HC Deb 18 January 1979 vol 960 cc1970-88
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will report to to the House on developments in the arrangements for ensuring that essential supplies and services are maintained.

As the House knows, the broad picture has been one of some deterioration in the last day or so in the supply situation, though the extent of this varies from region to region.

Food shortages are becoming more marked all over the country, more so in some regions than others. There has been some improvement in supplies of salt, but in some areas there are difficulties in the supply of some basic manufactured foodstuffs, such as sugar and margarine.

As to animal feedingstuffs, there has been or is expected to be some improvement in Humberside and in Wales, though the situation at Hull remains critical. The general situation is still, however, one of growing shortage.

On the health side, there are reports of difficulties in supply to hospitals as a result of production disruptions at suppliers.

Looking at industry as a whole, layoffs have increased in some degree. Many industries and firms face problems in the supply of raw materials and in the storage of stocks of products, which are not being moved out to customers.

Many of these problems are the result of secondary picketing. Picketing is not being confined to drivers and vehicles in the hire and reward section of the industry, and it is interfering with the movement of essential supplies and services covered by the list of priorities that we have agreed with the unions concerned. I have had reports from chief officers of police about the conduct of the picketing. On the whole it remains peaceful, but there are beginning to be some exceptions to that, and there have in some instances been signs of intimidation.

The police, as always, will carry out their responsibilities under the law. But the need is to confine the picketing in accordance with the code of practice described by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Arrangements have been made, under my direction, for Government officials and senior officials of the Transport and General Workers' Union to meet, so that any problems relating to priority supplies or extension of the dispute to unauthorised areas that are reported to the Government from the regions can be taken up forthwith with union officials. Monitoring meetings will be held daily, and the Government and the union officials will maintain continuing contacts.

The implementation of the code of practice on picketing to be issued by the Transport and General Workers' Union and the monitoring arrangements that I have described to the House would lead to an early and marked improvement in the movement of essential supplies and services all over the country. As my right hon. Friend has said, the Government believe that the balance of advantage lies in those voluntary measures to control the dispute and maintain priority supplies rather than in the Government's introducing direct emergency action. But we continue to be ready to call on the assistance of the Services or to proclaim a state of emergency if need be, and the necessary contingency plans for this are at a very high state of readiness.

As for the unofficial dispute in the London ambulance service, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have already made contingency plans for emergency arrangements to be provided by the Services, if this should prove necessary.

On the question of water, in the Pennine division the North-West water authority is maintaining piped water supplies to the vast majority of the population with industry. Of 350,000 households in the division, about 2,200 are without piped water owing to burst mains that have not been repaired. Most of these are scattered across the division in small groups. No one is without access to water. Standpipes have been erected for all except a few properties. Elsewhere, people are able to go to neighbours down the street. Sewage is a difficult matter. Nearly all sewage treatment plants are fully working, but it has been necessary to divert into the river parts of the flow at Bolton. Water flow in the river is reducing the effects of pollution.

Negotiations on pay in the water industry are taking place today and we must await the outcome. However, I can assure the House that there are contingency arrangements to help the North-West water authority at short notice.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that on Monday he said: We are not near a crisis"?—[Official Report, 15th January 1979; Vol. 960, c. 1328.] Surely his statement today and that of his right hon. Friend, and everything that is happening in this country, must convince even him that we now are. He will also remember that on Monday, on behalf of the Opposition, I promised full cooperation to the Government in any measures that they undertook to maintain essential supplies. Does the right hon. Gentleman not equally have to admit today the harsh reality that his own statement shows that the Government have not succeeded in carrying out their duty of maintaining essential supplies? Feedingstuffs are still not getting through as they should, there are mounting lay-offs, and the result is that in failing to maintain essential supplies the Government have actually failed the nation.

Will the Home Secretary now make clear his position in respect of chief constables of police? Has he issued any advice to them? If not, why not? In view of the arrangements that have been made about picketing with the Transport and General Workers' Union, should not the chief officers of police be advised by the Home Secretary exactly what those arrangements are?

Next, if he believes that the best way of proceeding—which is a very dubious way—is by these monitoring meetings, will he at least be prepared to make sure that the police are associated with those monitoring meetings and know what is going on and what is being arranged?

Next, in reference to the water situation, is it not pretty poor comfort to people in the areas concerned to be told that they are able to go to their neighbours down the street, in some of the weather we are having at the present time, in order to obtain water?

Lastly, is it not very eloquent testimony to the mounting chaos that we have today that a statement on maintaining essential services in industrial disputes makes no reference at all to the national rail strike today?

In these circumstances, will the Home Secretary undertake in all these matters to make a further statement to the House tomorrow?

Mr. Rees

I shall deal first with the matter of the police. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised it, because I can refer to what the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said earlier, since I have checked on the point that she made.

Mr. Michael Morris

Get on with it.

Mr. Rees

That is just what I am going to do. It is rather complicated, so perhaps hon. Gentlemen will listen.

Mr. Morris

It is a quite simple matter; there is no need to draw a diagram.

Mr. Rees

The point at issue is that I do not have powers to instruct the police. The right hon. Lady did not know that. The right hon. Lady then, and the right hon. Gentleman now, said that I could advise the police, so I checked on the occasion referred to. The right hon. Lady talked about a circular. There was no circular. All that happened was that the Secretary of State of the day met some Labour Members of Parliament during the miners' strike. They said "Why do not the police locally get together with the officials?" A telex went down the line saying that the Labour Members of Parliament advised that there should be co-operation locally. There was no circular; there was no advice. I am quite prepared to spell that out. The right hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman have got it wrong.

All I propose to do is to advise down the line of the existence of the debate in the House today and what the right hon. Gentleman said. I cannot tell them what to do; in no way can that be done. There was no circular in the way the right hon. Lady suggested in the House the other day, and I have a letter here spelling it out.

With regard to the reality of the situation, I have no contingency arrangements that I want to deal with with regard to a railway strike. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will think about it, the judgment I have to make when I advise my colleagues, as I did a week or two ago when I was responsible for the oil position, concerns putting in soldiers with the vehicles that they have—and it would not necessarily mean a state of emergency because in the first instance they would use their own vehicles and a state of emergency would not be necessary for that. The judgment I have come to quite clearly is that the amount that could be supplied by the Army in the current situation would be less than is being supplied at the moment, and it would be the height of folly to have a state of emergency if as a result one supplied less than is being supplied now. I stick by that fact: the facts of the matter are quite clear.

With regard to the comments about a crisis situation, we are in a very grave situation. It is not universal in the country. The situation in the South-West, for example, has improved, I am advised. Therefore, what I am arguing against is the idea that the country is on its knees. It is not. There is a very serious and grave situation, but the argument that we have been brought to our knees is extremely silly.

Mr. Frank R. White

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his comments relating to the North-West water situation. I should also like to acknowledge the efforts of the chairman of the North-West water authority and the union officials to try to bring about a speedy settlement and to ensure the maintenance of services. But would not the Home Secretary agree with me that it is not sufficient to say to my constituency that the action is unofficial and expect that to be accepted as some kind of panacea for all our problems?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that good, clean water is a condition of efficient public health, and that great concern exists when those in the community, especially the young, the elderly and people in hospital, have to consume or use water that people would think twice about before putting down for pigs? If the dispute continues after today's negotiations, does he agree that urgent action will have to be taken by the Government to ensure public health standards? Is he aware that no one, least of all those in the House of Commons, would be excused from criticism if typhoid were to break out?

Mr. Rees

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend says. My responsibility is in aid of the civil power. The arrangements are ready to be set in train. It is for the water authority to make the request, and when it does the Services will move in to provide what is necessary for essential supplies.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Is the Home Secretary aware that my constituents will welcome the part of his statement that deals with the Pennine water authority, if only for the reason that it is the first statement that the Goverment have made about the water industry in my area? Some of us find it disgusting that the first Government statement is made nearly eight days after consumers have been advised that before they touch one drop of water they should boil it. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that thousands of homes have no water?

For how long does he propose to wait before setting in motion the contingency arrangements to which he has referred? Secondly, is he as concerned about the quality of water, to which his statement does not refer, as he is about the supply of water, to which his statement does refer? What action does he propose to take to ensure that the water that is being supplied is pure water which people may drink with confidence?

Mr. Rees

The method is important. I with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have been ready for a number of days. The contingency plans are ready. I have no power to order in the soldiers. I have no powers to tell them to go into the hon. Gentleman's area. They have to be asked in, and the judgment of those concerned was that they did not want the soldiers in yet. There would be problems. If the soldiers go in, we shall need the co-operation of some of the water authority's personnel who know their way round. When soldiers go into that area, they will need to be guided. Some of the supervisory staff will be needed to help in those circumstances. Opposition Members are laughing at the advice that the Army has given.

Mr. Corbett

May I ask my right hon. Friend to add calor gas supplies to the list of priority supplies, bearing in mind that many people in rural areas of my constituency and in other parts of the country rely solely on calor gas for cooking and part of their heating?

Mr. Rees

That is a matter that has been discussed since the original code. If my hon. Friend has in mind his area, perhaps he will let me know the facts.

Mr. Peyton

As the right hon. Gentleman's statement refers to difficulties concerned with food supplies both for human beings and for animals, will he consider making arrangements for his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to put in an appearance on Monday to give some details of the situation?

Mr. Rees

I shall pass on the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend, who has been concerned every day and night with these matters.

Mr. Peyton

Nobody is doubting the concern of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We should like him to give some details.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are two common threads running through the whole of these industrial disputes? One thread is the fact that these workers, whom many people did not care tuppence about for ages, have now seemingly turned out to be extremely important and necessary to the nation's lifeblood. Secondly, they are, in the main, low-paid workers. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the so-called imbalance of power, with a shift towards the unions, has meant that lorry drivers are still on £52 a week—they are striving to get a bit more—and that 1 million public sector workers will be on strike on Monday, some of whom are receiving less than £40 a week take-home pay? However, the Tory press and the Tories are commiserating this morning because Michael Edwardes, the British Leyland chairman, cannot manage on £100,000 a year.

Mr. Rees

Who is essential to the community? There has been discussion about that recently. Those who are essential are not only people who are on strike. I think that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition said that those who are essential could go on strike and bring the country to its knees. There are small groups in that position throughout the country. At the end of the day the right hon. Lady would find that she would be giving higher wages to not a small group but an extremely large group. Over the past 20 years and beyond, and certainly in recent years, one of the problems about payment for the lower paid that has applied within the trade union movement is that some in that movement say "Yes, pay extra to the lower paid, but we want the extra as well." That is a great difficulty in operating a pay policy.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one area of supply vital to the British economy that he has not mentioned is that of supplies to the North Sea oil industry? Is he aware that there have been repeated warnings to the Department of Energy both last week and this week that supplies of vital fluids, such as those for the servicing of blow-out prevention equipment, are not getting through? In these circumstances, there is a risk not only to human life but of pollution in the North Sea on a scale that has never been seen before. The Department of Energy is doing nothing. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about it?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman has referred to one problem in the North Sea. There are other problems. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is involved—

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Where is he?

Mr. Rees

We are aware of the problem. We have been discussing the problem and obviously steps will be taken to deal with it. It is a matter not only of doing something about it but of discussing it in the Aberdeen area.

Mr. Noble

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the dispute in the Pennine area of the North-West water authority is only partially caused by pay, and arises especially from the deep-seated grievance of employees that has grown over the five years since the gang on the Opposition Benches reorganised the water industry? Is he further aware that inflammatory actions and words at this stage, and the movement of the Army, would only exacerbate the feelings of the men, who feel isolated from their union and from the management.

Mr. Cyril Smith

What about the consumer for a change?

Mr. Noble

I shall come to that. The men are affected as well. Will my right hon. Friend join with the Minister of State, Department of the Environment in ensuring that a full inquiry takes place into the conditions of those who are engaged in the dispute so that we may get the men back to work, provide better employment for them and, as a result, provide a better service for the consumer?

Mr. Rees

I shall pass that on to the Minister concerned. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have one view on the need to bring in the soldiers, but there are others with different views who believe that the dispute would spread. We ought to be careful about what we say.

Mr. Mayhew

Does not the Home Secretary agree that his freedom to act in the interests of the nation is gravely restrained because in the House there are 21 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are members of the Transport and General Workers' Union and who are all members of his party? Seven are members of the Government and two are members of the Cabinet.

Mr. Rees

The hon. and learned Gentleman should be on the "Dick Barton" show.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there are 2 million members of the Transport and General Workers' Union in this country, so there certainly should be some members in this House? There is great resentment at the orchestrated attack on 11 million trade unionists and their families, particularly the TGWU workers.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the recent petrol tanker drivers' dispute he was receiving demands from the Opposition to declare a state of emergency? The Government were right and the Opposition wrong in that case. Whilst we on this side of the House recognise that there might need to be a state of emergency, we hope that we can settle the matter without that. We continue to seek co-operation with the trade union movement and not the confrontation that the Tory leader and her party want at present.

Mr. Rees

With regard to oil, I repeat that we had co-operation from the Transport and General Workers' Union and, indeed, very importantly, from the oil companies. Although we were asked to bring in the Army and declare a state of emergency in that dispute, it would have been a waste of time. We were right then. In the present situation, it is too early to make a judgment because the dispute is nowhere near finished.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I appeal to hon. Members to ask as brief questions as they can rather than to advance arguments.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

In view of the Prime Minister's categoric statement that no picket has any right to stop any vehicle, will the Home Secretary embody that in a circular to all chief constables tonight so that they enforce the law? This has not been happening outside Avon docks.

Mr. Rees

I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's view as to the role of the police at Avon docks is passed on. As to advising the police, when an Act is passed in this House it is brought to the notice of the police in the form of a circular.

The day before yesterday, I discussed the situation in the London area with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He gave me an example which illustrates the problem. He knows the law and does not need to be advised on it. He told me of an industrial estate on the east side of London where a policeman reported that a vehicle came along and was flagged down by the pickets, who were official pickets. They had a word and the vehicle turned round and went back. There was nothing wrong in that. There was no violence or intimidation used. It is not the job of the policeman to make a judgment on that when it is done peacefully. That is the law of picketing.

Mr. Molloy

My right hon. Friend referred to the possibility of contingency plans which might be required in the Greater London area because of the ambulance drivers' dispute. May I remind him, as I did his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, that the official policy of the four major trade unions involved is for them to provide, with their colleagues, proper cover or the Greater London area, although that might not be possible in some parts of London?

My right hon. Friend mentioned that he has contingency plans. Will he be prepared to discuss the possibility of using these plans with the executives and officers of the trade unions involved, who, I feel sure, will be glad to co-operate in them?

Mr. Rees

We will be happy to do that and this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. It will have to be done, and I think that that is the best way of doing it.

Mr. Crouch

Does the Home Secretary realise that when he described the situation that has developed in this country many of us felt that he was describing the need for an immediate declaration of a state of emergency? I, too, have been making investigations this morning, from a large feedingstuffs manufacturer in my constituency. I learned that the machinery for making an arbitrary judgment on the picket line on whether to issue a dispensation certificate is not working efficiently. A certificate issued in Canterbury is not accepted at Tilbury docks or across the estuary in Essex. Surely the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister should again go back to Moss Evans and ask him whether he can control the situation effectively. The system does not seem to be working efficiently.

Mr. Rees

I have checked on all occasions when a state of emergency has taken place over the past 16 years, and states of emergency were used far more by the Conservatives. In the column "Action Taken", it says "nil". When I inquired why it was done, I was told that it was for cosmetic effect and that the Tory Party believed in cosmetics. We are not prepared to deal with this in a cosmetic way. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the notice of the emergency committee.

Mr. Litterick

Does the Home Secretary agree that for over 100 years the law has given working men and women the right to picket in furtherance of an industrial dispute, but that the physical assaults on pickets widely reported in the press are a violation of that right? Secondly, will he look at an article in theDaily Express on Tuesday, which can only be construed as an incitement to violence?

Will he bring it to the attention of the Attorney-General? There is a danger that the press, in its anxiety to make a party cause, will create civil disorder and cause bloodshed.

Mr. Rees

I shall certainly bring it to the notice of my right hon. Friend, Physical assaults and intimidation are against the law. That is absolutely clear. The chief constables have reported to me that to a large degree, unlike the position in the strikes four years ago, there is very little physical violence. Where it does take place, it is illegal.

Mr. Onslow

Having listened to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, I think that most people must have grave doubts as to the effect of the voluntary code. Has the Home Secretary nothing to say about what will happen if unofficial secondary picketing continues, when drivers are obliged to turn back either because of intimidation or fear of the consequences if they do not obey the pickets? Will there be any follow-up by the police to question the drivers and find out why they turned back, or is the Home Secretary content to see the matter dealt with in the way that the pickets outside Cadbury-Schweppes were swept away by the girls inside?

Mr. Rees

I read about that occurrence; it may happen in a number of places. The pickets must take that into account. The other problem is that, with the police being scattered around, intimidation may take place on pickets when there is no policeman present. The police cannot cover every eventuality. Where there is intimidation, it is illegal, wrong and against the best traditions of the trade union movement.

Mr. Ashton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that much of the problem is still being caused by panic buying in shops? [Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] Is he aware that night after night on television the leaders of the supermarket chains tell housewives that certain commodities will be in short supply within a few days? Many of them are making great profits out of creating shortages and encouraging housewives to buy everything. Will my right hon. Friend ask for a little more responsibility on television to stop this sort of panic being created by people with a vested interest?

Mr. Rees

There is no doubt that this is one aspect of the problem, but it is by no means the major aspect. It has been reported to me that panic buying—people buying more than they normally would—undoubtedly plays a part in our troubles. When people hear on television lists of things that may be in short supply, they are influenced. But it is not a major aspect of the situation.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does not the Home Secretary realise that the country is disinclined to believe that assurances extracted from Mr. Moss Evans represent the most that might be done in the present situation in order to bring it under effective control? With people thinking like that, there is a danger that they may decide, as increasing numbers of them are laid off, to take the law into their own hands.

Mr. Rees

The figures that were given for lay-offs in the press last weekend were wrong. That is not to say that there are no lay-offs. I am prepared to give the estimates that I have from the regions. We must face up to one essential fact. There are large numbers of vehicles in the complicated distributive trade in this country which do not just go down the motorway and turn round and come back again. If we bring in the Army, we shall not be able to do more than deal with the essentials of life. It is wrong for people who might quite properly believe that not enough is being done to think otherwise. The same thing happened in Northern Ireland when my right hon. Friend asked for a state of emergency to be declared there. Northern Ireland had no petrol. The following day people were complaining that the petrol was not available to them because, in the same terms there as here, it was reserved for essentials only. I do not want to see a state of emergency declared or the Army used. There is no need for it yet.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Is the Home Secretary aware that the TGWU pickets outside the Cadbury-Schweppes factory in Birmingham, only three hours ago on local radio, said quite bluntly that they would play no part in the voluntary code of practice? Against the advice of their regional trade union organiser, they said that they would continue secondary picketing. Does not this mean that the trade union leaders have lost control of their militants, and does not this put the ball right back in the Government's court?

Mr. Rees

I understand that the new arrangements were issued at 3 p.m., so that the pickets in Birmingham obviously knew about things that had not then left London. It is up to the Transport and General Workers' Union to see to it.

Sir David Renton

Will the Home Secretary confirm that it is perfectly lawful for people whose jobs are threatened by lorries not being able to get through to their factories with raw materials to picket the pickets? Would not a lot of this trouble be stopped if the pickets were picketed peacefully in this way?

Mr. Rees

It would certainly not be against the law. It is not for me to give a judgment of what should be done, but certainly if it is done peacefully it will not be unlawful.

Mr. Shepherd

Does the Home Secretary appreciate that the statement he has just made, together with that of the Prime Minister, is less than satisfactory in that it makes no reference to a time scale for the introduction of this discretionary code of conduct? Will he enlarge upon this and ask the Prime Minister to ask Mr. Moss Evans, as a demonstration of his good intent, to have every secondary picket in the land off the streets by 8 a.m. tomorrow so that feedingstuffs and raw materials can start to move, and exports can catch deadlines?

Mr. Rees

If a trade union could be run in that way, it would not be a voluntary organisation and it would also remove one of the important elements in local organisation. That cannot possibly be done.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have described to the House in modest and restrained terms, which we respect, the definition of the public interest and aspects of their policy to uphold it, which many of us find totally unconvincing. Many people in the country will also find it unconvincing. Has the Prime Minister addressed himself to the possibility that, when the people of this country find that the definition of their interests in unconvincing and that the Government are unwilling or unable to uphold it, they will seek to uphold their Interests themselves? In that contingency, will these people enjoy the same immunities as those enjoyed by trade unionists and secondary pickets?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Member is a great supporter of illegality in Rhodesia, and now he is doing the same thing here.

Mr. Burden

Will the Home Secretary agree that the Government were greatly influenced over the declaration of a state of emergency by the meeting last night with Mr. Moss Evans and the hope that the code of practice which he agreed to produce would bring about an improvement in the situation? Is it not a fact that we have been bedevilled by unofficial strikes recently over which the trade union leaders have been unable to exercise control? Therefore, is it not a pious hope that they will be able to stop this secondary picketing? Will the Home Secretary ensure that one of his staff goes to London Broadcasting this afternoon and gets a report of a statement by a man picketing London docks who claimed that the picketing would be intensified and all movement would be stopped?

Mr. Rees

If that is what has been said, it shows the great difficulties in getting this voluntary policy through. On the question of the state of emergency, of course what was said was important, but the judgment that we had to take in the oil tanker dispute and again now involved the practical result of bringing in the Army at this stage.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Is the Home Secretary aware that, despite assurances given in the past few days, feedingstuffs are not getting through? What value are we supposed to place on the reassurances given in the past? And what value does the Home Secretary put on reassurances that he must have been given in the past few hours?

Mr. Rees

I know of the problem of feedingstuffs and I know that in a number of cases reported to me feedingstuffs have been allowed through as a result of discussions between our regional committee and the regional secretary of the TGWU. In the discussions that took place nationally with the TGWU today, the problem of Hull was raised, as was the problem of edible fats and the serious difficulties about animal feedingstuffs, particularly in the North-West. The latter could result in the slaughter of pigs and poultry. I know that in the last week, as a result of the discussions, there has been some improvement when matters have been brought to the union's notice.

Mr. Sainsbury

Does the Home Secretary recognise that the buying of excessive quantities by shoppers has made only a very minor contribution to the shortages of foodstuffs in the shops? It is the generally agreed view of those responsible for food manufacture and distribution that shortages are almost entirely attributable to secondary picketing, and in some cases to the illegal actions of secondary pickets which have been carried out in clear breach of previous agreements. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that, in view of the deteriorating situation, either he or one of his right hon. Friends will report to the House tomorrow on the food supply position and, if it has not improved, tell us what action he intends to take?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman repeated what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), that panic buying is only a small part of the problem. He spoke about secondary picketing being illegal [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not"] Very well. If he did not, I will not pursue that point. But there is no doubt that secondary picketing —which is a very general description of what goes on—is the major cause of our problems.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call two more hon. Members before I call the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw).

Mr. Gow

Since the Home Secretary has told us that the major cause of our difficulties is secondary picketing, will he also give an undertaking to the House, in the clearest terms, that if, as we all fear, the new voluntary code of conduct does not turn out to be effective, he will come back to the House to propose legislation of the sort suggested by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Rees

When one is defining secondary picketing, we should remember that it is not just a simple happening. This sort of picketing happens in a variety of ways. If, at the end of the day, the House were to turn to legislation—I can only give my view of it—unless that legislation were to be generally accepted it would be an inferior way of dealing with the situation compared with the voluntary agreement which we are endeavouring to put into effect. Legislation was tried in the 1970s—in different aspects maybe—but I think that the House would be very foolish to turn to legislation in this respect.

Mr. Hastings

Is the Home Secretary aware that there are several thousand people in this country who suffer from severe kidney diseases—there are at least six in my constituency—all of whom depend for life upon dialysis? This, in turn, depends on a constant supply of clean water, and if this water is denied them for about a week they face imminent death. What specific proposal have the Government to deal with this problem? If the threat to such innocent sufferers is not a national emergency, in Heaven's name what is?

Mr. Rees

I take it that the hon. Gentleman refers not to certain pharmaceutical products, which have been looked at, but to fresh water. I have discussed the problem with the Secretary of State for Social Services and I do not have the slightest doubt that where any union is concerned something will be done about that. If the hon. Member has particular people in mind, perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. Whitelaw

Quite understandably, the right hon. Gentleman has missed one of the questions that I asked. I therefore repeat it as I believe that it has some importance. In view of the very widespread anxiety on both sides of the House, will he undertake to make another statement to the House tomorrow on the developing situation?

Mr. Rees

Certainly a ministerial statement on one aspect of the situation will be made. Perhaps I should explain to the House that my responsibility on a co-ordinating basis is for contingency arrangements. I understand—and we have given some thought to this—that on the agricultural, transport and industrial sides there are details which do not come within my remit. We have that in mind and, of course, we will take the appropriate steps. but I hope that the House will understand my precise responsibilities.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. A moment ago when I was putting a question to the Home Secretary arising from the situation in which large numbers of people in this country might be persuaded, ill advisedly, to break the law, the right hon. Gentleman replied that I had advocated or supported illegality in Rhodesia. I have never done so, and I challenge him to produce one shred of evidence, written, spoken or otherwise, or to withdraw his totally unworthy statement.

Mr. Rees

In my time in this House I have thought that the hon. Gentleman was on the side of those in Rhodesia who are not looking to the future. If he tells me that he is against illegality—and that is my only point—I willingly withdraw my statement.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier, a Scottish Member asked why the Secretary of State for Scotland was not here and you, Mr. Speaker, replied that the Secretary of State for Wales was not here either. The point I want to raise with you is whether the Secretary of State for the Home Department has certain responsibilities to this House which cover not only England but Wales, but which do not cover Scotland, and that the Secretary of State for Scotland has responsibilities in the area of law and order which are not covered by the Home Secretary. May I ask therefore that, when crucial statements are being made in a very serious situation, the Home Secretary should make clear whether he is speaking only of England and Wales, and whether the Secretary of State for Scotland will come to the House as well? This is a matter of more than technical importance.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. May I say that I am glad to see a member of the Scottish National Party here because I can say to him that I realise that what I said earlier, in a very crowded and excited House, about the Secretary of State for Wales not being here was incorrect. Of course, the position is, as the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has said, that the Secretary of State for Scotland has functions not covered by the Home Secretary.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Calaghan)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you do not mean to cast any imputation upon the absence of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales. Let me make clear to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) that under my direction the Home Secretary is coordinating, as makes sense, contingency plans for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Speaker

I must make clear to the Prime Minister that I was not casting any reflection on the Ministers. I was trying to explain that I had made a mistake. Everyone seems to he hypersensitive this afternoon.

Mr. John Page

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Social Services informed us that there is a possibility that on Monday the whole of London may not be covered by the London ambulance service, and that discussions will be taking place tomorrow morning at his Department between the ambulance service and himself. If those talks break down, would it be possible for a statement to be made at the end of tomorrow afternoon, say, at 4 p.m. or 4.30 p.m., by the Secretary of State so that we know what contingency arrangements can be made to cover this potentially dangerous situation in London?

Mr. Speaker

It depends what requests come in. We should have to look at a change in our normal rule. On Fridays, the time belongs to other people.