carry. For example, a big demonstration was held in Washington on Sunday by United States citizens who feel that their Government are violating human rights with regard to the Wilmington Ten who have been found guilty of arson on the flimsiest of evidence, if any evidence at all. These matters must lie heavily on our consciences.

The relations between two other signatories of the Final Act—Turkey and Cyprus—also should have been brought up in Belgrade but they were not raised. No one can deny that there is a serious situation in Cyprus. We European countries have a special responsibility to try to settle that matter. There is only one solution. It is for the Turkish invading troops to be withdrawn and for Cyprus to be returned to the position existing prior to the invasion by Turkey. I fully understand that many of the Turkish Cypriots who have been listed as missing are dead and that nothing that we do can restore them to their families. Nevertheless, it is a matter that we cannot ignore. I cannot go into the recess feeling happy about the situation, because we have not discussed it in the House.

The neutron bomb will be of significance in the discussions at the United Nations Special Session. It appears that a decision on this matter has not been taken. Several exchanges have taken place at Prime Minister's Question Time on this subject. The Prime Minister, in answer to a question of mine, indicated that he differed fairly fundamentally in his approach. He felt that the neutron bomb was not a departure from the weapons that are already in existence and that there was no question of the nuclear threshold being lowered because political discussion would be maintained. I believe that there is more to the argument than that. There is a psychological effect for this country. The Soviet Union certainly sees it as a testing ground for the genuine concern of the NATO Powers.

Should the United States proceed with the development of the neutron bomb and should member States of NATO agree to its development, the Soviet Union will see that as a further extension of the arms race, as President Brezhnev said in the Kremlin when speaking at the special session of the Supreme Soviet to mark the 60th anniversary of the revolution. He mentioned the neutron bomb and said that the Soviet Union would hold its hand until it discovered the intentions of the United States. He said that if the neutron bomb were developed, it would take what it considered to be appropriate action in developing weapons of its own to combat this new weapon.

If President Carter has not forced the issue by making a decision to develop the neutron bomb before the NATO meeting in Washington at the end of May, the matter will be discussed and possibly a decision made then. We should have discussed this issue before the Easter Recess. At least a decision about developing and deploying this bomb should be postponed until the United Nations Special Session so that that session can proceed in the best atmosphere. That is a reasonable request that must be accepted by any reasonable person.

We are anxious for the Special Session to be successful. We have prepared a document which we have submitted, with the support of several other Western European nations, for consideration at the Special Session. Although it does not mention the neutron bomb, it outlines the future as we see it. It describes the need for general and complete disarmament. Although I hear Opposition Members muttering about the Moscow line, what I say is completely in accord with the British Government's attitude. Several nations in the NATO Alliance have considerable misgivings about the deployment of the neutron bomb. We should share those misgivings.

The Netherlands Parliament has already passed a motion calling on its Government to refuse to accept the siting of a neutron bomb on Netherlands territory. I understand that the Icelandic Government have also expressed their determination not to get involved and West Germany has considerable misgivings.

This is a matter of such importance to the world that we must ensure that the UN Special Session, which has taken so long to set up, is held in the best possible atmosphere. The least the Prime Minister can do when he sees President Carter this week is to impress on him that a decision should at least be postponed until after the Special Session.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

There are a dozen and one reasons for us not to adjourn for the recess, but I should like to raise just one that is among the most important social issues of the day. I wish to speak about the plight of people with only one system of heating in their homes, particularly if they are council or housing association properties.

I suggest that we should debate this question as we are coming to the end of a difficult and cold winter, especially in the light of the announcement at the weekend that electricity prices are again moving inexorably up. For example, I was horrified to read that in the next 12 months there will probably be an 8 per cent increase in electricity prices in the Midlands. The Price Commission has already approved a 4 per cent. rise and the fuel adjustment charge will take that up to 8 per cent.

I declare an interest because I am associated with a company that works with the Solid Fuel Advisory Service and I know that organisation well, but my concern is not motivated by that fact. In the past year, I have struggled on behalf of more than 100 housing association tenants in Leamington Spa who have been captives of electricity-only heating systems and who have not been able to afford the electricity bills and have therefore had to use other methods of heating, which have caused dampness in their houses and a great deal of discord in the households during this cold winter.

The problem is not associated only with my part of the West Midlands. As hon. Members on both sides of the House can testify, it is a national one.

When I first raised the matter, I received promises of action from the Department of the Environment, but no palliative moves have been brought forward during the winter. I am certain that the Government recognise the problem. The difficulty is getting action from the Departments of the Environment and Energy.

I raised the matter in parliamentary Questions in January and February and it was followed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). In reply to his Question, the Department of Energy referred him to the answer given to me on 13th February and said that the problem was primarily one for the Department of the Environment and local authorities. The reply added: The Department of Energy is represented on a Joint Working Party on Heating and Energy Conservation in Public Sector Housing chaired by the Department of the Environ- ment … and intends to look further into the design considerations for heating systems in new housing and into the choice of fuels."—[Official Report, 17th February 1978; Vol. 944, c. 400.] I followed that up on 8th March with another Question and was told by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that it was open to individual housing authorities and associations to select heating systems for their dwellings in the light of their own experience and local circumstances. I was also referred to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East who, in turn, has been referred to the earlier answer given to me.

The matter almost came to a full stop on 9th March when the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) asked the Department of the Environment how many local authorities had dwellings under construction in which there was neither a fireplace nor a gas supply. The same Under-Secretary told the hon. Gentleman that the information was not available centrally.

I quote these instances because they underline the lack of urgency shown by the Departments which should be giving a great deal of attention to this problem.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has said that is up to local authorities and housing associations to decide what sort of buildings to construct, but I think that most hon. Members would agree that housing associations and local authorities, given the financial restrictions on them, build the cheapest possible houses. Many have fallen into the trap of building them with electricity-only heating because this is the cheapest way initially. Of course, they have come to rue the day they made those decisions, because tenants, who are mostly in the lower earnings sector, cannot afford their fuel bills and sophisticated, up-to-date electricity heating systems are not used in the sort of cold weather that we have experienced this winter.

It behoves the Department of the Environment to get together with the Department of Energy and work out a system for the future so that we can help the thousands of people throughout the country who have had a bad winter and who see nothing but gloom and despondency ahead. Urgent action is needed and there should be a more realistic approach by the Govennment before next winter.

The Government should look at the need to alleviate the position of thousands of tenants of local authorities and housing associations who have only one system of heating and, chiefly through the Department of the Environment, they should issue definite guidance to local authorities and housing associations so that they build no more houses without chimneys or an alternative source of heating to electricity.

This would help us begin to make real progress in an admittedly difficult area. I do not expect the Leader of the House to say that he will find time for a debate. I am not criticising him, because he may not be aware of the problem, but I implore him to remind the Secretaries of State for Energy and the Environment that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised this issue several times in the last few months and to impress upon them the need for positive action. If he does that, he will have done a great favour not just to me, but to Parliament.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member I should say that Mr. Speaker has asked me to tell the House that any speech of less than eight minutes will not be registered by him.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I suggest that it would be totally wrong, almost immoral, for the House to adjourn for Easter until we have had the opportunity of debating the terrible and worsening level of unemployment on Merseyside. I and several of my hon. Friends have constantly pressed the Lord President to permit a debate on Merseyside to take place, but each time, while he has shown sympathy with our plight, he has suggested that we should debate the subject in a general debate on unemployment or on the North-West, or that we should debate it in a Committee upstairs. I say—and no doubt my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) will reinforce this point—that our situation is so serious that it can be dealt with only in a full-scale debate on the Floor of the House.

Merseyside is in the front line of factory closures and redundancies. It contains two of the three unemployment black spots in the United Kingdom—Skelmersdale and Kirkby, which is in my constituency and which has a male unemployment rate of 25 per cent. Thus, two of the three areas of the country with high unemployment levels are to be found within the relatively small area of Merseyside.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Does not the hon. Member agree that if we had not spent so much time discussing the Scotland Bill, and now the Wales Bill, there would have been ample time to discuss these matters affecting England, including this very important part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. I and my hon. Friends have made that point many times.

Unemployment on Merseyside, at about 12.6 per cent., is already double the national average. There are 10,000 redundancies pending from places such as Speke—my hon. Friend the Member for Garston will no doubt raise that matter—the Birds Eye factory in Kirkby, from Courtaulds, which is also in my constituency, and from English Electric. But those are only the well publicised cases involving large numbers of redundancies—3,000 at Speke and 1,200 at Birds Eye. We rarely hear about the hundreds of redundancies taking place in small firms where perhaps 25 or 50 people are laid off at a time. It is no exaggeration to say that over 10,000 redundancies are threatened on Merseyside at the moment.

The Government have done a great deal. They have poured a tremendous amount of money into Merseyside. Thousands of jobs are supported by Government schemes, whether by temporary employment subsidy or job creation. But Merseyside's predicament demonstrates clearly that the conventional policies of all Governments, and, unfortunately, this Government's regional policy, cannot deal adequately with the kind of deep-seated problems that Merseyside faces.

Merseyside has lost about 80,000 jobs net in the last 10 years. As quickly as the Government bring in new jobs and firms and build more factories on Merseyside, so we lose the jobs that are already there. Merseyside demonstrates clearly the failure of private enterprise and of the capitalist system.

We are constantly lectured by Conservative Members—not least by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), who is so concerned about unemployment on Merseyside that he is absent today—that we should keep subsidies out of Merseyside and let private industry get on with the job so that Merseyside can prosper. Yet one of the major sources of redundancy today is Lucas, a private enterprise company, which is closing its factory in Merseyside, not because it is losing money or has become unproductive or inefficient, but because it wants to reorganise and rationalise its production, transferring it from a high unemployment area to one of lower unemployment in Birmingham. The same thing happened with Albright and Wilson. Private enterprise has come into the area, seduced by Government grants and assistance, has taken the money and, when it suited its purpose, has pulled up stumps and moved to more advantageous and profitable areas.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

Is not the situation at Lucas Aerospace particularly grievous since, for a number of years, the workers in that company have been pioneering a whole series of exciting and imaginative projects which would provide long-term and secure employment for the existing work force and for many additional employees? Has not the management of that company consistently refused seriously to consider these proposals?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I accept what my hon. Friend has said. He and many others of my hon. Friends have been closely involved in trying to push the alternative programme formulated by the Lucas shop stewards. But, in spite of the imaginative, progressive and detailed nature of the proposal, the only response of private enterprise has been to dismiss it out of hand. That is the cavalier response to which we have been subjected on Merseyside.

Merseyside's predicament demonstrates that we shall deal with the problems there, as well as in the North-West and the North-East, only when we have a greater degree of public control over and ownership of industry in this country. Only then shall we be able to get a proper and fairer share of resources and employment for areas like Merseyside.

Why should a few private individuals be permitted to dictate the future and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people who work for them? Conservative Members constantly complain about the abuse of power, but what greater power is there than the power possessed by the individuals who run the private corporations? They take their decisions behind closed doors. They are responsible and accountable to no one. They do not have to come to any public platform to defend or justify their actions. Yet they hold in their hands the livelihoods and destinies of thousands of workers and their families in Merseyside and Kirkby and areas and towns like them.

The Conservatives support that kind of irresponsible power. It can be controlled only when industries are publicly owned and controlled so that investment may be directed to the areas where it is needed according to social priority, and not according to the whims of private individuals acting anonymously and irresponsibly.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Will the hon. Member answer two questions? Why does he think that these brutal capitalists are so reluctant to take up the sure-fire money-making schemes which have been put forward? Why does he think that, almost universally, public enterprise and private enterprise in this country are so reluctant to go to Merseyside and enjoy the privilege of employing the labour there?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) is doing what everyone outside Merseyside attempts to do, and that is to blame the workers. He asked why industries were not so concerned to take the money. Industries come to Merseyside, attracted by the carrot of 25 per cent. loans, of subsidies and of grants. As soon as they have qualified for that money and received it, they have gone somewhere else. In many cases they have taken their capital investment abroad. That happened in a scandalous way with Courtaulds, in Skelmersdale—

Mr. Tebbit

Why did the company do it?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The question is not why did it do it, but why should it be allowed to do it? We should not permit that disregard for the regions and for the people who live and work in them. The only way to prevent the disaster of Merseyside continuing and to prevent it from becoming a ghost town is by means of the public control I have described. The closure of Lucas or Birds Eye, or the threatened closure of Speke, implies exactly what the hon. Gentleman has suggested. The failures of private enterprise are shifted on to the character or attitudes of the work force.

It is asserted that the militancy of the Merseyside work force leads to a lack of efficiency or closures. But the Government's own figures belie that assertion. The Department of Employment has discovered that in the last 10 years fewer days were lost per thousand workers employed in manufacturing industry on Merseyside than were lost in Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire, Coventry or even in docile Manchester. Yet we hear constantly of the alleged militancy of the Merseyside workers. The figures demonstrate graphically that there is less militancy on Merseyside and that it is less strike-prone than other supposedly safer areas of investment.

We have a lower strike record than most other major manufacturing countries. The important point is not just the failure of private enterprise but the failure of our regional policy. It is not simply a question of the amount of money and resources that the Government and previous Governments have poured into Merseyside. It has not been selective enough. That is one of the most damaging criticisms that one can direct at regional policy. Its distribution is blanket-like. It is given on an overall basis without any regard to the particular problems and peculiar needs of certain areas.

The Government assume that all regions are the same. They assume that they are equally represented in terms of the proportion of their workers employed in manufacturing industry and different types of industry, but that is not the case. Merseyside has an extremely narrow manufacturing base. It is an area that is predominantly concentrated in the service and ancillary sectors. Therefore, the whole of the Government's industrial strategy of pumping funds and resources into the six key sectors does not help Merseyside to the same extent as it helps other regions.

The Government should recognise that simply having a six-sector industrial strategy and regional policy specifically related to the regions, pumping money into those areas, does not automatically result in the money coming to Merseyside in the proportion that is expected.

Merseyside has suffered a long period of decay of its major industries and neglect by successive Governments. The regional policy is too broad. If we are to deal with the problems of Merseyside, we need a Merseyside development agency. The Government already have development agencies in Scotland and in Wales. I do not begrude either of those two countries the agencies, with the hundreds of millions of pounds at their disposal to invigorate and regenerate industry in Scotland and Wales. However, the total number of unemployed people in Merseyside is far in excess of the number of unemployed in Wales. More people are unemployed in the Liverpool area than in Wales. Yet Wales has a development agency with its own funds, controlled locally. It is able to make its own decisions and to relate them sensibly and flexibly to the problems of industrial structure and regeneration.

Although Merseyside has fewer people unemployed than Scotland, it has a larger percentage of people unemployed than Scotland. Yet Scotland has a development agency and Merseyside has not.

We shall not deal with the problems of Merseyside and its worsening and terrible unemployment situation, which, if it is not a disaster today will be a major catastrophe tomorrow, unless urgent action is taken soon and before the end of the recess. We shall deal with the problem only when we have a Merseyside development agency capable of spending the £90 million or £110 million given respectively to the Scotland and Wales development agencies—an agency controlled by local people who will be able to deal with the problems, but not on a one off-basis, as with the NEB or the report commissioned by the Prime Minister. They would have to be dealt with on an ongoing basis, with the pumping of money into the area so that industry can be invigorated and new industries stimulated. We need a tool that is responsive to local needs and sensitive to local problems.

At present Merseyside is a terrible indictment of the failure of private enterprise to provide an adequate and fair distribution of opportunities amongst the regions. Merseyside is a graphic illustration of everything said by Labour Members for decades in condemnation and criticism of private enterprise. It is, unfortunately, also a very strong criticism of the present regional policy. The policy fails to preserve jobs on Merseyside.

We do not need to debate the employment situation on Merseyside after the recess; we need to debate it this week. I suggest firmly to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the House would be failing its duty if it were allowed to go on holiday without properly debating the problems of Merseyside and, much more importantly, what specifically, urgently and immediately the Government propose to do beyond that which has been done already to deal with the worsening employment situation.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I repeat the eight-minute offer to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).

4.47 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

In order to try to stick within the eight minutes, I shall not respond to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk).

May I say in passing that I was extremely disappointed by the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade about the "Amoco Cadiz" affair? Wil the Lord President note that those who represent coastal constituencies are very concerned about what may happen and would press the Government urgently to consult our French partners in the EEC and, if necessary, jointly, but alone with the French, take some action to do two things? The first is to make quite sure that rules are introduced that should ensure that these oil-carrying tankers are not allowed to cut corners by coming close to our coastlines with the appalling risk of accident followed by spillage, the price of which is paid by everybody except the oil companies.

The second is to ensure a great deal more urgency in the testing and practice of non-detergent oil-clearing devices. Detergents damage the marine ecology. For two years I have been expressing the view that it is little less than a scandal that the oil companies, which cause these massive pollution problems, manufacture the detergents and then stand to make a substantial profit every time one of these spills takes place and they are left in the happy position of providing the detergents to clear them up. In constituencies such as mine tourism and fishing are two of the most important activities, as well as recreational sailing and boat building. It is not good enough for the Government to continue to take a dilatory attitude towards the problem.

I wish to deal with another point—and I recognise that this may not be entirely acceptable to Labour Members. I make no apology for raising it, because it is important that we have at the very least a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services before we rise for the Easter Recess. If we cannot have such a statement, I hope that the Lord President will institute some form of investigation. I refer yet again to the allegations in "The Pencourt File" and the discrepancies between statements made by the Secretary of State for Social Services, statements made by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), statements made by the Prime Minister and statements made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), all of which indicate a degree of discrepancy which I find most unsatisfactory.

The Government, in their own interests as well as in the interests of the House and country, should see that some inquiry is held quickly so that we can clear up these extraordinary discrepancies. The allegations include assertions of interference by the Executive in action taken, or not taken, through the courts of this country. I raised this initially in a letter to the Attorney-General last October. He replied to my letter but was unable to give me sufficient satisfaction.

The Secretary of State for Social Services then answered a Written Question the day before Social Services Oral Questions last week. Many of my hon. Friends considered that to be not only inadequate but an underhand way of dealing with the problems that some of us are trying to raise openly in the House.

"The Pencourt File" makes some serious allegations about the Secretary of State. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman has not taken legal action against the authors and publishers of the book. The allegations are not of a passing nature. They are backed up by a great deal of evidence which, as far as I know, has not been officially refuted by the Secretary of State or any of the other people mentioned in the book.

The Government cannot wish the matter away. It will not go away, because Ministers are involved. The noble Lady, Lady Falkender, was a party to the appearance of an extraordinary file apparently prepared by Mr. Jack Straw for the right hon. Member for Blackburn when she was Secretary of State for Social Services. I understand that Lady Falkender has said in reference to the file passed to her from the Secretary of State that one of them was in fact a digest in the same way that Jack Straw did a digest of the whole case but giving all the political ramifications of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) has written to the Prime Minister about the matter informing him that there are tape recordings of conversations between the authors of the book and Lady Falkender. One would have hoped that the Prime Minister would take the opportunity to clear up this mess by replying to my hon. Friend. Instead, all that he did was to invite the Secretary of State to reply to the letter that my hon. Friend has sent to the Prime Minister. That was wholly unsatisfactory.

I should like to know why Mr. Straw felt it necessary to produce such a digest. What was it for? For whom was it supposed to be? Where is it now? Until we have answers to those questions, I shall continue to press the matter in the House.

I understand that the tapes were made on the specific instructions of the BBC and on equipment supplied by the BBC to those two journalists when they were working for it. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) tut-tuts. He is not averse to making allegations. I am making allegations that I can substantiate on the basis of tapes that I have heard. If the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene, I should be delighted to give way, though I intend to be brief.

I find it most unsatisfactory that the BBC was pressurised by the Secretary of State to discontinue a programme that it had been compiling initally at the invitation of the right hon. Member for Huyton. The two journalists concerned were faced with the prospect of signing a wholly unacceptable contract aimed at silencing them, or facing dismissal. They chose the latter.

I conclude, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that the Lord President will take the matter seriously this time and realise that some of us feel disquiet about it. We invite him to ask the Secretary of State to make a full statement so that he can be questioned and all our concern can be allayed, or, if not, at least to initiate an inter-departmental inquiry so that we can get to the bottom of the affair.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), in his speech giving reasons why the House should not adjourn, impugned my interest in unemployment on Merseyside by saying that I was not in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order. If he is fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair, the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Unlike the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), but like my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), I want to deal with a very serious matter, not the trivial sort of matter about which the former hon. Gentleman spoke.

Incidentally, all that my hon. Friend said about the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) was that he was not in the House at that moment—and he was not. The fact that he has now appeared in the Chamber is probably because his hon. Friends told him that his absence had been noticed.

Mr. Steen rose

Mr. Heffer

Sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House had better leave this matter for the time being.

Mr. Heffer

It would not be right for the House to depart for the Easter Recess before we have had serious answers about the most serious problem of unemployment on Merseyside.

I want first to pay tribute to what has been done by the Government to help deal with Merseyside's problems. Merseyside has always had unemployment at twice the national average, even during the days of so-called full employment. It has never enjoyed full employment in the normally understood sense. When other parts of the country were booming, it still had its areas of unemployment and a residue of unskilled and semi-skilled workers seeking employment.

The Government, in my opinion rightly, made Merseyside a special development area. The aid that has been poured into Merseyside for the past five or six years is fantastic. The Government have built 66 advance factories there, and because of IDC policies many companies have been induced to create employment, to build factories in the area.

About £400 million has been poured into the area over those years. That is a tremendous amount. Despite that, despite the efforts of this Government and previous Governments to assist through regional policies, we still find ourselves with 11.3 per cent. unemployment in the Merseyside area. The number of school leavers last July was 17,400. There have been advances. Unemployment among school leavers went down to 5,520 last month. Nevertheless, one can see the picture of employment possibilities for young people.

Last month we had 12,000 unemployed in the construction industry. Nearly 3,000 of them were highly skilled workers, carpenters, joiners, bricklayers and others.

Regional unemployment in the North-West as a whole is 7.5 per cent. The national figure is 6.2 per cent. I said that there was 11.3 per cent. unemployment on Merseyside, but in Liverpool it is even higher. We have about 90,000 workers unemployed in the city alone. That provides a measure of the problem we face.

The position is not all bad. Last month there was a decrease of 1,800—minimal, but a decrease. I understand that tomorrow's figures will show a further decrease in unemployment on Merseyside. Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, this situation is tragic.

I shall give one other figure which illustrates our problem. On 12th January, 28,199 people in the Merseyside special development area had been registered as unemployed for more than 52 weeks. Of these, 25,287 were in the Liverpool travel-to-work area. Those are long-term unemployed.

In the past two or three weeks some of my hon. Friends and I have been industry's parliamentary firemen, so to speak. We have been dashing from one Minister's office to another, from one employer's office to another, arguing against closures or proposed closures. We have been to see Michael Edwardes. We are about to see the management of Lucas. One of my hon. Friends has seen the management of Birds Eye. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has seen the management of GEC-English Electric. Together we have met shop stewards. We shall be meeting more shop stewards, other trade unionists and other Ministers. It is a continual process. All this rushing around is getting us nowhere, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk rightly said, we live in a society which is dominated by the concept of private enterprise and private profit.

Some people have asked why Liverpool faces these problems. It is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk rightly said, because the workers of Liverpool will not work harder, are lazy, are always going on strike. As a matter of fact, only this week there was a newspaper article in the Liverpool area about the Liverpool dockers who had turned ships round in record time. The ships had come in late, but the dockers got them out early. There has not been a strike on the Liverpool docks for the past four years. There has not been a strike at Lucas's main factory for 24 years. We can give example after example.

One of the basic problems is that we are on the wrong side of the country. The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) laughs. When private enterprise goes in for rationalisation, if it is more beneficial to private enterprise to transfer a factory in the Midlands or anywhere else, that policy is pursued with a ruthless disregard for the interests of workers or other social consequences. What is happening now is happening because we are part of the Common Market. The trade patterns are changing. Some of us warned that this would happen once we were a member of the Common Market.

Tory Members think the matter is worthy of laughter. It is a big joke to them. Admittedly, the official Tory spokesmen are not laughing, but other Tory Members are laughing. The 90,000 unemployed on Merseyside do not regard it as a joke; nor do my hon. Friends and myself.

Some people think that if money is poured in for investment, that in itself solves problems. It does not. Pilkingtons are to invest £32 million in building a new plant on Merseyside. The new plant will employ 325 workers. The present plant employs 680 workers. The new factory, when completed, will produce more than the present factory. So the investment of £32 million means that the labour force there is more than halved.

Example after example can be given in that regard. Exactly 16,000 dockers have disappeared. Yet, because of new methods, the productivity on the docks is as high as ever. We are talking about real problems. That is why I ask Tory Members not to treat this matter as a joke. It is a very serious matter.

Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)

This is a very serious matter. Perhaps what is most serious of all is the hon. Member's refusal to condemn his Government. Does he not agree that one of the most serious difficulties facing Liverpool and Merseyside is the disappearance of the small business? The bankruptcies which have occurred in small businesses are directly related to the Labour Government's fiscal, monetary and bureaucratic policies.

Mr. Heffer

If Tory Members will stop their Pavlovian reaction, I shall now ex- plain to the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) that the guts were taken out of Liverpool—the small businesses were destroyed—by the redevelopment carried out under the local Tory administration. The hon. Gentleman should get the facts right. I know the facts, because I was on the city council at the time.

Mr. Steen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heffer

No, I will not. When the hon. Member for Wavertree begins to treat the subject seriously, I shall give way to him. Until then, I shall not.

Mr. Steen rose

Hon. Members

Sit down!

Mr. Heffer

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Wirral about the need to get small businesses back to Merseyside, to rebuild them where they were destroyed because of redevelopment. The hon. Gentleman has been here sufficiently long to know that I have been making speeches to that effect to the Government ever since I left ministerial office, and I made the same speeches when I was in office. I pointed out the amount of money—£400 million—that has been poured into Merseyside by the Government. Therefore, I am not criticising my right hon. and hon. Friends for not aiding Merseyside. I say that, despite all the aid that has been given to Merseyside, the problem has not been solved. That is my point. It is not a party issue. It is much more serious than to justify having party points scored in relation to it.

Mr. Steen

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the major problems facing Liverpool is that we have 2,100 acres of vacant land in the inner area—a very serious matter—of which 80 per cent. is either in the ownership of the city council or belongs to nationalised industry? Because of that vacant land, no new business is coming to the Liverpool area and there is no rate base to produce more wealth.

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman knows that, although there is vacant land in the city centre, many of us have been pressing for it to be redeveloped. He also knows that there are industrial estates all round the outskirts of Merseyside where factories have been built and employers induced to develop new industries. The hon. Gentleman has not added anything to the debate, because we are talking about redundancies at Lucas, at Birds Eye, at British Leyland, Courtaulds, and at GEC.

I want to make the following suggestions for tackling this problem. First, we should have a Minister responsible for the Merseyside area.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

More patronage—that is no answer.

Mr. Heffer

Nor is the proposal of a development area. Nor is an agency in itself. If we are to co-ordinate the necessary activities, we need a Minister responsible for Merseyside. In the meantime, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to step in and halt all the closures and ensure that, whilst discussions are taking place, emergency aid is granted to Merseyside to help us to overcome the immediate closures.

Next, the role of the National Enterprise Board must be extended. It should not just have an office on Merseyside. It should not just look for projects in which it can put some money. It should make a positive contribution towards helping Merseyside. Incidentally, I have no objection whatsoever to help being given to small businesses. On the contrary, I think that they have a very important role to play. The question of construction can be dealt with only on the basis of a boost to the economy and a boost in the Budget.

We need a reduction in working hours. We should have a 35-hour week. There should be earlier retirement. Even during a period of full employment my area still had twice the national average of people out of work. That is an additional problem to that of the economy as a whole and it has to be understood. We also need to urge the unions, whether on Merseyside or elsewhere, to have control of overtime working, which should not happen to the extent that it does at the present moment. There must also be import ceilings. It is absolutely ridiculous that we are allowing our markets to be flooded and our people to be thrown out of work at the same time.

These are, in my opinion, are some of the answers to the problem.

Mr. Steen

Nothing new.

Mr. Heffer

I do not know all the answers, unlike some people who seem to know everything. But I shall explain to the hon. Gentleman that the fact that a proposition is not new does not mean that it is not correct.

The Liverpool City Council is asking the Prime Minister to meet a deputation not only from the city council but from the trade unions, the political parties, Members of Parliament, the Chamber of Commerce, and also religious people who are concerned with the problems of the area. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will at least pass on to the Prime Minister that we should like such a meeting to take place. We want a serious approach to be made, so that the Government may begin to deal with the problems. We are not asking for more aid such as in the past but for more aid in dealing with the problem. We have had plenty of aid in the past but it has not solved our problems. They are most serious and are getting to crisis level.

Mr. Skinner

I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friend. Some of his proposals with a view to trying to generate a further boost in the economy, such as reduction in hours and in overtime working, are absolutely first-class. But there was one part of his speech which was in my view, to say the least, a little faulty. I refer to a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I should have thought that the resolution of Merseyside's problems within the context that my hon. Friend has outlined today would not survive, long term, on the basis of taking something from somewhere else in order to try to compensate over a relatively short period. What is needed on Merseyside, as, indeed, is needed—[Interruption.] We can hear the wolves. What is needed throughout the whole of Britain is to carry out the policies which have been laid down by the national executive committee of the Labour Party, of which my hon. Friend is a member. In addition to that, we need to get out of the Common Market.

Mr. Heffer

I often regret that my hon. Friend does not come in to listen to the whole of one's speeches, because I have not said in the debate that we should rob anybody in order to make the position better on Merseyside. I have not said it; nor would any Merseyside Member on the Labour Benches say it. The Merseyside workers would not say it. It has never been our policy and it will never be our policy, as far as I know, to say that we must have something at the expense of any other section of the community. That is not our argument. We are pointing to the particular problems that we have and to the type of measure that we want to be taken to deal with them.

As to the Common Market, I shall explain to my hon. Friend that I made it quite clear that one of the basic reasons for our problems was precisely that we had gone into the Common Market. I ask my hon. Friend to come in to the debate—

Mr. Skinner

I have come in.

Mr. Heffer

—a bit earlier and to listen to the whole of the speech, rather than being like Conservative Members who come in halfway through a speech and then try to comment on it. I do not need this sort of help from my hon. Friend. I can do without it. I have made it absolutely clear that the policies that we require are policies of the sort which are outlined by the national executive committee of the Labour Party. But in addition to that, because of our peculiar problems on Merseyside and the closures which are constantly taking place, we need some emergency action to help us out of our difficulties.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)

I want to bring the House back to what is a very serious matter and should be seen as such. That is whether the House is being told the truth about the matters reported in the Pencourt File. I hope that even the Leader of the House will understand that it is important that the House should be told the truth and that he should not simply dismiss it with another petulant shrug.

I raised this matter earlier this month in some questions to the Secretary of State for Social Services, at the end of which I had to say that I was not satisfied. It is because I am dissatisfied that I come back to the matter now.

The questions related to the statements on pages 175–177 of "The Pencourt File" concerning certain files and what hap- pened to them. The Secretary of State said in part of his answer: My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) evidently thought it necessary to inform himself about this case, as he has since made clear to the Press. But the Secretary of State said that he had "made a thorough investigation" and a full statement.

I am not at all sure that that is a wholly accurate account of what happened, any more than I am sure that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) was wholly accurate in that she said to the House about the whole thing being a result of the fevered imagination of a couple of journalists".—[Official Report, 7th March 1978; Vol. 945, c. 1206–7.] In fairness to the right hon. Lady, I will remind the House of what she said in the Daily Mail on the subject of the file in question. On 1st February 1978, Mr. Gordon Greig reported: The civil servant who dug out a confidential Whitehall file to satisfy Sir Harold Wilson's curiosity … was named last night. He is Mr. Jack Straw … Mr. Straw, Mrs. Castle said, made a personal report, and it was this—not the files—that she handed over to Sir Harold. The right hon. Member for Huyton went in to bat on the following day, in The Times of 2nd February 1978, in a lengthy statement, part of which I shall quote, as follows: Much is made in the book of the disappearance of a social security file on Mr. Norman Scott from the Department of Health and Social Security. Sir Harold said: I was informed by an MP that the Social Security files relating to this man were missing. Naturally I asked for inquiries to be made. I was told that the particular file had been 'weeded' in 1970 and that this was a routine operation to save space. Most recently, in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph of 8th March, Mr. Jack Straw has said: Cranley Onslow's allegation is completely untrue. As Mrs. Castle explained, 'I looked at the file in the department and wrote a report on it.' I and another civil servant wrote a report on the file and there was no question of it going outside the department. I handed the file back to the official dealing with it and gave the report to Mrs. Castle. I have to say to the House that there seems to me to be another side to the whole story and that there is a good deal more than fevered imagination to it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), I have seen the transcript and heard a tape relating to the statements made by Lady Falkender. In one passage of the tape she was asked whether she had seen the file, and she replied: Yes with my own eyes, I mean it is not that I am making it up. I remember going through it, I think that I took it over to Chequers". Later she said: I think we have got a copy of that file. I must go to Grange Farm … at the weekend and see if I can't find it. I am sure we took copies of the file. Later in the same interview, which is lengthy—and I shall not read the whole of it—there are passages indicating clearly that at some stage and by some means normal DHSS files went to No. 10 Downing Street and were there seen by Lady Falkender, who quite clearly in her capacity as constituency secretary to the right hon. Member for Huyton knows a DHSS file when she sees one. There was another file there, and that contained a digest. But again in this transcript Lady Falkender makes it clear that she went through the orginal files herself because, she comments, "The digest was just not very good."

I could go on longer on this and in greater detail. But I am sure that any Government supporter who would like to hear the tapes has only to apply to Mr. Courtiour and Mr. Penrose and they will be happy to make the tapes available. I hope very much that some hon. Members will feel inclined to do so.

In the meantime, we are left with a conflict where it is clear that some files went to No. 10 Downing Street, according to Lady Falkender, that they were copied presumably at No. 10 Downing Street, according to Lady Falkender, and that that copy has been taken away from No. 10 Downing Street and was in the possession at his home of the right hon. Member for Huyton.

If this is the case, we should know. If it is not the case, it should be established. But there should be no cover-up. An attempt to cover up simply creates the impression, and perpetuates it, that there is something very fishy going on here. The Leader of the House owes it to us to undertake that there will be a full inquiry into these matters at the earliest possible moment.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

In reply to the speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), I say merely that if he thinks there is any question of a cover-up, he had better look at the history of his own Government 22 years ago at the time of Suez when the most squalid cover-up this century occurred. It is still not clear what happened on that occasion. Government supporters choose to dismiss the kind of muckraking which we have seen in the Pencourt File. We prefer to deal with more important and immediate matters which concern not only our constituencies but the nation as a whole.

I want to come back right away to the problems raised by my hon. Friends who represent Merseyside constituencies. Very properly, they are concerned about unemployment, as we all are. It is no use pretending that anyone anywhere in Western Europe or in the industrial world has an immediate short-term solution or even a long-term solution to this problem.

But, having made that generalisation, I should be remiss in my duty as a constituency Member if I did not call to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a matter which is of concern not only to my constituency but to Scotland and to the nation as a whole. I refer to the projected petrochemical complex which is to be established, we hope, on the Firth of Forth at Moss Morran. It is to cost about £200 million, which will probably be the biggest investment in Scotland for a very long while.

There was a very extensive public inquiry into the matter last year and, in response to a Question of mine in this House in November or December, the Secretary of State in a considered reply undertook to make his own reply to the inquiry before the end of the year. That was a few weeks before the Christmas Recess, since when we have had nothing from the Secretary of State, and there are increasing forebodings in my constituency and in Scotland as a whole about the reasons why this decision is being delayed. I have had discussions on the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and he tells me that there are certain difficulties arising from the decisions to be made by other Government Departments.

Be that as it may, there are other considerations which the Secretary of State should bear in mind, and one is related directly to the questions posed by my hon. Friends from Merseyside about unemployment.

The proposed petrochemical complex is in the Cowdenbeath area. In that area we have more than 25 per cent. male unemployment. It was a mining area. It has now diversified. We have hardly a single coal mine in the area. But the other industry is becoming more technologically developed. It is producing more and more with less and less manpower. This is a problem which is not peculiar to my part of the country, but it is of little consolation to my constituents if I tell them that, although they are doing badly, other parts of the country and Western Europe as a whole are doing just as badly.

I know that the environmentalists in my part of the world are worried about the destruction of the environment and about the safety problems associated with the establishment of a petrochemical complex of this magnitude, and I share their misgivings. They have suspicions about the intentions of and the statements made by the international oil companies in this regard. Equally, on the other side, I have great faith in the determination of the Labour-controlled regional council and in that of the Dunfermline District Council and the Kirkcaldy District Council, both of which are also Labour controlled. They are all determined to protect the local populace from the environmental, health and other likely hazards. But there are many jobs involved not only in the construction of the complex but in the spin-off which is normal and inevitable as a result of a speedy decision on this matter.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to contact the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Office and all the other Departments concerned and to urge them to give us a speedy decision. The local authorities, the Glenrothes Development Corporation and all the others concerned with creating employment in the area want to see a speedy and favourable decision on the matter.

I make one other point, and I do so knowing that it will raise the hackles of Opposition Members. I wish to refer to the Civil List.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I knew that that was coming.

Mr. Hamilton

Of course. I take this opportunity to say that, in the past fortnight or three weeks, I have received literally hundreds of letters from all over the country and they are virtually unanimous in asking me and asking the Labour Government to take steps to reduce if not to abolish the annuities of certain persons who now get public money and who live private lives which are causing increasing disturbance among many sections of our community, of all political persuasions. I am taking it upon myself to send these letters to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging him to take that kind of action.

It is intolerable that, at a time when Government supporters especially but perhaps some Opposition Members, too, are increasingly concerned with the social and economic problems created by unemployment and by low wages among many sections of our community who are still employed, my Government are engaged in paying vast untaxed sums to people who are leading lives which are a disgrace to our community.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows the rules very well. He must not make any reflection upon these particular personages, even by imputation, although he is perfectly at liberty to discuss the Civil List.

Mr. Hamilton

I shall conclude my remarks by saying that even court officials are now coming to admit that they find certain behaviour indefensible. I hope that the Government will take account of this statement—not only by court officials, but by the Tory Press—in determining the scope of annuities in the next Civil List, which I understand will be announced in a few months' time.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I want to support my hon. Friends in asking that before the House rises the Government give an undertaking to have an independent inquiry into the existence of certain files held by the Department of Health and Social Security relating to Mr. Norman Scott and the way in which they have been handled.

In a Written Answer of 6th March which has already been mentioned, the Secretary of State said, in effect, that all the files relating to Mr. Scott had been accounted for, except one. This missing one had related to a claim in 1962 and it was presumed lost or accidentally destroyed in 1967. The fact that a file was mislaid was probably a rare occurrence, according to my advice.

However, that is not my main point. My main point is that the Answer of the Secretary of State does not deal with the important question whether the files were passed from the Department to No. 10 Downing Street during the period of office of the former Prime Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has referred to an Oral Answer he received from the Secretary of State on 7th March, and that answer seems to make clear by implication that the Secretary of State believed that the files had been passed.

If we turn to the book—"The Pencourt File"—there are three points attributed to the former Prime Minister's political secretary, who is now Lady Falkender. The first point is that, after considerable difficulty, Lady Falkender was able to obtain various files from the Department, including a confidential political digest. The second point is that the noble Lady herself said in the book: If you had looked at those files you knew that someone was up to no good". The third point is that copies of the files apparently were made and kept by Lady Falkender at No. 10 Downing Street.

All this was totally contrary to the impression given to the official representative of the BBC, Mr. Peter Hardiman Scott, who attended the Department at the request of the Secretary of State. The impression he got was that the file had been destroyed as a matter of routine in March 1975, and that this was the only file relating to Mr. Norman Scott. Nothing appears to have been said to Mr. Hardiman Scott about the fact that a 1962 file was unaccounted for, and that is rather strange. As a result of his visit to the Department, Mr. Hardiman Scott felt that there was nothing to be gained by the BBC pursuing these inquiries.

However, we know from the book and the tapes, to which my hon. Friends have referred, that some months after March 1975, when the impression was given to Mr. Hardiman Scott that the file had been destroyed, several files were in the hands of Lady Falkender. We have reason to believe that this is not a trivial matter. The whole inquiry was started by the former Prime Minister, who believed that a file had been kept from him—a file which he appears to have believed showed evidence of a conspiracy of South African origin against the Liberal Party.

On 24th February I wrote to the Prime Minister and told him that I had heard tape recordings. I sent him extracts from the transcripts of those recordings and said that if he wished to nominate someone to hear the tapes, the authors of the book would be very glad to play them. Apart from a formal acknowledgement, I have had no reply from the Prime Minister. I had a very brief reply from the Secretary of State who did no more than refer me to his Answer to parliamentary Questions. I do not believe that the matter can be left there.

There are five questions that require an answer. First of all, do the files referred to by Lady Falkender exist? Secondly, were they handed over, as she declares? Thirdly, what are the circumstances in which files relating to individuals may be released to people outside the Department without the citizen's consent? Here there is conflict between two Answers that have been given recently by the Secretary of State. In a Written Answer to me on 27th February he listed three circumstances in which files could be passed to people outside the Department without the consent of the citizen concerned. Then, in an Oral Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on 7th March, the Secretary of State said: It is for Ministers to decide for themselves, bearing in mind the need to respect the confidentiality of personal information, what papers they need to consult and what advice they need in order to perform their ministerial functions."—[Official Report, 7th March, 1978; Vol. 945, c. 1206.] It is strange that the Secretary of State did not make that point in his earlier Answer to me. It seems as if he had second thoughts.

Fourthly, how far does this principle extend? Does it extend to any Minister who wants a file on any citizen? To which citizens does it extend? Can any Minister see any file on any citizen? The public wants to know the answer to this question, because it has very wide implications for the liberties of the individual citizen.

My fifth question concerns political advisers. It is quite clear that these files were seen by two political advisers—the political secretary to the former Prime Minister and the political adviser to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), Mr. Jack Straw. I can see that there is a case for Ministers and officials in the Department seeing files relating to individuals, but why is it necessary to extend this to political advisers who are, after all, appointed for party political purposes? It is perfectly clear from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph that Jack Straw saw the files of Mr. Norman Scott.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Does my hon. Friend know whether these advisers are covered by the Official Secrets Act, which applies to civil servants and Ministers?

Mr. Blaker

That is a valid question which should be explored. My question is whether it is right for political advisers to see these files. Why was it not right for the report requested by the former Prime Minister to be prepared by ordinary civil servants in the ordinary way? What was so political about the matter? The House should not rise for the Easter Recess until the Government have given an undertaking that there will be an inquiry into these matters.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Can my hon. Friend say why it is necessary for anyone—Minister or political adviser—to see the files of Mr. Norman Scott? We must go back to the reason for this. It is the most important question of the lot.

Mr. Blaker

I hope that this does not come out of my eight minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but yes, that is a very important point.

5.38 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

Of the three hon. Members who have raised this Matter this afternoon, only the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) had the courtesy to inform me in advance that he was going to refer to me personally. Otherwise, I almost certainly would not have been in the Chamber this afternoon.

I shall make my intervention extremely brief. I congratulate the three Conservative Members on their ingenuity in having managed to find parliamentary forms of expression for calling both the Secretary of State for Social Services and myself liars.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) had all sorts of clever formulae. He queried whether the House was being told the truth. He hinted that there was another side to the matter; he said there was "a good deal more to it" and he ended with the words "cover up". The House has all the facts it needs to know on this matter. It has the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 6th March and it is in Hansard for all to see. That is my right hon. Friend's statement of his part in this much magnified so-called mystery, and it can be challenged only on the assumption that he is lying to the House.

Mr. Onslow

I, too, am anxious that the truth should prevail. Will the right hon. Lady say where in that statement the questions relating to the copying and keeping of files are dealt with in any way?

Mrs. Castle

The hon. Gentleman should contain himself. I am just coming on to my second point.

The second allegation had been made against me. I was approached by the Press on this matter, and I never made any mystery about my part in it. Indeed, the hon. Member for Woking read the frank statement I made to the Daily Mail. It was I who volunteered Jack Straw's part in the matter. There was no attempt to cover up on his part or mine. Indeed, there was nothing to cover up.

The facts are simple, and the statement I made to the Daily Mail has already been read. Early in 1976 the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), the then Prime Minister, asked me to see whether there had been anything untoward in the handling by the DHSS of Mr. Norman Scott's social security position. I asked Mr. Straw to look at certain papers on my behalf. Mr. Straw made a report to me which I passed on to the Prime Minister. As I told the Press, there was no indication in the papers to show that anything untoward had been done by the Department. That was the end of the matter so far as Jack Straw and I were concerned.

Mr. Tebbit rose

Mrs. Castle

I hope that I shall be allowed to complete my statement. I know that the moment the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) thinks there is any dirt about, he tries to get in on the act, but his hon. Friends have preempted him and I shall not allow him to intervene. I am replying to the three speeches which have been made.

Mr. Adley rose

Mrs. Castle

No, I cannot give way. I wish to complete my explanation. It is silly to be questioned about something halfway through. Therefore, I hope the hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete my record of what happened.

The then Prime Minister was then passed by me a folder of papers which contained only summaries of Mr. Scott's case, with photocopies of a few extracts from the case history. It is untrue to say, as hon. Gentlemen have said more than once in the House, that at some stage, by some means, normal DHSS files went to No. 10 Downing Street. No such files went to No. 10 from me or from Jack Straw. I am telling the House this part of the story. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has told the House the other part. There is no mystery about a missing file. Perfectly accurate and normal explanations have been given about the one file from 1962—namely, a sickness benefit file to which my right hon. Friend referred.

We were told by the hon. Member for Woking this afternoon that Lady Falkender made it clear in a transcript in his possession that she went through the original files themselves. I can only tell the House that no original files were sent to No. 10. I cannot help it if some people have imaginations. They were not sent to No. 10 by myself or Mr. Jack Straw or anybody else associated with "The Pencourt File" story.

Therefore, I say to the House that an inquiry is unnecessary because there is no cover-up. My right hon. Friend and I have told the House exactly what hap- pened. If hon. Gentlemen wish to call me a liar, I trust you will see. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that they put it in correct parliamentary form.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On 13th March this year Mr. Speaker wrote to the Prime Minister letting him know the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law relating to increased representation for Northern Ireland in this House.

On 9th March on the Business Statement I asked the Lord President whether he would make a statement on behalf of the Government on their response to the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference for increased representation for Northern Ireland in the House? The right hon. Gentleman replied I agree that a statement should be made to the House at an early date and we shall see that it is done."—[Official Report, 9th March 1978; Vol. 945, c. 1613.] That was 11 days ago, and I do not believe it is right for the House to adjourn for the Easter Recess without our being given a statement from the Lord President this afternoon about the Government's attitude to the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. That recommendation was as follows: That the number of parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland should be 17 but that the Boundary Commission should be given power to vary that number, subject to a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 18. Why is it important that we should have a declaration from the Government on their attitude to that recommendation? I believe that it is of the greatest importance, because it was under pressure from the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and from other right hon. and hon. Friends, that the Government agreed to set up the Speaker's Conference. That conference was set up because there was general recognition by the House that Ulster was under-represented in this place. The conference endorsed that view and recommended a significant increase in the parliamentary representation of Ulster.

If there is a general view in this House, and if the Speaker's Conference in an almost unanimous recommendation says that there should be an increase in the representation of Northern Ireland, it is incumbent on this House to put right something that is manifestly wrong. But that can be done only by legislation.

I am asking the Lord President to tell the House this evening, first, that the Government accept in principle the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference communicated to the Prime Minister on 13th February; secondly, that the Lord President will introduce the necessary short Bill to give effect to the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference.

It is important that we should press ahead with these matters because of important evidence given to the Speaker's Conference on 23rd November by the deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland. Assuming that legislation was passed to increase the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland, he was asked what would be the time scale to enable the Boundary Commission in Northern Ireland to carry out its review of the existing boundaries. Mr. Justice Murray, the deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, was asked: Did I understand you to say in the preamble to your remarks that there was some work which you might be doing now but which you were not doing because of the appointment of Mr. Speaker's Conference? He answered as follows: Yes, that is so … once we had been told that this Conference was set up, then if we were to go on and work on the 12 seats, then find that the number had been changed, the work would simply be wasted and thrown away. So we simply stopped work until we know what is the position. Therefore, we have the deputy chairman telling the Speaker's Conference, as published in the official House of Commons Paper, that work on the boundaries in Northern Ireland had been stopped. That was work that was envisaged as a result of the increase and disparity of the population.

Another question was put to Mr. Justice Murray. He was asked: Suppose that this Conference were to make a recommendation for an increase in the number of seats from Northern Ireland, and suppose that recommendation were subsequently translated into legislation, how long would it take you, do you think, from the date upon which that legislation received the Royal Assent to the date upon which you would be able to make your recommendations which, to use your own words will take a very great deal of work indeed? He replied: I would envisage that if there were a change of law here as a result of these proceedings probably one should work on something like a four year period from the passing of the legislation. It is only right to point out that that four-year period was subsequently reduced in a later answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). My hon. Friend asked Miss Simmons whether it would be possible to speed up matters if she had all the resources that she wanted and all the staff that she wanted. She replied that it might be possible to take two years.

In the appendix to the White Paper there is set out a minimum period of 110 weeks. Nevertheless, none of us can foresee the time scale of future General Elections. It is plain that it will be impossible for Northern Ireland to have the increase in representation that the Speaker's Conference recommended until after the next General Election. However, we have a duty to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure as soon as may be that their representation here will be fairly, justly and equally compared with representation for the rest of the United Kingdom.

We have a duty to ask the Government to make their position clear and to tell us that the simple Bill that is required—it would be a simple Bill—will be introduced this Session. If such a Bill were introduced during the Session, and if it were to receive Royal Assent before the House rises at the end of July, it would be possible for the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland to start work straight away to ensure that, even though we are not able to have fair representation for Ulster in the next Parliament, we should certainly have it in the Parliament after that.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I return to the debate on Merseyside, in which my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) participated. Bearing in mind the present problems on Merseyside, it would be disastrous if the House were to adjourn before careful and positive consideration had been given to the problems that have been brought to the attention of the House this afternoon by my hon. Friends.

I am sure that the House will accept that the problems of Merseyside have been constantly paraded before the House during the past two years. In spite of the approaches that have been made about the increasing problems in the Merseyside area—various efforts have been made in many directions—the rate of unemployment continues to increase. The closures continue, redundancies continue, and day by day the whole problem is worsening. The point has been reached when the morale of the people is at an extremely low ebb.

It is important that the Government take into account the points that have been made today about the Government's efforts and the effect that they have had on Merseyside. Considerable sums of Government money have been poured into Merseyside to encourage private enterprise to establish jobs in the area. On the other hand, there has been a job loss far in excess of the number of jobs created.

The people of Merseyside find it extremely difficult to understand why vast sums of Government money have been spent for the purpose of creating short-term jobs while long-term jobs—in many instances skilled jobs—are vanishing from the scene. It will take a great deal of imagination, and perhaps some political will, to change the situation so that jobs of a longer-term character are provided. The provision of short-term jobs is welcomed, but in areas such as Merseyside the answer to the longer-term problem of declining job opportunities is the provision of long-term jobs.

The problem of unemployment is not confined to Merseyside. It is a North-West problem. The region has a higher share of national unemployment than any other region and a lower share of nationally notified vacancies. It is significant that, although there has been a slight improvement in the North-West's share of national employment, the peak period of the region's share of unemployment was during the years from 1972 to 1974, during the years of the Conservative Government. Of course, it is no comfort to the people of Merseyside merely to draw comparisons between periods of Conservative and Labour Government. We take the view that the present situation demands more positive and immediate action from the Government.

In a recent Adjournment debate we discussed British Leyland. When the Minister replied he read closely from a brief in the usual fashion and ignored all the points that had been made in the debate. We had paraded before us the efforts that the Government have made—for example, special development area status and all the other instruments that have been used to overcome many of the problems that exist in the area of which I speak.

It must be recognised that the measures that the Government have taken have not done the job for which I understand they were created—for example, compensating for the loss of jobs in declining industries and, indeed, compensating for the declining industries that we have lost. The measures that have been taken have not been able sufficiently to compensate for the job loss in declining industries. We see industries contracting and closing almost daily.

During the Adjournment debate my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk observed that British Leyland had been brought to Merseyside with an industrial development certificate and an initial Government grant of £4 million, and that at a certain stage it had decided to draw stumps and move on. The Opposition were shouting words to the effect "Why not?" The answer is to be seen in the Select Committee's report. Lord Stokes was questioned about the Leyland situation. The report makes the situation patently clear.

I have argued that the Leyland situation cannot be divorced from the closure of the Speke No. 2 plant. Leyland said that it went to Merseyside virtually because it was told to go there and that it was against the management's economic and commercial judgment. That was not on the basis of the work force's performance or the location. In that sense it is an attractive location. There are good facilities for transport. It has a port, an airport and is linked to the motorways. Therefore, Merseyside is an attractive location.

We are now beginning to realise that the motor car industry is arguing that any geographical location must suit the economics of car production. Therefore, that means the Midlands. If we extend that argument to industry generally, the Northern Region had better look out, because it will be in for an extremely rough time.

Private enterprise is incapable of resolving the problem of unemployment. It is motivated by profitability, performance and so on. If private enterprise were to determine the location of industry, the consequences for employment would be completely disregarded.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will my hon. Friend confirm that Leyland and many other companies have tried to put the blame for the closure of Speke on the workers at the factory because of their alleged militancy, lack of productivity, and so on? However, both he and I know from meetings with the company that the closure of Speke has more to do with Leyland's mismanagement, its over-capacity, its design faults on the TR7 and its anticipated market in the United States not materialising. Is it not typical of both the Opposition and private enterprise that, when they make mistakes which bring calamity to an area, they try to evade their responsibilities and put the blame on others?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech.

Mr. Loyden

My hon. Friends know, from meetings with the Leyland management, that the reason given for the closure of the Speke No. 2 plant was performance at that plant. But it was not the only point that was made. It was the central motive for the closure of Speke, but the management shifted its position entirely on the reasons for the closure of Speke. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk said, in a somewhat lengthy intervention, the causes for the closure of Speke went far beyond the performance of the work force.

For example, from the birth of the TR7 it would have been an impossible task for the workers at Speke to produce sufficient cars to satisfy Leyland. There was market resistance in the United States. Therefore, Leyland wanted less production, not more. Production in that sense was no longer an important factor.

Michael Edwardes is now talking about reducing Leyland's capacity to 750,000 as opposed to its potential of producing 1 million cars per year. That is the kind of unambitious plan that has been advanced by Leyland. That means that the second most modern plant in the Leyland setup is to be closed. The management has argued that will be beneficial for the future of Leyland.

For too long now the workers on Merseyside have been blamed for the problems in that area. But the figures clearly show that that is not so. Merseyside has no more problems in that sense than other areas of the United Kingdom. There is an indication that the industrial base in that part of the country is beginning to break up. The Government must not sit back and watch it take place. The political implications are far more wide-ranging than the Government have suggested.

I do not suggest that there is an immediate answer to these problems for either Merseyside or the North-West Region as a whole. These problems will not be resolved until the Government pursue an alternative policy. It is no use arguing that action now being taken on Merseyside will necessarily resolve the long-term problems. We need alternative economic policies to bring about a change in the situation.

Mention was made of the Lucas situation. The combined stewards at Lucas have produced a corporate plan for their industry. The alternatives are practicable. There were sneers from the Opposition Benches when that matter was raised. The stewards have produced a socially desirable production scheme for the manufacture of kidney machines and heating pumps which will be more efficient and less costly than anything on the market today. They have also produced and road-tested a rail-road vehicle. Those are matters not to be sneered at. They indicate the creativeness of the British worker. He can pose a viable alternative to the only scheme that the boss has at the moment—namely, closing factories and creating redundancies.

I believe that it is time that the Government listened more to the trade union movement than to those in the City who constantly close factories and make judgments which affect the lives of countless thousands of people on Merseyside and throughout the rest of the country.

I do not believe that the House should go into recess until the Government have taken account of the situation on Merseyside and in the North-West Region and, indeed, throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

It is not enough for the Government to wring their hands in despair and to say that nothing can be done about unemployment. We do not expect that kind of attitude to be adopted by a Labour Government. It is their responsibility to give a lead and to seek alternatives. Their first action should be to stop the notices going out to workers on Merseyside. They should then talk to the Lucas stewards about their alternative plan and encourage progressive and creative approaches to solving our employment problem.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) not because I agree with much of what he said but because my constituency also lies within the North-West Region. I believe that my constituency has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the North-West. That is because the area has a reputation for hard work and relies predominantly upon small businesses. If the Government appreciated the importance of small businesses instead of merely paying lip service to them, I believe that in a very short time unemployment could be solved virtually—I hesitate to use the words of a past Leader of the Conservative Party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—"at a stroke".

The debate is important because it gives Back Benchers the opportunity to raise matters that affect them and their constituents. I intend to raise two subjects—hospital waiting lists and education.

The situation in the area covered by the Macclesfield hospitals is serious.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must point out to the hon. Member that Mr. Speaker has depreciated hon. Members debating now any subject which might impinge on the Consolidated Fund. Item 7 in that debate deals with the Question that the hon. Member now raises.

Mr. Winterton

I shall of course heed your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But Mr. Speaker does not necessarily call all hon. Members who might wish to become involved in a debate on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

would certainly call any who happened to be here.

Mr. Winterton

There is no guarantee that that debate will be reached. However, I shall endeavour to restrict my remarks on this subject. It is of such importance to my constituents that I hope you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will allow me to mention it briefly.

The ex-mayor of the borough, who is a member of the community health council, has described the situation as a "scandalous state of affairs". The waiting list for surgery shows that well over 2,000 people are waiting for operations amongst which are more than 300 orthopaedic cases. Some will have to wait for more than two years before there is a chance of being admitted. Consultant surgeons are unable to cope with the list. Some patients could have been accommodated but there have been administrative problems involved in accepting them at the right time.

The district management team is deeply worried. The administrator has said: I suppose it must be quite true to say that some people are likely to die before getting in to hospital for an operation. He added that he thought that death would result not because they were not being treated but because they would not have an operation in time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair has been indulgent. Perhaps the hon. Member could move on to his other subject.

Mr. Winterton

I am happy to do that but there are not many opportunities for Back Benchers to raise matters that are of grave importance to their constituents.

The district management team is worried. Local general practitioners have co-operated in every way with the hospital authorities. They are dealing with more patients than is normal. Without their co-operation the waiting list would be nearer 5,000 cases.

I turn to the education problem in the Macclesfield area. A recent headline in the Macclesfield Express reads: 240 Boys Caught in the Crossfire". The whole problem and difficulty has arisen because of a decision by the Secretary of State for Education and Science that from September 1979 the Cheshire education authority will no longer be able to pay for students to attend King's School, Macclesfield—an independent school which has co-operated for many years with the county education authority to the advantage of many thousands of pupils from every social walk of life in the area. Boys have gone on from that school to Oxford and Cambridge and some have played for England on the rugby field. This is a fine school which should be allowed to continue to play an important part in the community.

Cheshire will not be able to provide the places that were made available previously under an agreement with the Governors of Kings School. Funds for pupils from the King's Junior School to move into the senior school have been withdrawn by the Secretary of State in the present Socialist Government and under the punitive destructive powers of the 1976 Act. This measure was strongly opposed by the Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons.

The problems created by that Act are coming forward in monstrous proportions. The present difficulty is being urgently discussed by the county education authority, the Department of Education and the governors. The district education officer hopes that there will be a satisfactory outcome to enable the 120 boys to go to the school. But, he has publicly confirmed that if the governors are unable to accommodate these boys, the county does not have places for them. He has said: I am unaware of any option open to me to accommodate the 120 pupils within the district. This is a serious state of affairs. An independent school must plan for its own future. The Government of the day cannot say that it must co-operate just as long as the Government want it to co-operate. A school must plan to secure its own future. There are grave problems about accommodating the 120 boys who are scheduled to be sent to King's School by the local education authority.

The 1976 Act is destructive and punitive. The local education authority is the body that is best qualified to decide to which school local children should be sent. The Secretary of State is not so qualified. The withdrawal of the opportunity for these boys to attend this school has robbed them of the advantages that they would have enjoyed and expected to enjoy.

A directive from the Department of Education can remove from the local education authority the right to fund the education in independent and direct-grant schools of pupils over the age of 16. Children who are beginning their sixth form studies and who already attended such schools before the 1976 Act became law can be seriously affected. This situation has created grave problems for the parents of these children. No hon. Member would say that it is right that children should be removed from a school arbitrarily at the age of 16 and be sent to another school or college of further education to complete their education when they were originally selected for grammar school education. This is a most disastrous state of affairs.

In one area of the county—Congleton—some boys who attend the Crewe Grammar School, which will become comprehensive later this year, were guaranteed that they would be given a selective education through to and including their sixth-form studies. However, because of the directive and the difficulties involved in planning the changeover from selective to comprehensive education, the county has decided reluctantly to terminate education at the Crewe Grammar School at sixteen. This means that the boys are being faced with going to a college of further education at the age of 16 in order to complete their education. I do not believe that this Government, even with their punitive education measures, can really mean to do this destructive damage to the education of some of our young people. They are robbing them of their right which was enshrined in law but which, because of a directive from the Department and because of the grave problems forced upon many Conservative-controlled education authorities, is being taken away retrospectively.

I hope that before he winds up the debate the Lord President will look into the problems that I have raised so that I may have something to tell my constituents and the young people who are affected and who are gravely concerned about their future education.

In conclusion, I commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) who demanded of the Lord President increased representation for Ulster in the House. I have supported Ulster from the time I became an hon. Member and I believe that it has been the victim of grave injustice since the abolition of Stormont.

I ask that Ulster should be treated as fairly as Wales or Scotland and that its representation should be increased to at least 17 hon. Members—preferably 18—at an early date.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

If I may take the debate away from matters that are important to Macclesfield, I should like to look at wider vistas that affect the next generation no less than the problems described by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

In the last three or four years, Holland has been racked by a debate with which this country is intimately concerned. It arises because of a consortium of which we are a member, Urenco, which produces enriched uranium at Capenhurst in Cheshire and at Almelo in the Netherlands.

In order that the House may understand why I am raising the matter, I should explain that the German nuclear industry is attempting, subject to the pressures of international opinion, to sell nuclear power stations and reprocessing facilities to Brazil, a country which is under a military dictatorship and is situated in an area of great instability. More significantly, it is a country which has not signed the non-proliferation treaty.

Under the terms of the projected agreement, the Germans naturally have to deliver enriched uranium, since otherwise, the proposed power stations in Brazil could not run. The United States has refused to sell enriched uranium to Brazil because that country continues in its insistence that it will not subscribe to the safeguards in connection with the plutonium that would emerge from the reactors and that could be speedily converted into nuclear bombs.

There is an agreement under which this enriched uranium that Brazil requires is to be supplied through Urenco and, because of our membership of that consortium, we are party to the agreement. I have naturally expressed my concern, echoing the deep disquiet felt in Holland.

The Dutch Government attempted to allay the anxiety of the Dutch Parliament by insisting that the safeguards negotiated between the Anglo, Dutch and German parties to the agreement with Brazil were adequate. They put the safeguards before the Dutch Parliament and the debate that took place there made abundantly clear that the safeguards were inadequate.

So incensed was the Dutch Parliament that the Government party was split and the Government have been compelled by the Parliament to endeavour to renegotiate the agreement. The Dutch Parliament believes that the safeguards are totally inadequate and dangerous and would be putting into the hands of a military dictator a potential power that could lead to a nuclear conflagration.

Earlier today, in a Question to the Secretary of State for Energy, I asked whether it was my right hon. Friend's intention, in view of the Dutch attitude, to exercise the veto that he possesses under the Anglo, Dutch and German treaty to prevent the export to Brazil of enriched uranium from Capenhurst. The Dutch are naturally fearful that, if the consortium is frustrated from sending enriched uranium from Almelo, it will sell the uranium from Capenhurst. I also asked the Secretary of State to make a statement on the future policy of Urenco relating to the supply of enriched uranium to countries who have refused to sign the non-proliferation nuclear treaty. I regret that the Secretary of State said that, in his opinion, there was no need for a veto. He has repeated what the Dutch Government told their Parliament. He is satisfied with the safeguards and other non-proliferation conditions that have been negotiated between Brazil and the other parties and regards them as adequate.

I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, before the recess, the claimed safeguards are deposited in the Library so that the House will know precisely what safeguard clauses are included in the contract. By stealth, an agreement has been entered into that apparently ignores what the United States is not prepared to ignore, namely, that enriched uranium can be put into the hands of a military dictatorship.

There is no doubt that the Dutch Parliament believes that before enriched uranium is allowed to get into Brazil's hands there should be not merely an inspectorate from the International Atomic Energy Authority, as is, apparently, proposed, but a non-stop vigilance over any enriched uranium that gets into Brazil.

There is no doubt about the goal of the Brazilians. With rare impertinence, the Brazilian Embassy wrote to me unsolicited, when it found that I had put down a Question to the Secretary of State for Energy and asked me to reconsider my decision to question my right hon. Friend about the proposed deal. It was a curious intervention from an embassy which is more accustomed to working within the ambience of a dictatorship than within a democracy. The letter made clear that Brazil was going along the road of nuclear energy and added: Once having decided to take this road, and being the size it is, Brazil must be sure not to have to rely, in the future, on the goodwill of others for the supply of the enriched fuel and must be able to produce this fuel in the country. This is the objective of the nuclear agreement with Germany. The Brazilian Government have declared unequivocally their intention to have a full nuclear fuel cycle. They intend to do exactly what, if we listen to Mr. Justice Parker, we shall do, namely, to enter the area of reprocessing. This will allow plutonium to come into the possession of a country that has not even signed the non-proliferation treaty.

That we should be in any way party to sabotaging the efforts of the Dutch in halting this mad drive to Armageddon reflects no credit upon this country. That we should be in a position in which we have had no examination of the terms of the agreement by our State-owned company and no surveillance of it, even while the debate has raged inside Holland, reflects badly upon the House and upon its lack of involvement in this grave nuclear issue.

The lack of contact that exists between the Government and British Nuclear Fuels is leading to a position where the company's atom salesmen are going out in the world, no doubt to make profits for Britain but only in order to condemn to death future generations not only of this country but of the whole world. It is even more dismaying that reports are coming in from the Press outside this country suggesting that British Nuclear Fuels is actually involved in assisting Brazil to create a plant which would be needed for uranium enrichment. That plant is intended to make hexafluoride, one of the necessary steps before one can have a plant for uranium enrichment.

By stealth, and quietly, a company of ours—owned by the State—is going out into the world and creating a situation which is frustrating all the attempts of President Carter to ensure that there is no nuclear proliferation. It is frustrating attempts made by countries such as Holland which are alert and vigilant to the danger. In the meantime, we are placidly accepting the situation and are lacking the necessary surveillance and vigilance.

I believe it is time that the voice of the British Parliament was heard. It is time that the British Government made clear that the policy of non-interference with the commercial sales of British Nuclear Fuels cannot go on, since it is clear that the company is conducting its sales in a manner and form that are sabotaging every effort by America and others which could at least give us some hope that we shall have no nuclear proliferation.

The issue I am raising has a direct relevance to the debate that we shall have on Wednesday. The whole basis of the argument which Parker has put forward, naive and jejune as it is, is that it is absolutely essential that this country has its own reprocessing plant because, if we do not, other countries will want to have a reprocessing plant. Yet here, demonstrably, we have a declaration from Brazil that, far from being inhibited in any way by the suggestion that we shall have a reprocessing plant—which should cause Brazil not to have one—it is determined that it shall have one.

The chauvinism that exists inside the Parker Report—which reveals the dangerous consequences of a nineteenth century concept reacting to the problems of the twenty-first century, if we are ever to have one—is based upon the fallacy exposed by the very fact that Brazil, even with the knowledge that this Government are likely to give support to a reprocessing plant in Britain, is still determined to go it alone. Indeed, we are becoming the nuclear hawks of the world, despite the fact that we have nominally subscribed to the Downing Street agreement which intended that during the next 18 months or two years we should endeavour to find out whether it is necessary to have any reprocessing plants at all and to see whether we can curb the proliferation of plutonium, which can be converted into a crude but dreadful nuclear weapon.

I ask the Leader of the House to convey my remarks to the Secretary of State. I trust that all the information that I have requested will be placed in the Library so that the House may have at its disposal the claimed safeguards in order that they can be investigated here as they have been investigated by the Dutch Parliament. Those investigations left the Dutch Parliament profoundly dissatisfied. We should have the information so that we can appraise the situation. The people of Britain ought to know.

What is happening is that a nationalised concern is so zealous for profits that it is frustrating all international efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is actively stimulating support for enriched uranium and placing it in the hands of an irresponsible dictatorship. The people of Britain ought to understand that this nationalised concern, backed by one of the most powerful nuclear industries in the world, and in collusion with the nuclear industry of the United States, itself attempting to sabotage Carter's policy, is likely to take us on the road to Armageddon unless this House begins to assert its authority.

The amount of time that is left is small. It is clear that we are being hustled and harried by this company into making a decision about our own reprocessing plant, even though Carter—who has shown by example that he is prepared to accept the rules—is asking that there should be a hiatus in order that a proper evaluation can be made. We are being pressurised and stampeded into making a fatal decision which, as I have said once before, could produce a chain of events which could lead to the next generation being the last generation.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Having listened to all the speeches this afternoon, I believe that there has seldom been a debate on the Adjournment motion with a greater number of reasons why the House should not adjourn.

We have heard a lot about industry. Production is absolutely flat, overmanning is rife and unemployment remains stubbornly high. There is a total lack of confidence among management and men in both industry and commerce. In addition, we have the discontent of the Armed Forces and the police with regard to their pay and many experienced men are leaving them. There is great public concern about immigration, yet the Government come forward with no proposals for further reducing it.

Finally, with regard to foreign affairs, we have no policy at all. We appear to be allowing Russia to roam at will wherever she likes all over Africa. The nation seems to be drifting at home and abroad without either national will or purpose. I cannot remember a more miserable time, even taking into account the worst years of the war.

We have heard much today about Merseyside, an important area of England, largely because this House, instead of concentrating on England, which constitutes four-fifths of the United Kingdom, has spent weeks talking about a much smaller number of people in Scotland and, now, in Wales.

I wish to refer briefly to the last part of the speech by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I have heard him speak a great deal on the subject of the Civil List. I am sorry that he is absent now. Perhaps he has had to go to Europe, or perhaps he has some other good reason for not being here. I ask myself whether he was attacking the alleged indiscretions of one member of the Royal Family or the whole institution of monarchy. I suspect his motives and I dislike them being disguised under the cloak of morality.

I turn now to our treatment of Russian and other prisoners of war from 1944 to 1947. As the Leader of the House knows, I asked for a debate on this subject which he thought fit to refuse. The Foreign Secretary has declined to take action on requests both from this House and the other place. I have written to the Prime Minister asking for an inquiry. I still await a reply. As I told the Lord President, I believe that this matter touches the honour of this country and the House should not adjourn until it has been debated.

Lord Bethell first drew attention to our forcible repatriation of Russians and others in his book entitled "The Last Secret" which was published in 1974. Among other things it referred to the infamous Yalta agreement by which we agreed to repatriate these unfortunate people and which eventually allowed Poland to come under the Soviet yoke.

Since then—and this is why I raise the matter now—under the 30-year rule much new evidence and many hitherto secret documents have been disclosed. Count Tolstoy has used this material in his recent book "Victims of Yalta", which tells with dignity and restraint the horrifying story.

It is because the actions of our troops in forcibly repatriating so many thousands of desperately miserable people either to certain death or to long terms of harsh imprisonment were so untypical of our character and history that I feel that the subject must be examined by this House. Several correspondents wrote to me after my broadcast. They simply could not believe that British soldiers could behave in this callous and inhuman way.

Others wrote to me who had been forced to take part in these dreadful activities, herding men, women and children into lorries and trains to take them behind the Iron Curtain. The people who wrote to me say that their part in these dreadful activities still lies on their consciences. In mitigation it must be remembered that towards the end of the war Stalin and Russia were painted as heroes by the Government and the media, and the public shut their eyes to the known cruelties and evils of the Soviet system.

The Foreign Office desperately wanted us to remain friends with the USSR, and therefore the attitude of a number of Foreign Office officials gives rise to seri- ous concern, particularly since some of those officials are still alive and some of them still occupy important positions.

As can be seen from the mass of evidence now made public, these officials urged on every possible occasion that these unfortunate people should be forcibly repatriated. This affected not only the Russians who had fought against the Soviets, who constituted a small number, but other people who had not done so or who had been pressed into service for one reason or another. In addition, there were large numbers of women and children and peoples such as the Balts or the White Russians who, having fought the revolution in 1919, thereafter left the country and became exiles. Further—and this is particularly odious—these officials were most anxious that this terrible repatriation that our soldiers found so repellent and to which some of our generals so strongly objected should be kept secret from Parliament and the public.

Mr. Mayhew, who was an Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office in 1947, has publicly acknowledged his role in the matter, although he quite unwittingly deceived the House in giving it false information. However, as far as I know, no other officials have given any explanation of their conduct or motives. One of those concerned was Sir Geoffrey Wilson, who subsequently became chairman of the Race Relations Board. As far as I know, when Sir Geoffrey Wilson accepted that appointment, he did not disclose that he had been an enthusiastic supporter of our policy of sending wretched Russians or others to death or to appalling treatment at the hands of Stalin in order that Russo-British relations should remain good.

Therefore, any subsequent moralising that Sir Geoffrey Wilson might have made—for instance, on the subject of human relations—seems vitiated by what we know of his conduct during his spell at the Foreign Office in dealing with the whole question of the repatriation of these unfortunate people.

My object in calling for a debate on this subject is not to castigate guilty officials. However, they should be given the opportunity as a result of an inquiry—we have many precedents for such inquiries—to explain their conduct, otherwise they will stand condemned for ever in the history books of this country.

Two further steps should be taken. A memorial should be erected at public expense to those who were wrongly and forcibly repatriated by this country. Also, in so far as it is possible, some compensation should be given to the surviving relatives of those poor people.

This action was quite untypical of our history. We are a kindly and tolerant race. This is an almost unique exception to the way in which we normally behave, and I do not believe that the House should continue to brush the matter under the carpet. After all, many thousands of people were involved and, as I know from the letters I have received, many people are still extremely concerned about this whole wretched affair.

6.49 p.m.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)

The extremes of politics do not always meet, but as a result of what the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said—and I do not necessarily accept all he has said—I share in some measure his unease. My main purpose in taking part in the debate was not to say that, and I shall speak only briefly. I apologise to the House if I am late in taking part. It might be thought discourteous that I should have come in and got to my feet so quickly.

Let me turn to the matter which prompts me to speak in this debate and, if I can find a Teller to accompany me, to divide the House at the end of it.

There are no doubt many gradations of involvement of persons in the extraordinary business which happened at the end of the war. There were no doubt a number of Russians who could correctly and not pejoratively be described as Fascists who actively and willingly assisted the Nazi cause. For them I have no sympathy.

But it must be at least arguable that there were a number of people whose involvement was neutral and in some cases tragically the result of matters beyond their control. One does not have to be a Conservative to regard Stalin as one of the most monstrous dictators who have disfigured this century. Indeed, his successors no longer even bother to defend him. None of us can be untroubled in our consciences about a number of occurrences towards the end of the war.

It may be that in the desperate situations of war one is forced into alliance with people whom one does not like and one sometimes has to acquiesce in situations which one finds repugnant. That is the excuse that is given for a number of things about Yalta. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge referred to the former chairman of the Race Relations Board. Let the hon. Member not forget that it was Sir Winston Churchill who acquiesced in a great deal of that which is responsible for the present arrangements with regard to the Polish frontier. We do not know the full story about that.

There are many reasons why one does not have to accept the Hockhuth version. Nor does one have to speak highly of the pre-war Polish Government, who were nearly a Fascist Government. If the war had taken place in 1938 instead of 1939, the irony is that the Poles would probably have been allies of the Germans instead of their enemies, and the Czechs would have been far more effective allies than the Poles were destined to be.

However that may be, there is a case for further investigation. I cannot think that it could do our reputation any harm, and it might well do some good. It might well also put right the injustice to some of the persons who were the victims of real-politik in those days.

I wish briefly to say why I have intervened in the debate. It is to ask, before we adjourn, why it is necessary to create 16 life peers, four of whom are Conservatives. Is it really necessary to provide a consolation prize for a clapped-out ex-Commissioner of the European Economic Community? If "Fatty Soames", as he is normally referred to in Private Eye, has to be given a consolation prize, can he not wait until we have a Conservative Government, if we ever have another one, to give it to him?

If arrangements have to be made for a future Conservative Lord Chancellor—I know that there are at least three candidates: Lord Hailsham, Lord Justice Lawton and the now-departing right hon. and learned Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir P. Rawlinson), who apparently is to be recruited as the third—what business is it of the Government to facilitate the private arrangements of the Leader of the Opposition? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House owes us an explanation. I do not suppose that we shall get one.

At least the majority of life peerages that have been doled out in today's Honours List, if it can be called that, represent Labour and go a fraction of the way, though only a fraction, towards redressing the political imbalance in the other place. At any rate, they are a great deal less ludicrous than some of the things we are accustomed to seeing produced.

I have given up my attempts to amend the Peerage Act, out of sheer embarrassment at the resignation Honours List. I do not regard that as any longer a defensible proposition. But I ask my right hon. Friend for an explanation of why it is necessary to assist the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in her Shadow Cabinet arrangements.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

I had orginally intended to raise the matter of local government and the proposed new form of Government purchasing contracts, about which there is considerable mystery at the moment as to why the Government have, on the occasion of phase 3 of their incomes policy, not given any advice to local authorities, although they did so, by circular, on phases 1 and 2.

We might also have usefully asked the Lord President whether he could make available some advice to local authorities before the House rose, as they must find it extremely puzzling why they should have had circulars about phases 1 and 2 which had promised that the black list of firms would be distributed to them. That such a black list exists has been confirmed for firms on phases 1 and 2, but it was never issued. Yet we are nine months through the year with phase 3 of the incomes policy and no such advice has been given to local authorities.

However, I was so taken by what the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said in her speech that I decided that I, too, should follow my hon. Friends in asking for an inquiry into the matter that we might best call the affair of the Norman Scott file. Indeed, I told the right hon. Lady before she left the Chamber that I would do so. Since then my determination to do so has been increased by having been sent whilst in the Chamber a copy of the transcript of a telephone conversation between Mr. Barry Penrose, one of the authors of "The Pencourt File", and the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). This, too, appears clearly to contradict what the right hon. Lady said.

The right hon. Lady made it plain that in her opinion someone was telling lies about the mystery of the file of the Department of Health and Social Security on Mr. Norman Scott. There is a clear conflict between what the right hon. Lady said today and what Lady Falkender and the right hon. Member for Huyton told Mr. Penrose and Mr. Courtiour. Those conversations, as the House now knows, were tape recorded at the time and are available to be heard by any hon. Member on either side of the House and quite possibly by the gentlemen from the Press, for all I know.

It would be very proper if the Prime Minister had accepted the offer made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) that the Prime Minister should depute somebody to hear those tapes and hear what was said by Lady Falkender, by the ex-Prime Minister and others. The conflict must be resolved. I support my hon. Friends in asking that there should be an independent inquiry into the matter.

I shall quote from what I have every reason to believe represents a transcript of a telephone conversation between Mr. Penrose and the former Prime Minister. They were discussing the matter of the files of Norman Scott, and it appeared in the conversation that they had had some difficulty when the former Prime Minister had sent them to see the right hon. Member for Blackburn to discuss the matter.

It appeared that the difficulty was that she thought, as did her personal assistant, Mr. Jack Straw, that these two journalists were still concerned about the leak of papers on the Child Benefit Bill, which you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, caused some comment. That was not so. The right hon. Member for Huyton said to Mr. Penrose: I gave you personally myself—nobody else—the story about the Chelsea file". That is the file on Mr. Norman Scott. Later the right hon. Gentleman said: All you need to say is the Prime Minister or Harold Wilson or however you like to describe me called for it and inquired why the Chelsea file was missing. And was told … Later he said: Just put the story—put it in terms of me, however you want to write it down, that I asked for the thing and got it. The "thing" in question was the file that the right hon. Lady said today did not leave her Department. It appears that the former Prime Minister believes that he asked for it and got it.

Mr. Lee

It is not my purpose to defend my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), but did the hon. Gentleman warn my right hon. Friend that he intended to mention him in this sort of context? It is the custom of the House to do so.

Mr. Tebbit

I have already said that I warned the right hon. Lady. The right hon. Gentleman was warned, as was the Secretary of State, that the matter would be raised in this debate.

It is clear that the file was transmitted and that the difficulties that arose at the time between Mr. Penrose and the right hon. Member for Huyton were only over the problem of Mr. Jack Straw, whose name, it was asked, should be kept out of the Press, because, in the former Prime Minister's words about his right hon. Friend: She is trying to get him adopted as a candidate at Blackburn. You don't have to mention that either. That has now happened, so I do not see that it harms Mr. Straw's chances of being selected to make known why it was so important that his name should be kept out of the papers because the Prime Minister of the day made it plain that he was strongly suspected of being involved in the child benefit papers leak.

So much for the tape of the conversation with the former Prime Minister. There are tapes of the conversations with Lady Falkender. It is clear that whatever the truth of the matter, whether the files were moved from one place to another, Lady Falkender, who is nobody's fool in political matters, believed that they had been. She believed that she had handled them, that she had seen them, that she had had photocopies taken of them, and that there were copies not only at No. 10 but at the former Prime Minister's private residence.

There is also this question, which must puzzle all right hon. and hon. Members. Why did Mr. Jack Straw make the report on the implications of the Norman Scott file? Why could no civil servant be trusted with the matter? Was it a delicate political matter? None of us knows. Why was a political aide, a partisan individual, put on to the job of making a summary of a private individual's private record at the Department of Health and Social Security? Was it because no civil servant could be trusted to do the job, because no civil servant was willing to do it, or because it was a job that no politician dared ask a civil servant to do?

What are the implications, the political implications as Lady Falkender frequently describes them, of the Norman Scott file? How could the question of an unimportant private citizen's Department of Health and Social Security file have political implications so grave that the Prime Minister of the day should call for the file?

Whether the file was actually taken to the then Prime Minister physically or whether it was a photocopy is to a large extent irrelevant. The right hon. Lady hedged her bets a little when she said that the original file never left her Department. That left it open to her to say afterwards "I did only say the original, and not the photocopy".

Mr. Adley

No one is suggesting that the right hon. Lady is in any way trying to deceive the House or anyone else, but there were two parallel investigations going on, and it appears that she may have been unaware of what was happening to the files in her Department. Is not that possible?

Mr. Tebbit

That is indeed possible although presumably, as her personal political aide, Mr. Jack Straw, was involved in at least one of the inquiries, she may have had just some gist of an idea that something important was going on in her Department that related to the files of Mr. Norman Scott.

Are we to believe that the Prime Minister of the day wanted to see the file merely out of curiosity, that he had not seen many files of that sort and thought it would be rather nice to have one about the place, and keep it at home as well as at No. 10? Or was it to give instructions to someone about what to do about Mr. Scott's claim or to do with his case?

We must ask ourselves how often this happens. Was Mr. Norman Scott so important, or is it particularly unusual for files, or photocopies of files, to be carted down the road from the Elephant and Castle to No. 10 to satisfy the curiosity of a Prime Minister?

We ask for an inquiry not solely because we are concerned about Mr. Norman Scott's file. It is his file that we know about, but what about the others? How often does this happen? If it was Mr. Norman Scott's file two or three years ago, might not it be Mr. Norman Tebbit's file at some future date, or any other citizen's file if he becomes objectionable to a member of the Government?

After all, in the memorable phrase of the late Aneurin Bevan, some people were regarded in the past as lower than vermin. At least I have been promoted. The Lord President regards me only as vermin, so we are making some progress.

Once someone has been described as verminous, once one regards him as beneath contempt, how long is it before one starts down the slippery trail down which President Nixon went when he first said to his aides "Look through the files. See whether there is anything we can get on our political opponents to discredit them"?

Why was the Scott file taken to the Prime Minister? Was it to discredit someone who was politically dangerous to the Government? If that is how this Government operates, what are the reasons for us to believe that the same thing is not happening today, that other political embarrassments to the Government are not having their files looked through by political aides? How can we be sure that the Inland Revenue files are not being thumbed through to see whether there is some embarrassment that can be raised to keep somebody quiet, to keep him down in his place?

It is not so long ago that, leading up to the Watergate scandal, it began to be leaked in America that certain people had a history of mental instability. That is exactly the sort of thing that could be discovered in the files held in the Department of Health and Social Security. There were leaks in America about people's business and taxation affairs, exactly the sort of things held in the files of the Inland Revenue.

We want an inquiry not only to clear up the affair of Norman Scott's file but to make sure that no longer are private files of individual citizens who have committed no major offence—they may have committed a petty offence—pored over by political aides and digested and passed to the Prime Minister of the day so that he can protect his political friends against attack.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I want to follow up the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), Woking (Mr. Onslow), Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). I am amazed that the Government should want to go into the Easter Recess, perhaps the last Easter Recess before an election, without trying to answer some of the questions raised by "The Pencourt File". Have not the Government boasted continually of believing in open government? Have they not continually accused the Opposition of being irresponsible in even suggesting that they have sometimes stepped outside the rule of law when they pleased?

It is not with a great deal of amazement that I understand why some members of the Government should want to pretend that there is nothing in this, that really it is merely a bit of a muck-raking exercise. That is always the phrase used by those threatened by the revelation of something unpleasant. But I consider it a little odd that Labour Members who normally sit below the Gangway, but by no means exclusively those Members, do not see the point made by my hon. Friends about the threat to the liberty of the individual posed by a system which allows a free transference of secret files whenever a person in government or associated with government may wish.

How many Labour Members signed the motion for the freedom of information Bill? How many Labour Members always come into the Chamber whenever an issue is raised which affects civil liberties? I wonder how concerned with civil liberties hon. Members below the Gangway are if they support the Government when the Government say "There is nothing in this."

Clearly, there is something in this. There are some questions that have to be answered. The authors of the book had conversations of which they have given an account. They have tapes which some of us have heard played. They have transcripts and we have in this debate heard quotations from some of them. What their hook amounts to concerning this matter is that the Government—a Labour Government—their Ministers and their civil servants have been concerned in a cover-up of some serious irregularities.

Ought the matter to be left there? Ought we just to pass it over? Does it happen so often under this Government that this is just another one of those occasions when it happens? I think not. If the Government are behaving irregularly in any serious way, the public and those of us who represent the public have a right to know. If, on the other hand, the Government have been unjustly accused by the others of this book, they should want to clear the matter up at the earliest possible opportunity. Yet months have gone by since this matter was first raised by hon. hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington, and all that we have received are conflicting answers and explanations and confusion making worse confounded.

Let me remind the House of some of the conflicts which surround the Norman Scott-DHSS files. The authors say that in May 1976 the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) told them that they ought to look into the question of the Scott-DHSS file which was, apparently, missing in the DHSS. If the Prime Minister thinks that there is something important and significant about that, ought not we so to think? They go on to say that they were not allowed to question the Secretary of State about the matter because they were employees then of the BBC, but a very senior representative of the BBC was asked to go to see the Secretary of State and he was shown a file which told him that the file—the Scott file—had been destroyed.

Apparently, that senior representative was satisfied. We now know that there was not a file. There was not the file. There were a number of files. Why was this senior representative—Mr. Hardiman Scott—palmed off with an explanation which showed only that there was a file and that that had been destroyed in 1975?

Then the right hon. Member for Huyton made inquiries about it and he was told that the file had been weeded out in 1970. I suppose that means that it had gone through the normal process of destruction. Who told him that? Why was he told that if it was not true? Why was Hardiman Scott told one thing and the right hon. Member for Huyton told another?

Then the noble Lady, Lady Falkender, either late in 1975 or early in 1976, examined the files—four files—relating to Norman Scott and one which was a digest which had been prepared by somebody. She examined them very carefully and she came to the conclusion—this is the allegation in the book—that someone had been up to no good.

The Secretary of State has made inquiries and he says that he is satisfied that nothing untoward—no impropriety—has happened. He has consulted his right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and she is satisfied that there has been no untoward conduct and that nothing unsatisfactory has happened. That is the grossest of insult, offence and, it may even be, innuendo of dishonesty against Lady Falkender and, for all I know, against the right hon. Member for Huyton, too, because they were concerned that something very improper had happened.

Of course, I do not say that the Secretary of State knows what happened. I do not say that the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn knows. However, there is some question whether they ought not to have found out and whether they ought not to have known. Although the right hon. Lady, who, I am sorry to say, is not in the Chamber now, said that it was untrue that original files came from the DHSS through Jack Straw or anybody else to No. 10 Downing Street, Lady Falkender saw, according to the transcript of her conversation which I have also heard on the tapes, that there were five files in a big container. What were they—duplicates? Where had they come from? Who had brought them? Who had given permission for them to be released when it seems that nobody knew about it?

So there is a conflict between those who say "There is nothing untoward", that nobody ever saw the files improperly, that nobody ever took them out of the DHSS to No. 10 or to Chequers or to wherever it was that they were taken, and Lady Falkender, who says that she saw them.

Is Lady Falkender lying? If so, is not that a matter which should be resolved? It is a very dangerous thing if we have at large people who are prepared to make statements on tape to journalists which are to form the subject matter of a book and if they have just got this magnificently inventive imagination which causes trouble left, right and centre. Something should be done to stop them. They are a menace, if that is what has happened.

In which circumstances, then, do personal files get circulated from one Department to another and in which circumstances are they examined by any Tom, Dick and Harry party political worker? What does the Civil Service think about it, because, after all, it has some responsibility?

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool. South asked the Secretary of State for Social Services on 27th February to whom the contents of files held by his Department and relating to individuals may be disclosed; and in what circumstances. My hon. Friend received the answer: Information in my Department's records concerning individuals is held in strict confidence"— —I expect the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied about that— and is not disclosed to third parties without the consent of the person concerned. He had made inquiries and discovered that that is the rule. The Secretary of State continued: In exceptional circumstances, information may be disclosed in the departmental and public interest to other Departments or public bodies, principally to prevent the duplication of payments from public funds, to meet statutory or welfare requirements and to assist the police in the prosecution of cases other than trivial crime."—[Official Report, 27th February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 49.] On 7th March I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services under which of those headings the files given to the Prime Minister from the DHSS fell. I did not receive an answer to that question. I received this answer: It is for the Prime Minister of the day to decide what information he needs to see, and what information he asks of a responsible Secretary of State, to enable him to decide whether there is any impropriety or anything else. … I … assured the House that there had in no sense been any impropriety on the part of my Department"—[Official Report, 7th March 1978; Vol. 945, c. 1207.] It appears that there is another circumstance which the Secretary of State forgot when he answered the question addressed to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South—that is when the Prime Minister wants to see the file. Then the file can be given. That was not in the answer. That is not part of the rules. Why? Why is he incapable of giving me an answer to the question I have asked him?

I have written a letter and no doubt in due course I shall get some sort of reply. I have said "Of course, that answer you gave me was to an oral question. You have not had time to consider it fully, you will want to consider it fully, and in due course you will want to answer it. But you must forgive people for thinking that, if you will not answer a question, it is either because you cannot answer the question, or because the answer to the question is one which harms you."

The reason that a question is not answered is that the person concerned cannot give the proper answer. I have no doubt that in due course the Secretary of State will want to give me a full and accurate answer.

The matter did not stop there, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington asked the Secretary of State if he or Ministers in his Department may have access to personal files without the specific consent of the individual concerned". There is the rub. Three headings were laid down, and it was stated that it was subject to seeking the consent of the person concerned. My hon. Friend asked how it could be done without the specific consent being obtained, and there appear to be more rules about that. They are where the individual has complained to an hon. Member and the hon. Member has asked the Minister to investigate the matter; where the individual's case forms an important precedent; or where the Secretary of State has to exercise some discretion provided for by statute."—[Official Report, 15th March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 232.] These are the circumstances in which the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South was inaccurate, because he did not give the full answer. But in which circumstances were the Scott files falling under any of those headings?

The affair is unsatisfactory. Of that there can be little or no doubt. If there were an impropriety, why do the Government say that there was no impropriety? How easy is it for a Secretary of State to be satisfied that there was no impropriety? Who satisfies him? There are many other questions, and I could stand here for the next 15 or 20 minutes trotting them out. They follow one upon the other.

The whole thing stinks, and I should have thought that a Government who are about to go to the country, boasting about how open they are, would want to get the smell out of their system if the answer is an honest one, and if they have done nothing improper. Surely they would want to say "We will show you exactly why we have done nothing improper. We will show you that we have abided by all the rules."

Perhaps the Leader of the House is not able to answer these questions at this moment, but I ask him at least to announce that there will be a proper independent inquiry.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I am glad to have the opportunity to follow in debate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), because in his attack on the Government he raised a number of very important points which I hope will be taken very seriously, just as I hope that the points that I shall make about Merseyside will also be taken very seriously.

Earlier in the debate the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) made a quite outrageous charge that not only was I not in the Chamber but that other Conservative Members representing Merseyside were not in the Chamber. When the Labour Members stood up to speak in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, no one had any idea what they would speak about. Certainly they did not give me or my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) any idea that they were to speak about the problems of Merseyside. I suggest that it was quite improper for them to allege that I and other Conservative Members representing Merseyside should have been in the Chamber on the chance that the Labour Members might have risen to speak about Merseyside.

Mr. David Hunt

Where are those Labour Members now?

Mr. Steen

As my hon. Friend indicates, none of them is here now. Once they have made their speeches, they all sneak off and do not bother to be here when other hon. Members wish to speak in the Adjournment debate on subjects which ought to interest them. But it is not only outrageous. It is also totally hypocritical. The Labour Members go through the same old hoops. They shed crocodile tears and bewail the collapse of Liverpool and Merseyside. Conservative Members are sick and tired of hearing the same old tunes from them without their having anything constructive to offer.

Labour Members complain every time a factory closes or the unemployment figure goes up. They offer no hope or opportunity to the people of Merseyside. At least some of us are trying to make constructive suggestions to improve the lot of the people living there. The Labour Members offer no hope at all, and their carping criticism and complaint do nothing to make Merseyside a happier place.

The sole suggestion from the Labour Members so far, after the collapse of a number of sizeable companies on Merseyside, has been that the Prime Minister should come up to Liverpool, have a look round, and set up an inquiry. A fat lot of good that will do. In spite of the £400 million which the hon. Member for Walton said was poured into Merseyside, nothing has happened for the better. We have had higher unemployment, worse housing, more school leavers unemployed, and, in spite of what the Government have done, no improvements can be easily recognised. I cannot imagine that the Prime Minister coming up to Merseyside, as the hon. Member for Walton suggests, would make the slightest difference.

Liverpool has been besotted by inquiries, research and experiments. Since 1968, there have been more inquiries in Liverpool than in any other city in the country. One could not walk across half a mile of Liverpool without stumbling across some special development, special experiment or special inquiry. We have had the urban aid programme, the community development project, the quality of life studies, the neighbourhood studies, the educational priority areas, the inner area studies, the comprehensive community programme, the urban deprivation unit, the general improvement areas and the housing action areas.

All we can say is that things have got worse. How dare Labour Members criticise Conservative Members, therefore, for not being in the Chamber when those Labour Members happen to get up and shed a few more crocodile tears! That is not the way in which Liverpool's future will be determined. It does not help for them to criticise and complain about whether Conservative Members are present or not. That is a complete red herring.

The basic problem is caused by too much Government intervention. That is the, basic message that Labour Members do not understand. That is why, when they ask for and receive more money, they are simply pumping the patient with more and more of the wrong medicine, with the result that the patient is gradually getting worse. The patient keeps crying out in the hope that this pumping of the wrong medicine will stop, but every time it cries out, more medicine is pumped in. The meeting on Wednesday with Ministers, to which all Merseyside Members will be invited, will once again hear a cry from Labour Members for more public money.

Mr. David Hunt

Does my hon. Friend agree that the medicine that is being pumped into Merseyside is Socialism, and that that is the wrong medicine? The prosperity of Merseyside in the past has been bound up with private enterprise, and in particular with the small firms. Will my hon. Friend agree that incentives are needed on Merseyside? All the Government have done is to destroy the incentive of the small business man with their fiscal, employment and bureaucratic policies. Finally, will my hon. Friend agree that what Merseyside really needs is not more Socialism but a General Election?

Mr. Steen

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because it encapsulates the problem. Liverpool is a prime example of a city gripped in Socialism. It is, in fact, the prime example of a city gripped in Socialism. We have not only a Socialist Government in Westminster. In Liverpool the Labour Party has 41 seats. It is not quite the majority party because the Liberals have 42 seats, but the Labour Party was previously the majority party. There are more Government bodies or quasi-Government bodies in Liverpool than in any other city in the country. The whole of Merseyside is gripped in Socialist hands. That is the major problem facing the city.

I was saying that it is the nature and extent of Government interference which is the problem in Liverpool. Until that is perceived by Government supporters, there will be no resurgence of health for the patient.

But it is not only too much Government interference that is the problem. It is also the speed of that Government interference and the speed with which the Government withdraw. The companies which have declined have not done so over a period. They have suddenly been pulled out of the area. It is the asset stripping by this Government of some of the industries which they control on Merseyside which has caused much of the breakdown in confidence and the fear that the whole of Merseyside industry will collapse like a pack of cards. The Government have a lot to answer for in terms of the speed of intervention and the speed of the withdrawal of intervention. They do not realise that that is the stripping of assets which they have complained about in private enterprise. They are doing the very thing about which they complain.

It would not be right in this debate to go through the factors which have caused the decline of Liverpool. Instead I end on a positive note, because it may be useful to explain to Government supporters that there are remedies for Liverpool but that they have not started to approach them.

I give three or four specific examples. First, we have more vacant land in the inner area than any other provincial city in the country. We have 2,100 acres of vacant land, 60 per cent. of which is in the ownership of the city council, with another 20 per cent. in the ownership of nationalised industries. The term "land hoarding" could not be more appropriately used than about what the city council and the nationalised industries are doing in the city centre. They need to put that land on the market by way of public auction. If the city council and the nationalised industries are not prepared genuinely to develop that land themselves, it should be put on the market so that those who are prepared to develop it, whether it be for housing, commercial use or industry, may have the opportunity to buy it.

The local authority's hoarding of the land has had a number of disastrous consequences. For example, the rate base in Liverpool is insufficient to support the services which are now required in the inner area. The city council is now pinching money through the rates from the wealthier areas and putting it into the inner area. It is a process which the Labour Government started in 1968 through the urban aid programme. They pinched from the shire counties and put into the urban areas. But now they are encouraging local authorities to do it within the cities themselves. The city council intends to divert money through the rates from the more prosperous residential areas so that it can pump it into the inner area because of its failure to realise the vacant land already in its possession which could provide the wealth.

First, therefore, it is essential to utilise the public land which has been locked in, development of which has been prevented. Secondly, we must have some writing down of the artificially high land value. The land value which has been attracted to that vacant land is artificially high because demand has been created by the city council holding back the land which it possesses. The result is that there are artificially high rents and rates on the business premises which are still standing. So the first essential for any rejuvenation of an area such as Liverpool is for the vacant land in public ownership to find its own price and to be developed by private enterprise.

Secondly, we need to halt the building of new factories on green field sites outside the city centre. Those green field sites are in a sort of arc round Liverpool. They are cheaper and the infrastructure is cheaper to instal, with the result that city centre land will remain vacant unless a halt is called on green field site development. That has to correspond, of course, with the development of vacant land in the inner area.

Next, it will not be possible to get people back to the inner area in order to develop small businesses if there are no homes built in the inner area. At present 25,000 people are leaving Liverpool every year. Unless we get the skilled workers back from the edges of the city into the inner area, they will not be there to man the small firms and businesses which are at the root of the revival of Liverpool.

This probably is not the time to give a long dissertation on the importance of a positive and constructive view about how to revive the Liverpool and Merseyside area. Suffice it to say that Government supporters have the hypocrisy to bewail the decline of Liverpool but do not offer one constructive suggestion. Every time that an Opposition Member attempts to do so, Government supporters have no time for it. The Opposition have a great number of constructive and positive ideas and, given the opportunity, we shall expound on them at great length to Government supporters, assuming that they bother to turn up to listen to debates such as this one.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

During the past three and a half hours or so, a great many hon. Members have raised a number of issues, a good many of them within the eight minutes which was suggested would be short enough to keep hon. Members off Mr. Speaker's list. I shall try not to exceed that time by very much myself.

In the past year or so, I have observed that more hon. Members seem to like to participate in these Adjournment debates, and that is one expression of the increasing problems which people are confronting. It is one consequence of the growing dissatisfaction with the Government's performance, and it is one indication of the lack of time that there has been in this Session—though that was not true of last Session—for the debating of issues of first importance such as unemployment, about which we have heard so much today. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said that if we had not spent so many hours discussing devolution Bills, we could have come to these matters. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said that many of these matters should have been debated but that they had not been and that that was why hon. Members had raised them in this debate.

We began with a speech by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) on the ever-important matter of security in Northern Ireland. He dealt in particular with the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. I hope that the Lord President will be able to make some reassuring comment about that. Both sides of the House regard it as overwhelmingly important, and I am certain that both sides agree that co-operation with the Irish Republic in all matters relating to security, especially on the border, is essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) referred to the Speaker's Conference on the representation of Northern Ireland. The consequence of that conference and the report which has been issued require action on the part of the Government. I think that they acknowledge that that is so. That action should take the form of legislation. Legislative proposals should be brought before the House, and I am sure that we should all like to know from the Lord President when he proposes to introduce that Bill and what his opinion is about the time scale, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne also referred. There is a responsibility on this House to make progress on that subject, so we hope to hear about that.

The matter which probably took the most time was that relating to "The Pen-court File". It was raised first by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), who drew attention to the discrepancies in the statements which had been made by various of the characters involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) referred to a few of the transcripts and tapes, and the files that went, in some unexplained way, from the DHSS to No. 10. He also referred to the files that were destroyed. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) developed this point and concluded his speech by asking five very pertinent questions, raising the whole question of political advisers and matters of principle arising from this case.

Then we had the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) intervening and making what amounted to denials and protestations. These protestations were certainly important and significant, and the House will take careful note of them. However, they are not by themselves enough, because it appears that there is conflicting evidence between the right hon. Lady and Lady Falkender.

There are at least two accounts of what happened, and my hon. Friends the Members for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and Burton (Mr. Lawrence) pointed out some of the confusion and conflict in the evidence. Therefore, we face not only uncertainty and an absolute lack of knowledge about this case in particular but confusion over the whole principle underlying the events. How do the Government intend to handle this? It should be cleared up. My hon. Friends have called for an inquiry, and I agree that a full statement should be made. If the Government have nothing to hide, and if there is nothing in this matter, there should be no hesitation by the Government in coming forward with the fullest possible explanation.

The two most formidable problems confronting the British people today are inflation and prices, and unemployment. Inflation and prices were referred to only by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) and then only in a comparatively narrow aspect. He spoke of rising fuel costs and the price of heating—issues of very great importance to a large number of people.

In our opinion the Government are much too complacent about prices and inflation. The Prime Minister delights in saying how marvellously successful the Government have been in getting inflation down to 9.9 per cent. He exudes an air of complacency, but I doubt whether single figures will endure for much longer. In the last election, when the figures indicated the rate of price increases, I went on television and said that we would see inflation at 28 per cent. That was thought to be so horrendous that the then Prime Minister said that I was only extrapolating figures and nothing like that would happen. He also claimed that inflation was in hand, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer went on the record with his 8.4 per cent. figure. We all know what happened then. Inflation did reach 28 per cent.

It is all very well the Government taking pride in the fact that inflation has come down to 9.9 per cent. It is an improvement, but it is still unsatisfactory. Anyone who talks to housewives and consumers will know that they are seriously affected by continuously rising prices. The Government's prices policy has failed. It has all the trappings of something that is supposed to be effective but it has not proved effective in practice.

Unemployment was raised by the hon. Members for Ormskirk, Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). There is no doubt that although unemployment was raised tonight in the context of Merseyside, it is by far the most grievous national problem that we face today.

The hon. Member for Walton admitted that unemployment in Merseyside had occurred despite massive Government aid, substantial incentives and the building of new factories. This is something that we must regret utterly, but the solutions that he proposed did not amount to much.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk thought that nationalisation was the solution, but this is a disastrous policy which would make everything go from bad to worse. He also proposed a Merseyside development agency, which the hon. Member for Walton thought would be unsatisfactory. That hon. Member suggested a Minister for Merseyside, but I do not think that he would have a great deal of power. He also suggested that a boost was needed in the Budget—and I agree with that—and that the Prime Minister should visit Liverpool. I do not think that the latter suggestion would help, particularly as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), has a Liverpool constituency and spent a great deal of time there. Despite all that attention, unemployment in the Liverpool area has gone from bad to worse.

The basic causes of unemployment are low productivity and our relative uncompetitiveness. This is the heart of the disease. If it is to be put right there must be a drastic change in the economic climate. That is the only way in which new jobs can be created.

The hon. Member for Walton said that this was too serious a matter to be party political. I agree with that, but the cause of unemployment and the solution to the problem are highly political issues. Unemployment is caused by a failed economic policy, and even the hon. Member for Garston said that an alternative economic policy was essential if unemployment was to come down.

If there is one expression of the failure of the Government's economic policy it is the enormous number of people without jobs in Liverpool. We must return to a situation in which the economy is prosperous and the climate allows investment—a fact which could have a deleterous effect in the short run, but which is the only way in the long run to create a large number of extra jobs. Job creation is the only possible and sensible way to bring down unemployment figures. On these counts we need adequate answers from the Leader of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised two lesser matters—the length of hospital waiting lists and problems arising in education, particularly the difficulties caused by the dispute between his education authority and the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It so happens that both the issues affect my constituency of Cambridgeshire.

Undoubtedly the harshest suffering in my constituency at present is among those who are waiting to go into hospital, particularly in the area of mental health. If I suggested that these matters were of lesser importance I meant that in terms of general political debate. In terms of people involved there is nothing that affects people more harshly than long delays in getting into hospital, and that is what is happening up and down the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge raised the question of repatriation of Russians. Without covering all the points made in all the speeches, I must say that the Leader of the House has a good deal to answer, although I hope that he will not take all night in doing so.

The Prime Minister appears to be far too preoccupied with playing the election guessing game. It is all very amusing to talk in Scotland about the next Session and then to come back to London and call a sudden meeting with his election advisers. The Prime Minister is trying to give the impression one day that he is going on for ever and the next day that there will be a quick election. There are far more important things for him to do, even though this might be an amusing game.

The right hon. Gentleman should be tackling the problems raised in this debate, and many other problems besides. For example, he should be concentrating on getting Britain back to work. I shall not continue the slogan and say "With Labour", because we must get Britain back to work without Labour.

We know what the Prime Minister must do to bring that about. No matter how much the Prime Minister juggles with the figures, no matter how much less tax he decides to confiscate from the British people after the next Budget, and no matter what he does, he will lose either way. The sooner he gets on with it, the better.

7.50 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Michael Foot)

I think that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) exceeded his eight-minute quota by only a bare minute or so, but I hope that the House will forgive me if I take a little longer than that. I shall not go on all night, because there are some important debates still to come, and I am sure the House would not wish me to take too much time from the other discussions that are to follow.

I shall try to cover most of the subjects that have been raised. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not take the various subjects in the order in which they were dealt with. Some of the subjects lend themselves to grouping, and I hope that it will be convenient to the House to approach the matter in that way rather than to deal with each matter individually.

I fully accept what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire about the need to co-operate with the Republic of Ireland if we are to defeat terrorism in the North. The Government are as determined as ever to defeat terrorism and to secure the greatest possible aid they can from the Republic to that end. I shall not comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Antrim, South on the subject, but I agree with his purpose, because that is also the Government's purpose—to secure maximum co-operation.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire and the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) asked me to comment on the Speaker's Conference and the Government's attitude to it. I am not in a position to make a statement here this evening, but a statement will be made to the House very soon after the recess. I gave evidence to the Speaker's Conference, and I believe that there is a just claim for an increase in the number of representatives in this House from Northern Ireland. The Government approached the matter in that light, but we shall be indicating to the House soon after the recess how we propose to proceed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) spoke at the beginning of the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He asked whether we could at an early stage debate the results of the Belgrade conference and the situation in Cyprus. They are both extremely important matters, and I am sure that we shall return to them when the House returns after the recess—assuming that this motion will eventually be passed to allow us to have a recess.

I turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith), who dealt with the subject of electric heating costs. I refer the hon. Gentleman to a reply made on an earlier occasion, although the hon. Gentleman himself quoted it. Money has now been allocated amounting to £28 million per year over a period of four years. Local authorities will be getting technical advice shortly on this programme, which will begin in the financial year 1978–79.

A working party which has been set up with the local authority associations and the Department of the Environment will examine other questions relating to thermal insulation and related matters concerned with the problems of electrically heated dwellings. I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman and others said about the importance for the individuals concerned and also for the energy programme of the country that we should proceed on those lines as best and as effectively as we can.

As was said by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, one of the central features of this debate has been unempployment. Indeed, it is one of the most serious questions that face the country and the Government as a whole. This debate has concentrated on the position in Merseyside, and unemployment on Merseyside is as serious as in any other part of the country. Nobody would dispute that—not even those who, including myself, represent other constituencies which are suffering very heavy unemployment.

I come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] This has happened on a number of occasions in similar debates. My hon. Friend told me the reasons for having to leave the debate earlier. I must tell Opposition Members that there have been occasions when I have replied to points made by a number of hon. Gentlemen when, for one reason or another, they have had to leave but have courteously indicated to me that that would happen.

I say to my hon. Friends from the Liverpool area—and I include my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden)—that we made Merseyside a special development area in August 1974. As a result, the highest level of regional incentives in Great Britain is available there. Moreover, Merseyside is among the areas to which the highest priority is given in the placing of mobile industry.

The National Enterprise Board last year made a study of the problem of unemployment in Merseyside and the North-East. Following that report, the Government have increased the scale of regional selective assistance available in special development areas. The NEB has established regional boards in Merseyside and the North-East to bring more local knowledge and experience to the discharge of its responsibilities. If the Government had not taken these and other accompanying measures, the problem would be even more serious.

On the question of assisting small businesses, I must tell the House that there are hundreds of small businesses on Merseyside and throughout the country which, if it had not been for Government aid, would not be in business today. Furthermore, there are hundreds, and indeed thousands, of people throughout the country who are working today and would not be in those jobs if temporary employment subsidy and kindred measures had not existed. We intend to persist in maintaining those measures because we believe that they are important. The Government do not claim that those measures by themselves are sufficient to deal with the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gars-ton mentioned the subject of British Leyland. He has asked me about this matter on a number of occasions in recent weeks. The Government have now received the NEB report on British Leyland's 1978 corporate plan. We are still considering the recommendations. I assure the House that there will be an adequate opportunity to debate the financing of British Leyland when the Government have reached firm conclusions on the NEB report.

The Government are considering how best to make available background material to the House before the debate takes place—subject to safeguarding commercially confidential information release of which could be damaging to British Leyland. However, I hope that the arrangements we make for the debate will be of assistance to my hon. Friends from Liverpool and to the House as a whole in reaching their conclusions.

Mr. Loyden

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said, but will he give an assurance that the Government will not deal with the subject of British Leyland in the form of a parliamentary Question, but that there will be a statement to the House and a debate on the subject?

Mr. Foot

I indicated to the House a week ago that I could not promise a statement before Easter. However, I have already indicated that there will be plenty of time for information to be given to the House and for the matter to be debated, even if the debate is to take place after the recess. It may be that some indication will be given at an earlier stage, but there will be full opportunity for my hon. Friend and others to raise all the questions that they wish. These matters should and must be debated in the House as they are of essential industrial importance.

My hon. Friend and others have referred to the Lucas aerospace workers. As I understand it, the management is ready to consider any alternative proposals that may be put forward by the work force. I know that my hon. Friend and others have referred to the alternative plans and proposals put forward by the Lucas workers on a number of occasions. Both the management and the Government are prepared to consider those plans seriously and to ascertain whether they can act upon them.

I hope that my hon. Friends will not wish me to speak at great length on whether we should establish special new machinery or adapt older machinery in Merseyside. It is sometimes said—this was argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk)— [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] It is sometimes said that a special development agency should be set up for Merseyside. I understand the strength of feeling on the subject among my hon. Friends, but I am doubtful whether that is the best way to proceed. My lion. Friends have also urged that we should have a special conference on Merseyside. We are fully prepared to consider that proposition. However, I say to my hon. Friends the Members for Garston, Walton and Ormskirk, who have put their case on this issue so effectively, over some many weeks and months, without any assistance from Opposition Members, that I take full account of the representations that they have made afresh today.

Mr. Steen

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to retract that statement. The Lucas factory is in my constituency. I take great exception to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I am not making representations. I have written to the Prime Minister. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to retract his statement.

Mr. Foot

I do not think that I need retract anything that I may have said about the hon. Gentleman's part. I made it clear that I was replying to the direct representations that they have made in respect of Lucas. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I have done him any wrong, and if he wishes to be associated with the proposals that the Lucas workers are advocating, I am sure that that may be arranged.

Mr. Steen

That is dishonest.

Mr. Foot

It is not dishonest at all. The hon. Gentleman interrupted to say that the Lucas factory is in his constituency and that I must take account of that. I am taking account of that, and I should have a vote of thanks from the hon. Gentleman instead of any further criticism.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that over the past two years my hon. Friends and I have been meeting the combined stewards of the Lucas factory—[HON. MEMBERS: "What have you achieved?"] Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Waver-tree has not appeared at one of those meetings?

Mr. Foot

I understand that. I cannot intervene further in these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) referred to the Moss Moran chemical complex. I listened to him with great interest. I am sure that he will understand that I must ask him to await the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understand that his decision is likely to be announced shortly.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield referred to Northern Ireland, on which I have already replied, and to a school in his constituency. I shall not go into the matter in great detail, but I tell the hon. Gentleman that the intentions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science have been clear since the Education Act 1976 was introduced. It is my right hon. Friend's intention that local education authorities should not be able to take up places in independent and direct grant schools that they do not need in contravention of the comprehensive principle. The position is clear in respect of sixth-form places in direct grant and other non-maintained schools. No child is being required to leave his or her school at 16. My right hon. Friend has already made it clear that there is no question of that.

Local education authorities have been told that they may no longer offer free places to pupils entering sixth-form places whose parents have previously paid fees for them. However, such pupils are free to continue in the sixth form. If they do so, their parents will continue to receive remission of fees in line with the parental income that they have hitherto enjoyed. I hope that that statement will assist the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an unofficial prices and incomes policy and that people have to adhere to the Government's guidelines? Is he aware that the parents of the children to whom I have referred, who went to direct grant schools such as the Manchester Grammar School and the Cheadle Hume School, accepted a certain financial responsibility? That responsibility is now being substantially increased. It would appear to those who represent Cheshire on the county council that this is direct action by the Secretary of State to try to prevent pupils from remaining at the direct grant schools. Is he aware that this would appear to be a form of retrospective legislation?

Mr. Foot

Nothing that has been said justifies the criticism that the hon. Gentleman is making of my right hon. Friend. I have nothing further to add.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the House understands that if I were to give way to every hon. Member who chooses to rise after my comments, I should exceed the eight minutes I have possibly exceeded already.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) raised matters of momentous importance for the House, the country and the world as a whole. As my right hon. Friend indicated, the matters that he raised will be debated in the House on Wednesday. I shall consider whether there is further fresh information that should be available in the Library before the debate takes place. I make no promise to my hon. Friend. However, in the light of his representations I shall consider whether any further information can be provided. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, as he referred to it in his representations. I repeat that I shall consider whether any further information can be placed in the Library over and above the information to which my hon. Friend has referred. As he fairly acknowledged, many of the other matters will be open to discussion when we come to the major debate on Wednesday.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) referred to a matter that has caused widespread concern throughout the country. I have no addition to make to what has already been said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to recognise that if an inquiry were to be instituted, it would raise considerable problems of a far-reaching nature.

The whole issue raises problems about the consequences of the lifting of the 50-year rule. I think that it was right that that was lifted and that we should have a 30-year rule. I acknowledge that many advocate that the rule should be curtailed still further. Are we to accept the suggestion that it should be curtailed and that there should be an inquiry on such occasions? It may be said that the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised has such far-reaching consequences that it should be placed in an exceptional category.

If an inquiry were to be made, some of those who, in the past, might have been called as witnesses—I have in mind Prime Ministers such as Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden—would have been called as responsible for the conduct of the Foreign Office at the time. That is the sort of thing that would have to be taken into account. It would be wiser for the House to understand that, rather than to pillory by name the individuals concerned in the approach adopted by the hon Gentleman.

Therefore, I hope that the House will consider the fairness or the injustice to individuals who may be involved in the approach made to the subject today. A fair method of dealing with it would be for an inquiry of a more widely ranging character to be instituted. I say that as one who at the time wrote many critical articles about Yalta. Of course, it will be recalled that the House as a whole overwhelmingly approved the decision of Yalta when its critics inside and outside this House were a very small handful.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), Christchurch and Lymonton (Mr. Adley), Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) Burton (Mr. Lawrence), Woking (Mr. Onslow) and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire made a brief reference to the so-called Pencourt Files. I have not yet read the book "The Pen-court File". The various book reviews that I have seen do not encourage me to make good that omission. It does not seem, from all the accounts that I have read in the newspapers, that the book is worth the paper on which it is printed. I believe that is the judgment that many people will make when they look into these matters.

I do not believe that a debate on the Adjournment of the House should be used for raising the question of an inquiry. I have no powers to decide how the debate should be used. Individual Members are subject to the rulings of Mr. Speaker and are entitled to raise whatever is in order. I am not suggesting that this is out of order. However, it is not a good idea for the Adjournment motion to be used as a kind of sub-standard inquiry arrangement for spreading smears and innuendoes of this character and trying to multiply their dissemination. We had that on a previous Adjournment motion and we have had it again on this one.

I ask the House, before it proceeds further, to consider whether this is a satisfactory way to deal with these matters. If the official Opposition wished an inquiry to be made into matters of this character, they had plenty of opportunities before now to raise them.

Mr. Pym

I thought that it would be appropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to make a full statement about it if there is nothing to hide. My hon. Friends asked for an inquiry. I think that it is correct, on an occasion such as this, to ask for a statement. If this is not the right occasion for my hon. Friends to ask for an inquiry, what other opportunities are there?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman has had long experience in the House. He knows that this matter of the so-called Pencourt File, or whatever absurd, pompous name it is given, was raised in the House by some of his hon. Friends weeks ago. If the official Opposition wanted to raise the matter, they did not have to leave it to the Adjournment motion. They have had plentiful opportunities for debating the matter. They have never raised it with us. Not a single query has been put to us. Now, at the fag end of an Adjournment debate, after many prejudicial questions have been raised, it is suggested that this is an appropriate and proper moment to raise these matters. I do not believe that it is. I believe that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will consider that this is a most inappropriate way for the matter to be raised. Anyone who has had such long experience in the House as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire should have realised that.

I turn now to one or two other matters.

Mr. Adley rose

Mr. Tebbit rose

Mr. Foot

I shall not answer any jeers or sneers from the hon. Member for Chingford. I am not seeking to gag anybody. For the reasons which I have given, which I believe are perfectly well understood by other hon. Members, I suggest that there are other opportunities for pressing these matters if the House of Commons wants to press them. The most inappropriate way in which to try to deal with detailed matters of cross-questioning of this kind is on an Adjournment motion of this character. If the Opposition want to turn the Adjournment motion into a kind of muck-raking session, as they did on the last two occasions, they will injure the House of Commons itself. I ask the Opposition Front Bench to consider these matters, even if we can expect little consideration of decency and courtesy by the hon. Member for Chingford and others who have joined in a pact with him.

Mr. Blaker

I thought that one obvious opportunity to raise the matter was on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I sought advice on that matter and was told that it would not be in order.

Mr. Foot

One of the reasons why it is inappropriate for muck-racking matters of this kind to be raised in this fashion on the Adjournment motion is that Ministers should have a proper opportunity to deal with them. Informing Ministers that matters will be raised on the Adjournment is not sufficient. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire knows that very well, although I do not expect him to rally to the cause at the moment as that might be embarrassing to some of his hon. Friends. But he knows that if hon. Members turn an Adjournment debate into the kind of session that we have had on this occasion, and which some hon. Members tried to do on a previous occasion in much the same kind of miserable style, it will inflict great injury on the valuable Adjournment debate that the House has before it.

Mr. Pym

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is protesting too much. Frankly, he is dodging this issue, with a lot of smoke. No one has talked about the book. Reference has been made to the great conflict of evidence. I asked for a statement. If there is nothing to hide, why cannot we have a full statement when he has had a chance to read the transcript and to hear the tapes? Why cannot he give that undertaking? It is reasonable to ask for such an undertaking on an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Foot

I shall not go and listen to any tapes or any of that nonsense. I have heard the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I have also heard the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). If the official Opposition wish to press the matter further, that is for them to decide. They will have to consider what course they wish to take.

I repeat that the worst possible way to raise this kind of matter is by hon. Members slinging out innuendoes and smears in a debate of this character in the hope that they will get away with it in that way. I have not heard a single word further about the smears that were made on the last occasion. Opposition Members have now turned to some fresh smears. It is the old McCarthy tech- nique—when one lot of smears gets wiped away, turn aside and bring up some fresh smears. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire should lend himself to such a miserable and squalid affair.

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman more than anyone else has walked in the vale of smears in this House. But let him understand that we see nothing improper in raising this matter on the Adjournment, particularly as we set out to defend the truth and the account that was given of these events by the noble Lady, Lady Falkender, and the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). If the right hon. Gentleman chooses to believe two of his friends rather than another two of his friends, that is no business of ours. However, we want a statement about the manner in which private files were abstracted from the Department of Health and Social Security and hawked between the Elephant and Castle and Downing Street for cheap, shoddy, political gain.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member says that he sees nothing improper in what he and other hon. Members have done. We are not surprised. His standards are not very high. The House knows of the way in which he seeks to use the House, net for purposes of proper debate but for smear purposes.

I turn to the complaints by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire about the timetable of the House recently. Sometimes the House does not recognise how heavy is the burden of business which has to be carried by the House alongside the other legislative measures that the Government have to introduce. We now have to carry a heavier burden because of our membership of the EEC and because of our debates on Northern Ireland. This is the first Parliament in which these extra burdens have been imposed on the normal requirements of what a Government are entitled to ask from the House.

We have come through these difficulties without too many scars. I know that hon. Members like to fling around all their charges but they cannot say that we have been denied the right to have debates on many of these topics.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire mounts to the peak of absurdity when he says that the Prime Minister is complacent about prices and unemployment and when he says that the Prime Minister is not acting properly about these problems. The Prime Minister is going to Washington to assist in seeking a way of dealing with this on an international plane. We are seeking to deal with the unemployment problem and with prices and inflation.

This problem is difficult when there is inflation all over the world. We came into office in 1974 when the inflation rate was soaring. Now it is going down. That is a big change. The problem was worsened because we were left a legacy of ingrained inflation. This added to the general difficulties of the world slump of which no recognition has been made by the Opposition. Before the right hon. Member makes such foolish charges perhaps he had better stick to "The Pencourt File". Perhaps he thought that he had such a weak case on that subject that he would grab other opportunities.

Hon. Members might be gratified that the motion deals not only with the Easter Recess but, for the first time in the history of Parliament, it provides that May Day shall be a national holiday. I was at the Department of Employment when the decision to proceed with this holiday was taken. Against the will of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central, I went to the Palace to the Privy Council on the day on which this agreement was made. Even if there are objections to other parts of the motion I hope that the whole country will acclaim that at least we have made May Day a national holiday.

Question put:

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Frank R. White and Mr. Joseph Harper were appointed Tellers for the Ayes and Mr. John Lee was appointed a Teller for the Noes, but no Member being willing to act as a second Teller for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared the Ayes had it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising on Thursday 23rd March do adjourn till Monday 3rd April and at its rising on Friday 28th April do adjourn till Tuesday 2nd May.