Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 14 January.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I believe that the House should not rise for the Christmas Recess until we have had an explanation from the Secretary of State for Industry on certain statements that he has made and certain actions he has taken. I should make clear, as you will no doubt know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I wrote to the Secretary of State for Industry on Thursday last telling him that I would raise these matters and asking him if he would be present.
The Secretary of State for Industry is so far not present, nor has he had the grace or the courtesy to write to me, in the five days since I wrote to him, giving any reason why he cannot be here. Nevertheless, I intend to proceed with what I have to say and I hope that the Leader of the House, to whom I also wrote on this matter, will accept from me that a brief and possibly flippant statement by him in which he simply says that these matters will be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State will not do, in the light of the extremely serious matters which I wish to draw to the attention of the House.
It is crucial that we have a satisfactory explanation of what the Secretary of State for Industry has been saying and doing. I do not believe that the House should adjourn for Christmas until the Secretary of State has made a statement to this House regarding his statement in the House on 2 November on the National Enterprise Board and Rolls-Royce, his speech in the House in the debate on 26 November on the National Enterprise Board and Rolls-Royce, and further statements he made in Standing Committee E on 27 November. Certain written answers that the Secretary of State has made to me since then, when examined together with the statement to which I have drawn attention, call seriously into doubt the propriety of certain of the Secretary of State's action and place in even greater doubt the frankness and veracity with which he has dealt with the House.
315 Next, let me make clear that I am not seeking to reopen a discussion of the merits of the Secretary of State's removal of Rolls-Royce from the National Enterprise Board and of his dismissal de facto of the members of the National Enterprise Board. These matters have been debated in the House. However, it is necessary, in the interests of the House's relations with Ministers, for us to examine with the utmost care certain statements which have been made by the Secretary of State. On 21 November he made a statement to the House about the new arrangements he was making for Rolls-Royce and about the resignation of the National Enterprise Board. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) asked him:Since the agreement between Rolls-Royce and the NEB—an agreement in writing, of the existence of which the Secretary of State and all of us are well aware—gives the right to the NEB chairman to be present at all discussions between the Secretary of State and the chairman of Rolls-Royce, will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us how many discussions, minuted or unminuted, he has had with the chairman of Rolls-Royce without the chairman of the NEB having been invited?I should remind the House that the text of the memorandum of understanding, to which the Secretary of State was still a consenting party at that time, stated unequivocally:On all major issues affecting RR71's strategy, plans and performance and the NEB's responsibility for securing the efficient management of RR71, RR71 will deal with the NEB…it will…be open to the Chairman of RR71 at any time to seek a meeting with a Minister, provided that the Chairman of the NEB is consulted beforehand and has the opportunity to attend if he wishes".In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, the Secretary of State said:I was asked how many times I have seen the chairman of Rolls-Royce on his own. I saw him when he came to confirm to me what he had told my permanent secretary a year ago, namely, that he wanted to bring to an end his responsibility for Rolls-Royce at about the end of this year".When the Secretary of State was further pressed, he repeated what he had said before in these words:I answered the right hon. Gentleman's first question. I said that I had had only one meeting privately with the chairman of Rolls-Royce".—[Official Report, 21 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 391–92.]So that was quite clear. The Secretary of State admitted breaking the agreement 316 but pleaded in mitigation that he had done so only once.
However, when the House debated the issue five days later on 26 November, the Secretary of State modified his previous statement and said:I was asked whether I had given the House full information…about any meetings that I might have had with Sir Kenneth Keith in breach of the memorandum of understanding. I have here to correct an error. I told the House under questioning last week that I had had one such meeting with Sir Kenneth Keith. I was wrong. I had two such meetings with Sir Kenneth Keith. I had a private lunch with Sir Kenneth Keith in addition to that. However, that had no relationship whatever to the NEB. I had a private lunch at which I was told something about the business."—[Official Report, 26 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 979.]I should point out that the Secretary of State did not trouble to apologise for having misled the House by the misstatement he had made in his earlier reply; but at any rate he issued a correction, and, by this admission, he had now broken the agreement not once but three times.
The Secretary of State repeated this version again next day when he was pressed further in Standing Committee E, which is considering the Industry Bill. He referred to what he calledthe three occasions on which I met Sir Kenneth Keith without having warned Sir Leslie Murphy that I was going to do so." —[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 27 November 1979; c. 165.]But the Secretary of State was still not speaking the full truth, because in a written answer to me on 10 December he admitted that he had met Sir Kenneth Keith four times, at the private lunch he had mentioned the previous day and three times in addition; and he listed these meetings in his answer:On 19 September I lunched with Sir Kenneth at Rolls-Royce's office…On 6 November I met Sir Kenneth Keith at the Department to discuss his intention to give up the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce. Later in the day I was also present at a meeting at the House of Commons when Sir Kenneth informed the Prime Minister of his intention to give up the chairmanship…On 7 November I met Sir Kenneth Keith at the Department again in connection with his departure."—[Official Report, 10 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 459.]But even that was not all, because also on 10 December the Secretary of State published, at my request, a letter, to the full text of which I will return, sent to 317 him by Sir Kenneth Keith on October 4th in which Sir Kenneth stated:I have just had an excellent talk with Adam Butler.This referred to a meeting that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler), had had with Sir Kenneth Keith earlier that same day.
When I asked about that meeting, I was told in a written answer from the Secretary of State:My hon. Friend the Minister of State met Sir Kenneth Keith for lunch at Rolls-Royce's office on 4 October 1979.…The NEB was not consulted beforehand; neither Sir Leslie Murphy nor any other representative of the NEB was present at the lunch".—[Official Report, 13 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 760.]It should be remembered that the memorandum of understanding deals not just with meetings involving the Secretary of State but with all meetings between the chairman of Rolls-Royce and a Minister. Those are the words of the memorandum of understanding. So when the Secretary of State told the House on 21 November that there had been only one meeting with Sir Kenneth Keith in breach of the momorandum of understanding, he was understating the true position by 400 per cent.
Yet this information has had to be dragged out of the Secretary of State and, I repeat, he has made no apology to the House for so seriously misleading it. Nor is he yet here—a token, I am afraid, of the arrogance with which he treats these matters, which may have led to the various improprieties which I shall continue to list.
Out of those statements and answers has emerged another issue on which it can be demonstrated that the Secretary of State has acted certainly with great impropriety and possibly ultra vires. I refer to the resignation of Sir Kenneth Keith as chairman of Rolls-Royce and the appointment of Sir Frank McFadzean in his place. The Secretary of State referred to these matters in his statement to the House on 21 November. He said:The House will wish to know that, following the recent announcement that Sir Kenneth Keith wishes to retire from the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce after seven years' service, Sir Frank McFadzean has indicated his willingness to accept appointment as chairman."—[Official Report, 21 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 389.]All that sounds innocuous, but the constitutional position relating to the appointment of the chairman of Rolls-Royce was 318 stated to me by the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), in a parliamentary answer on 10 December as follows:The board of Rolls-Royce Ltd. elects its own chairman. Under its memorandum of understanding with the National Enterprise Board the company undertook to consult the Board before appointing a new chairman. The National Enterprise Board undertook to consult the Secretary of State for Industry. After enactment of the Industry Bill Rolls-Royce Ltd. will consult the Secretary of State.That is spelt out more fully in the memorandum of understanding as follows:Recommendations for changes in the corn-position of the Board of RR71 and for changes in remuneration will be put forward by the RR71 Board for approval by the NEB. It is accepted that, as sole shareholder, the NEB has ultimate responsibility for determining the composition of the Board of RR71, and approving its remuneration, subject to such arrangements for consultation with the Government as the NEB and the Government may agree from time to time."—[Official Report, 10 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 455–6.]So that we may be in no doubt that that was, and remains, the position, I quote what the Secretary of State said in answer to a question in the House on 21 November:The NEB will have the same statutory responsibilities for Rolls-Royce as it has now unless and until the Industry Bill allows the Government to transfer the shares from Rolls-Royce to the Secretary of State."—[Official Report, 21 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 389.]It is clear that the only role that the Secretary of State has in the appointment or resignation of the chairman of Rolls-Royce is the right to be consulted by the National Enterprise Board. Yet it emerges quite clearly from the Secretary of State's own statements and the answers that he has been forced to give to questions put by me that the Secretary of State, quite unconstitutionally, both accepted the resignation as chairman of Sir Kenneth Keith and appointed Sir Frank McFadzean as his successor.
The first indications that the Secretary of State had been involved improperly in the resignation of Sir Kenneth Keith came in a statement that the Secretary of State made on 26 November, when he said in the House:These were two specific meetings about the proposed resignation of Sir Kenneth Keith. He"—that is, Sir Leslie Murphy—was not invited. I was, perhaps—I am not sure—in breach of the memorandum of understanding. I may have been. But it had 319 nothing to do with the relationship between Rolls-Royce and the NEB; it was about the personal decision of Sir Kenneth Keith."—[Official Report, 26 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 979.]Of course, the resignation of Sir Kenneth Keith had everything to do with the relationship between Rolls-Royce and the National Enterprise Board, as the NEB is the sole shareholder in Rolls-Royce, with ultimate responsibility for determining the composition of the Rolls-Royce board.
The position was amplified in the Secretary of State's answer to me on 10 December, when he said:On 6 November I met Sir Kenneth Keith at the Department to discuss his intention to give up the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce. Later in the day I was also present at a meeting at the House of Commons when Sir Kenneth informed the Prime Minister of his intention to give up the chairmanship…On 7 November I met Sir Kenneth Keith at the Department again in connection with his departure."—[Official Report, 10 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 459.]The real giveaway had already come in a statement that the Secretary of State made to Standing Committee E on 27 November, when he said:On two of those occasions I met Sir Kenneth Keith in my office, the first being the occasion of his proposed resignation and the second being that of my receipt from him of his resignation letter.However, the Secretary of State had absolutely no right to be involved in the receipt of Sir Kenneth Keith's resignation letter.
Yesterday, in order to avoid all ambiguity on this subject, I made inquiries about the procedure for the resignation of a chairman of Rolls-Royce. First, I telephoned the company secretary of Rolls-Royce, a Mr. Southam, a person who, I have to say—as he is a public servant, paid out of public funds, in a company that is 100 per cent. owned by the National Enterprise Board—most obstructively refused to give me the most straightforward factual information about the articles of association of Rolls-Royce. He told me, quite inaccurately, that this was a matter for the Department of Industry. If that is the view prevalent in Rolls-Royce, it is easy to understand how the Secretary of State's improper actions were not questioned there.
However, I then telephoned the National Enterprise Board. I received from it the following statement: 320The chairman of Rolls-Royce is appointed by the directors and can resign by giving notice in writing to the company.That is the statement of the position by the National Enterprise Board, which, it should be remembered, is the sole shareholder in Rolls-Royce. If that letter of Sir Kenneth Keith was not handed to the Rolls-Royce company, in line with what I was told by the National Enterprise Board, it should have been handed to the sole shareholder, the NEB. That, again, was authoritatively confirmed to me. Yet when the letter was handed in to the Secretary of State, the NEB did not even know of it. That was confirmed by the Secretary of State himself, when he told Standing Committee E:Of course, as soon as I had his resignation letter in my hand I informed Sir Leslie Murphy."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 27 November 1979; c. 165–74.]The Secretary of State's conduct here was quite extraordinary and disgraceful. He had no locus whatsoever to receive or accept that letter of resignation. But, nothing daunted, the Secretary of State went on to commit an equally great impropriety by himself appointing the new chairman of Rolls-Royce—a matter about which he told the House that he had only the right of ultimate consultation by the NEB. I obtained the idea that that might be the case by reading a reference by the Secretary of State to one potential chairman of Rolls-Royce in one of his statements to Standing Committee E. I put down two questions and I received two startling answers. My first question asked him whether it was to himself—that is, the Secretary of State—that Sir Frank McFadzean first indicated his willingness to accept the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce. The Secretary of State replied "Yes". My second question asked the Secretary of State whether the potential chairman of Rolls-Royce, to whom he referred in that Standing Committee, was Sir Frank McFadzean, a member of the present Rolls-Royce board or someone else. The Secretary of State replied:I confirm that my reference in Standing Committee E to a 'potential chairman of Rolls-Royce' was to Sir Frank McFadzean who was the only person I invited to consider the appointment.The situation is even more disgraceful than that. All these actions, certainly improper and possibly ultra vires, were taken covertly and without the knowledge of the National Enterprise Board. The 321 NEB was the sole shareholder and had, according to the memorandum of understanding, confirmed by the Secretary of State, far greater rights than the Secretary of State. The NEB had the only right to appoint and dismiss not only the chairman but the entire board of Rolls-Royce.
Again the evidence comes from the Secretary of State himself. I asked the Secretary of State on what date he had invited Sir Frank McFadzean to consider appointment as chairman of Rolls-Royce and on what date, or dates, the Secretary of State discussed this invitation with Sir Leslie Murphy or any other member or representative of the National Enterprise Board. I asked on what date Sir Frank McFadzean accepted the appointment. The reply that I received from the Secretary of State was:I discussed the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce with Sir Frank McFadzean on 25 and 30 October and he indicated his willingness in principle to consider appointment. On 6 November I told Sir Frank that the Government wished him to be appointed and he confirmed his willingness to serve. I informed Sir Leslie Murphy on the same day and the board of the NEB on the following day."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 56.]Here is a confession by the Secretary of State that certainly for two weeks, if not longer, he conspired behind the back of the National Enterprise Board and Sir Leslie Murphy and, having acted ultra vires, informed the person with the proper vires only when he had completed his coup. Sir Leslie Murphy trusted the Secretary of State, but the Secretary of State subverted the position of the National Enterprise Board and betrayed Sir Leslie Murphy's trust.
For a Minister who is constantly subjecting this House to pious statements about the importance of not interfering in publicly owned concerns, that is really extraordinary. On this issue alone, the House has the right to expect the resignation of the Secretary of State.
There is far worse to come. As gross a misstatement as I have ever heard made to this House concerned the apparent dilemma with which the Secretary of State claimed he was faced. The Secretary of State heart-rendingly told the House:Let us consider…the choice with which the Government were faced. On the one hand was the decision of the Rolls-Royce board to resign if it were left under the supervision of the NEB.322 Let us remember those words.On the other hand was the categoric assurance by the NEB that if a decision to separate the two boards were made its members would all resign. I should have been criticised whichever choice I had made.The Secretary of State had a choice to make. He went on:If I, by my decision, had lost the entire board of Rolls-Royce, that would have been one lot of criticism.….I also knew that among that small group of people capable of taking on the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce and qualified to succeed Sir Kenneth there was widespread—I do not say total and universal—reluctance to take the chairmanship if Rolls-Royce were left under the supervision of the NEB."—[Official Report, 26 November 1979: Vol. 974, c. 977–78.]Here again the Secretary of State, who appears to have a congenital inability to tell the House the precise truth, was misleading the House. His later answer to me made clear that he did not canvass a group of people—those are his words—preparatory to making his unconstitutional appointment of the chairman of Rolls-Royce. As he told me in the answer that I have already quoted, he sounded out not a group but only Sir Frank McFadzean.
Be that as it may, the Secretary of State convinced the House, and won the subsequent Division, partly on the basis of having put before the House what he claimed to be his intolerable dilemma. That was either to remove Rolls-Royce from the National Enterprise Board and face the resignation of the whole of the National Enterprise Board or not to remove Rolls-Royce from the National Enterprise Board and face the resignation of the board of Rolls-Royce.
The Secretary of State was not telling the House the truth. He faced no such dilemma. Within 15 hours of making that statement in this Chamber, he made a very different statement to Standing Committee E. He told that Standing Committee:I was asked whether I stood by my assertion that I was faced with a choice between the resignation of the National Enterprise Board on the one hand and the resignation of the Rolls-Royce board on the other. It is true that there is a distinction between these two possibilities. On the one hand, I had been categorically told by Sir Leslie Murphy and his colleagues that if the Government carried out their proposed intentions, they would all resign; there was no doubt about that. On the other hand, I have had no such explicit assurance from all the members of the Rolls-Royce board.323 We should remember that the Secretary of State had earlier told us about a decision. The Secretary of State went on to say:I have had a letter. The right hon. Gentleman is on to a good point here. There was a distinction between a categorical assurance to my face and a warning in a letter that the Rolls-Royce board desired to be out of the NEB. I also had the assurance of one potential chairman of Rolls-Royce that he would not take the office of chairman if Rolls-Royce stayed in the NEB. My conclusion from that evidence was that I faced the choice as I have described it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 27 November 1979; c. 167–68.]So the Secretary of State had changed his story. Instead of a straight choice of the resignation of one board or another, he now claimed that he faced an implicit threat consisting of a letter from the board of Rolls-Royce together with an assurance from one potential chairman that he would not take the job if Rolls-Royce stayed in the National Enterprise Board. However, the letter that the Secretary of State received contained no such threat. It was written to the Secretary of State by Sir Kenneth Keith on 4 October. I quote it in its entirety:Dear Keith,I am writing to confirm what I believe you already know—that is that my Board are unanimously of the opinion that it is in everybody's best interests that the shares in Rolls-Royce should, in the forthcoming bill, be transferred back to your Department.It would be much better for us, for reasons of which you are already aware, to be responsible to you direct and to deal with your officials than to remain under the NEB.My Board feel that I should write formally to express this view, notwithstanding the fact that I have just had an excellent talk with Adam Butler.That was the letter. I am sure that the House will agree that that letter does not contain the tiniest scintilla of a threat of resignation by the Rolls-Royce board. As for the one potential chairman to whom the Secretary of State mysteriously referred on 27 November, he was simply the ubiquitous Sir Frank McFadzean.
It will be clear to the House that all that appears to remain of the agonising dilemma that faced the Secretary of State—the loss of the present members of the National Enterprise Board versus the loss of the board of Rolls-Royce—is the assurance of a potential chairman, Sir Frank McFadzean, that he would not take the 324 office of the chairman of Rolls-Royce if it stayed under the supervision of the National Enterprise Board. There is not much of a dilemma there, but at least there is a straw at which to clutch.
It now turns out that even that straw did not exist, because yesterday I received yet another answer from the Secretary of State. I asked him, specifically, when he had invited Sir Frank McFadzean to consider appointment as chairman of Rolls-Royce and whether Sir Frank had made it a condition of acceptance of the chairmanship that Rolls-Royce should be removed from the National Enterprise Board. The Secretary of State replied:My first discussion about the chairmanship of Rolls-Royce with Sir Frank McFadzean was in a general context, and this was one of the aspects raised."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol 976, c. 56.]That reply was in answer to the question that I had put to the Secretary of State about whether Sir Frank had made it a condition of acceptance. That was the shifty reply that I received from the Secretary of State.
In place of the Secretary of State's claim that Sir Frank would not take the post if Rolls-Royce remained in the National Enterprise Board, we have an admission that this allegedly crucial ultimatum was nothing of the kind but simply one of the aspects in the general concept. Far from facing the choice between the loss of two boards, the Secretary of State faced no choice whatever. In claiming that he faced that non-existent choice, the Secretary of State misled the House in a serious and culpable manner.
The Secretary of State has shown a reckless disregard for propriety in his dealings with the NEB and Rolls-Royce, and an even more serious contempt for the House in failing to deal with it frankly and truthfully. He now has a chance to explain. He should explain and convince, or resign.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
This is a wide debate, but hon. Members should confine their remarks to why we should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
We should not adjourn for Christmas until difficult questions have been answered about the statement in the 325 House yesterday on airports policy. That statement dealt with one of the biggest planning decisions that a British Government have ever been called upon to make. My constituents have had delivered to them a large Christmas present about which not all are enthusiastic. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, in the guise of Santa Claus, has only few friends among my constituents.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) talks about Christmas presents and their importance. His constituents are faced only with the threat of a degree of nuisance. Is it not more grave that the Government's Christmas present to the steel areas involves the taking away of jobs?
§ Mr. Haselhurst
That intervention is irrelevant to my argument. It may be relevant to the views held by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), which he may be able to express to the House later. We are discussing unconnected matters which hon. Members believe to be of real interest and to be reasons for the House not to adjourn at this time.
Yesterday's announcement begs many questions. Unless answers are given urgently, many people in my constituency and neighbouring areas will be anxious for a considerable time. I welcome the fact that there is to be an early debate in the House, but several weeks must pass with anxious moments for those who believed that a decision had already been made on the location of the third London airport. Those people have a strong sense of equity. The question whether Stansted should be involved in the arrangements for future airports capacity was decided at two public inquiries, both of which decided that Stansted should not be the basis of the third London airport.
There is a feeling of spontaneous anger among many of my constituents because the Government appear unilaterally to have changed that decision. My constituents now raise questions about the system of democratic government. They have been through what they believe to be the proper processes for the determination of this matter, only to find that the decision is thrust aside without further discussion. It would help the ultimate resolution of the problem if such ques- 326 tions could be determined quickly. There must be a speedy end to the uncertainty. My right hon. Friend's statement yesterday must be welcomed in one sense, but although a speedy decision was requested no one expected it to be that speedy.
Two inquiries have reported on the suitability of sites for the third London airport. It was understood that the reports would be published and that there would then be a time—perhaps only a short time—for reflection and submissions before the Government made their decision. However, the announcement of a preliminary decision by the Government, coincidental with the publication of the reports, has taken away the opportunity for various bodies, including Essex county council and the district councils, to make submissions on the reports and to have them taken into account before a decision is reached.
Some people now wonder whether the whole matter was judged before the reports were published. At the end of August, a story appeared in the Daily Mail suggesting that a Government decision on a third London airport site had already been reached. At the request of many anxious constituents I wrote to the Secretary of State for Trade. I received a categorical assurance that no decision had been made and that the reports were awaited.
Suspicion is fanned when a Government decision is announced at the same time as the reports are published and before there is an opportunity for the various interested parties to make their submissions on them. One wonders about the relevance of such reports. They dealt with a two-runway airport, supposedly capable of handling 50 million passengers a year. The Government do not appear to have taken the burden of the advice contained in those reports. They have acted independently. That also gives rise to the fear that the matter has been prejudged.
What are the status and worth of those reports? There are fears that during the compilation of those reports events occur-read which are not wholly satisfactory. I have heard how the report of the Study Group on South-East Airports was finalised. The group met for the last time in October, and at that time the report had not been finalised. A series of amendments was made, but the group 327 did not meet to finalise the published report. I have heard also that the report was put together with various components but without many of its propositions being tested or subjected to cross-examination. That makes one wonder about the status of that report.
The Ministry of Defence gave evidence about how long it would take to remove the gunnery range from Shoeburyness. There was no opportunity, even for those who disagreed with the figures, to contest them. That is worrying. One must take the view either that the reports are not so good, because of that, or that what happened during the compilation of the reports was irrelevant to the decision to be made by the Government. Either of those conclusions is disturbing. The feelings of those who have been anxious about the handling of this important decision are inflamed. They are not helped to take a rational, balanced and objective view of the decision that has been made and which is the subject of inquiry.
In his statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend made great play of the fact that the Government were to some extent to seek a regional answer. I welcome that aspect of his statement. However, I was surprised that my right hon. Friend did not attempt to quantify how many passengers could be handled at the regional airports.
The report of the advisory committee pours cold water on the possibility of there being much diversion of throughput to the regional airports. It would help hon. Members to understand what the Government have in mind if an early statement could be made on how much demand could be satisfied by the regional airports. It would also help if we could be given some assurance of how the data are collected which determine the proposition that 75 to 80 per cent. of the people who use the South-East airports actually begin and end their journeys in the South-East.
I have grave suspicions about how that information is collected. I am not entirely satisfied that it is not done on the basis of the address of the passenger on the night before or after a journey. That would obviously tend to give a bias to an answer in favour of the South-East, because many people could travel from 328 different parts of the country to spend a night in the South-East before commencing their journey from a South-East airport. There should be a more open inquiry into whether it is right that those who use the South-East airports are domiciled in the South-East area.
If those matters could be determined more clearly, those who are anxious about the possible unlimited development of Stansted would be given some assurance. If they knew that there was a real prospect of large numbers of passengers being accommodated at the regional airports, they would know that there was a possibility of a ceiling on the development of Stansted. That would help them to view the Government's proposals with slightly less horror than they do now.
There is another urgent matter that needs to be considered in the light of such a devastating statement as that of the Secretary of State. If 4,000 acres of extra land are to be required, where will those 4,000 acres be located? A diagram in The Times today shows a shaded area adajacent to the present perimeter of the airport site. I need not describe the consternation that that will cause to the people living in the area. They will spend a very worried Christmas, as well as worried weeks and months until there is further clarification. The Government should make clear from where the extra land adjacent to the present airport is to be taken.
There are various points that need to be clarified urgently with regard to the public inquiry announced by my right hon. Friend. I warmly welcome that aspect of his announcement. A wide-ranging public inquiry, as he described it, is a fair way in which the various conflicting points of view can be heard. When will that public inquiry take place? There is a suggestion in the press that it will not take place until 1981. I do not know whether there is a basis for that suggestion, but 1981 is a long time ahead, and the agony and anxiety will be perpetuated. Happily, the problem is not now spread around other green field sites but is concentrated powerfully in one area—that of my constituency and its surroundings. We must be given urgent notification of when the inquiry will take place.
Also, it would be fair, and it would bring great relief to the anxiety that exists, if we could be told more about the 329 terms of reference of the inquiry. Can other sites be considered or will the inquiry be confined to whether Stansted should or should not be developed to the level of 15 million passengers by 1990, with the possibility of further development beyond?
In the published version of his statement yesterday, the Secretary of State said thatthese proposals will be examined under appropriate planning procedures.What is meant by "these proposals"? If my right hon. Friend means all the proposals contained in his statement, the presumption is that every matter will be open for consideration by this wide-ranging inquiry.
My right hon. Friend also said:Our view on the evidence so far available is that none of the green field sites meets these requirements.Does he mean, therefore, that the wide-ranging inquiry will be able to hear evidence, which apparently has not yet been made available, that none of the green field sites meets the requirements? It would be helpful to know whether all the options will be open and whether people will be able to deploy the best possible case in defence of their interests.
On a slightly lighter note, will we be able at such an inquiry to test the statements that are easily made about Stansted having good road access? Many hon. Members who travel to the foot of the M11 from central London are mildly sceptical whenever reference is made to good and easy access by road to the southern end of my constituency. One of my hon. Friends told me yesterday that it had taken him one and a half hours. It took me over an hour, and on occasion it has taken over two hours to get from central London to the foot of the M11, from which there is such easy access to Stansted airport.
There was almost hollow laughter in the Chamber when reference was made by my right hon. Friend to the possibility of a rail link between the airport and Liverpool Street station. Those who use Liverpool Street station know that considerable changes will have to be wrought before that station will become the southern base of an effective rail link.
I am seeking to find out on behalf of many anxious people, numbering tens 330 of thousands, whether the proposals of the Government are final or whether it will be possible for those who do not believe that Stansted should become in incremental stages a largeairport to deploy their argument as freely as possible when the inquiry takes place.
Some of my constituents are delighted by the news. Many people were worried about the safety of their jobs in the airport and are naturally delighted to know that it will not be closed down. The champagne corks have been popping. I understand also the anxieties of those who oppose the development of Stansted into a third London airport but who do not automatically think that Stansted should be closed down. However, there is a big difference between limited development at Stansted and the unlimited aspect now opened up by the Secretary of State.
Urgent clarification needs to be given on points that have emerged from my right hon. Friend's statement which leave the issue far less clear than I am sure the Government would wish it to be.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) has every reason to be concerned about the House going away for the Christmas Recess before the anxieties of his constituents have been considered. We have been over this course once before. Almost 15 years ago I went to Saffron Walden at the time of a by-election and heard the things that are now being said by his constituents. The constituents of Saffron Walden deserve better, since they return a Conservative Member to the House time after time. But each time that they get a Conservative Government with a substantial majority in this House they find themselves on the butt end of some difficulty. I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, but—
§ Mr. Haselhurst
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but if he is trying to make a political point I think that I ought to place on record that the decision of the incoming Labour Government in 1974 to cancel the Maplin project was something that turned the screw for many of my constituents.
§ Mr. Coleman
The hon. Gentleman will know that it was the Labour Government who cancelled the Stansted decision. However, I shall not pursue that matter any further because my anxiety about the House rising for Christmas relates to something far deeper with regard to my own constituents.
A fortnight ago, along with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies), I attended a conference in my constituency, at which there were present representatives of the county council, the district council, the trade unions, the chamber of commerce, and the chambers of trade in West Glamorgan. At that conference we discussed the manner in which the county of West Glamorgan was becoming devastated by decisions that were being taken by the Secretary of State for Industry, as a result of which our area faced economic and industrial destruction.
At that time we were talking of redundancies of about 12,000. Of course, we were not then aware of the proposals of the British Steel Corporation in respect of Port Talbot, Llanwern and other steel-making areas in the country. We were concerned with the fact that our area would suffer badly. We were concerned also that the powers and the machinery to bring about the introduction of new industry into the locality were being swept away because of the right hon. Gentleman's decisions in respect of regional policy. We demanded at that conference, and we shall again demand it when we meet him in the next few days, that West Glamorgan's industrial status be restored so that we are able to have at hand the means whereby we can make a positive and constructive move towards introducing new industry into the area.
We have heard talk about problems in other steel-making areas, but the truth is that West Glamorgan is one of the parts of Wales that will become a modern Rhondda Valley. Those of us who represent South Wales constituencies know very well the degradation that our people suffered in those days. Our demand is that we get from the Secretary of State a categorical assurance that we shall have restored to us the means of introducing 332 new industry, so that the people to whom over the coming week of the festive season we shall be extending greetings will not have handed to them something that is hollow, so that the anxiety of their minds can be eased and so that they can be assured that their future will not be the bleak one that it seems to be at the moment.
It would be quite wrong of the House to rise for the Christmas Recess without any reference being made to what is going on in the South Wales industrial scene and in other steel-making areas. I believe that we are entitled to hear from the Secretary of State for Employment what he intends to do, and what he is doing, to try to avert the threatened strike in the steel industry. Letno hon. Member, or anyone outside this House, be under any misapprehension about the seriousness of the situation if that strike takes place. It could well spell the destruction of British manufacturing industry. If that takes place, perhaps some of the purposes that we suspect are in the minds of people such as the Secretary of State for Industry will come to pass, namely, the deindustrialisation of this country.
I am grateful for the opportunity to enter a plea on behalf of many thousands of anxious people at the present time. I hope that the Government will draw away from the policies that are driving us further and further down the road to industrial destruction.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the Christmas Recess until we have had a debate on foreign affairs, particularly with regard to the extremely serious situation of the American hostages in Iran.
We have become so used to terrorism and disorder in the second half of this century that sometimes I think that our normal, decent sensibilities have become blunted. There is hardly a parallel in history to the long and continuing outrage of the treatment of the American hostages in Iran. To tolerate that behaviour is to make a complete break with history. Even in primitive times, envoys under a flag of truce were always respected. Behaviour of the kind that we now face from the Iranian authorities was certainly unknown in the Middle 333 Ages and in more recent centuries. For example, can one imagine the Congress of Vienna tolerating such a situation for a moment? In those times, even Napoleon was considered a monster and was banished to St. Helena.
The rise of Islam in recent years and the fanaticism of some of the modern Muslims present a tremendous challenge, not only to the West but to the whole world. We in this island sometimes find it hard to understand foreigners. We think that all people are very much the same as ourselves. For instance, the mad mullahs of Islam are not like clergymen of some obscure, eccentric Protestant sect in this country; they are men of the sort of fanaticism that the Mahdi had in the Sudan in the closing years of the last century.
It is deeply disappointing to all of us in the House, and to our constituents, that the United States has had so little support from the rest of the world in its troubles, because the troubles of the United States are those of the entire civilised world. All nations are threatened by Iran's action.
The United Nations has once more proved to be utterly useless. I hope that members of the United Nations Association feel as ashamed of that society as I do. The EEC has been muted in support, even NATO has not said very much or done anything, and the strident Third world, which is always protesting about this or that, has said nothing at all.
I do not necessarily call for sanctions against Iran, but there are all kinds of diplomatic, financial and trade pressures that could be exerted. I am glad that on the occasion of her recent visit to President Carter my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given him such strong support on the matter. Again, the EEC has been particularly disappointing. It continually fails to live up to the high hopes of its supporters and it seems unable to rise to the level of events. It gets bogged down in unedifying trivia about lamb, and so on.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The hon. Gentleman says that there should be the utmost concern about the hostages in Iran. Of course, there should be, and we want to see them released as quickly as possible. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the manner in which the West and certain British 334 Governments gave friendship and alliance to a regime under the Shah—a regime that carried out many atrocities, as we are now learning—is something that should also be condemned? When the hon. Gentleman attacks the Third world, should he not also attack the Governments of the West who consistently supported the Shah?
§ Mr. Stokes
Whatever justification there may be for that statement, I believe that nothing justifies the actions of the students of Iran. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman should try to pretend that they can be justified.
We all agree that France has an immense capacity to make an infernal nuisance of herself, if she wants to. I only wish that she would do so on behalf of the American hostages in Iran. There are obviously internal stresses in Iran. No one can predict the outcome, but there is continuing danger to the world and to this nation. The Ayatollah may not be able to control the students. If that is so, let us devoutly hope that it is the last expression of student power that will ever erupt in the world.
I believe that a confidential approach could be made to Russia by the West. Russia is the last country to want any invasion or takeover of her embassies and legations throughout the world, for reasons best known to herself—and to some of us. Whatever happens, the crisis in Iran cannot be allowed to drag on into the new year. If the United States, the EEC and Russia were to adopt a common policy towards Iran, the Iranian Government could soon bring the students to heel and force them to release the hostages. Seldom have I come across an event in foreign affairs that has worried people more deeply. If it is allowed to continue, no embassy in any capital of the world will be safe from similar appalling and outrageous conduct.
I shall mention briefly one other subject of foreign affairs that is also of concern to our constituents and is another reason why I believe that we should not yet adjourn for the Christmas Recess. I refer to the question of aid to the Third world. I recently returned from a visit to a Third world country that has suffered a serious physical catastrophe. I shall not mention the name of the country, because I do not wish to hurt anyone's 335 feelings. I have seen a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), on the subject.
Britain has sent enormous physical aid to the country in question, as, indeed, have many other countries. We have sent enormous quantities of food, medical supplies, building supplies, and so on. To my horror, I saw such supplies piled up at the docks—mostly unopened. The roofs that were blown off the houses in that country are still off, the window panes are still out, the roads are still unrepaired, and the water supplies and telephones are not functioning. However, I came across a unit of Royal Engineers who were not only doing a magnificent job in restoring a small dam but were successful in recruiting some of the local people in that work in order to get them to help themselves. All the people are receiving three square meals a day. There is plenty of food. Unfortunately, the people are not assisting in the reconstruction and recovery.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
A number of hon. Members are listening with deep concern to my hon. Friend's words. It would be most helpful if he told us to which country he is referring.
§ Mr. Stokes
I shall be most happy to tell individuals privately. I do not wish to name the country publicly, in order to avoid hurting people's feelings. I have just been to the country. I want to help its people. Sometimes it is necessary to be critical in order to help people. Therefore, I have asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to stop, for the time being, any more physical aid, but, as far as possible, to send out a small number of people. For example, in the hospital there is a need for an administrator, two RAMC doctors and one or two nurses and orderlies. They would be able to get the hospital going by starting operations, sweeping floors and cleaning wards. The surgeons there told me that no operations can take place because the hospital is filthy. Similarly, we could send more of our troops, who not only get services going but have a wonderful way of getting local people to work happily with them. All that would cost very little, but it would give our troops and young specialists tremendously useful experience 336 and would be much more effective than piling up aid.
Finally, I should like to offer a word of advice to some of our clergy. Week after week they beg and pray for us to send more and more aid to the developing world. Their sentiments are admirable, but that is not the way to do it. What we want is for young people, either on secondment or for a longer period, to work with the local people to supply the middle management and give the leadership that countries such as the one to which I have referred sorely need.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have much sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) about Iran. I hope that his words will be noted. However, the two matters to which I wish to address myself before the House rises are of a different nature. I hope that the first will interest the Leader of the House because, to some extent, it is part of his responsibility. It is the question of devolution.
The Government's policy on devolution is that they are having conversations with the parties. My first point is that I believe that the Government should cast their net rather wider and have conversations with other bodies besides the political parties in Scotland. Indeed, conversations should be held in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Secondly, I believe that it is time for a full statement to the House or a debate on the matter. I believe that that need is becoming more urgent, because certain questions need to be decided reasonably soon about the future of government in Scotland.
In the abortive Scotland Act, which was to have given self-government to Scotland, my constituency was promised a commission. I am not clear how that matter now stands. I understand that the Government have asked the local councils to put forward their submissions. However, I am not certain about the Government's view on the matter. I do not believe that it is good government to try to pretend that the matter is dead or that it can be left to drag on indefinitely. I do not criticise the Government's policy to have the conversations, but I ask the Leader of the House, because it 337 is a matter within his competence, to confer with his colleagues in the Scottish Office and arrange for a debate or, at least, for a full statement.
Secondly, I want to raise the question of fishing. I would rather have no decision than a bad one, but these meetings with the EEC continue. There is to be a further meeting in January, and we have not had a fishing debate since we returned after the Summer Recess. The industry is in great doubt about the future, and there is anxiety in the fishing communities.
Schemes are being put forward in Shetland and Orkney for regional development of fishing, but we cannot go any further until national decisions are taken. I fully accept that such decisions are not entirely within the competence of the Government as they affect the whole Common Market, but it would be valuable to have an assurance that the House will have an early opportunity to discuss the whole question of fishing.
It would also be useful if the Government would once again affirm their absolute determination to stand resolute on British interests and not bargain them against other matters in the EEC.
These issues should be discussed before we adjourn, because there is to be a further EEC meeting soon after the Christmas Recess. Before that meeting, the fishing community and the British people are entitled to a general assurance from the Government and an assurance that there will be an opportunity to debate this important industry.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I have two powerful reasons why the House should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess. During the three weeks of the recess, many people may die in Northern Ireland at the hands of the Provisional IRA.
A week ago, on 11 December, the Secretary of State stated in the debate on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order thatContrary to what many people genuinely believe to be the case, violence in 1979 has not got a great deal worse than it was in 1978.He added thattaking Northern Ireland as a whole, and taking all the indicators of violence together, 1979 338 has seen only a slight upturn in violence since 1978."—[Official Report, 11 December 1979; Vol. 975, c. 1093–4.]I assume that he uttered those words to comfort the hard-pressed people of Ulster and the gallant members of the security forces and to silence people like myself who have had enough of political pussy-footing in regard to the restoration of law and order in the Province and the difficult role of the security forces.
I warned the Secretary of State that his clichés woud upset the people of the Province, who expect more than that from the Government. For 10 years they have withstood bombing and shooting, and murder and mutilation, with great patience and remarkable fortitude. I warned the right hon. Gentleman that he was far too complacent and that the terrorists would laugh in his face.
We have had the answer from the Provisional IRA. With impunity, its members have attacked yet more soldiers in the Province. They have contemptuously rejected the appeals of the Secretary of State for a cessation of violence, as they did the appeal made by the Pope during his visit, when he appealed on bended knees for peace in the Province and stated that murder was murder. Within a few days of the Secretary of State's speech, the Provisional IRA murdered five young soldiers and made nonsense of his words. A civilian who had served in the Ulster Defence Regiment was also shot dead in front of his young son, and another prison officer has been murdered today.
The Government have to be tough with these psychopathic killers. They must act to save lives in Northern Ireland. There is no point in hoping that the Provisional IRA will go away. It has said that it will keep on murdering British citizens in Northern Ireland for one year or 10. The people of Ulster have been patient, but their patience must have a limit. We cannot expect young soldiers to die in the streets and fields of Northern Ireland and the Army still not to be given the power and instructions to enable it to go after these killers and remove them from the soil of Northern Ireland.
These killers are on the backs of people living in what are termed Roman Catholic areas, where there is great deprivation and hardship. The people there want their sons and daughters to be 339 brought up to lead decent lives, and they have no hope of that while the terrorists exist. The terrorists are making fortunes out of the present situation, as well as being satiated with the blood that they spill in such large quantities.
However, quite apart from such action, this Government must also be tough with countries such as the United States. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) has left the Chamber, because he referred to Iran. The United States has not been a friend to this country or to the hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland. Through the news media and political support in the United States, the Provisional IRA collects considerable sums of money to purchase bombs and bullets used for the callous murder of British subjects, either civilians in the Province or soldiers trying to restore law and order. Those people have to face these evil, callous men, who are cowardly but who can laugh when they kill so easily by means of a bomb exploded from a distance by radio control.
I find it extraordinary that our Prime Minister in her visit to the United States pledges full support—I understand that those were her words—to the United States against Iran in all sorts of unspecified measures against the people of that country. Iran is not just the Ayatollah. There are inocent people in Iran, who may suffer as a result of the measures that the United States may be contemplating.
The Prime Minister is prepared to give full support to unspecified measures—a blank cheque—despite the fact that the President of the United States flatly and insultingly snubbed her by refusing her request, made on behalf of this Government and nation, that the United States Government should lift the embargo that they place on a large shipment of arms urgently needed in Northern Ireland. Three thousand automatic pistols and 500 rifles, urgently needed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, were ordered over a year ago. It is two-faced and hyprocritical for the United States Government to expect the United Kingdom to give full support to strong sanctions against Iran—as far as I know they may even contemplate military measures—and yet refuse to save lives in Northern Ireland.
340 We are sympathetic to the plight of the hostages in Iran and hope that they will be released through diplomatic action, but such measures should be continued without further action at present. The United Kingdom is told that it must support sanctions, and possibly tougher measures, to force Iran to release the hostages.
We should not jeopardise our economy or the lives of British citizens throughout the world, and perhaps create massive unemployment, by throwing our full weight behind the actions of the United States. That may cause some drastic and unacceptable measures to be taken against the ordinary people of Iran. As I said before, there are many people in Iran apart from the Ayatollah and his supporters. If we follow the United States it may set the Middle East alight, which would be disastrous for this country. No action should be taken by this Government on tougher sanctions or any support for military measures until this House has debated the matter and come to a decision.
It is a question not of hostages in Northern Ireland but of life and death. The arms shipment for the Royal Ulster Constabulary was stopped at the request of Irish Republican American Congressmen who would buy votes in the coming American election at the cost of Ulster lives and the lives of young soldiers doing their duty in that part of the United Kingdom.
Before the House meets again, the Northern Ireland constitutional conference will begin, on 7 January. It is truly amazing that at this conference there will be only representatives of those political parties that received support from less than half the electorate. It is not the fault of the present Secretary of State that the Official Unionist Party has decided to boycott that conference. That party gave a number of reasons for its extraordinary decision not to talk. The truth is that the OUP does not want the re-establishment of any Parliament at Stormont.
On the basis of the White Paper, I welcomed the conference, but I am one of four Members in the House excluded from it. It would have been quite simple and easy for the Government to add three more representatives to the list of Members attending that conference, bearing in mind that myself and the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone 341 (Mr. Maguire) and for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) would be representative of a considerable number of people in the Province.
I asked the Secretary of State to invite us to attend the conference but he said "No". On 28 November 1979 I wrote to the Prime Minister, who saidI understand the point you make about representation but it does present a very real problem.She went on:The basis on which the conference is to take place has been agreed and made public. To change the terms of the conference while we are in the process of setting it up would lead to uncertainty and I am reluctant to risk this.All that was said on the basis of what the Secretary of State said when he launched his White Paper. The Secretary of State was emphatic that the terms of the White Paper would in no way be widened. As a result of his firm refusal to extend the terms of the White Paper at the time of its publication, the SDLP refused to take part in the conference and demanded that the discussions be widened to include power-sharing and an all-Ireland republic. The SDLP was so intransigent that its leader, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), resigned the leadership, as he could not persuade his party to attend on the basis of the White Paper.
Now, after a number of private meetings and lengthy discussions, the new leader of the SDLP states that the Secretary of State has agreed to widen the discussion. Indeed, it seems that there will be no limit to what is to be discussed when the three main political parties meet at Stormont. In other words, power sharing and a united Ireland will be included, despite the original declaration of the Secretary of State.
Is this another game of deceit by a Westminster Government, or is it a genuine attempt by the Government to seek agreement on the basis of the White Paper? It is clear that the Ulster Unionist people in Northern Ireland should be represented at the conference not only by the Democratic Unionist Party but by other Unionist parties, such as the United Ulster Unionist Party, and by myself. That is the only way to ensure that the Ulster people have a full say in the discussions at that conference, which is important in view of the fact 342 that the basis of the discussion seems now to have been widened. I trust that we shall have a statement from the Leader of the House this evening that the Government are now ready to invite myself and the other three Ulster Members of Parliament who have so far been excluded from an important conference that may lead to some sort of settlement in Northern Ireland.
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call anyone else, it will make me feel a lot easier, and make our debates appear more orderly, if hon. Members, in such a wide debate, will occasionally say "and for this reason the House ought not to be adjourned for so long."
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I apologise to you and the House, Mr. Speaker, for any confusion that I may have caused when you called my name about one and a quarter hours ago and I did not take my place. I did not realise that the motion had been moved. I was momentarily distracted when colleagues said that my name had been called.
I do not think that the House should adjourn for Christmas before we have had an opportunity to debate the standards of conduct in public life. I have raised this matter on several occasions previously, before the present Government came to office. The House has never had an opportunity to discuss the Royal Commission's report on standards of conduct in public life. That Commission sat under the chairmanship of Lord Salmon. The report was published in July 1976, but it has not yet been debated in the House.
I have constantly raised the matter both with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) and with the present Government. The last time I raised this subject was in a written question that I put to the Home Secretary on 15 June this year. At that time I asked himwhat proposals he has in mind to improve the standards of conduct in public life.The answer that I received wasTo set a good example to others."—[Official Report, 15 June 1979; Vol. 968, c. 343.]343 That was the considered view of the Home Secretary when answering a serious parliamentary question. It was an answer given, I presume, on behalf of the Government. I assume that all answers that come from individual Ministers can be taken to be on behalf of the Government. Therefore, one supposes that this Government, in the daily activities of their Ministers, are setting a good example to others on how to conduct themselves in public life.
If we are able to have the debate before the House goes into recess for Christmas, there are many issues that I shall raise. I shall not go into all of them tonight, but I should like to raise one issue of which I suspect the Leader of the House is aware. I refer to the recent case that was decided in the House of Lords last week, which is no longer sub judice and which involves Ross Minster and others—there are several respondents. That is one matter that I should have liked to discuss. Within that, there lies the present position of the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees).
Available in the Whips Office and published, I believe, every quarter is a list of ministerial responsibilities. I have the latest one here, which is dated 31 October 1979. It is published by the Civil Service Department and gives the individual responsibilities. I see that in the list for the Treasury it says:The Minister of State (Peter Rees, Esquire, QC, MP) deals with case work and policy from Inland Revenue.So it is clear that the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal—aswe all know, because of the answers that he gives to our parliamentary questions—deals with the case work and policy of the Inland Revenue.
On 9 July, during proceedings on the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House, I raised aspects of tax avoidance and tax evasion, both of which take place on a large scale. If we could have the debate that I seek, I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the points made during the previous debate. In my speech in July I quoted comments that the Minister of State, Treasury had made in a London Weekend programme, in December 1977, on the subject of tax avoidance. Some of his comments were illuminating. He 344 attacked the contents of the film that had been shown to the viewers—a film that included interviews with a number of people who were involved in the Rossminster affair. Mr. Bradman and Mr. Tucker were interviewed, and the Rossminster Bank was mentioned specifically. It was shown that if one circulates the money it goes in taxable and comes out tax-free.
After the film was over, the Minister of State condemned the activities of these people. I quote from a transcript of the programme, in which he said:Let me make it clear for a start that no one in public life can responsibly be enthusiastic about quite such stark schemes as you have been outlining.He was referring to the schemes perpetrated by Rossminster and its associated accountants. Later in the discussion Mr. Godfrey Hodgson said to the hon. and learned Member:Presumably you would take the view that the clients of Mr. Bradman and Mr. Tucker were justified in minimising their liability for tax by these avoidance schemes, given the present high rate of tax.The hon. and learned Member then said:I think that's putting it a bit that I'd say they're justified. I think that perhaps in a sense it provides a safety valve…otherwise they might be disposed to go along and sell their talents abroad.Later he refused to discuss the question in terms of morality because he thought that this was a fine point. He did not wish to be drawn into moral aspects, because everyone could say that he disapproved. Later in the transcript, he said of the programme makers:You happened to have isolated some very sophisticated schemes that obviously are only available to those who can pay for advisers.We are dealing here with tax avoidance—not just small change, but hundreds of millions of pounds. The estimate that has been given to me is that £800 million has been lost in tax revenue. It is not that that money is not taxable—that amount has actually been lost to the Exchequer.
Therefore, the hon. and learned Member rightly condemned the aspects of the schemes. I put these quotes back to him on 9 July. I always said that I would do so if ever he became a Treasury Minister. To my astonishment, at 7.30 am on 13 July—four days after I made my speech—the Inland Revenue raided 345 the homes and offices of various people associated with this little outfit and took away 12 vanloads of paperwork. The seizure of the documents has been the subject of litigation, and last week the House of Lords decided in favour of the Inland Revenue. Clearly the Inland Revenue is now about to embark on what is probably the largest, most detailed investigation of possible tax evasion that has been seen since the Inland Revenue was set up. This massive undertaking is not sub judice—it is not before the courts at present.
This brings me to the reason why I want a debate on standards in public life before the House rises for Christmas. When I took part in that television programme with the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal, and two years later when I raised the matter again in the House, I was not aware that that hon. and learned Member had financial interests, in that he was a professional tax adviser to a set of companies. I was astonished when I discovered this during the Summer Recess, in a small-circulation, fortnightly publication. This fact was not refuted. When The Sunday Times came back, its first issue, on 18 November, carried an in-depth background piece on this matter by journalist Lorana Sullivan, who had been working on the subject for three years. She pointed out facts about the clients of the schemes that had been put together by the Rossminster outfit. Because the schemes were considered borderline, people were very reluctant to take them on or pay the fees necessary to obtain the benefits. She pointed out that clients were never asked to take the schemes from the accountants alone. Each scheme was submitted to one or more members of the taxation Bar for an opinion. If and when leading counsel gave a favourable opinion on the legality of a scheme, this became the major sales tool for the scheme itself.
Later in the article Miss Sullivan pointed out, in talking about one scheme, thatThe major marketing tool for this scheme was leading counsel's opinion provided by Peter Rees, QC. Ironically, Rees is now Minister of State at the Treasury with special responsibility for personal taxation.It goes much wider than that. The hon. and learned Member is responsible for policy case work of the 346 Inland Revenue, which is now embarking on this major investigation. Some of the documents that were seized on 13 July clearly will be his professional legal opinions about the legality of some of those schemes. In my naivety, I sincerely believe that the position of the Minister of State, as Minister in charge of the Revenue, is untenable. He should be removed from that post forthwith.
When the former Home Secretary, the late Reginald Maudling, was tenuously involved in difficulties with a former business interest, two or three times removed from himself, he removed himself completely from the Government of the day. I am not asking for that in this case; I am simply asking for the Minister of State to be moved to another Ministry. I do not see how the Inland Revenue investigators can do their work properly and impartially if they know that their Minister of State is someone whose papers they will be examining and whom they may wish to interview in pursuance of their inquiries. The fact that the hon. and learned Member did not disclose his financial interests on the television programme and did not, in replying to the debate on 9 July, even add a rider saying that he could not reply to my points because he once had a legal interest is a matter of great importance. I am not accusing him of corruption, but as a barrister he was asked for his opinion of the schemes, and on that basis they went ahead. Also, on that basis the Inland Revenue made its raids.
The Government should have taken action before now. People outside will not have a great deal of confidence in our ability to look after the other half of the Welfare State—the tax end—andpursue vigorously those who abuse the tax system in the same way as the Government claim they are pursuing those who abuse the social security system. How can the public have confidence in Parliament when they read in the press that one of the Ministers in charge of the Inland Revenue was involved in the operation of these schemes?
The Government will have to come clean. If we do not have a debate before the House rises—I do not suppose that we will—the Prime Minister should take the opportunity of our three-week recess to have a reshuffle. She has in her 347 Government a few members of the House of Lords who could be dismissed, and there are some eager Back Benchers who could be promoted. The Government have had a few months now to experience the performance of Ministers, so this change could be made in a normal reshuffle in the Christmas Recess.
This could be done without notice, except for the fact that some of us will be watching for it. It could have been done, I submit, in a much more honourable fashion last Thursday, when the Law Lords made their decision. On those occasions when I have raised the matter, it could be argued that it was held back on the grounds that the Law Lords might come down in favour of the companies and not the Revenue. In the event, the Law Lords came down 4 to 1 in favour of the Revenue.
Midday on Thursday last week would have been a suitable opportunity for the hon. and learned Gentleman to offer his resignation. The Gentleman could not have resigned at 11 am, following the judgment, because with my right hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury he was speaking at a conference on tax avoidance organised by Accountants Weekly. I was sitting at the back listening to what they had to say when the decision by the Law Lords was made.
The position of the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal is untenable. My hon. Friends and I will pursue the matter vigorously until we can show to people outside that this House of Commons is taking seriously the present and continuing decline in standards of conduct of public life, typified by this case.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I should not like the House to rise for the Christmas Recess without giving further thought to the English dimension of the problem of the Vietnamese boat people. Time is exceedingly short. I shall not make a speech on the matter, but I should like reassurance from the Government on two important points.
We have done our humane duty as a civilised nation in accepting for settlement 10,000 of these victims of insufferable racial persecution. They have been 348 brought to Britain and given temporary hospitality in a number of resettlement camps, such as Nelson Hall in Staffordshire, where they are being taught English and something of the English way of life, and it is hoped, indeed, expected, that they will be welcomed by local communities for permanent settlement.
I am delighted to say that, in my constituency area, the East Staffordshire district council was among the earliest authorities in the country to offer to house these people. It offered houses to five families who had survived the horrors of the South China Sea and arrived at Hong Kong in the famous "Sibonga". A voluntary support group of active people in Burton on Trent immediately ensured a welcome and a continuing procession of good neighbour, help and friendship activities, which has made sure that the Vietnamese settle happily into the area.
I wish to ask how the resettlement of the 10,000 boat people is progressing. I have heard little of similar activities to those taking place in Burton on Trent, although I have no doubt that they are taking place all over the country. There has not been much publicity. I know that the Ockenden venture, which is doing a superb job at Nelson Hall, has had great difficulty in getting local authorities to offer sufficient housing and some difficulty in getting organised support groups to provide furniture and transport and all the back-up help that is needed to settle these families into local communities.
There must be an inexhaustible fund of charity in the hearts of British citizens, so what is happening? Are all the families spoken for? If not, how many remain to be helped? What is anyone doing about the matter? Which local authorities have accepted numbers of families to be settled? Which have refused? What more can be done to help? We should not simply feel that our consciences are clear because the Government have allowed 10,000 people to settle somewhere in the country. That is not enough. Those local authorities that are able to settle refugees but have refused to do so should be ashamed of themselves. They should be made known.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend knows of the highly unsatisfactory situation over organised financial aid to the 349 refugees. The Burton on Trent refugees had to sign a promissory note—I have a copy in my hand—to repay 1,000 dollars lent to them by Christian Aid to pay their air fare from Hong Kong to Britain. A repayment of 42 dollars a month is required for 23 months, the first instalment being due on 1 December 1979. Naturally, these refugees, wanting to come to Britain and having being invited to do so, signed the promissory note. Equally naturally, they discovered that they could not repay, certainly in the short term.
These people spent several weeks, or even months, in resettlement camps. Even at Burton, which has been quick off the mark, they have been settled into the town only in the last three or four weeks. They will eventually take up jobs, but obviously sufficient money is not yet available to enable them to begin repaying the instalments. For a time they were extremely frightened that if they could not meet the first repayment on 1 December 1979 they would be sent back.
I raised the matter with Christian Aid. As one would expect of a most worthy and humanitarian organisation, it was greatly embarrassed. It assured me that there was no question of any pressure being put on the refugees to repay by any date and that the promissory note was a necessary formality. The organisation was as unhappy as I was to hear about any distress. It was merely acting as agents for an organisation known as ICEM.
I raised the matter with the standing conference on refugees and I received a letter which said:There has been some misunderstanding about this. The Standing Conference first took this up with ICEM in June 1978 and since then with UNHCR"—which I believe is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees—and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Some of the voluntary agencies have since then refused to act as agents for collecting these refunds but Christian Aid has again been asked to do so for the Indo-Chinese refugees. They have now pointed out to the World Council of Churches, their internatinal link, on whose behalf they were asked to act, that they do not wish to continue this under the present procedure.At a later date when the refugees have settled and may be are earning good money, they may be able to repay some of the fares to ICEM which returns the money 350 to a Revolving Fund, which would be used for travel for other refugees. Some other procedure could certainly be arranged for this. At any rate, I wanted you to know that this matter has been re-opened and I hope the procedure will be discontinued, at any rate in this country.This is a most unsatisfactory situation, is it not? What is ICEM? By what authority does it make loans to the international indigent? Which international refugee organisation has authorised this procedure? Where does the money for the loans come from? What happens if no repayment is made? Who ends up losing? Why do not the Governments of each of the countries welcoming refugees underwrite transport for them from Hong Kong? These matters require some answer.
I hope that the Government will give an assurance that they intend to take the matter up and follow it to its logical conclusion. I hope that the Minister will make an announcement tonight in the Chamber. I suppose that my argument for detaining the House will not meet with the approval of hon. Members and that we shall adojurn. But perhaps before we adjourn the 10,000 Vietnamese boat people who are in Britain can be given some positive reassurance at this Christmas time that they will be welcomed into the homes of British society and that they will be under no pressure whatever, by any date, to make the repayments on the promissory notes which they have signed.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Given the immense scale on which national steel policy is being conducted and given the horrific nature of some of the policy departures, there is a danger that the resultant drama for some steel-making communities will overshadow considerable problems and anxieties in other steel-making communities. I want to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to some of those dangers before the Christmas Recess with the plea that he brings them to the notice of the Secretary of State for Industry.
The dangers that I have in mind relate broadly to steel making in South Yorkshire and Sheffield. They concern, first, the future structure of steel making in that area; secondly, the future investment policy for the Sheffield River Don works; thirdly, the future policy on scrap that will, all too unhappily, arise from 351 the current proposals as they will bring about closures; fourthly, the extent to which steel, especially at the quality end, continues to be embarrassed by the ever-rising level of car imports; and, finally, the embarrassment for steel arising from the unlimited importation of silicon manganese or spring steel.
First, as regards the future structure of steel-making in South Yorkshire and Sheffield, the BSC Sheffield division has emerged unscathed from last week's steel cuts announcements. With world steel depressed, South Yorkshire's top-quality special steel has now become BSC's only money-spinner. Given recent proposals, it seems certain to dominate BSC's production schedules. This extraordinary development is the result not of any massive increase in the steel-making capacity of the Sheffield division but of savage pruning in every other BSC production area.
BSC's Sheffield steel make has been confirmed as 3.5 million tonnes a year in future. That is 10 per cent. up on last year's total output. Only BSC Teesside will eventually rival South Yorkshire, gradually building up to a similar annual tonnage. When the steel produced at Scunthorpe—a further 3 million tonnes a year—is added to the Sheffield total, the new BSC Yorkshire and Humberside division, which will arise from an amalgamation of the two centres next year, will totally dominate production, for the new steel grouping will bring together plants, managements and sales staff in South Yorkshire and Humberside or, more particularly, Scunthorpe. It will replace the current BSC Sheffield division and take from that grouping steel plants at Stocksbridge, Tinsley, Park and Rotherham. The remainder of the Sheffield division—forges, foundries and engineering as well as BSC Stainless—will go into another new corporation offshoot that will be known as BSC Holdings.
These developments, given what is happening to steel elsewhere—notably in Wales—might ordinarily have proved reassuring in South Yorkshire; but, given the outlook and the known philosophy of the Secretary of State for Industry, they have had the contrary effect. They have given rise to fresh anxieties and to speculation.
352 Announcing the reorganisation earlier in the month, Sir Charles Villiers said that the intention was not to create a business to hive off. The House should note that, when announcing the reorganisation, Sir Charles Villiers was quick to add the reassurance that there was no intention to provide a convenient way for hiving off. It was intended merely to provide for more effective ways of making steel. But, if new offers were received for any of the new groupings, Government policy would require Sir Charles Villiers and his colleagues to consider them. That has given rise to anxiety in Sheffield. Bearing in mind its political masters, the BSC will have no alternative but to consider any such offers.
Therefore, I want to bring this matter to the attention of the Leader of the House and, through him, to warn the Government that the widely held view in Sheffield is that there should be no hiving off from BSC and that BSC should remain responsible for its present range of operations. Those operations cover not only steel making but stainless steel production and finishing, razor blade strip manufacture, forging, casting, engineering and a whole range of mainstream operations.
Far from wanting to see steel making split, or any of these operations hived off, BSC Sheffield, to the best of my knowledge and that of my hon. Friends from South Yorkshire, would also be opposed to any wrecking measures. After all, if this is currently the only profitable sector of British Steel, why sell it? People are bound to want to know, or they would not be human. How can anyone contemplate such a step and expect the climate within the industry and the morale of men and management to remain unaffected? Morale is already at rock bottom in the industry, and the Government should be concerned to restore it rather than to undermine it further.
Although BSC has been in existence only since 1967, the present reorganisation is the fourth major administrative reshuffle that South Yorkshire plants have had to face. That in itself is unsettling enough; but if that were now to be followed by a dilution of public ownership, I again warn the Government that that would be regarded in Sheffield as intolerable.
353 I turn now to my second point—future investment policy in BSC's River Don works. It would seem that it has now been granted a breathing space, but that famous steelworks is still being denied the £7 million investment which its heavy forge needs and which could be crucial in its battle to get back to profitability.
Thirdly, what about the steel scrap that will arise from the closed works and what about the policy on that aspect? Clearly, millions of tonnes of prime scrap will gradually become available—not at a cheap price in all cases—and much of it will become available to the BSC.
What about the position of the private sector? The private sector in Sheffield views the position of future scrap supplies with distinct unease, given the expected price rise in the new year and the absence of any restriction on the free flow of scrap overseas.
Fourthly, the public and private sectors of the steel-making industry in Sheffield are concerned about the rising level of car imports, as well as the unlimited importation of silicon manganese or spring steel.
Those are some of the anxieties that curretly affect the steel industry in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. I trust that the Leader of the House will bring them to the attention of the Secretary of State for Industry.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I feel that the House should not necessarily follow the proposed recess dates. It is easy to suggest that the House should rise later in the year, possibly having a debate on Christmas Eve, but I favour a return a little earlier next year. We could discuss one matter which is not related, as far as I am aware, to the various issues already debated. Many cogent reasons have been advanced why the House should discuss this and that, the conduct of various Ministers, steel, and the Vietnamese refugees, who were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence).
I express to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House my concern about the position of the Falkland Islands dependencies, especially the action that the House may take on a matter that I shall reveal shortly. In the recent past the House has from time to time debated 354 the Falkland Islands. Lord Shackleton produced an excellent report which made a number of recommendations—which the Government of the day should have considered—on securing the future of the islands.
The report was published several years ago, but little or no apparent action has been taken on its recommendations. Some of them, it is true, would have been costly to the public exchequer. Others would not have been costly but were considered to be a little daring bearing in mind relationships with the neighbouring Power, the Argentine.
The reason why nothing was done about most of the recommendations was probably that to venture too far along the road of the Shackleton recommendations, and once again to establish, without doubt, in that part of the world that the Falkland Islands are British and intend to remain so, would have caused diplomatic difficulties with the Argentine. Some of the explorations put in hand by Lord Shackleton have proved that there are extremely valuable reserves of raw materials, minerals and oil in the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands dependencies.
I should be glad to return a day or two early. By then there would be an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to send a copy of today's Hansard to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, giving him the gist of the remarks made about the islands. If we returned a day or two early, my right hon. and noble Friend would, by then, have formed some conclusion on any action that might be taken.
Successive Governments have been contemplating the Shackleton report in a passive and inactive way for five or six years. In view of the wonderful achievements of my right hon. and noble Friend in Zimbabwe, it is possible that he would show similar initiative over the Falkland Islands dependencies.
We have had previous opportunities of putting questions to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on the Falkland Islands. I have tabled a number of questions during the past few weeks, following the visit of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to South America, especially the 355 Argentine, in November. He had discussions with the Argentine Government. Questions were put to him in the House about how the discussions touched on the future of the Falkland Islands, especially on how they related to the position in the South Thule dependency where there has been a Falkland occupation depot and camp for two or three years. In his reply, my hon. Friend did not indicate that the matter had been discussed. In a subsequent reply, he said that the Argentine Government had been left in no doubt about the views of Her Majesty's Government.
If we were to return a day or two early in 1980, I should raise this issue, because I am not clear about the Government's views. The previous Government made quite clear their displeasure about the position and indicated that it should not continue. However, the new Government—of whom I am happy to be a supporting member—have made no such forthright statement. I hope that if we return early we shall have a substantive debate. By then, we would have received the benefit of the Lord Privy Seal seeking advice from his office. Do the Government intend to deal with the matter directly and end the illegal occupation of South Thule in the Falkland Islands, by raising the matter either at the International Court at The Hague or at the United Nations? That is why I wish the House to return a day or two early.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
I submit that before it adjourns the House should debate the disturbing issue raised by the mounting evidence of death and serious violence sustained by persons in police custody, the need for an independent inquiry into its possible causes and remedies, and the extreme difficulty—not to say the virtual impossibility—of carrying through to a successful conclusion complaints against the police, however overwhelming the evidence.
An enormous amount of documentary evidence, including the statements of several witnesses, has accumulated in the case of Jimmy Kelly, who met his death in Liverpool six months ago, almost to the day, and also in other cases, notably those of Liddle Towers in Northumbria and James McYearn in Glasgow. It is acutely worrying.
356 Kelly, according to witnesses, was severely beaten and kicked as he was arrested by Huyton police. He died within one hour. An independent post mortem found that he had received multiple injuries, that his jaw was fractured in two places by an impact on the chin, which tore the jaw away in one direction while fracturing the other side as the jaw bone twisted, and that he had a crushed vertebra and no fewer than 32 bruises on his body. Six months have passed, yet no prosecutions have been initiated.
It is disturbing that that case and the others that I have quoted are in no sense isolated. Figures given to me by the Home Office show that since 1970 no fewer than 143 persons have died from unnatural causes while in police custody, and that excludes suicide. That is an average of over 15 persons a year. Moreover, the number per year has been steadily increasing. In 1970 it was three persons, and in 1978—the last full year—it was 30 persons. Apart from the rapidly escalating number, there are several other worrying aspects.
First, I am concerned that the Home Office does not keep the figures centrally and does not receive routine reports from chief constables. In the light of the worrying figures that have been collected, I hope that the material will now be routinely collected and monitored centrally. I should like an assurance that that will be done.
Secondly, contrary to what is often asserted in defence of the present system, there is not always an inquest. In 23 of the 245 deaths in police custody since 1970—that is, nearly 10 per cent. of all cases—there was, for some reason, no inquest. However, even when there is an inquest it is still scarcely satisfactory procedurally, because there is no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. That which happened at the Jimmy Kelly inquest tends to bring inquests into disrepute.
I quote one of the statements made by the Jimmy Kelly action committee:On Friday 22nd June at 10.45 a.m. the coroner's officer, sergeant Harvey, opened and adjourned an inquest on the late James Kelly. At that opening a member of the family asked a number of questions, one being what James had died of. The sergeant said he had an idea, but refused to say what his idea was. He was asked if James had any bruises on his body other than what was visual, and 357 said only one mark at the back of his neck and one mark on his leg. He was also asked if there were any internal injuries, and he said no.The family was not satisfied with these answers and decided to get an independent pathologist. The findings of the independent pathologist were that James Kelly suffered multiple injuries, his jaw was fractured in two places, he had a damaged vertebra,32 bruises on his body, both wrists were heavily marked by handcuffs and he had a lacerated toe. Also it came to light that the first pathologist, Dr. John Benstead, had taken the heart out, left it out and did not inform the family about this.That shows clearly that the inquest procedure needs to be greatly tightened.
The third factor that worries me about the figures supplied by the Home Office—after seven weeks of waiting I am grateful to have them—is the question of what constitutes a non-natural cause of death. That item includes misadventure in 62 cases, accidental death in 39 cases and an open verdict in 15 cases, as well as two cases of manslaughter and two cases where no verdict was given.
There can be no doubt that the categories are pretty broad and, I think, rather deceptive, although I am sure that they are not intended to be. They are deceptive in the form in which they are given. A great deal more needs to be known about the precise circumstances leading to death in each case before public disquiet at these alarmingly high figures is likely to be assuaged.
Another cause of concern is the dividing line between what constitutes a natural cause of death and what constitutes a non-natural cause. For example, if a man chokes on his vomit, presumably that is entered as a natural cause of death. But what if that followed that man being severely roughed up in his cell? If he died from a heart attack, presumably that would be a natural cause. But what if that followed some severe violence having been meted out to him?
The initial police reaction causes me a good deal of concern. The initial reaction in explaining the death of Jimmy Kelly was to say that he died of a heart attack. Over the past decade the number of deaths while in police custody—no fewer than 66 from natural causes and 36 from suicide—are high enough to warrant further investigation.
My last concern—I believe it to be a matter of public concern—lies in the 358 regional breakdown. For example, why did the Metropolitan area, with one-fifth of the population, have double that proportion of the total number of deaths while in police custody—slightly over 100 of the 245? Certain other areas seem to have an unduly high number of deaths. There were 14 on Merseyside, 11 in Greater Manchester, 14 in West Yorkshire, 11 in the West Midlands and 11 in South Wales. The numbers in those areas were far higher than in other parts of the kingdom. It is important to know whether there are special causes.
Those are the reasons why I ask the Home Secretary to set up an inquiry, before the House adjourns, to establish the full facts surrounding the issue. I have given the figures only for England and Wales. I have recently been informed by the Lord Advocate's Department that over the past four years in Scotland a further 24 persons died from non-natural causes while in police custody. If we take England, Wales and Scotland as a whole, no fewer than 21 persons, on average, have died in each of the past 10 years from non-natural causes while in police custody. I submit that that is a horrifyingly high figure.
We are not talking about South Africa. Our police have a reputation to be preserved. It is not compatible with the figures. For the sake of the police themselves rather than for anyone else, the full facts need to be investigated. Until that happens, I do not believe that public confidence will be fully restored. That view is shared by 110 other hon. Members, who signed early-day motion 255 calling for an inquiry to examine the possible causes of this pattern of violence and to consider what changes in procedure or practice need to be made to reduce it and ultimately to eliminate the trend. I hope that the Home Secretary will heed the demand of so many hon. Members.
I am aware that the Police Federation is opposed to the setting up of an inquiry. That is only to be expected. Mr. Jim Jardine has said that compared with the total number of arrests each year the number of persons who died in custody was "a decimal point". I submit that the families and relatives of the 21 persons each year who have died from non-natural causes while in police custody would 359 not write them off as a decimal point—nor would the great mass of British people. Therefore, I hope that the Home Secretary will set up an inquiry.
I hope, too, that the inquiry will examine three further related matters. One such matter is my proposal to deter violence. The Home Secretary should set up on an experimental basis—for example, in half a dozen areas initially—a panel of visitors with the right of access to police station cells for unannounced visits, or visits with the minimum practicable notice, to take statements from prisoners who allege police violence against them. The panel should seek to validate the truth or otherwise of such statements. I realise that in many cases they may be malicious. The panel should make regular reports to the Home Office on the police authority in the areas in which it is operating. There are many historical precedents for inspections of such a sort to deter maltreatment of persons under guard.
Secondly, the inquiry should be asked to review the present powers of police committees and to consider whether they should be extended to secure proper public accountability of the chief constables, who are the chief executive officers responsible to the committee and the makers of policy.
Thirdly, the inquiry should examine the sheer futility of the present police complaints procedure. Last year 27,000 complaints were made against the police. Half of those complaints were not pursued. Of the 13,000 that were pursued, 4,000 were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Half of that number involved serious charges of police assault. Virtually none of them was referred for prosecution. Of the 13,000 complaints investigated by the Police Complaints Board, precisely 15 led to disciplinary proceedings being taken. Almost all of these concerned mere technical irregularities in procedure. Only one serious charge led to disciplinary action, and that concerned corruption and not assault.
Of the 2,500 complaints made to the board concerning alleged police violence, not one led to action being taken against the police. In view of that and in view of the now publicly known facts about the death of Jimmy Kelly and several others, it is scarely surprising that the 360 police complaints procedure suffers from a major credibility gap.
For these reasons, I believe that a full inquiry into the issue is now greatly overdue. Before the House adjourns I hope that the Home Secretary, in the face of all the evidence that I have given, will accept that it is his duty to set up such an inquiry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)
I propose to call the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who has been present and trying to catch my eye for most of the debate.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I have this comfort for the Leader of the House. I agree with his motion that the House should adjourn for the Christmas Recess at the appointed time, because we have been sitting for many weeks and there is a great danger that we can become too claustrophobic. We imagine that all that is important in Britain happens within the square mile around Westminster and Whitehall. Our political life can become incestuous in the sense that we tend to feed on each other's opinions in the Whitehall and Westminster complex, and we are in danger of becoming increasingly unaware of what is happening outside.
The opportunity given by the recess should be used by Cabinet Ministers to go round Britain and see the havoc that their policies are causing. They should get away from discussions, official cars and private secretaries and see the sharp end of the effect of those policies which is to be found particularly in the regions, where it has been felt in a dramatic way.
I was reminded of the analogy of the bunker when I recently watched a television film on the last days of Hitler. There was the bunker, there were the supposedly directing powers, with a propagandist who indicated from time to time to people outside that all was well while those who had caused the chaos were apparently protected inside. I urge the Government to take advantage of the recess and to leave their bunker and go out in to the wider world to examine what is happening.
In particular, I invite Ministers to go to the steel regions of Britain and to witness 361 the anxiety that they have caused by the policies announced last week. For example, in South Wales there is a jobcrisis and a degree of apprehension and foreboding that takes most of our people back to the 1930s—the decade which demoralised my father's generation and led to many of our best people leaving South Wales and going to various parts of the country. That same feeling currently exists in South Wales as a result of the policies pursued by the Government.
Not only is there the immediate threat to 10,000 steel jobs but there is the consequent threat to the number of pits that supply coking coal to the two major steel plants in South Wales. The repercussive effects of that will go down the line, for example, to railway men who transport that coal and to a series of smaller construction industries and manufacturing industries that supply the massive steel plants.
There will be a major depression in South Wales, with unemployment reaching levels of 17 per cent. or more, unless the Government are prepared to visit the area and to see the enormous repercussions of their policies.
The Government must review the wholly unrealistic break-even obligation that they imposed on the British Steel Corporation. The British Steel Corporation put that aspiration forward as a possibility in its report of last year, but it was heavily qualified by the corporation as being dependent on market conditions and on the share of the home market that it was able to hold. Most of those qualifications have not come into effect, and for the Government to insist on the break-even obligation in such a way that they will not fund the operating losses of the BSC after next March can only lead to enormous chaos throughout the steel industry, throughout the steel areas and throughout British manufacturing industry as a whole.
There is no panic other than that imposed by the Government as a result of their policies. There have been substantial and mounting losses by the BSC throughout the years. These losses have been marginally brought down during the past financial year, but they cannot be brought down to break-even point by next March without severe dislocation occurring throughout Britain.
362 I therefore urge the Government to rethink their policy that no cash aid is available to the BSC. That is of relevance to the strike because that strike is developing largely as a result of the Government's policy. It has been called by a union that is known for its moderation and that has taken many body blows over the years but has not fought back. That union has come to the end of its tether and it is responding to those pressures. The Government should be aware of those pressures in steel areas.
Apart from rethinking the time scale of that break-even obligation, the Government should also rethink their regional policy. They are descheduling a number of areas that are about to feel the full effect of their steel policy. They are therefore reducing the possibility for those areas to attract new industry at the same time as they are destroying the regional economies of those areas. What can the Government do? They can reschedule those areas, as they have done in Corby and Shotton, and make them special development areas. However, if every area is a special development area, what does the regional policy mean?
If the Government's policy goes ahead, it will impose a black cloud over the whole of South Wales. That cloud will hang not just over Ebbw Vale, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) knows so well and has fought for over the years, but over the whole of Gwent and West Glamorgan. It is not just the steel industry that feels the draught. Hardly a day passes without a local industry announcing that it is shedding labour.
If the Government persist with those monetarist policies that have led to the imposition of that break-even target, the only fall-back possible would be to make the whole of South Wales a special development area such as Shotton and Corby. What help will that be to the South Wales economy? Where are the Government jobs that could come to South Wales as a result of cutbacks in investment? Where are the private jobs that will come to South Wales as a result of some of the Government's other policies—as a result of the minimum lending rate or the crippling interest rates that have been imposed on major and small industries? Where is the foot-loose industry that is likely to find its way westwards to 363 South Wales as a result of Government policy?
The Government should visit these areas where they have caused chaos and see the deserts that they threaten to create. They should see for themselves whether they can honestly still pursue those same policies. I invite the Cabinet to spend Christmas in West Glamorgan. It will be a bleak Christmas for many of those who are suffering from the effects of the Government's policies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer hails from that county, but there will be no welcome for him in his home county, should he choose to spend his Christmas there rather than in the more prosperous suburbs of London. I hope that other Ministers, too, will go to the same area.
If Ministers go there, they will see in West Glamorgan two nations. The same is true in other regions. The geographical split was seen in the voting patterns at the last election. There was the great blue tide to be seen in the prosperous areas of the South-East, but the more depressed areas, the areas which depended to a large extent on public expenditure and knew that they were menaced—the North-East, Wales and Scotland—by and large remained faithful to their Labour heritage.
As a result of their policies—notonly their regional policy but their policies on public investment and interest rates—the Government are widening the gap between the two nations. One sees this in the deterioration in social services, especially services for the elderly, now being brought about by the Government's cuts.
The Secretary of State for Social Services is wont to talk about civilisation. I put to him a definition—that a civilised country is one which accords high value to the services which it provides for the most vulnerable in its society. On that definition, Britain will be a much less civilised Britain. If the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and his hon. Friends care to laugh at that, let them look at the deterioration in social services throughout the country. Directors of social services are now trying to do their sums. They have already had one directive from the Government to cut back on public expenditure, and they know that there will be a further directive within a month or so to cut public 364 expenditure yet further, and this at a time when the demand for services in rising.
Demographic factors are changing the picture of need. For example, the growth in the proportion of elderly people in the population means that we have to spend at least 2 per cent. more on services for the elderly simply to keep pace. The Government do not want even to keep pace. They have already reduced expenditure for these purposes and they will reduce it still further.
That is the measure of deterioration in social services which is making our country less civilised. I am appalled that hon. Members on the Government Benches think it a laughing matter that they and the Government, with their monetary policies, are intent on creating such a state of affairs.
§ Mr. Anderson
I shall certainly not be stopped by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. These home truths are, I hope, unpalatable to them, and they stem directly from the macro-economic policies which they support with such docility in the Division Lobbies.
I therefore ask members of the Government to get away from their official cars and official dinners so that they may meet the real people who suffer—those in the front line who suffer at the receiving end of their policies. There is in this Government a smack of fanaticism. Ayatollah-like, they know that they have the right solutions, and they are determined to force them on the country as bitter medicine, whatever the consequences may be.
If Ministers were to leave the gilded circle, if they were to move out from the Whitehall-Westminster complex and go to the regions, their eyes would be opened to the social consequences of the policies which they now pursue. They might then, if they did that during the recess, be prepared to moderate those policies before it is too late.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
I submit that the House should not adjourn until it has considered, among other things, the case of a constituent of mine. I say that he is a constituent, but in 365 truth he is a former constituent inasmuch as he has now been removed from the constituency against his will. I refer to the case of Mr. Peter Daly, with particular reference to prison conditions, Home Office competence and—this is of general interest to the House—the Countryman inquiry into police corruption.
I stress at the outset that I shall not comment on any sub judice aspects of this case. I shall refer to more general matters. Mr. Peter Daly has been in prison, without conviction, for about 16 months. He was held over, though not convicted, in July this year, when the jury failed to reach a verdict. Another charge was then brought against him. He was acquitted at the Old Bailey in November but was still not given bail. He was removed from Brixton to Bristol and then to Winchester, within a fortnight, with no initial explanation given to either his family or his lawyer, or to me as the Member of Parliament concerned when I simply inquired where he had been taken. He has been put into maximum security now. His privileges have been suspended after a year without, in my judgment, any adequate explanation or reason given.
Mr. Daly was charged yet again two weeks ago at Highgate on a further count and was given bail, but this is a pure formality—a mockery of real bail—since he has been denied bail on the other charges, and all that giving bail now does is simply to relieve the police of the inconvenience of having to produce him at Highgate once a week, which, under humane conditions, would be advantageous to him and to his wife and family in maintaining the sort of human contact of which he is otherwise deprived.
In effect, no sooner is this man acquitted on one charge than he is arraigned on another. Why are not other charges taken into account in such a case as this, which did not initially involve the claim that arms were used? I go no further than that in mentioning details. It seems as though one charge is lined up when other charges fail, in a manner which is hardly in accordance with the customary procedures of our courts or, I submit, the practice of British justice as it is allegedly recognised and known.
366 In protest at what he regarded as harassment, Mr. Daly barricaded himself in his cell before the Highgate charge and was taken out, dragged out, naked and handcuffed, put in a police van and brought to London.
There are other specific matters in this case which give me, as the relevant Member of Parliament, great cause for concern. One arises on the question of this man's retrial. In the first case in which he was tried, two others tried with him on the same evidence were acquitted and he was not found guilty. For the retrial this man is prepared to wait, if necessary, until the spring so that he may have his own defence counsel for the retrial. But the Crown is not prepared to wait until the spring, in which case he will be disadvantaged in the trial since the Crown will retain its original counsel. I repeat that I am not commenting on the details of the case itself. I am raising only the substance of the matter which concerns me.
I submit that as this man has been approached by the Countryman inquiry into police corruption, but has not given evidence in that inquiry, there is a prima facie reason for thinking that he is being intimidated. He is being treated in a manner not consonant with what we know as the normal procedures of British justice.
I am concerned also that, for example, when I first approached the Home Secretary, simply to find out where this former constituent was, the Home Office claimed at one stage, after 10 days, that it could not even trace him. Perhaps one need not be surprised at that, in view of the number of prisons into which he has been pushed. It was about five weeks before I received a reply from the Lord Chancellor's office about his retrial and about six weeks before I had a reply from the Home Office on where he was.
I put the matter now in the context of the Countryman inquiry. It has been put to me—the subject has been well raised over the past two weeks by Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror in commenting on Mr. Daly's case—that it is possible that certain police officers who stand to lose in the Countryman inquiry into police corruption may well be seeking to intimidate this man. If that is so, it is a matter of grave public concern. The 367 impression has certainly been given to Mr. Daly—I have this on direct information to me—that if he is acquitted again on an individual charge, yet another charge will be slammed down against him on the basis of changing evidence.
I regard it as a matter of all the more concern when I note, for example, that it was reported last week that certain police officers have commented on the fact that in a robbery involving some £180,000 the police have tried time and again to pick up those involved, but time and again have found that they have been tipped off.
We are in a situation where the Government are increasing expenditure on the police while it is not at all clear that we are getting an effective police force, partly because of the large-scale corruption in certain parts of the country. I readily say that I am not, by these remarks, seeking to impugn the conduct of the police in general, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) quite rightly said when referring to police behaviour, it is surely incumbent upon the Home Office to ensure that there is proper publicity and that matters such as these are investigated, so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done and so that when we try somebody who may be culpable in a particular respect the public can see that the trial and the conditions of the trial are fair.
I therefore submit that the House should not adjourn unless there is an assurance from the Leader of the House, first, that the Lord Chancellor will accept a postponement of this man's further trial on the key issue until March or April, when he can have his own defence counsel, and, secondly, that the Home Secretary will investigate the other matters to which I have referred. If such an assurance is not given, I submit that the House should not adjourn.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) has raised a matter of great public importance. He was right to raise it, and I am sure that he will pursue it. I have risen to speak because I believe that before we go into recess we should have an opportunity to debate 368 the problems which a considerable number of elderly and poor families will have in keeping warm and paying their fuel bills during the coming winter.
It is known to the House that electricity prices have increased by 18 per cent. during the course of 1979. Instead of extending the scheme which the Labour Government brought in to assist elderly and poor people with their electricity bills, the present Government cancelled the electricity discount scheme and a pittance of a scheme has been brought in which will be of some help only to pensioners who are over the age of 75 who are on supplementary benefit. I should add that many of these pensioners are already receiving the assistance without the scheme.
The only other way in which the scheme will be of some assistance to electricity users will be in paying families on supplementary benefit where there are in the household children under the age of five. It should be recognised that whereas under the electricity discount scheme well over 3 million people were assisted, under the scheme that is now in force only about 345,000 families will gain.
This is an important matter. We live in an advanced industrial society that is richer than many other countries throughout the world, yet what is the situation facing those most in need? What is the position of so many pensioners and poor people when it comes to keeping warm? They find it increasingly difficult.
In modern Britain we have the situation—and this will happen during the recess and during the winter months after we come back—that pensioners turn off the electricity in their houses during the course of the day and wrap themselves in blankets. The reason is obvious. They are frightened of receiving an electricity bill of £100, £150 or more and being disconnected because they cannot pay it. That is a situation which I feel should be of the utmost concern to us. That is why I believe that we should debate this matter before we adjourn for the recess. Many elderly people suffer from hypothermia during the winter months, and I feel that steps should be taken by the Government to assist them.
I know that it is argued by right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench that we are in economic and all 369 kinds of other difficulties, but what is the position? The richest in our community have been well rewarded, and they will certainly have no difficulty in paying their fuel bills. They have been well rewarded as a result of the Budget and have done very well, yet those most at risk, those with limited incomes—pensioners, those on supplementary benefits and those who were at least receiving some assistance as a result of the electricity discount scheme—are receiving hardly any assistance; and many of them—certainly those under 75—will receive no assistance whatsoever.
I say that that is a shameful, deplorable state of affairs, and I believe that it is right and proper that matters of this kind should be raised. The truth is that the Government are acting in a mean, Scrooge-like manner towards so many of the poor and so many of the pensioners. We know that in the Cabinet there are those who say that they are not monetarists, but it seems to me that those Cabinet Ministers who, for one reason or another, remain in senior office are happy to go along with economic policies that are causing the gravest difficulties. They are causing difficulties on the industrial front, through the minimum lending rate and so on, and they are causing unemployment, yet at the same time they are willing to go along with policies which directly hit the weaker sections of our community—pensioners, those on supplementary incomes, poorer families and so on. Perhaps those Cabinet Ministers who are not monetarists will be able to explain to their consciences why they are willing to go along with policies that cause so much difficulty and hardship to millions of ordinary people.
Apart from electricity bills, poor people find difficulty in coping with inflation at 17½ per cent. Many of my constituents, who in the main earn less than the average income, say to me" Hardly a day goes by without the price of some item of food increasing."
These are the difficulties and hardships that are being faced. Undoubtedly, for many people it will be a bleak, cheerless Christmas and a bleak, cheerless 1980. The people to whom I am referring, those who have such a bleak, cheerless prospect ahead of them, are those with the most limited incomes. Before we go away until 14 January we should have an 370 opportunity to debate these matters, but perhaps what is far more important than debating them is a reversal of Government policy.
Now that the Government know the hardship that is involved—they know this because of the surveys that have been carried out—they should be willing to bring back the electricity discount scheme. They should be willing, in effect, to give the kind of assistance for which so many of my hon. Friends and myself have been pressing during the last six or seven months. I agree that there is not much reason for optimism, bearing in mind the kind of Government that we have in office, but I hope, nevertheless, that there will be some slight change of heart and that the Government will recognise the great hardship they are doing to the poorest in our community.
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
There are two issues that I wish to put before the House as reasons why we should not rise for the Christmas recess. The first of these is the plight of our universities in the present situation. It is my belief that we ought to have a debate on the problems facing our universities as a direct result of this Government's policies before we rise for the recess. Universities are under pressure from three directions. First, pressure is being applied because of the strict cash limits being imposed upon them. Secondly, the cutback in the number of students is putting great pressure on them. They have been told that they must cut back by about 6 per cent. the number of students, but they still need the same number of lecturing and back-up staff to keep the universities going, even though there may be fewer students within the organisation. I have already seen that situation myself as a lecturer in a college of education.
The third factor that affects universities is the demand that overseas students should pay the full economic fees to study in them. The new universities—those that have been established over the past 20 or 30 years—are in most difficulty. They do not have the support of endowments from people who left money to them. They have no cushion upon which they may act in the next few years. They rely almost entirely on Government finance.
371 Many of the students and workers at Strathclyde university come from my constituency. It must cut back its staff by possibly as much as 30 per cent. If it does not do so, by this time next year it will be £1 million in the red.
This afternoon I put a question about this matter to the relevant Minister. I gave him an illustration of the facts presented by Strathclyde university. For every three overseas students who do not take up places there because of the high fees they will be charged, one lecturer must be made redundant. For each lecturer made redundant, eight British students will not receive a university education. Those are facts. The Minister answered me by saying that my facts were pure supposition. He refused to answer the question.
I hope that the Leader of the House will relay these facts to the Minister involved. They were given to me by the vice-principal of Strathclyde university, who is in a much better position than the Minister to judge whether they are correct.
Strathclyde university feels threatened by Government policies. It is not alone. Other universities are involved. They do not specialise in social subjects. Within them the departments specialising in social subjects will not be most hard hit by the overseas students' problem. The technologicial departments, which the Government wish to encourage, producing mathematicians, scientists and engineers, are the departments to which the Government send overseas students and to which such students wish to come. They will be cut back as a result of Government policies. Both overseas students and our people will fail to obtain the technological education that society requires to progress and to redevelop our economy.
I wish to put forward a second reason why the House should not rise for the recess. I refer to the conditions of work of Members of Parliament. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be pleased that this one subject is directly related to his area of responsibility—or perhaps not, if my questions are rather awkward for him to answer.
When Boyle reported in the early summer, I understood that the part of the 372 report that dealt with secretarial and research assistance was only interim and that a second report would be forthcoming. The Government promised that there would be a report in the autumn, but it has not yet been published. It should be published and implemented before we rise for the Christmas Recess, so that Members of Parliament may do their job properly. We believe that the Boyle report will recommend the giving of large amounts towards research assistance. I have been in Parliament for only a short time. However, it is my experience that the sheer bulk of work that the Member of Parliament must carry out today in comparison with what he did in the past has increased enormously. I refer to the amount of legislation, including statutory instruments, that comes directly before the House and the enormous increase in papers and instruments from the EEC. They make it impossible for the Member of Parliament to do his job effectively without proper research assistance. The Boyle report should be published, and we should do something about it quickly so that Members of Parliament can start to do their job effectively.
We must also carefully examine the problems of office accommodation within the House. Perhaps some hon. Members who have been here much longer than myself and have moved on to the Front Benches now enjoy good office accommodation. Therefore, they do not feel the same pressure as hon. Members such as myself feel. I operate in a corridor—that is the only word for it—with 12 other Members of Parliament. I sit at a desk with another Member of Parliament sitting no less than one yard from me. I have one filing cabinet. I cannot operate in privacy. I cannot make telephone conversations about the personal matters of my constituents without other Members of Parliament overhearing what I am saying. I cannot do an effective job of properly monitoring the work of the Government, which is the role of a Back-Bench Member of Parliament, with out proper office accommodation.
Of course, I do not necessarily want to see a fancy building put up on the other side of Bridge Street. That may not be the answer. Perhaps that is too expensive. However, if the Government are cutting back drastically on the number 373 of civil servants operating in Whitehall, surely there will be surplus accommodation available in Whitehall, which could be given to Members of Parliament. Perhaps there is no such accommodation available. Perhaps the cutback in the number of civil servants applies only to those who do the work and not those who operate in Whitehall. Surely there is a case that must be met by the Government for providing better working conditions for Members of Parliament in the House.
I again raise a question that the Leader of the House did not answer when I last raised it. I refer to the question of parliamentary recesses. It is nonsense that we should rise at the end of this week and return on 14 January. Why 14 January? I accept that there is a holiday period for the next two weeks, covering Christmas and the new year. However, my 5-year-old son is expected to return to school on 7 January. He is only 5, but he is expected to do a full day's work. I see no reason why we should not come back at the same time, especially when the Government claim that they are under so much pressure.
The Easter Recess will probably be as long, if not longer. There will be a Whit sun Recess. Then there is the Summer Recess. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer this point on the previous occasion. If the Government are under such pressure, it will probably start in the middle of August, or certainly at the end of the first week in August. That seriously disadvantages Scottish Members of Parliament, as Scottish school holidays run from 1 July to the middle of August. I said previously that I saw no reason why the Summer Recess should not be properly organised so that we finished in the middle of July, returned for a three-week period in September, and then went into recess again for the conference period, returning in mid-October. That makes sense. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer that point on this occasion.
For those reasons, I feel that the House should not rise at the end of this week.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I am grateful for being called. I was sorry to be absent during the earlier part of the debate. However, the Select Committee 374 on statutory instruments does roll on. Statutory instruments must be examined, as hon. Members know.
There should be a debate on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act before the House rises, in particular because of a person's experiences that were brought to my notice. I refer to the son of one of my constituents, Patrick O'Hagan. An exclusion order was served on him saying that the Home Secretary was satisfied that he had been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. The remarkable thing about Mr. O'Hagan was that he was in prison in Belfast. The exclusion order was served while he was on parole.
This suggests, first, either that the Northern Ireland authorities are singularly lacking in judgment or that their prison service is extraordinarily slack. The contrary, however, is said to be the case. It has been argued vehemently from the Dispatch Box by successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland that prison conditions in Northern Ireland are superb in the preventive sense.
Mr. O'Hagan was released on parole on Monday 12 November. He came to this country with the approval of the prison governor to visit his parents while he was on parole. That visit was to be the precursor of his release early in December. He was met at Leeds-Bradford airport by armed Special Branch officers. They arrested him and took him to Horsforth police station.
When I inquired, it appeared that neither an inspector nor a sergeant was present at the police station. A constable had to explain to me that it was nothing to do with the police at Horsforth but was a Special Branch matter. I then received a message that the Home Office was dealing with the matter, and so I wrote to the Home Office asking for an explanation.
I have yet to hear from the Home Office why this decision was made. Mr. O'Hagan was held at Horsforth police station and at Armley gaol until Friday. An exclusion order was then served on him and he was taken back to gaol in Northern Ireland. At no time, therefore, was he out of police custody except for less than half a morning when he was taken by his sister direct from prison to Belfast airport.
375 Mr. O'Hagan is supposed to have committed these dreadful crimes in less than half a morning during most of which he was on board an aeroplane. It is an absurdity that this should have been visited upon him. It speaks badly either of the Home Secretary or of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Either way, I want to know who is culpable in this matter.
Following Mr. O'Hagan's arrest, the Special Branch no doubt believed that it should go a little wider. It arrested his brother, who has been living in my constituency for over two years and leading a peaceful and normal life. He, too, was served with an exclusion order and has now been forced back to Northern Ireland. These are quite extraordinary circumstances.
The O'Hagan family settled here in order to keep its distance from the difficulties and the troubles in Northern Ireland. As soon as one of the brothers of this large family came to visit his parents, he was, in my view, unfairly persecuted and forced to go back. He was never given an opportunity to see his parents, and he is now the subject of an exclusion order, as is his brother.
I want an explanation as to whether the prison service in Northern Ireland is ineffective or whether the prison authorities made a fair judgment in releasing Patrick O'Hagan on parole. If a fair judgment was made, why did the Home Office step in and send him back immediately to Northern Ireland after serving him with an exclusion order for acts which he must—by virtue of the date of that order—have committed whilst he was in prison? This is an important issue and I demand an answer.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Some of my hon. Friends have raised questions affecting the rights of individual citizens as did my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) and for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). They each raised important individual cases, and I believe that one of the reasons why the House of Commons decided not to abolish this part of its proceedings was that it enables such matters to be raised at short notice.
376 I hope that the Government will be able to reply, but if the Government cannot reply immediately there will have to be swift investigation of the questions which have been raised. That is a function of this Adjournment discussion, and the procedure should always be available.
Some of my hon. Friends have raised more general questions touching perhaps on individual cases but in a somewhat different sense. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), at the beginning of the debate, made some severe strictures on the Secretary of State for Industry.
I do not believe that that speech can be properly answered by the Leader of the House tonight. In saying that, I cast no aspersions on the right hon. Gentleman's capabilities. I am saying that the Government, and in particular the Secretary of State for Industry, should consider what was said by my right hon. Friend and make a statement on the subject to the House tomorrow. I believe that the Secretary of State for Industry, having read what my right hon. Friend said—and I am sorry that he was not here to hear what he said—will wish to come to the House to make his own statement and comments upon the serious accusations that were made by my right hon. Friend I hope that the Leader of the House will try to deal with the question in that way.
Another important issue was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I am not necessarily suggesting that a statement from the Minister of State, Treasury is the proper way of dealing with the matter, although it might be. I do not believe that that matter can be left to rest. Perhaps the Prime Minister should come and make a statement on that subject when she returns from the United States. If she is replying to questions on Thursday, she could make a statement on the subject then.
I do not believe that people will forget about that matter. Certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr gave notice that he will not forget it. When my hon. Friend says that he intends to pursue a matter to the end, we who knew him in the last Parliament know that he means what he says and that lie carries out what he says.
377 What my hon. Friend said is a matter of the first importance for the Government's consideration and I hope that they will find the best way of responding to what he said. As I say, I suggest that the best way is for the Prime Minister to make a statement on Thursday.
Many of my other hon. Friends have referred to some of the serious industrial problems that face the country. We had a debate on the question a few days ago, but these matters have intensified in seriousness since that debate. The policy of so-called non-intervention which the Government pretend to adopt in industrial affairs is, I suggest, becoming more and more serious in its consequences.
If the Government proceed in this fashion, we shall be in danger of experiencing a first-class industrial smash-up in this country, and we are heading for it swiftly. I know that the Prime Minister in particular prides herself, and the Government pride themselves, on not intervening in industrial issues. She talks as if this policy has brought success.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) says that it has been successful. The Prime Minister thinks it has been successful in the engineering dispute. It was not very successful. It cost this country hundreds of millions of pounds, it cost many firms thousands of pounds, and it cost many people their jobs. It inflicted serious injury upon our engineering industry. If the hon. Gentleman would look up the figures, he would discover that. If action had been taken much earlier, the dispute could have been avoided. The same applies to the industrial dispute—or, as I would call it, the industrial smash-up—which we are now heading for.
§ Mr. Lawrence
The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is being less than his usual fair self. Is he not aware that once firms, whether large or small, get into the habit of thinking that the Government will not have recourse to their bottomless purse and bail employers out, the wage settlement levels will be more reasonable and more consistent with controlling inflation?
§ Mr. Foot
There has been no sign so far of success on the level of wage settlements on that basis. Wage levels have 378 been soaring up, not down. The hon. Member for Burton and the Government seem not to realise that inflation is running at between 17 per cent. and 19 per cent. It is no good the hon. Member for Burton shaking his head. This is a serious matter. The experience of the last six months is not evidence of how wise it is for the Government not to interfere. The Government's policy has cost huge sums of money in the aggravation of disputes, in the settlements reached at the end of the day and in the injury done to industry.
The engineering industry dispute is a classic example. Many days have been lost and huge confusion and great bitterness between industries and firms have been caused. All that could have been avoided if the Government had said from the start "Let us see whether we can use conciliation or arbitration to settle the dispute." There are many examples of how disputes could have been avoided.
When the Labour Government came to office in 1974 we were threatened with serious trouble in the engineering industry, but we solved the problem. We did not experience the aggravation which surrounds the present dispute.
Because of the Government's attitude, a serious dispute is almost certain to begin on 2 January. My hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Neath (Mr. Coleman) have referred to this. That dispute will have serious effects on the steel industry, British industry as a whole, the balance of payments and the economy. That dispute is a result of the way in which the British Steel Corporation dealt with the matter and the way in which it made the so-called offer to the union. Any union placed in such a position, particularly one with such long experience, is bound to react in that way. The union was offered something which, in a sense, was no offer at all. There were possibilities of a settlement, but that was concealed in the way in which BSC presented its proposals. Nothing could be more ham-handed than the way in which the BSC dealt with the matter, unless it is the Government's attitude to the issue.
The Government should have seen what was happening from the beginning. They could have sought a settlement. That is what must happen eventually. There must be a settlement if the country is not to 379 be wrecked by the so-called non-intervention policy. Intervention will have to be resorted to at some stage. However, will the intervention take place before 2 January, or will the Government leave it until the first week or the fourth week after Christmas, when we shall have sunk deeper into one industrial crisis after another?
The Government do not seem to have understood that many other industries are involved. The coal industry is deeply involved. The National Union of Mineworkers in South Wales and elsewhere has made its attitude clear. If there is an attempt to close down a large number of pits as a result of the Government's general policy, there will be a direct clash between the Government's policy and the attitude of the miners. The miners of South Wales and elsewhere will not sit by and allow pits to be closed one after the other. If the House believes that they will, it has another think coming.
We are heading for the most serious industrial crisis for several years. The Government are saying that they take no interest in it. They are injecting the morals and imagination of Pontius Pilate into a system of government. That is how we are drifting into 1980. Apparently no member of the Government has shown a semblance of appreciation of the situation.
§ Mr. Foot
First, I should try to ensure that we prevent the strike in the steel industry on 2 January. I should say, and the Government should say, to the British Steel Corporation that it should enter into fresh negotiations with the steel union. The Government should initiate talks and conciliation. Perhaps such talks and conciliation are already in progress. If they are not, that is a criminal act on the part of the Government. I give the Government credit by assuming that someone in the Government has enough sense to realise that we are talking about an event which will cause economic disaster.
One of the issues at stake is coking coal. That product is subsidised by most other countries. I do not see why we should not subsidise coking coal for a period of time. The Government should say that they think that it is madness to 380 allow pits to go out of existence, when the world faces an energy crisis and when the price of oil is soaring again, and that they intend to ensure that coking coal is bought from British pits. The Government should say that they are prepared to take the necessary measures to ensure that that happens. That is one intelligent action which the Government should have taken already.
By itself, that would not solve the problem of the steel strike, but it is a remedy. The spokesman for the BSC uttered rather careless and foolish words, but negotiation could take place in the different plants. An offer other than the 2 per cent. offer could be made. That could be done on a national basis rather than on an individual basis.
If that happened and an intelligent, conciliatory mind were applied, we could avoid the catastrophe of a steel strike on 2 January. If that strike occurs, after all the warnings, the responsibility will rest not with the steel workers or the BSC but with the Government, because they have folded their hands and allowed us to drift into that strike.
Before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess, the Government should make a statement to the House and the country about what they intend to do to prevent the national catastrophe of a steel strike. In order to stop that strike, the Government must give to the steel workers and their leaders the means to stop it. That does not mean conceding everything that they demand. It means that there must be intelligent negotiations and discussions. So far as I know, nothing of that sort is happening at present.
Beyond that, even if we succeed in stopping that strike by intelligent means—that is, with no winner but by a means which allows us to escape—we shall still be left with the BSC proposals and the far-reaching consequences that they have for our coal industry. It would be utter madness, at a time of such a worldwide energy crisis, to allow our coal industry to be thrust into decline and for one pit after another to be threatened with closure. That will happen if the Government proceed with their present policy.
The responsibility for the combined effects of the steel and coal crisis, not only in Wales but all over the country—although the extreme severity of the 381 crisis is hitting Wales—will rest with the Government. It will not rest even with the British Steel Corporation, although that organisation has made many mistakes. It will not rest with the trade unions, which have done their best over many years. No one can say that the steel unions have acted in an irresponsible or shameful manner. They have been the most moderate unions in the country. The Government's conciliatory methods have been so skilled that they have aroused the ire and hostility of the most moderate unions in the country. Anyone who examines the facts will realise that.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman says that we left the cupboard bare. I do not know from where he gets those peculiar metaphors. The cupboard of the country in the next decade will be very much barer if in the next six months we take those steps to wreck our coal and steel industries. In a worldwide slump, a Government with any intelligence would take special measures to protect our great industries and would not inflict upon them the further gratuitous injuries which this Government have allowed to be hurled upon them.
I emphasise that Labour Members are warning the Government and the country that we are heading for dangerous times. So far the Government are saying nothing. Perhaps they can say something by Thursday. Perhaps the Prime Minister should comment on these matters, instead of claiming that these great industries can be left to batter themselves to pieces.
I wish to comment on some other aspects of the way in which the Government are leading the country. I remember the debates just before the Summer Recess. I asked about the Government's proposals to reduce the overseas broadcasts of the BBC and about the way in which one of their miserable little economies would prevent the BBC from carrying out its excellent service of broadcasting to many foreign countries. I believe that the countries to which it broadcasts—I know that the broadcasts are not always in English—are the countries in which the English language is our most precious asset. I was amazed that the Government were prepared to contemplate injuring that precious position. That 382 was only one measure. The total amount of cuts that the Government have made in similar fields is appalling.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) spoke about the cutting off of aid for overseas students at British universities. The Government should be ashamed of such action, which will inflict serious injury. It cannot be estimated exactly in pounds, shillings and pence, because it is more valuable even than that, particularly at the rate of inflation inflicted by the Government. The association between our universities and other universities of the world will be considerably injured. It has always been one of our great strengths that students from all over the world could attend our universities.
The Government are also inflicting an injury upon the British Council, which carries out considerable work all over the world in trying to encourage and spread the reading and use of the English language. To put it on its very lowest basis, the English language is the best trading advantage of this country. This brilliant Tory Government now say that we must cut that service. If their policy is carried out, the teaching and encouragement of the English language all over the world will be injured by the pusillanimous economies that they have forced through.
The Government have also injured the purchase and sale of books. It is almost as if we have a Government of book haters and book burners. The number of books that are not being sold, thanks to Government policy, is mounting. That applies not only to schools but to libraries up and down the country. Books sent out by publishers are being returned to them on a scale that they have not known for generations. The publishing industry is threatened with its biggest crisis for years, primarily because of the tax cuts and policies which the Government are imposing without any consideration of the effects. If the Government have any doubts about the truth and seriousness of what I say, they should examine the letters on the subject sent by the Publishers Association to the Foreign Office and to many Ministers.
The publishing industry has a fine record in exports and in sustaining the reputation of the country. It has a fine record in ensuring that our position in the 383 world shall be sustained by something far more valuable than armies and empires and by methods which are not imperialist or subjugative. It is the most precious possession that we have given to the world. In six months this Government have done more to ensure the injury of the way in which the English language can be taught, spread and honoured all over the world than any Government in modern times.
The Leader of the House should look at all the facts, add them together and try to get this barbarian Cabinet to turn its back on such action. There are so many monetarists in the Cabinet that it is a wonder there is any room for the barbarians. I suppose that there is a great deal of overlapping between the two. I do not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being in either category, but he is probably the only member of the Cabinet who is not. I hope that he will look seriously at what is happening to the publishing trade and the dissemination of books. After the Christmas Recess, I hope that he will put a proposal to repair the damage already done. When he does so, I hope that he will examine the consultative document on public lending rights. It was a consultative document on a measure passed by the last Parliament, designed to restore at long last the rights of authors.
The right hon. Gentleman agrees with me about the principle of the Act, but what he is proposing in his consultative document would make the principle almost worthless. I do not say that it would be absolutely worthless, because the establishment of the principle is a beginning, but his proposals are miserable and squalid. He has not listened to those who know about these things, such as the people in the Writers' Action Group, who have for years been urging on him how to deal with the matter. Many of the arguments that we have put forward have been set aside in the consultative document.
I give the right hon. Gentleman the benefit of my consultation here and now. I suggest that he should take back the consultative document. He should go back to the Cabinet and say that something much better is wanted. He should bring forward a real proposal for carrying into effect the public lending right, 384 to ensure that authors in this country get their rights under the measure.
I fully acknowledge my own interest in the matter. I am interested in authors getting their rights. I have counted myself among their number in the past and may do so in the future. One never knows. We should not have to argue on this matter. It is a serious one and it lies well within the right hon. Gentleman's power to put it right speedily.
I trust that he will come back to the House after the recess and tell us that he has looked at all the matters concerning the sale of books to children, to universities, to our libraries and to people overseas. I trust that he will look carefully at all the measures taken by his Government in the past six months which have injured this process. I trust that he will produce the few million pounds out of this miserly Government that would put the matter right. It would show that what we say in the House of Commons can have some effect.
Over and above that, I urge the right hon. Gentleman, even before we come to the recess, to ensure that the Prime Minister, when she returns from Washington, will come to the House and tell us whether she intends to allow this country to drift into the sort of steel and coal clash and crisis that I have described, or whether she will do her duty and try to intervene to save the country from the catastrophe which would follow if the Government were to persist in their present course.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I am tempted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) into his more apocalyptic passages, but I have a rather more important if less exciting task to perform. I have to answer the detailed points that have been raised by more than 16 hon. Members in the course of the debate.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was totally unjustified in suggesting that there would not be a serious reply from this Dispatch Box to the points raised in the debate. If he had attended the other two Adjournment debates to which I have replied, he would know that within the limits of the time 385 available I have attempted to answer fully and seriously every point that has been raised by hon. Members. If he received a flea in his ear from the secretary of Rolls-Royce I am not surprised, if he approached him in the way that he approached me. However, having said that, it is Christmas time and I forgive him.
I simply did not recognise general Government policy in the caricature that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale put before us. He compared Government policy to that of Pontius Pilate. It is an easy enough reference to make—and not a particularly original one, if I may so—but the whole essence of the standpoint of Pontius Pilate was a denial of responsibility, whereas the whole policy of the Government is an affirmation of responsibility. While it is the Government's job to create a framework, it is for responsible people, within that framework, to reach agreements that are within their interest, taking into account the national interest as well. The Government stand for a responsible policy, whereas the right hon. Gentleman's Government created irresponsibility by their endless meddling. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the wordsBy their fruits ye shall know them.The fruit of that meddling, intervention and incomes policy piled upon incomes policy was the chaos of last winter. Whatever the shortcomings of Conservative Government policy may have been, we have not reached that stage.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The hon. Gentleman says "Yet" with a certain amount of relish. After all, what everyone in this House wants or should want is the good and peace of the country and the prosperity of the country.
I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale refer to the word "moderate" as an appalling word. Would be he prefer the word "extremist"? Is that a word that would find favour with him?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The right hon. Gentleman cannot determine our vocabulary by the internal schisms within the Labour Party. Words have a wider meaning than that. We cannot devalue the English language—of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke so eloquently a moment ago—in that way. Perhaps I may remind him of the words of Walter Bagehot and at the same time thank him for the review that he gave of my volumes recently in Books and Booktnen. Walter Bagehot said that in England it is the middle principles that matter. I hope that we shall never reach a position in which the word "moderate" becomes a term of reproach and opprobrium.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on his remarks about the English language. I cannot allow him to claim that there is a monopoly of concern on the Labour Benches for the future of the English language. It is one of the great achievements, one of the great wonders, of history that the language spoken by a few thousand people originally on a fog-enshrouded island on the edge of the North Sea should have become the language of international communication throughout the world. That is a great wonder, a great achievement and a great asset for this country. It is a great asset for our trade. It is a great asset in spreading the values for which this country traditionally stands.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the British Council. The British Council has had to make economies, as we have all had to do in every sphere of British life, because we have been living beyond our means for such a long time. But the economies that the British Council is making are not in the teaching of the English language. It is preserving its activity in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman's example was a singularly ill-chosen one on which to base his indictment.
Public lending right is, of course, an important issue, but it is not the main one before the county at the present time. We are following exactly the timetable laid down by the right hon. Gentleman's Government. I know his devotion to public lending right. I attended the party that he gave in celebration of the measure reaching the statute book. I pay tribute to him. I will be more generous to him than he was to me and pay tribute to 387 him for his part in getting that reform on to the statute book.
What is my return for my generosity to the right hon. Gentleman? It is to be denounced for what he called the miserable and squalid consultative document that I published earlier this week. I must ask him for further and better particulars.
What are the miserable and squalid proposals in that document? It is very easy to call something miserable and squalid. Is it miserable and squalid to suggest that foreign authors should participate in this right? That is a strange judgment, coming from the leader of internationalism in the Labour Party. Is it because I suggest that the amount taken out of the fund by any author should be limited to a maximum of £1,000? That is a strange denunciation from someone who I know is the apostle of egalitarianism. Surely that is a provision of elementary fairness, so that someone does not scoop the pool.
Is it because I suggest that there should be a more accurate sample, so that the earnings of authors can be more accurately assessed? Is it because I suggest that in the future reference books should be included, if possible? Are those the squalid and miserable proposals to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? In fact, he has indulged in rhetoric rather than in fact.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a few questions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rhetorical questions."] I thought that they might be. I said that the Act was miserable, first, because it does not provide enough money to do the job. Secondly, the proposals in the right hon. Gentleman's consultative document will mean that even that small amount will be divided into even smaller amounts eventually. He also might have looked more carefully at how the expenses of the scheme will take away some of the money from the authors. The bureaucracy is far too heavy.
I am all in favour of foreign authors getting some money eventually, but, as the scheme was started on such a small basis, I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman's generosity would ensure that the scheme worked first in this coun- 388 try and that others could be included later. Those are the answers to some of his rhetorical questions. If he puts down a few more questions, he can have the lot. We could even have a debate on the subject. But I plead with him not to ruin the whole principle and objective by the squalid way in which he is going about this.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I can hardly believe my ears. Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously uttering those sentences and claiming to believe in those sentiments? He said that the amount of money was too little, yet it is the exact amount of money that was written on the face of the Act by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member. That figure is £2 million, which will be raised in accordance with revisions relating to inflation and the change in the value of money. What is squalid about that? The right hon. Gentleman is denouncing himself if he is denouncing me.
As to the cost of running the scheme, that is the exact amount of money that was estimated by the previous Government. It may well be too much, and I shall try to reduce it, but it is no good denouncing me as being squalid and miserable when the proposals that I have outlined are the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman advanced. That is that. QED—quod erat demonstrandum.
I turn away from public lending right. I know of the passionate intensity with which the right hon. Gentleman and myself regard public lending right, but I cannot claim that it is an interest that is shared by every hon. Member. No one would thank me if I turned the debate on the recess into a general debate on the future of public lending right.
I turn to the right hon. Member for Ardwick, who made a ferocious and totally unfair attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. He went into a number of details with regard to the statements that my right hon. Friend had made about his meetings with members of the NEB, and so on. My right hon. Friend is quite capable of defending himself—and, indeed, has already done so—against attacks in regard to the points that were raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Kaufman rose—389
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Just a minute. It is for my right hon. Friend to reply in detail to the right hon. Gentleman in respect of those meetings by whatever means is open to him. I should like to say a word about the criticism that the Secretary of State accepted Sir Kenneth Keith's resignation, which the right hon. Gentleman said constitutionally my right hon. Friend was not entitled to do. I commend to the right hon. Gentleman a careful study of my right hon. Friend's reply to Sir Kenneth, a copy of which has been published. The letter states:I have informed Sir Leslie Murphy that naturally I understand your wish, after seven years' service with Rolls-Royce, to concentrate your energies on your private sector interests.The Secretary of State did not accept the resignation; he made clear something quite different—his understanding of Sir Kenneth's wish to resign, and he advised Sir Leslie Murphy immediately. I find it difficult to accept that that is a ground for criticism.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of the memorandum of understanding between the NEB and Rolls-Royce as though it were a set of rules that were binding on the Secretary of State. If he studies the memorandum with the care that he applied to the other documents that he quoted, he will see that it was precisely a memorandum of understanding between a company and a public corporation.
There is no way in which such a document can bind the Secretary of State, who was not even a party to it. Of course, I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the personal points that have been made in the debate, but with that brief explanation I hope that I have made it clear that the right hon. Gentleman's allegations are far from justified.
The right hon. Gentleman may care to know that the board of Rolls-Royce decided today that Sir Frank McFadzean will succeed Sir Kenneth Keith as chairman of the board.
§ Mr. Kaufman
In his earlier remarks, the right hon. Gentleman indicated that somehow I was mistaken in believing that I would get an unsatisfactory, cursory and flippant reply. That is precisely what I have received, through no fault of the right hon. Gentleman. All that has hap- 390 pened is that he has had a note passed to him by an official from the Department of Industry, who was placed in the Box by the Secretary of State, who did not wish to attend himself, although he walked out of a meeting of Standing Committee E apparently to come here.
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he knows nothing whatever about these matters. That is why it is essential that I receive a reply from someone who does. First, the right hon. Gentleman said that I referred to meetings with the NEB. I referred to no such meetings. Secondly, he totally fails to understand the significance of the Secretary of State's accepting a letter of resignation from the chairman of Rolls-Royce without the knowledge of the chairman of NEB, when it was the NEB that had the relationship with Rolls-Royce and the Government did not. Thirdly—[Interruption.] These are much more important matters than the stupid grumbles of the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). The right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he is totally unfitted to reply to my speech, because he referred to my having somehow complained that the memorandum of understanding was not observed. It is not a matter of concern to me that the memorandum of understanding—
§ Mr. Lawrence
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this not an abuse of the procedures of the House?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have listened with great attention. I think that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was trying to answer some of the points that were put to him, and I hope that he will come to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not a matter of concern whether the memorandum of understanding—[Interruption.] Perhaps the Leader of the House will pay attention, since he was clearly not interested in truth or fact. I was saying before I was interrupted that the point that I wished to make was that the Secretary of State was not telling the truth in relation to keeping the memorandum of understanding, not that he had broken it. It is clear that the Secretary of State did not tell the truth. He should explain that to the House and apologise for it.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am sorry that I gave way to the right hon. Gentleman. The repetition of a distortion adds nothing to the knowledge of the House. Certainly, the right hon. Gentleman has learnt nothing from my reply. As to his references to the points raised by other hon. Members, it may be that their points seem of petty importance to the right hon. Gentleman, but they are not of petty importance—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said. Every point raised in the debate is of importance, and it is of special importance to the hon. Member who raises it.
§ Mr. Kaufman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are in charge of order in the House, it is important that the House should accept that in no way did I criticise the speech of the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). I was responding to the way in which he shouted.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is a novel point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I turn to the important contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) on airports policy. The Government felt it right to make their preliminary views known when the reports of the study group and the advisory committee were published in order to alleviate the anxiety and concern which existed at the five other short-listed sites. The Government have reached a preliminary view only about the public inquiry. The purpose of the inquiry will be to enable the wider social and environmental factors to be properly examined. The conduct of the inquiry and the decision about what is relevant will be matters for the inspector. I expect that he will wish to examine relevant alternatives to the expansion of Stansted.
I do not expect the British Airports Authority to be in a position to submit a planning application before the summer of 1980. Other parties will have time to prepare their cases, and the inquiry may start sometime in 1981. Repeated surveys have shown that about 80 per cent. of passengers using the London airports have origins or destinations in the 392 South-East. That excludes those who spend a night in London solely because they are travelling to or from the airport. The study group report explains the developments that will be needed as traffic expands. Improvement will be made to the railway, and, eventually, a direct link to the airport should be provided. The M25 and M11 will provide a high standard of road access to central London.
I turn to the question of the steel industry, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Members for Neath (Mr. Coleman) and Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). The object of the BSC is a return to profitability and viability by an early date. The Government welcome that determination. The future of individual steelworks is a matter for the corporation to decide in the light of its need to achieve that target. The Government have shown their determination to help to attract new jobs to Shotton and to Corby. Among other measures, Shotton will become a special development area and Corby will become a development area. We shall give careful consideration to special measures to alleviate the impact on areas that may be affected by further major closures or redundancies. The question of investment in the River Don works was raised by the hon. Member for Attercliffe. I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, but, while it is a matter of concern, it is a matter for the BSC rather than for the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) raised the issue of foreign affairs. He made particular reference to Iran. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the President of the United States yesterday, the United States can count on our full support and understanding in its efforts to secure the release of the hostages. I was delighted—as I am sure many hon. Members were—by my right hon. Friend's strong, friendly and robust support for the United States in this extremely difficult situation. It is what is expected from a friend and ally. People need support when they are in difficulties and not when they are in safe water.
I turn to the question of devolution and fishing, which were raised by the 393 right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). As he will know, I have written to representatives of the Labour, Liberal and Scottish National Parties inviting them to take part in talks about the government of Scotland. All their replies have now been received and the Government are considering them.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be a debate on fishing, and I am aware that there are a number of Community documents recommended for debate by the Scrutiny Committee. I am sure that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has in mind the Government's undertaking to honour such undertakings for debate and will bring the matter to the House at the appropriate time.
I turn to the questions of devolution land and the important contribution made by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), who, rightly, is deeply concerned about the continuing violence in Northern Ireland, which this House wholeheartedly condemns, and about the future of the Northern Ireland constitutional conference. We certainly hope that that conference will succeed, and there will be an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the matter at Question Time on Thursday.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the United States Administration and Iran, and the failure of the United States to provide arms for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. These two issues are not directly related. Relationships between States that have been firm allies for a long time do not depend on tit-for-tat arrangements. I have no doubt that the House sympathises with the American hostages and their families. However, as to arms for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Prime Minister left the President in no doubt of the need to bring the present review of the grant of an export licence for revolvers to a quick and positive outcome, and in that she has the full support of the House.
§ Mr. Kilfedder rose—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I do not think that I can give way, because I have many other points to cover.
I turn to the intervention of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who raised the question of general standards of conduct in public 394 life—the Salmon report of 1976. He made specific reference to the position of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Treasury and held that his position was untenable because of the career that he had previously pursued at the Bar, and asked that he be removed to another Ministry. That may be the hon. Gentleman's view, but he did not produce a shred of an argument to establish it. My hon. and learned Friend, like many members of the Bar, has advised and appeared for a wide range of clients, including the Inland Revenue. There is no inconsistency in having exercised a professional career in that area as a member of the Bar and his ministerial responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman made specific mention of Rossminster, but I point out to him—it is an important point—that the Revenue deparments do not consult Treasury Ministers on individual cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) raised the question of the Vietnamese boat people and refugees. In response to appeals to the Government, permanent housing has been offered by local authorities, housing associations and others. Thanks to the generous response, at present there is sufficient housing to meet immediate needs, but the resettlement programme requires a continuing flow of offers. I am proud of the initiative taken by the Government in that respect and even prouder of the immediate response by so many associations, individuals and local authorities all over the country.
On the question of repayment of fares and promisory notes, we have no present information about refugees being required to sign such notes. However, if my hon. Friend will provide details of any instances I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to examine the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) raised the question of the Falkland Islands. We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Islands and their dependencies. The restoration of ambassadors in Argentina and diplomatic relations announced in November does not affect our position in any way.
A number of hon. Members raised questions concerning the police. They included the hon. Members for Oldham, 395 West (Mr. Meacher), for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) and Keighley (Mr. Cryer). Even though the hon. Member for Oldham, West is not present, the points that he raised are of general interest and affect the points raised by the hon. Members for Vauxhall and Keighley, and I thank those two Members for their courtesy in having waited to hear the answer to the points that they raised.
All deaths of people in police custody are reported to the coroner and an inquest is held unless he decides that it is unnecessary or inappropriate. Any allegations of violence by the police are fully investigated and, in accordance with the Police Acts, the report is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his independent consideration and decision on the question whether a prosecution should be instituted. A report is subsequently sent to the Police Complaints Board for its independent consideratiin on the need for possible disciplinary action.
In the case of Jimmy Kelly, which was specifically mentioned, the investigation report is currently under consideration by the Director. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has therefore concluded that at present there can be no question of setting up a public inquiry, which would be likely to depend for its effectiveness on promises of immunity from prosecution made to potential witnesses.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall raised the case of Mr. Daly. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already written to the hon. Member about the treatment of this prisoner and the reasons for his transfer from Brixton prison. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has also written to the hon. Member about the timing of the retrial.
If Mr. Daly, or the hon. Member for Vauxhall on his behalf, has any complaint about treatment by the police—whether in the context of operation Countryman or otherwise—the proper course is for the hon. Member to bring that to the notice of the chief officer of police concerned, who will arrange for it to be investigated in accordance with the procedures prescribed by Parliament.
With regard to the case of Mr. O'Hagan, which was raised by the hon. Member for Keighley, I will bring the questions raised by the hon. Member to 396 the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and ask him to communicate directly with the hon. Member.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) raised general questions about the effect of Government policy on the regions, particularly Wales. I make it clear that we are prepared to consider the case for upgrading the status of specific areas if there are substantial changes in their circumstances. It is essential for resources to be concentrated on areas with the greatest need. The problems of the Welsh economy are recognised by the fact that 90 per cent. of the working population lives in areas that continue to have assisted area status.
I turn now to the question raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about the problems faced by old people during the winter, particularly the problem of hypothermia. It is a very grave problem for all old people and it is essential that it is recognised as such by as many people as possible. The Government have not played the heartless role that was adumbrated by the hon. Member. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services told the House on 22 October, when we came to office we discovered that the previous Government had made no provision for helping poor families with their fuel bills during the coming winter. We have no doubt that the right course, when one has limted resources, is to concentrate help on those who need it most—that is, elderly people and families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement.
§ Mr. Winnick rose—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I do not blame the hon. Member for feeling strongly on this matter. However, he has asked the question and must give me an opportunity to answer it.
From 12 November all supplementary pensioner householders over 75 or with a dependant who is over 75, and all 397 supplementary benefit householders with a child under 5, will automatically receive an extra heating addition of 95p. For those who are not already getting such an addition this will mean an extra £50 a year in a full year, as against the average payment of only £7.50 made under last year's electricity discount scheme. That shows that it is much more sensible to concentrate help on those who need it most, so that it can have the maximum effect. Families on family income supplement will get an extra £1 a week. It is estimated that the scheme will cost an extra £16.5 milion and it will benefit 345,000 families and pensioners.
§ Mr. Winnick rose—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
No, I will not give way. I still have a number of points to answer and I am running into the time that should be given to the Consolidated Fund Bill.
I turn to the important points that were raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) about universities. He spoke specifically about overseas students and referred to the university of Strathclyde. On the general points about universities and their financing, I share the hon. Member's concern about the future. The relevant White Paper, Cmnd. 7746, sets out Government policy on financing in a sentence that gives a clear picture of our intentions. It is:The resources available for home students in higher education will be about the same in 1980–81 as in 1979–80.I certainly believe that the universities are the crown of our education system. However, it does not follow from that that there must be unlimited expansion of university places. We have come to the end of that period of expansion. That period would have ended irrespective of the Government in power. It is now a question of consolidating the gains of the past and maintaining high standards rather than moving into a new phase of expansion.
We have had no indication that student levels will drop because of the increased costs, and overseas students already on courses will still be subsidised at the appropriate rates. The hon. Member for Cathcart has told us of his conversations with representatives of the university of Strathclyde. Although I have no direct responsibility in this matter, I retain my 398 interest in the universities and particularly in the position of overseas students. I am assured by those whom I have consulted in the universities that, while the increase in fees may result in a temporary fall in the number of overseas students, the position will soon right itself again because the majority of these students are doing postgraduate courses They come here because of the high standards of tuition that they receive in our universities, and they are unlikely to be deterred by a revision of the fees.
The hon. Member went on to raise important points about the working of this House. I have direct responsibility for that. He mentioned recesses and criticised our arrangements. Goodness knows, those arrangements are not perfect, but I do not think that it is right to suggest that a recess is merely a holiday. It is not. Hon. Members need time to visit their constituencies and to catch up on their reading. Members of Parliament today work longer hours than at any previous time in our history. I believe that we are the most overworked section of the population, although people may not appreciate that. It is a fact that no one else would work the hours that we work. We literally work around the clock. Of course, I agree that the salaries and conditions should be improved. We have improved the salaries of Members, quite rightly, and not before time. I hope that we have now put that matter on a permanent basis.
On the question of secretaries and research assistants, I agree that hon. Members must have the means to discharge their functions. That is not given to hon. Members for themselves. It is given so that we can be efficient servants of the people who have sent us here. We have not yet received the Boyle report on secretaries and research assistants. There is no delay by the Government. The report has not arrived. I have made inquiries from time to time. My latest intelligence is that the Boyle committee is still taking evidence. I can, however, give the undertaking that when the report is received the Government will act upon it quickly.
I share the concern expressed about the conditions under which hon. Members of this House have to work. It is ridiculous that hon. Members should not have their own offices. It is absurd, in 399 a modern legislature, that secretaries should frequently be housed in another building miles away from where hon. Members are working. It is a ridiculous anachronism that there should not be a room for each hon. Member. In some rooms there are 14 hon. Members at desks. That is no way to run a modern and efficient legislature. We are in a situation, however, where we have to face financial constraints. Everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. We in this House have to do the same.
I am doing my best, in conjunction with the Services Committee, to see that within the parameters of inadequate accommodation in which we necessarily move the allotment to hon. Members is made as fairly as possible. We try to improve the accommodation problem as much as possible. I hope that eventually our economic situation will improve, so that we will be able to provide the new accommodation that is the only long-term solution to the problems of hon. Members.
I have dealt with the 16 or so hon. Members who raised points. I do not say that I have answered all their points satisfactorily. I have done what I can. I will now get out of the way and allow the debate on the Consolidated Fund to proceed, wishing hon. Members on both sides of the House, when they depart on Friday, a happy Christmas.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 14 January.