Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 11th June.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
We have spent the past six days debating the Loyal Address. During that time, many questions have been put to Ministers on matters of vital importance, yet, after all that debating time, seemingly we are none the wiser about the Government's intentions than we were at the beginning of the debate on the Address. Now we find that the Government want to pack us off from this House, leaving us in a state of ignorance about their intentions and how those intentions will affect the people that we represent here. That is not good enough. It is for this reason that I join in this debate on the Adjournment motion.
I want to repeat to the Leader of the House some of the unanswered questions that my right hon. and hon. Friends have been putting to Ministers during the debate on the Loyal Address, in the vain hope, perhaps—nevertheless, it is a hope—that I may get from the Leader of the House some of the answers to those questions.
Naturally enough, representing Neath, an industrial area with a mix of industry in both the public sector and the private sector, and a special development area, I want to know much more about the Government's industrial policies and how they will affect my constituency. Yesterday one of my right hon. Friends referred to a "mad monk"—whoever he may be. I have in my constituency a ruined abbey monastery. What I do not want to see is the industry in my constituency put into a similarly ruined state because of the failure of the Government's industrial policies.
In recent years we have suffered the closure of a steelworks in the private sector of the industry, which resulted in the loss of about 800 jobs. Through the efforts of the West Glamorgan county council and the Welsh Development Agency, a new industrial future for the Briton Ferry area of my constituency has been purchased. In respect of Briton 1055 Ferry, I want to know whether we are to take seriously the Government's threats in relation to grants and subsidies for industry. If we are to do so, clearly my constituents will have real cause for concern at these visions of the new industrial future for Britain that right hon. and hon. Members have in store for us.
I have mentioned the Welsh Development Agency. We on the Opposition Benches have fresh memories of the attitudes adopted by the Conservative Party when we set up the WDA when we were in Government. I hope that before the day is out we shall have some firm indications from the Government of their intentions about the future of the WDA, either from the Leader of the House or from the Secretary of State for Wales. Perhaps they will let us know a little more about the future of this agency, which is important to the people of Wales and to Welsh industry.
There is another matter about which, at an early stage in the life of the present Government, we ought to be given a clear indication, namely, the Government's intentions in terms of honouring the pledges that were given in respect of the Welsh coal industry. We are aware that there are difficulties within the industry, and we are also aware of the work of the tripartite committee that was set up and of the promises that were given by the late Government in respect of investment in the Welsh mining industry as a means of ensuring its future. We want to know—and so will those who are engaged in the industry—whether the Government intend to honour the pledges that were given before the election in respect of investment in the industry.
These are just a few of the questions to which we have not had answers. Many more questions could be put by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do not want to detain the House for too long this afternoon, because my Welsh colleagues will be embarking later on a debate on Welsh affairs. However, these are matters of vital concern to the people of Wales. It is only just and proper that we should have answers to these questions, which involve the whole future of our people. It would be wrong for us to leave this House—to pack up and go away—without having some assurances that we can give to our people in Wales.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I recall taking part in similar debates. On those occasions I sought to conform, Mr. Speaker, to the rules of order that you apply so strictly by arguing that the proposed recess was either too short or too long. I innovate today by arguing that for a change it is just about right. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on producing such an admirable motion, as I congratulate him on his elevation to the Government Bench.
For almost all purposes, the introductory session to this Parliament has been an ideal length. We have welcomed the opportunity to greet new colleagues, particularly on the Government side of the House. We have also had a chance to savour some welcome gaps on the Opposition Benches, and that savouring will continue for some time.
It is right and proper that we should now prepare ourselves for the rigours of the European hustings, to which Opposition Members are keenly looking forward, even if they are not sure which side they are on. We should allow the Government to collect their thoughts, read their briefs and prepare policy statements in a way that will satisfy the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), if he will have the goodness to be more patient.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will assure me that there is no danger that this Government will fall into the same trap as previous Labour Governments did—of instant decisions, made in haste and announced without due thought. I am certain that we shall not repeat that mistake. The Government will not need much longer than 11 June to prepare themselves, and it is right that we should allow them that time.
The recess is not sufficiently long for all purposes. It is clearly not long enough to enable the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) to learn that it is better to speak standing up, nor to enable the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) to complete his compulsory Bible studies. We know that it takes him 22 years to come to a conclusion on anything. It is obviously not sufficiently long for the Opposition to learn that they were beaten at the last election. The acid of defeat has etched its way through some of the thinner skins 1057 opposite. Even the previous Prime Minister finally seems to have the message, but it is depressing to see how many hon. Gentlemen opposite still believe that they are fighting the last election campaign.
Speeches were made yesterday that echoed the hustings. Arguments were advanced that clearly showed why the election resulted as it did. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) revealed that he, like many of his colleagues, had not had any intelligent contact with the electorate in the campaign. His remarks about the attitude of management and men towards denationalisation in the aerospace industry bear no relation to the views that they hold. They are grateful beyond measure to have a bad Government off their backs and, above all, are anxious to get on with making their decisions in a freer and more realistic climate.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his place. He made a characteristic intervention on a subject dear to him when he forecast enormous bitterness and divisions in the country. He went on to say that trade unions and organised workers would not be responsible for them. If in the last campaign he did not learn what an important part men like Mr. Bernard Dix and Mr. Bill Geddes, of NUPE, played in creating a climate of public revulsion, it is time that he went back and talked, for a change, to some real people. Perhaps he should take with him Mr. Alan Fisher, who will clearly be too busy with his trade union affairs to devote the time that he should to his membership of the board of British Airways.
Having said that, I hope that when we resume we shall have some sign that the Opposition have understood their position and intend to measure up to their duties. It is not the function of the Opposition simply to indulge in factious running commentaries and sit on the Front Bench below the Gangway and rabbit on in the way with which we have again become depressingly familiar. I hope that they will indicate that they realise their position of responsibility for the national interest—but I should be optimistic if I suggested that they would reach that stage by 11 June. With a little humility, contemplation and realism, they may 1058 begin the long, slow task of becoming a responsible Opposition—a role that they will undoubtedly hold for many years to come.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
In the Gracious Speech there was no reference to London. Not only is it the capital city of the United Kingdom with the largest area of population, having 7 million people living in the Greater London area; we send to this House the largest number of Members of Parliament for any area in this country. The House should not adjourn before hearing the Government's attitude on some of the problems that unfortunately exist in London.
Under successive Governments, industry has left London. It has been encouraged to move to other parts of the country. We have had to face the closure of industry and changes in industrial development and manufacturing, and that has resulted in high unemployment in many parts of London. It may come as a shock to Members of this House who represent constituencies far away from London, but in some parts we have a higher percentage of the work force unemployed than in any other area of England, Scotland and Wales. I should like to know the Government's policy towards future development in London.
To overcome that unemployment, there is an urgent need for industrial development. In many parts of London sites are available for that development. Unless the Government are willing to co-operate with local authorities throughout Greater London, we will not see the progress that many hon. Members from London on both sides of the House wish to see. The Government must make a quick decision on their commitment to financial expenditure to develop industries in London. Without that, progress will be slow, if any is made at all.
Unemployment has been a particular problem to young people leaving school. The decline of industry in the Greater London area is one reason. In the past, that industry offered many apprenticeships to young people. Will the Government set up more training centres specifically to cater for young people, training them in the skills that industries are crying out for? Not only would that help to get many young people into constructive 1059 employment; the long-term benefits would be felt in London and throughout the country.
Another aspect that I should like to bring up is the question of London's dockland. When do the Government expect to declare their policy for dockland? Although dockland is not in my constituency, it is in South London and it covers many hundreds of acres. Discussion has been taking place for many years about the future development of London, but always the stumbling block has been the amount of financial help that is available for the development of dockland, be it for housing, industry or recreation and leisure facilities. I hope that we shall soon hear from the Government their attitude to that. The delay in making constructive proposals for development in the dockland area has been far too long.
London is the tourist centre of the United Kingdom. People come here from all over the world. They no longer come only during the summer months; they come throughout the year. Many problems arise from the tourist influx into this great city. One is the insufficient number of hotels and another is the congestion on the London Transport system. One of the principal problems that the tourist faces in London, as indeed do Londoners, is the London Transport system. Many hon. Members have to use that system, and I do not think that any would disagree that it leaves a great deal to be desired. Many Londoners feel that the conditions in which they travel and the lack of comfort that they have to endure are worse than those that have to be endured by cattle transported from farm to market. Yet these are the conditions that Londoners and visitors to London have to bear, week in, week out, throughout the year.
The transport system—buses and trains—needs urgent modernisation. That will necessitate substantial financial help from the Government. It cannot be denied that if such improvements were seen—if people were certain that buses and trains would run on time and were more comfortable—the traffic congestion that occurs in the mornings and evenings in and out of London would cease, because motorists would say "If there is a reliable transport system, I will use it." Succes 1060 sive Governments deserve to be criticised for the neglect that has occurred.
There is a transport system that could be developed without enormous cost. I speak of the River Thames. The Government should investigate the facilities that might be developed on the river. Many of us who travel abroad see the facilities that exist there. They see fast river transport, with comfortable facilities. A service of that kind could be developed in London without delay and without great cost. It could be used for transporting people in comfort and also for the transport of cargo. That would relieve the enormous congestion caused by juggernaut lorries that thread their way through central London and into the residential suburbs, causing havoc. I hope that we shall hear what the Government's thinking is on these issues. This is a matter which affects hon. Members irrespective of which party they represent, and it affects the people of London.
There are many problems that my hon. Friends and I will look to the Government to tackle. Will they give consideration to the appointment of a Minister for London? This idea has often been spoken about but, regrettably, nothing has been done. London Members feel that they have for long had a rough deal in not having someone to whom they can bring the problems that have to be overcome in the areas they represent. If the Government feel that that is not possible, will they consider introducing a Question Time for London? The Minister must know from his own experience how London Members have to struggle along against hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom to try to get a question tabled.
In view of the comments that I made at the beginning of my remarks, about the capital city being the area that sends the largest number of Members to the House, I hope that the Minister will give urgent consideration to the matters that I have raised.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I add my congratulations to our new Leader of the House on his elevation and on the witty speech that he made last night, which was such a pleasure to hear. If I am not out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I also say what a 1061 pleasure it is to see you sitting there and gracing the Chair so well?
I feel that I must protest strongly at the plan to send us away again for two or three weeks after such a long "holiday" and with so many problems unsolved. I shall feel inclined to vote against the motion unless I receive satisfactory assurances on matters that affect my constituents so gravely. Here I join with the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), a constituent of mine, in his plea for better transport for London. He probably goes to Paris sometimes, as I do, and sees there the cleanliness of the public transport, the absence of smoking in railway carriages and so on. We have a lot to learn from Continental countries, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will be heeded by those who are responsible.
I feel that I cannot go home until a promise of action about petrol supplies has been given to my scattered rural area of South-West Norfolk. Norfolk has the largest number of motor cars per 1,000 population in the country, because cars are essential for employment. With no main centres of employment within South-West Norfolk, daily journeys of 30 or 40 miles or more have to be made to Norwich, Thetford or King's Lynn. How can I go home without some statement of action when petrol station after petrol station is closing down?
From inquiries, I understand that this dangerous situation has been known to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) the former Secretary of State for Energy, but he has sat on it for many months without taking action. I have heard that several heads of oil companies warned the previous Government that the shortage was likely to get worse, but no warnings have been given to the general population to reduce petrol consumption. I believe that warnings must now be given. I repeat, I am inclined to vote against the motion unless my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Energy promises a full statement shortly on petrol supplies.
One other matter on which strong feelings are being expressed by my farming constituents, and on which we must have a statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food before the House adjourns, is the disastrous position 1062 of pig breeders and fatteners. It was brought about through lack of decisive action and the loss of good will in the EEC, which was the fault of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the last Government.
Although I do not expect miracles today, I must have assurances within the next few months that we shall have a statement on the action that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food proposes to take both here and in the EEC to prevent the national pig herd from falling even lower in numbers and to prevent more bacon factories from closing. I was alarmed to be told on the telephone this morning by the National Farmers' Union that the Fatstock Marketing Corporation factory at Calne, in Wiltshire, was likely to be closed.
I also hope to learn before the end of the year that urgent steps will be taken to stop the loss of good agricultural land. I do not know whether it is fully realised in the House that we are losing 125,000 acres of good agricultural land every year. This has happened every year for the past five or six years. Yet when one enters London or any other big city by train and sees the derelict wastes alongside the railway line, one realises that new towns should be established and buildings put up on those derelict lands, old factory sites, and so on, before green fields are taken and good food land is put out of production for ever.
Finally, I should point out that a month ago I should have voted against the motion because of the lack of contact between Great Britain and Rhodesia. Thank goodness, I do not have to do that today. But we should not go away without a statement that we shall never again be asked to vote for sanctions. I must warn my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip that that would be asking for the moon.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Waltham Forest)
I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) down the by-ways of the pig industry—an industry for which I have a great deal of affection, having worked in it for 15 years. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be regrettable if the Fat-stock Marketing Corporation were to 1063 have to close one of the largest pig factories in the country, at Calne, in Wiltshire, as a result of the depredations of the common agricultural policy, which must be blamed.
I wish to raise what is basically a House of Commons matter. I gave the Leader of the House notice that I would raise it, because it is a rather complex subject. From the few researches that I have been able to do in the past few days, I have been unable to produce any particular answers. The matter concerns the relationship of the newly elected Members of the European Assembly to this House. I raise it because during our recess the elections to the Assembly will take place, and by the time we return there will be 81 United Kingdom Members.
My particular concern stems, first, from the third report of the Select Committee on direct elections to the European Assembly in the 1975–76 Session. It made some recommendations after considering the whole matter of links between this Parliament and the European Assembly Members from the United Kingdom. The Committee said—I think wisely—that any question of formal links should be considered further and with great caution.
I am not particularly concerned about that matter now, as I do not think that there is any danger of speedy decisions being taken. However, although it had had virtually no representations on the point, as it admitted in its report, the Committee recommended, on the question of informal links, that certain services and facilities, such as the Library, refreshment facilities, bars, and so on, should be made available to Members of the Assembly.
The Committee said that the matter should be referred to the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services). I have not been able to discover—perhaps someone wiser than I will have been able to do so—whether the Services Committee took any action in the immediately subsequent Sessions. However, I have discovered a reference in its ninth report, in the Session 1977–78. It is a long report, but I wish to quote briefly from two paragraphs in the section headed "The European Assembly". Paragraph 21 says: 1064Provision of accommodation or services for elected Members of this assembly, who are Members of neither House at Westminster, is outside our present terms of reference.Paragraph 22 says:We could not possibly provide accommodation for a large number of additional parliamentarians within our present over-taxed resources.I think that my concern is shared by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I believe that it is a nonparty matter. I am not concerned to argue the case for or against any particular formal links between Members of this House and Members of the Assembly, but I am concerned to stress the importance to every hon. Member of any decision that may be taken on the matter of informal links and the possible use—I stress "possible"—of any facilities in the Palace of Wesminster, particularly in the House of Commons part, by the newly elected Members of the European Assembly.
I take just one example—our Library, which provides an excellent service, as anyone who has used it will agree. The staff are first-class. Yet we know from our personal experience that accommodation, both for the staff who work there and for the Members who use it, is already overtaxed, as the Services Committee said.
In particular, I very much value the information and research services. I believe that Back Benchers on both sides of the House value them very much, as they do not have access to the Civil Service. Those services are also overstretched. If for no other reason, it would be wrong for the House to ask the staff of the Library to take on the extra burden, if such were to be suggested, of providing services or facilities for about 81 Members who are not Members of the House of Commons. I understand that four or five would have dual membership.
Whatever one may think about their salaries, I believe that Members of the European Assembly will have fairly generous expenses. The European Community has always been fairly generous—certainly in terms of expenses, and usually in terms of salaries—to those who work in it or for it. I believe that if they wished those Members could provide their own secretarial and research facilities in this country, in addition to such facilities in Strasbourg or wherever the Assembly will 1065 meet. There is also the possibility that the Assembly would wish—it is entirely a matter for it—to set up its own national office in each of the member States to provide certain services and facilities to the Members elected in those States.
Basically, my concern is that if the decision must be made about informal links it should not be made before we return. I hope that I shall have at least that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon.
I am also concerned to know how such a decision, if needed, will be taken. I have already indicated that the Services Committee has—it would not be fair to say "washed its hands of the matter"—indicated that the matter does not fall within its present terms of reference. Certainly, it is far too important to be left to the usual channels to present us with a decision subsequently.
Perhaps I may give an analogy. Suppose there were no Lobby correspondents in the House and we were faced with a decision, which I imagine the House would welcome, to provide Lobby correspondents with facilities, including the use of various refreshment facilities, the Members' Lobby and certain other facilities which are not available to the general public. I suspect that we would not leave such a decision to the usual channels.
I believe that this issue, concerning the 81 Members of the European Assembly from the United Kingdom, is even more important. The matter should be dealt with in such a way that all hon. Members can express their views. That is not always the way when such matters are dealt with through the usual channels. Perhaps there is a role here for the House of Commons Commission.
I confess to a degree of ignorance about this. It was set up when I was sitting on the Treasury Bench and perhaps I did not take the interest in it that I should have done. I do not know whether this would be an appropriate issue for that Commission to deal with when it starts meeting. But, whatever the mechanism for dealing with this issue, which is important and which affects us all, I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to assure right hon. and hon. Members that, whatever the mechanism, no decision will be taken without making every provision for 1066 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides to make their views felt either directly in the Chamber or through the Parliamentary Labour Party, the 1922 Committee or other Back Bench committees. It is a matter that affects every one of us. Above all, it affects all the staff who work in the House.
When we are taking a decision on this matter, I hope that we shall bear in mind that we are taking it not only for ourselves but for the very loyal, devoted and hardworking staff who serve us very faithfully throughout the year.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I am particularly concerned with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, which was in such imprecise terms and of such light content that it cannot be regarded as a basis upon which people should make their reasonable plans throughout the United Kingdom until the House reassembles as long away as 11 June.
There are specific aspects to which I wish to draw the attention of the Leader of the House. This is the season of the year when in agriculture not only is spring sowing going on but, in many parts of the United Kingdom and certainly in the South-West, there is very heavy fuel consumption involved in the making of silage, without which it is not possible to feed cows in the winter, especially with the price freeze on milk production. I am afraid that what my right hon. Friend said is not a basis upon which people can make rational judgments on whether they should exhaust their supplies of diesel oil on silage-making on the assumption that they will be able to replenish them.
The reports that I get from my constituency or thereabouts in Devon are that the quota is being cut, even where deliveries are being made, to 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. less than was being consumed last year. That is very different from the figure of 1 per cent. shortfall that my hon. Friend appeared to have fixed in his mind. He gave no explanation why diesel oil should be in particularly short supply, nor, more importantly—and what I hoped to hear from him—how long the shortage was likely to continue and what its percentage, 1067 compared with consumption last year, was likely to be. We need a statement about this before the House goes into an Adjournment at a period when, in agriculture, the operations that will be taking place are those which consume very large quantities of diesel oil.
Moreover, as the summer progresses, when corn is harvested the decision that will have to be made is whether to dry the grain or leave it unharvested in the hope that its water content will fall further before it is potentially ruined by bad weather. Guessing what the weather will do is quite difficult enough without having an unnecessary and avoidable area of uncertainty about other parameters in the equation, such as fuel supplies. That is why I press my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange for his right hon. Friend to make another statement tomorrow giving very much more detail about the present fuel position and specifically as between the various types of fuel—petrol, paraffin, diesel and the heavier grades of fuel oil—since the shortages are not of the same magnitude in each of them.
Perhaps I may be allowed to make my own small contribution, possibly to helping in one aspect. I refer to the consumption of petrol. In the autumn of last year I noticed that one company—BP, as it happens—was advertising in an attempt to induce people in Britain to do what has been done for many years on the Continent, which is to run their cars on much lower viscosity oils than has been habitual in Britain. I tried this for myself in a fairly elderly Triumph 2000. Having established that with a 20/50 oil I normally get a fuel consumption of 22.7 miles to the gallon, I tried over 4,000 miles the effect of putting in a lower viscosity oil—an SAE 10 oil. Petrol consumption went from 22.7 miles to the gallon to 25.4 miles. That represents a reduction in petrol consumption of more than 11 per cent., which is in excess of the claims made by the company concerned in its advertisements. I have now tried it in a different car, and I have experienced an improvement in a 4-cylinder car of the order of 7 per cent. Taking a mean between these, it is clear that if we are to endeavour to cut our fuel consumption in road vehicles we ought to give very serious attention to 1068 going over, as a general practice, to oils of very much lower viscosity than has been the habit in this country, for no very good engineering reason—and I speak as a former engineer.
The Department of Energy should look very seriously at this possibility because, for some time, the Department has been given to advertising on television. Right hon. and hon. Members will not be unfamiliar with the gentleman with oversized shoes. The potential fuel savings from low viscosity oils ought properly to be drawn to the attention of the public very much more widely.
To end this personal reminiscence, with the coming of higher temperatures I changed back—I now find that it was unnecessary—to a broad-band viscosity oil, 20/50, just before last week, and I nearly ran out of petrol on the way back from the House to my constituency last weekend. I had forgotten the much higher fuel consumption on the heavier-viscosity oil. That came as an abrupt reminder to me that what I had noticed one way when I changed to a thinner viscosity oil worked the other way when I changed back, as might be reasonably expected.
I must press my right hon. Friend to make a very detailed statement tomorrow.
There is another matter on which perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can help us. Can he advise us on the extent to which it is the Government's wish that all questions about fuel should be directed to Ministers in the Department of Energy and the extent to which questions specifically related to specific activities, such as agriculture and fishing, should be directed to Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? This is desirable so that right hon. and hon. Members do not have the frustrating experience of having their questions transferred with the delay which results from them.
Another aspect of this which comes with the fuel shortage is the need for a statement on the question whether there is to be any change in policy on the licensing of buses, though I accept that it is unreasonable to expect this too early. As fuel becomes more difficult to obtain and as it goes up in price, there may be a still stronger case for relaxing the criteria for bus operators so that small operators can experiment 1069 in providing services in areas that are inadequately served or not served at all.
A policy statement on that matter at some stage would be very welcome. It would be unreasonable to expect such a statement to be made before the House goes into recess on Friday. I would be grateful, however, if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to give some thought to this question during the ample period of recess, which does not end until 11 June.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) referred to the energy crisis, although in fairly specific terms. I want to refer to the matter in general terms. It is highly irresponsible for us to go on a fortnight's vacation from this House—apart from the fact that I do not trust this Government out of my sight for longer than a Saturday or Sunday—when the energy crisis is changing for the worse almost daily. Since the start of this year the leading OPEC producers have raised their prices by anything from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent., with further increases likely in the near future. There is pressure on the Saudi Arabians to do likewise. Whether they can resist that pressure one does not know. There are newspaper reports today that Algeria is raising the price of its top crude by another 13 per cent., to $21 a barrel, which indicates how these people have got us, and the Western world, literally over a barrel.
Next month's meeting of the OPEC producers in Geneva will be critical for the future development of our economy, the American economy and all Western European economies in the foreseeable future. A casual reading of the press indicates that the big industrial Powers are grabbing all the oil on which they can get their hands. When the Minister made his statement this afternoon, there was mention of the Rotterdam spot market, where prices have soared to $33 a barrel. No doubt, the present British Government thoroughly approve of this uncontrolled greed. It is the law of supply and demand that they thoroughly recommend to our people and to our country, especially when North Sea oil 1070 resources enable us to ride these storms better than most countries.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Energy implied this afternoon that it would be very short-sighted for the United Kingdom to take a nationalistic, narrow view of the energy crisis. It is a world crisis. We cannot isolate ourselves from its world context.
I was interested to read that at the two-day conference of the International Energy Agency, just ended, our Minister, who chaired the conference, got agreement to reduce demand for oil by 2 million barrels a day. That is roughly 5 per cent. of total IEA consumption. But that target was set a long time ago—in March, I think. One sees little evidence of any progress towards achieving that target either here or anywhere else. The burden of the problem is shown in the United States, where the American people cannot yet accept the fact that there is a critical world shortage of energy. What will our own Minister do in the short term? Will there be any attempt to engage in a crash programme to increase coal production and consumption to relieve the pressure on oil supplies?
My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) referred to the National Coal Board's investment plans, with specific reference to Wales. I want to put the matter in the broader context of the whole of the ambitious investment programme of the NCB in the long term. In the short term, I agree that it cannot do much to relieve the immediate burden. We have to look at the matter in both the short-term and the long-term contexts. There are suspicions and fears within the Coal Board and the coal industry that the Government intend to curtail the investment programme of the NCB as part of their general curtailment of public expenditure. That would be an extremely short-sighted and foolish policy in which to engage.
It is also foolish to attempt to slow down the development of our nuclear power capacity. Questions were raised in the House today about the Torness nuclear station in Scotland. I hope that the Government will firmly resist the environmentalists. I do not question their sincerity, but the sooner we understand that we must rid ourselves of, or reduce, our dependence on Middle East sources of 1071 supply, the better for everyone in the Western world. The same applies to the encouragement of production of natural gas, not only from the North Sea but from our own indigenous coal supplies.
At the end of the IEA conference, our Minister said that a 5 per cent. proposed reduction of our enery consumption would mean a change of habits in this country. We know how difficult it is to get our basically conservative people, now with a capital "C" as well as a small "c", to change their habits in matters of this kind, but the attempt has to be made. We have to convince our people that we are in the middle of a deep-seated energy crisis and that if action is not quickly taken there will be a rip-roaring energy crisis this winter, with dire consequences for unemployment, industrial production, and so on.
The Government must quickly announce their short-term policies, not excluding the possibility of the rationing of resources. I hope that they will not carry the dogma too far by saying that the only honest rationing is rationing by the purse. I do not believe that. It will not be accepted in the rural areas or by large sections of our community. If there must be rationing, it has to be seen to be fair to every section of the community.
I want to refer to a completely unrelated but, in a sense, just as important matter. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, several hon. Members on the Opposition Benches asked for an undertaking from the Government that they intend to relate further increases in the old-age pension either to the cost of living or to average earnings, whichever increase is the greater in any period of 12 months. That question was put specifically again yesterday to the Prime Minister, and she refused to answer it. It was put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis). The right hon. Lady resisted giving a specific answer to it.
In reply to another question, in another context, she said:I am not known for my objectives or purposes being unclear."—[Official Report, 22 May 1979; Vot. 967, c. 870.]That is a sentence of crude grammatical construction, but we got the general idea that she implied "I always tell the truth". 1072 But she has not told the truth about old-age pensions. The right hon. Gentleman is more honest. I am asking him not to use that crude language, but to say "Yes, we are going to ensure that old-age pension increases in future shall be tied, as laid down by statute, to the rise in the cost of living or the rise in average earnings, whichever is the greater". The right hon. Gentleman can give a simple "Yes" or "No" to that question, with no flipping about. Let us have a straight answer. Let us get off to a good start. I think that the right hon. Gentleman can give us a fine example this afternoon.
I refer now to another matter, which is related in a way rising prices. Some prices have gone up under this Government as a direct consequence of their action in abolishing the Price Commission. Bread prices would not have gone up last week had the Price Commission not been abolished or its powers withdrawn.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Because there was a freeze under the terms of the Price Commission. Only when the Price Commission was abolished were Ranks Hovis McDougall Ltd. and Allied Bakeries Ltd. allowed to put an extra 1p on a loaf. They were allowed to do that by the right hon. Lady because both companies contributed £30,000 each, last year alone, to Tory Party election funds. Every time a housewife buys a loaf of bread or a packet of biscuits, she is contributing to Tory Party funds. That is the pay-off that these companies are already getting from the Government, and there is more in the pipeline.
Reverting to the energy crisis, a spokesman for one of the oil companies last month said "We shall be faced with £1 a gallon for petrol." That would not have been tolerated with the existence of the Price Commission, but the oil companies are now to get it because some of them also contributed to Tory Party election funds. All these companies will get a pay-off.
Many members of the Cabinet were directors of insurance companies. The insurance companies will be next in line for a pay-off from the Government, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and many others on the Government Front Bench had 1073 directorships in some of those companies. I exclude the Leader of the House. He is a disinterested party and can therefore answer these questions objectively in winding up the debate.
Another question that concerns my constituents and many others is beer prices. The beerage has a powerful influence on the Tory Party and Government. It has contributed magnificently to Tory Party funds, so it is expecting to be able to put 2p or 3p on a pint of beer. That might take place in the next fortnight, whilst we are safely away, supposedly at the hustings for the European elections. I shall not be at the hustings I shall be sniffing about down here trying to find out what is going on, but they will be burrowing away in Whitehall and I shall not be able to get at them. I like to get at them here. I do not trust them. I do not think that we should go away for a fortnight's holiday. If the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) is prepared to put the Tellers in and vote against the motion, I shall be one of them.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
I am content that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) should not take a fortnight's recess but should remain here. However, for myself and possibly others, I am happy with the motion that has been proposed, or perhaps I should say that I would be were it not that I share the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and others about the statement this afternoon on oil and its possible future shortage. It is not satisfactory that the Secretary of State should answer a private notice question about 48 hours before we go into recess. That is not his fault. He had the question put to him and he answered it. But there are many uncertainties and difficulties here which must be the subject of a debate at the earliest possible moment.
I hope that we shall not have a rush of altruism about this subject. We have been hearing a great deal about the international allocation of oil supplies, which largely means British oil supplies from the North Sea. This afternoon I have been hearing some disturbing observations about the operation of the spot market in Rotterdam and elsewhere. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure us that if there are to be 1074 any transfers of British oil to other countries in the coming months under the terms of the IEA agreement or the EEC directive, they will be on a full commercial basis at the current spot market price.
The Secretary of State said something about the Commission investigating the situation in the spot market. I think that there was also some hint of an inquiry by the International Energy Agency into the operations of the spot market. Be it so. One wants all markets to work properly. But I hope that that will not be an excuse for not paying the commercial price for British oil. I have a nasty suspicion that it might turn out that way.
This is not an unimportant subject. We are happy to have the revenues from North Sea oil, but our prosperity as a nation depends on the prosperity of our industry, which is in many ways labouring. If the pound gets stronger, it will impose additional tests for the competitive ability of our industry.
This Adjournment motion is not the time for going back over this subject, but, in the interests of general policy—entirely against my judgment—we abandoned the great competitive advantages of cheap food for the higher tariffs of our colleagues in the European Community. We now seem set to take on yet a third burden—the cost of oil storage for others.
One advantage of having a supply of oil in our own territorial area is that we do not need the same amount of storage as a country which depends entirely on the importation of oil. With present interest rates in the world, the cost of oil storage is very high. Large amounts of oil are used by the industrialised countries of the West. They need to carry three months' to six months' oil supplies.
The interest cost on that kind of storage is an important factor in the operating costs of their industry. Britain, being more or less self-sufficient in oil, need carry only small stocks of oil, because it has the first call on the incoming flow from its own fields. Under the EEC directive, however, and quite apart from the provisions of the directive, as a consequence of the agreement with the IEA we are having to carry stocks of a magnitude which our own needs do not justify. We have to incur the running interest expense which that involves.
1075 If there is also to be some jockeying by those who benefit at our expense from those agreements as to not even paying the full spot price on the Rotterdam or other relevant market, we look like making a very bad bargain.
All these are merely apprehensions. It may be that we shall solve the storage dispute. The Select Committee on European legislation had a very interesting meeting on this subject some months ago with the then Minister. These problems were examined with great particularity. They were identified, and there was no dispute that something should be done about them. But time moves on. Other issues divert our attention, but the European Commission is there beavering away all the time. I have a suspicion—I put it no higher than that—that we shall find ourselves carrying the burden of stocks for nine countries instead of one, and that when it comes to transfers of oil under the IEA or European agreements we shall find that a special price has been agreed.
I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will remember that we must look after British interests and that, on the whole, we are more altruistic than are those nations with which we have to deal. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some kind of assurance for the future of our oil supplies in those respects.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
These debates are usually an occasion when subjects are raised as a pretext for opposing the Adjournment, even though hon. Members in their heart of hearts feel that the Adjournment motion for the recess is justified. But in this instance there is every reason to regard the proposed Adjournment as outrageous, coming as it does only a fortnight after the new Parliament has been opened. Many uncertainties face many people in various parts of these islands. People want answers and guidelines about the new policies, and the new Government should be making these matters clear.
During the time of the last Government, the Conservatives criticised Labour on a number of occasions for having made policy declarations during parliamentary recesses. I can remember a 1076 number of such instances during the long Summer Recess. Inevitably, during the next fortnight there will be a rush of policy declarations, because guidelines are needed. Since those declarations will be made during the recess, it will be impossible for Members of Parliament to react to them when they are announced. Some measures hanging over from the last Parliament need urgently to be cleared.
Let me spell out three of them. The first concerns parts of the Education Bill which was lost. It concerns grants for the teaching of the Welsh language. Education authorities in Wales are expecting information about that. Clearly, it will not be forthcoming during the next year, as had been hoped, and the education authorties want to know where they stand.
Another is the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers Compensation) Act. That Act was of considerable topicality in the last days of the last Parliament. It comes into effect on 4 July. Between now and then the House must pass a string of orders on the subject. There will probably be no time between 11 June and 4 July for these orders to secure the attention that they need. In such circumstances it is ridiculous that Parliament should be going into recess.
The question of the fourth television channel as it affects Wales has been put into a state of confusion as a result of the Queen's Speech. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) will be able to say something on that matter later this evening.
Other uncertainties have been left hanging over from the last Parliament. There is uncertainty for industry that is contemplating investment programmes which will bring much-needed jobs. What will happen about the Industry Act 1972 and its grants structure? What will hapen about the Welsh Development Agency, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Land Authority for Wales? We have heard the Conservative Party's opinion of the Community Land Act, but the situation facing the Land Authority in Wales is somewhat different from that in England. We shall want a reply on that.
Certain practical problems face local authorities. We have heard that guidance has been given that they should not be recruiting staff, that they should now be 1077 taking part in an exercise of natural wastage. However, during the next three weeks, local authorities will be making appointments which have been advertised and for which short lists have been compiled. Are these posts not to be filled? My own county council in Gwynedd is to consider tomorrow the appointment of the county treasurer. Do the Government's guidelines suggest that it should not be doing so? Four senior officers in the treasurer's department will be retiring over the next few months. Should they not be replaced? Local authorities need answers on these points, and if they are not to be given when Parliament is sitting we shall get them in the recess. That is totally unsatisfactory.
The oil crisis is most serious. The day after the House reassembles, the Chancellor will be presenting his Budget. Hon. Members should have every opportunity in the next fortnight to press upon the Chancellor on the Floor of the House the implication of putting more duty on petrol. We have already heard the £1 a gallon prediction, and there have been suggestions that the price will go as high as £1.20 or £1.30.
If, in addition to the increase caused by international pressures on prices, there is to be extra taxation, the strain on many rural areas will become insufferable. That will affect particularly the rural areas with low incomes, such as the area I represent. There, motor transport is not a luxury but a necessity for getting to work. Unlike in London where there are four or five modes of transport for getting to work, in my constituency there is very often only one. My constituents have to make journeys of 20, 30 or 40 miles to work, and if the tax on petrol is increased the burden upon them will be unacceptable.
It is wrong for us to shrink away from this problem during the fortnight leading up to a decisive and important Budget. For all these reasons, I believe it to be wrong for us to go into another recess.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I am glad of the chance to speak after the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) because my constituency in Cheshire will share some of the problems that will face his constituents if the price of petrol goes up dramatically. There 1078 are large rural areas in my constituency, and any substantial increase in the price of petrol will seriously affect the mobility of people who cannot rely on the sort of public transport that is available in our major cities.
My Government must therefore pay particular attention, in any decisions they take, to the plight of the rural areas. This particularly applies to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor in respect of any increase in the tax on petrol or in excise duty.
I rise to speak now because I was prevented from putting what I consider to be important points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy when he replied to the private notice question earlier today. There is increasing concern in this country about future sources of fuel. I believe that the Government will soon have to make further statements, and I thought it interesting that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman asked my right hon. Friend to come to the House on a regular basis to make statements about the energy situation.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will ensure that regular statements are made and that, if necessary, information is given during the recess to the press so that people know what the situation is at any time.
Casting my mind back a few months, I find it interesting to recall that when we were in Opposition many hon. Members then on the Government Benches, especially among those below the Gangway, were only too keen to see the Government of the Shah of Iran brought down. The revolution came in that country, and I say to those who were so keen to see the Shah removed that, perhaps, they ought to accept some responsibility for the fuel crisis now facing this country and the world as a whole.
I hope that that fact will be borne in mind by those who, through their speeches, and, maybe, through certain things that they did, gave encouragement to the revolutionary forces in the Middle East to bring down a Government friendly to the West, who were providing large quantities of the oil required by the West for its industry and its standard of life. I only regret that the Shah of Iran is no longer there presiding over that country's 1079 affairs. The problems confronting us today have arisen because his friendly Government are no longer in power.
I am not sure that my right hon. Friend fully appreciates that the people of Britain will be extremely angry if they see huge quantities of the oil from the North Sea being diverted to other countries while we go short. I recognise that we have overseas obligations, and I appreciate that we do not wish to see a world industrial depression or recession which would inevitably affect industry and employment in this country. Equally, I do not want or expect this nation to enable our major industrial competitors to continue to compete with us—perhaps even assisting them directly to do so—by allowing them to have large quantities of the oil from the North Sea.
I therefore share the views expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). If any EEC directive instructs us to part with large quantities of the oil which we are producing from our own resources in order to assist our major industrial competitors while our own industry is at the same time starved, the people of this country will be very angry indeed.
My request, therefore, to my right hon. Friend, who, if I may say so, made a brilliant speech last night in replying to the debate on the Address, is that he will make some comment on this matter this afternoon. It is wrong that the people of this country, who have contributed in many ways to the development of our resources in the North Sea, should suffer. We are reliably informed that we are some 80 per cent. or more self-sufficient in oil. I acknowledge that we have to import a certain amount of oil to be blended with oil from the North Sea so as to make it acceptable for all the purposes required in this country, but people are asking me the direct question: if we are so nearly self-sufficient, why is a great shortage developing within the United Kingdom?
In the same context, I refer specifically now to problems in my constituency, where there are many smaller businesses. I am pleased to know that my Government pay more than lip service to the importance of smaller businesses and all that they can do to reduce the present unacceptable levels of unemployment. 1080 But I am concerned about a number of small hauliers and transport contractors in my constituency. I see that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) nods in assent, so I take it that he shares my concern. These small firms have limited fuel storage facilities and they are suffering because the oil companies are not prepared to deliver to places where the drops are small. I hope, therefore, that the Government will discuss this matter with the oil companies to ensure that small firms do not suffer as a result of the major oil companies' allocation of fuel to their customers.
That brings me to the specific example of the smaller garage or distributor of the kind mentioned during the exchanges on the private notice question today. I believe that, sadly, the major oil companies are allocating their resources primarily to their own company-owned sites. But the smaller distributor and garage—I endorse here what was said by the hon. Member for Caernarvon, who represents a rural constituency in Wales—is the major supplier in rural areas. If these smaller distributors and garages cannot get supplies, they will be in great financial difficulty and, what is more, those who are dependent upon them will also have serious trouble.
In my own town of Congleton there is a small garage which, on the account system, supplies the county council, nurses, local hospitals and local doctors, quite apart from all the commercial concerns which have accounts with it. That garage is not now receiving the supplies to enable it to fulfil basic requirements. It has already put up a sign saying that it wishes to supply only regular customers, yet it does not have sufficient fuel to meet supplies for the essential services which every community has come to expect.
My area has many features in common with that of the hon. Member for Caernarvon. A number of small farmers have been in touch with me, both during the election campaign and since. Small farmers with limited fuel storage facilities cannot get supplies because the drop is, say, only 300, 400 or 500 gallons and the oil companies and distributors are not prepared to make these small drops when their own company sites and the large users are taking drops of 2,000, 1081 3,000, 4,000 or even 5,000 gallons at a time.
Grave problems are developing, and they are especially acute in the rural areas. I hope that, in looking at the situation which we face, the Government will take these matters into consideration. In this context I associate myself with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarvon.
I turn next to the position of farming. Sadly, during the debate on the Address we did not hear a great deal about this industry although it is one of the most important to this country and one of the most efficient. Our farmers are willing and able to make, and should make, a greater contribution to our economic progress. They can produce more food from our own resources—although there is an echo in that phrase, I am not referring directly to the White Paper published some years ago by the Labour Government—and they seek to make a greater contribution to our economic progress. They can do that only if the Government give them the encouragement and the cash to do so. They are not asking for a direct subsidy. I leave it to hon. Members on the Opposition Bench to press the matter of subsidies.
I am concerned that we should be going into recess without the farming community throughout the land, in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, being told that in our negotiations with our partners in the European Economic Community we shall seek a devaluation of the green pound—a devaluation of, I suggest, 5 per cent. to 7½ per cent.—within the next three or four months so that our farmers may be enabled to compete with farmers on the Continent in a situation of much fairer competition.
At present our farmers face unfair competition. But they can make a major contribution to our balance of payments. They could save our balance of payments several hundred million pounds a year if they were given the return to enable them to do so.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House represents a constituency in which there are some farms, and I know that it is an important farming area. I must tell him that the farmers expect our Government to give them justice. There is at present a disparity in the value of the 1082 various currencies, and a great disparity in relation to the green pound between the United Kingdom and the major currency countries of the EEC. I believe that a devaluation—a small devaluation of 5 per cent. to 7½ per cent.—would give our farmers that extra income which would enable them not only to produce more food for the people of Britain but to give us a more secure supply of food in the long term, enabling us to do much better on our balance of payments while at the same time ensuring that we are not so dependent upon the import of food from elsewhere in the world.
I shall be happy to be away from the House for a fortnight. I remind the House that because of the Dissolution or the previous Parliament and the election campaign that ensued we forwent our Easter break. Many of us were active preparing for the general election when normally we would have been spending a great deal of time helping our constituents. At that time we were in fact preparing to help our constituents subject to re-election.
The recess which begins at the beginning of next week and continues until 11 June is welcome. It will enable our new colleagues on both sides of the House to get to know their constituencies and what is going on in their constituencies very much better in the absence of the hustle and bustle of an election campaign, which often establishes a rather false image in a constituency, not least for the candidates themselves.
I welcome the break but I hope that matters of considerable importance such as the future of our oil supplies, the price of oil and the problems that shortages will create for various areas will not be overlooked by the Government. Surely we stood on the platform that we would be the Government of the people and that we would be concerned about their interests, whoever they are, whatever they are and wherever they are.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley)
I do not think that there should be a recess now. The problems facing the Scottish people are too urgent to be allowed to lie on the table for two weeks.
By their doctrinaire and unreasonable approach to the public sector, the Government have thrown that area into turmoil. 1083 In a few short days they have created a resentment in the pubilc sector that we have not seen for many years.
My area of interest is in the social services. I am the deputy convener of social services for the Strathclyde regional council. During the election campaign I travelled in my constituency visiting children's homes, hospitals and eventide homes. I spoke to home helps and those who support those in need in the community such as the old, the sick, the infirm and the mentally and physically handicapped. It clearly came across to me that there was not a need for cuts in public expenditure but a crying need for a massive injection of capital and revenue in the public sector.
In my constituency in the West of Scotland there are 100,000 souls. There is a need for increased public expenditure to build three or four more eventide homes. Within the constituency there is a waiting list for places in eventide homes of 300 to 400. In Strathclyde and the West of Scotland as a whole there is probably a waiting list of 4,000 to 5,000. We all know that people are living longer. The deduction may be made that many of those on the waiting lists are in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Against that background I find it rather obscure for the Government to say that there should be a cut in public expenditure. In Strathclyde there are 7,000 children in care. Many of them are in care in buildings that are over 100 years old, that are ill-equipped and ill-staffed. The staffs are not enjoying reasonable salaries. Is that an argument for less public expenditure? I think not. Surely it is an argument for increased public expenditure.
A scandal that exists in Scotland and probably elsewhere is the total lack of care and attention that we have paid to the mentally and physically handicapped. That is especially scandalous because it is not difficult to project 10 years ahead to discover how many mentally and physically handicapped children will be leaving school. However, we have a disgraceful shortfall of places in adult training centres for those who leave school at 16 and 17 years of age. Is that a case, as the Conservatives would have had us believe during the election campaign, for less public expenditure? 1084 I think not. Surely it is a prima facie case for more public expenditure.
During the election campaign we did not hear from Conservatives whether they really think that those working in children's homes, old folk's homes and in hospitals as porters are earning reasonable wages when their weekly take-home pay is £34, £35 or £36. The answer is "Yes" or "No". We heard Conservatives talking about cutting public expenditure but not about the consequences. The take-home pay to which I have referred underlines the fact that there is a need not for less public expenditure but for more.
I turn from the public sector to the industrial scene. As a Scot I am especially concerned at the lack of mention by the Government of the future of the Scottish Development Agency. If one thing has singularly failed in Scotland, it is private capital. A good example of that failure is the shipyards on the Clyde. There was a post-war boom in shipbuilding. Many on the upper reaches of the Clyde made a great deal of money in putting ships back on the water and replacing those that had been sunk during the war. Where did that money go? It did not go back into the yards. I worked in one and I know that that did not happen. The yards on the Clyde were 30 and 40 years out of date. The owners woke up one morning and said "We cannot compete with Japan and Germany." They blamed the workers. There was a total lack of foresight and investment.
The same may be said of many of the small engineering factories that existed in Scotland over the past 50 years. They did not move with the times. Their owners were far too avaricious to see 10 or 20 years ahead. They milked the profits, put the money in the bank and forgot about the future. They are now blaming the working people of Scotland.
I have demonstrated that capital has failed Scotland. We need not less Government intervention in the affairs of Scotland but a great deal more. The Highland and Islands Development Board should be given more powers and more money, especially more powers of compulsory purchase, so that it may clear out some of the lairds who still stalk the moors of Caithness and Sutherland. We need more money for the Scottish Development Agency. It is clear that we shall 1085 not get the necessary private investment from Scottish capital. It has not come from that source, and that is why we are in our present state.
That is why I believe that we should not have a recess. The matters that I have mentioned, and many more, should be the subject of immediate discussion and investigation by the House.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome you to the Chair. It is the first time that I have been called to speak under your chairmanship. We look forward to many years of your presiding over our affairs.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Adams) on his maiden speech. At least the hon Gentleman, among our new colleagues, will be able to go into the brief recess in the knowledge that he has jumped the first hurdle that is met by a newly elected Member. He will feel easier when he returns after the recess in the knowledge that he fully belongs in this place.
The hon. Gentleman needed no protection when it came to being non-controversial. If this were a general debate, and not a debate on the recess, even I could find—I am not a controversial figure—much in what the hon. Gentleman said at least to question if not entirely to dispute. His knowledge of shipbuilding, from having worked in that industry, and of the social services will be of benefit in our discussions, especially in Committee.
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House how his mind is moving in terms of the proposal made in the last Parliament in relation to Departmental Select Committees. If there were a Departmental Select Committee on the affairs of the Department of Health and Social Security, I could see the hon. Gentleman playing a strong part in it. No doubt he will speak on health and social security matters within the purview of that part of devolution that already exists, the Scottish Grand Committee, into which English Members of Parliament enter with trepidation and reluctance.
I turn now to a number of points made about the immediate energy situation. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that energy would be very 1086 much in the forefront of all our debates. I agreed with what the hon. Gentleman said about the long-term strategy—that we must evolve a policy on our energy needs.
If we want to change the balance of our energy supply, we are talking of a time scale of a minimum of 10 years. More realistically, the time scale is 20 years if we refer to the time it takes to build new power stations and comply with planning requirements. Our energy pattern is fixed for the immediate future. Therefore, we must consider how we make use of the facilities within the existing energy pattern.
The reply to the private notice question today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy dealt with one matter which I have raised before. I do not hesitate to raise it again. I refer to the problem of the disabled driver. I have a family interest in it. There is a degree of urgency in the matter. There is no question of motorists panicking over petrol supplies, but hon. Members have said that there is a degree of difficulty in obtaining petrol in some parts of the country.
The disabled driver is in a unique position. By definition, he or she cannot use public transport. There are local petrol shortages in advance of any question of a rationing scheme—indeed, long before the situation is serious enough for the Government to consider rationing. There is a convenient way in which to handle the difficulty.
The Government may take advantage of the orange badge system. Registered disabled drivers are given orange badges. It took a long time to get that system established by the Government. That is a convenient vehicle which already exists. No bureaucracy is needed. I propose that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House draws to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Energy and the Minister of Transport the need for advice to be given to petrol companies, wholesalers and retailers.
In my part of the country, many garages close at weekends. Those that do not close have some form of rationing. We may buy a maximum of £2-worth or £3-worth of petrol. They should be advised that priority should be given to 1087 motorists with the orange badge. That is simple. Without any official scheme, all retailers whom I know will accept such guidance.
I hope that in his Budget my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider the level of mobility allowances for disabled drivers, which is the other side of the proposition. It is clear that petrol will cost more, regardless of anything that the Government do about taxation. Part of the generality of the Budget is to look at social security benefits. There is a clear case for an increase in the mobility allowance. I prefer that the mobility allowance should be tax-free as it is not income in the normal sense of the word. It is a facility given to disabled people to enable them to go about their business and get to their work the same as the remainder of the community. There is a strong case for making the allowance tax-free.
Perhaps what I have said goes further than the ambit of the motion. However, I put the broad point that guidance should be given this week, or early next week, about disabled drivers. That simple, modest proposal will appeal to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I join the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Adams) on his maiden speech. My hon. Friend displayed compassion and a knowledge of social services that will stand him—and us—in good stead in the House. The hon. Member for Eastleigh has a great interest in the disabled. He will find an ally as well as a possible rival in my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley in discussions on the social services.
Having heard a number of maiden speeches, I am astonished at the resolute and assured manner in which they were made. I tremble to think what my maiden speech was like and what the present Members of Parliament would have thought of it. The high quality of the speeches we have heard should spur us to greater efforts.
1088 I was struck forcibly by how quickly 18 days of office have dimmed the rhetoric of the hustings. It seemed that almost every Government supporter who spoke on energy questions said the opposite of what he said in the general election. In the election the Tories said "Set the people free from Government interference." Almost every Government supporter who spoke said "Please, Mr. Secretary of State for Energy, do not put up petrol prices. Please make sure that the big, bad oil companies do not treat the small, poor garages badly by refusing them supplies." That is the operation of the market. Hon. Gentlemen are saying that the Government should intervene in the crude economics of the market. The oil companies, like everyone else, want to make as quick a profit as possible, and the best profit, with the least possible inconvenience. If that means that small businesses and small garages run into difficulty, so be it. There are many hours to come when we may argue the case in greater detail. I ask Government supporters to reflect on that each time they ask the Government to intervene, as otherwise they deny the case on which they fought and won the election.
I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins). He referred to the problems facing the pig industry, both the producers and processors of meat. Lawson of Dyce is situated on the border of my constituency. Most of its vast work force lives in my constituency. Its management said that because of severe losses on the pigmeat side of the processing plant, 600 jobs must go. That is serious enough. Once the 600 jobs go, there is no meaningful alternative employment in the city of Aberdeen or the surrounding area. We are afraid that, when only 800 jobs are left, the on-costs—which will certainly be reduced to some extent if part of the production is lopped off, but which continue irrespective of the size of the labour force—will become so severe a penalty on the remaining part of the factory that in time a further 800 jobs will go and the factory will close completely.
I am not being alarmist—I am always wary of people who are—about threatening that there will be massive redundancies, but it is a serious problem which concerns us and which we have discussed with the company over a number of years. 1089 Basically, the factory is in difficulty because of the disparities of the green pound and because of the difficulties with pigmeat MCAs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), the former Secretary of State for Employment, is on the Front Bench, and he will know that we averted redundancy some time ago by the provision of temporary employment subsidy. He will know that we have averted many redundancies by this kind of intervention. The problem is that even the Government's proposals for devaluing the green pound will not come in time—if they come—to save the factory. Action is needed now to keep it going.
In the Queen's Speech it was said that the Government wanted to see farming, food producers and the marketing agencies having fair competition. But they must first exist before that fair competition can be there. I hope that the Government will make it clear that they will be prepared, by taking special national measures in respect of the pig-meat and producer industries, to keep them going, or that they will directly fund this factory by giving it money to underwrite its losses until such time as it can be put on a profitable footing.
In addition to doing that, the Government ought to be pressing the parent company to face up to its social responsibilities, because Unilever, the parent company, has made money in the North and North-East of Scotland over many years and will, I dare say, do so in the future. It has made money in the country at large. In this instance the company is saying that it is not prepared to carry any more losses. The losses amount to over £2 million in the last couple of years. But there is a social responsibility on the company to put money in, and there is a social responsibility on the Government to act. Already the 18 days of office have led the Secretary of State for Scotland to say that he is willing to intervene to try to help. If he is sincere, he must try to help, and he ought to set out his criteria for help and tell us how much help he intends to give.
I should like now to turn to another topic which has been mentioned briefly in the debate, and that is Rhodesia. In the last couple of days there have been joint discussions between Lord Carrington, the Foreign Secretary, and Secretary 1090 of State Vance of the United States. It is quite outrageous and an absolute scandal that we do not have the Foreign Secretary in this House so that we may question him directly. The holder of such a high office, dealing with such important matters affecting the whole future not only of our own country but of many millions of people throughout the world, ought not to be in the other place. He ought to be here in this House, where he could be questioned directly. There ought to be a clear statement from the Government as to the outcome of the Carrington-Vance talks. So far, we do not know precisely what is happening or exactly what is being discussed.
Suddenly we are all rather concerned that the Government have decided to set up a resident mission in Salisbury and that they are to have a peripatetic mission to Africa. Some very strange names have been mentioned as to who might be involved in this. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has shown himself all along to be a full-hearted supporter of Smith, ever since the date of UDI. He would not be welcomed in Africa as a moderate person with something to contribute to the solution of the problems there.
The Government appear to be moving with a softly-softly approach towards some recognition of the Muzorewa-Smith coalition. The Government ought to go very carefully indeed and think seriously, not just about recognition but about the consequences of recognition. Recognition will not solve the conflict. It will certainly not end the war. The people of Zimbabwe have fought for a number of years, with heavy losses, and they will not give the whites the opportunity to carry on governing in that country. The people of Zimbabwe will continue to fight for their rights. The Government may feel that recognition would get them off the hook with regard to their own Back Benchers and enable the Government to extricate themselves from involvement in the Rhodesian problem. If they believe that recognition would have this effect, let me warn them that they are making a very grave error indeed.
I believe that recognition would drift into the giving of advice, and that advice would drift into the giving of support. 1091 This in turn would drift into direct military intervention. That would involve us much more directly than we have ever been involved in the past. Indeed, there is a grave and ominous precedent for what might happen. The Americans were sucked into Vietnam in precisely this kind of way. First, there was recognition. Then there were advisers sent to Vietnam, with missions of one kind and another, and finally the troops went in. Recognition would lead us directly into the war in Southern Africa of which we have all been afraid.
Already we have seen the attempts being made by South Africa and by the Smith regime to drag us in. The statement made by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) during the general election was of no help to the people of Southern Africa. The aggressiveness with which Smith has bombed and raided in Zambia and Mozambique and the news this morning that the South Africans have once again invaded Angola are precisely the kinds of things that we would have expected and, indeed, that we have forecast. This is what happens when we line up with the racist minority in Rhodesia.
There ought to be three clear statements from the Government before the recess. First, the Government ought to state that there will be no recognition. Second, the Government ought to commit themselves, despite their difficulties with their own Back Benchers, to the maintenance of sanctions against Rhodesia. Thirdly, the Government ought to state that they will not veto attempts which will be made to impose economic sanctions on South Africa.
That is a lot for the Government Benches to swallow, but I will make one confession to the House. During the general election period in 1974, I doubted very much the bona fides of the Pearce Commission which went to Rhodesia. When it returned, it reported honestly that the majority of the Rhodesian people were opposed to the proposals set out by the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home. I believe that it was a proper test of opinion in Rhodesia. But the Africans have not been asked whether they want the new constitution; only the white minority has been asked. If the Government will 1092 live up to their responsibilities and take the future of Southern Africa seriously, they will be making a very strong move towards peace and progress in Southern Africa. If they will think very seriously about where they are going, I hope and believe they will adopt the solutions which I have suggested to them.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that many hon. Members would like us to move on to the discussion of Welsh affairs. Therefore, I will not detain the House for more than a minute or so.
I want to revert to the question of oil supplies and the future use of energy in this country. It would be helpful to us to have a reassurance from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Government are aware of the need for the conservation of energy in this country. So far, we have only just begun to skim the surface in dealing with this question. There have been various programmes of exhortation by the previous Government. Unfortunately, these have had only a very mild impact on industry.
A great deal of attention has been drawn to the use made of energy by the average motorist, but even if the most strict rationing were introduced tomorrow—and that is not necessary—it would have only the tiniest effect on the use of oil in this country. If the motor car were abolished tomorrow, it would not make the slightest difference to the future supply of oil to this country. We would still be faced with a very serious shortage. In fact, the impact on the motorist and the desire to cut back the use of petroleum products in this area of transport are only the cosmetics of conservation. Such a cutback could result only in a great deal of hardship and dislocation.
There is no escaping the fact that the prime duty of any Government in the Western world is to ensure that there is a fresh initiative, both in this country and elsewhere, to conserve the use of oil and other sources of energy in industry. Too often the conservation programmes are thought to result in the cutting back of economic growth. On the contrary, if we do not use our energy resources more efficiently in industry we shall only 1093 hasten the day when industrial growth in the Western world is strangled.
Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend can reassure us. If he cannot do so, I hope that he can at least tell us that he will emphasise, with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, the concern shared by those of us here today about the need to launch a new initiative.
I shall not spell out the directions that I think the various initiatives should take. We must ensure that our use of energy in industry is better deployed and that it is used more economically and efficiently. In that context, I hope also that my right hon. Friend will invite the Secretary of State for Trade to look again at the forecasts of aircraft movements in this country.
We have had an interim report from the study team which suggests that there are six possible sites for a third London airport in the South-East. To digress, I hope that in order to speed up a decision on this matter the Government will come to a speedy conclusion that some of the sites suggested are palpably ludicrous and that a great deal of grief would be spared if the Government could, at an early date, indicate that they agree, so that people could rest assured that the countryside will not be desecrated.
It is most important that the Government arm themselves with up-to-date extrapolations of air traffic, in view of what we now know to be the chronic oil situation. I have a very keen interest in this matter, as the question of the further expansion of Gatwick is under review. I fully accept the value of airports to our economic well-being. They bring a great deal of prosperity to our country, and certainly to the constituency in which I live. But the over-expansion of airports such as Gatwick is bad on economic grounds and can only result in the desecration of the environment. Indeed, it is doing so.
The previous Government are guilty of procrastination on the question of a decision about a third airport. For nearly five years we have had no action, following the cancellation of Maplin. So long as we continue in this uncertain way we shall find that the lack of an airport policy will lead not only to the pollution of our environment but to the misuse of the energy that goes into that industry.
1094 The Government have quite a problem on their hands. I believe that they should take the initiative in conservation in the aircraft industry. More specifically, they should, as quickly as they can, give clear guidance to the aviation industry on future airport developments.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
I join with those who have congratulated you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to the Chair. It is quite a transformation to be at one moment Deputy Chief Whip and then to find oneself Deputy Speaker of the House. One task is partisan and the other is one where you will, I am sure, hold office in an impartial and objective way, deferring to the procedures of the House.
It is always with mixed feelings that one approaches a motion for the House to go into recess. There is possibly an element of hypocrisy about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) rightly said that he did not trust the Tory Government and would hesitate before letting them get out of his sight. I share that feeling in one sense; in another sense, I shall be glad to see the back of them for a fortnight. So much has come forth from this Government so early that I believe there is already reaction to what happened on 3 May.
It seems strange that only 20 days after having a general election we are now going into recess for a fortnight. One reason why we are going into recess is the European elections, though I am not so sure that that is a good reason. It would be a good thing for the country if the Government and the Labour Party were to put their views on where we all stand on Europe. It would serve the country better if, rather than go into recess, we were to have a debate on the future policy of this country as regards our membership of the Common Market.
A great deal has already been said in this short debate about oil supplies. I hope that the Leader of the House—if I may have his attention for a moment—will, at an early date, think about having an energy debate to deal not only with the oil situation but with all our energy resources. We are in a very fortunate and favourable position as regards oil resources.
1095 I was interested to discover that one or two hon. Members on the Government Benches have said that it is important that we should husband our oil resources and consider our future needs rather than involve ourselves elsewhere. What they did not say in this context, and what I should like to add, is that I hope we shall be concerned about the ownership of those oil resources, and that the threatened national asset-stripping that has been talked about will not mean that oil com panics—multinationals and foreign investors—will be buying the resources that a Labour Government brought into national ownership. I hope that we shall debate this subject as soon as we return after the recess.
It has been said that the Queen's Speech is almost a photostat copy of the issues on which the Conservative Party fought the general election. Undoubtedly they were not only putting forward proposals but are now endeavouring to translate them into legislation. One must be fair and say that the legislation is not yet ready and one must give them time to prepare it. It will be several weeks before the legislation will emerge. That is no reason for the House to go into recess. There is a large number of other matters besides oil which require consideration.
We had a humorous contribution from the Leader of the House last night. He is a good after-dinner speaker and no doubt we shall enjoy his humour in future debates. That is a good thing. We shall need a sense of humour in view of the way in which the Government are beginning to act on so many issues. Although the Government have put forward broad policy outlines, we have been told little about how they intend to implement those policies. We have had a number of major contributions on various aspects of the Government's policies from the Front Bench but we are still not clear about what they will do on a number of other issues. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to be telling us what he will not be doing in the Budget. Before the election we were told what he was going to do. Yesterday, the Chancellor gave us a prelude almost of what he said we would get in the election. Now, owing to unforeseen circumstances, that will not be possible.
If we are looking for matters to discuss—I see that my right hon. Friend the 1096 Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith), the former Secretary of State for Trade, is in the Chamber—there are a number of reports in the Department of Trade, such as the Lonrho report and others, relating to how private enterprise has operated in this country. Added to that large number of reports on the various bookshelves in the Department of Trade is the Keyser Ullmann report. Those are the matters that we should be debating in the House. We should not think of going into recess. We should look at these reports. The lessons we can learn from these reports are how various private speculators have stripped the assets of various companies. That will help us prevent the national asset-stripping proposed by the Government. We can learn how consumers, industry and working people have suffered because of the action of those various companies. It is important to understand the reasons for the failure of private enterprise before we bring the public sector into that category.
§ Mr. Evans
A Welsh debate is to follow, and the hon. Gentleman has already spoken. Other hon. Members wish to take part in this debate, and there will be other opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to intervene.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) about Rhodesia. It is an affront to this House of Commons that it does not have a Foreign Secretary in the House. It is not as if the Conservative Party is short of foreign affairs experts. It is certainly not short of hon. Members. Of course, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) offered to do the job.
§ Mr. Evans
That is what we are given to understand. We had better have the facts. We understand that, if asked, the right hon. Gentleman would have been prepared to become Foreign Secretary. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is still recovering from that wound in his back. We all know about that. Leaving that aside, even if the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to be Foreign Secretary, I am assured that there are 1097 other Conservative Members who would. When major foreign affairs issues come before this House, it is wrong to have the Lord Privy Seal saying that he is speaking on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, who is down the corridor. That is wrong. The Government must think well and long before they abandon sanctions and recognise the new Rhodesian regime.
The Government have already had representations from the High Commissions. Apparently they are unanimous. Those who are for the Rhodesian regime might take comfort from the fact that there has been a change of Government in Canada. But in Canada they call themselves progressive Conservatives, unlike our Prime Minister, who calls herself a reactionary Conservative. We shall find that many Conservative parties in other countries would take a dim view if this Government were unilaterally to recognise the Rhodesian regime. I hope that we shall soon have a debate on this issue.
In fairness to the Labour Government when in power, it must be said that they rarely made major pronouncements during recesses. It is true that during another period there was a tendency for Governments to make all the awkward statements, which hon. Members could not question, as soon as they went into recess. I hope that we shall have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that during this recess no major political statements will be made that can wait until the House returns, so that hon. Members can question the policies that are put forward by the Government.
There is another point which needs to be looked at. The Department of Prices and Consumer Protection has been abolished, as has the Price Commission. We no longer have in the Cabinet a Minister with sole responsibility for prices and consumer protection. That Department has now been merged into the Department of Trade. Yet already, in the past 20 days, we have been getting reports of various price increases day by day. Conservative Members have said that these were in the pipeline but were kept back by the private companies. Do Conservative Members really believe that Ranks Hovis McDougall, which subscribes to the Tory Party, kept back the bread price increase until the Tories got into power? They may well be right, 1098 because the Labour Government would have referred the matter to the Price Commission, and the company would not have been able—
§ Mr. Evans
Even the Post Office is now to put up prices. Therefore, hon. Members who wish to write to the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection to complain about prices now find that that Department has been abolished, and if they write to some other Department they will pay more for doing so. That is how the Tories deal with prices.
We now have no Minister with responsibility for prices and consumer protection, and that is something that I hope will be considered at an early date. We must also discuss the question of the Price Commission itself. A by-product of all this is that in the last Parliament we had a Question Time devoted entirely to prices and consumer protection. Now that all these price increases have taken place, the Secretary of State for Trade is to deal with prices and consumer protection as well. As a result, we must fight for that small opportunity to deal with these questions.
I appreciate that a Welsh debate is to follow and that a number of Welsh Members wish to raise certain matters. But there is one matter that I want to raise now, because it is linked with the earlier statement on oil supplies. This relates to the future of the coal industry. Under the previous Government a tripartite committee was set up between the Government, the Coal Board and the miners' unions in South Wales to look at the future of the coal industry. Great public investment is required. I should like to know from the Leader of the House when we shall hear of the Government's decision regarding that tripartite committee.
Already, a pit in my constituency has been threatened with closure, although 1099 a large amount of coal exists in that pit area. We hear Conservative Members talk about rationing, and about the disabled getting priority in the petrol queue in order to get oil. As well as husbanding our oil resources, I hope that we ensure that the benefits of North Sea Oil flow into the coffers of the community.
Conservative Members talk about shareholding, but they must remember that there is such a thing as a national shareholding. The nation has a shareholding in public industries. If the Government plan to hive off the ownership of oil to foreign investors and if they fail to husband the 300 years' supply of coal, thus ensuring that pits are kept open, that must be debated as early as possible.
I hope that after the fortnight's recess we shall have answers to many of these questions. Let the Government take all their Ministers to Chequers, look at what they said to the people and realise that it is just not on. Let them then come back with a revised version of the Tory manifesto and tell the country what they intend to do in the years ahead.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I am not constitutionally averse to having a recess. I am not one of that small band of romantics who feel that a day not spent in the Palace of Westminster is a day wasted. It is, therefore, with a little guilt feeling that I find myself urging that the recess should be postponed, if not abandoned altogether. I do so because there are many matters of real urgency which must be considered by the House and on which decisions must be taken.
I certainly do not quarrel with the thesis advanced by the Government during the Queen's Speech debate that they need time to collect their thoughts and consider the situation in order to give us some sort of insight into their long-term strategy. We all await the results of that process with fascinated interest and some foreboding. But I accept that they have a right to do it.
However, there are matters which are not concerned with long-term policy. There are matters of short-term and immediate decision which affect the standard of life for the people in my constituency 1100 and probably in every other constituency in the country. Those decisions must be taken.
The only point that I want to raise during my short contribution is the state of the shipbuilding industry. I am a Clydeside Member of Parliament. My constituency is very heavily dependent upon shipbuilding. It is the fundamental industry which underpins the employment prospects in my part of the country. I represent a seat that has a very high unemployment rate. That, perhaps, does not mark it out from many others in Scotland and in parts of the United Kingdom, but it is an area in which the problems are particularly difficult to eradicate. If there were a disaster there in terms of employment in the shipbuilding industry, we would be facing the most serious social discontents and misery, of a sort that we have not seen for very many years in industrial West-Central Scotland.
We have had a number of blows in Garscadden, Clydebank and that area west of Glasgow. The Goodyear Tyre Company and the Singer Sewing Machine Company are only two spectacular recent examples. If we were to face the same sort of problem in shipbuilding, as we fear, clearly it would be a subject for the very gravest concern, irrespective of one's party loyalties and allegiances.
We must hear from the Government what they will be doing in the next week or two to ensure that such a disaster does not overcome us and that we do not face such a crisis. In their manifesto, the Conservatives have said that they want to sell off, particularly in the shipbuilding and aerospace industries, as a sort of job lot, those parts which are profitable and can be returned to private enterprise.
I do not expect that the Leader of the House will be able to give any detailed information as to exactly how that will work, or what the criteria for the sales will be. However, I am sure that he will appreciate the genuineness of the point that this kind of prospectus, this possibility in the immediate future, is creating a great deal of uncertainty and discontent and is extremely bad for morale in the shipyards, which have only recently been brought into a homogeneous whole under the banner of British Shipbuilders. It 1101 is a very important matter for the people who are in this situation.
In my constituency, for example, there is Yarrow's, which is an extremely successful yard, largely because it tenders for very sophisticated naval vessels. I suppose that it must be one of the possibilities for sale back to the private sector, particularly as we know that the compensation to the previous owners has not yet been paid. I suppose there is the possibility that they might be interested in re-acquiring the yard.
It is that kind of uncertainty which must be removed, not only in Yarrow's but in neighbouring yards, because if the Government sell off one of the most important naval builders they will be striking at what I understand to be one of the central strategies of British Shipbuilders—that we concentrate on the naval shipyards and find employment there for many of the men who will be displaced at other yards operated by British Shipbuilders. I hope that the Minister will give some indication in the very near future—it ought to be before the recess—of exactly what is to happen to these yards and how this operation will be worked.
Even more immediately, we have the question of the redundancy payments scheme for shipyard workers. As I understand it, the order expires on 30 June, so the matter is obviously very pressing. We ought to know the Government's intentions. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be able to say that the scheme for shipyard workers is irrelevant and is itself redundant because there will not be any job losses in British Shipbuilders and in shipbuilding engineering. If he gives me that assurance, I shall be delighted—but I shall be most surprised.
I think that we all recognise that there will be contraction. If there is to be contraction, it is vital that we know the terms under which those who have the misfortune to be displaced will receive help under the special redundancy scheme. Again, it is quite deplorable that we are leaving the House for a recess without these matters being aired and these decisions taken.
I raise, finally, a general point, but it is most important in terms of the shipbuilding industry. There is a lamentable 1102 shortage of orders in world terms and specifically in terms of the British yards. To put it in the bluntest possible way, there are many yards on the edges of and around my constituency where there is now no work left, or virtually no work. In Govan Shipbuilders, for example, I think that the last of the Polish orders goes down the slipway next September. For many of the steel trades, work is already running out.
Such a situation is not something in which we can sit and wait for Conservative philosophy to evolve and to be nicely delineated. I want to know now what the Government plan to do in order to stop 5,500 members of the work force of that yard, many of whom live and work in and around my constituency, being put almost immediately on the dole.
I do not know whether I have been properly informed, but I am told, for example, that there is a possibility of an order for the Govan yard of a bulk carrier for the Tunisian Government. That would involve money from the intervention fund and probably further finance to bridge the gap between what the customer is prepared to pay and what we can offer from overseas aid. I know that this matter was under active negotiation under the previous Government. As I understand it, it is vital for the continuance of work in this yard.
I should like to know, before we adjourn, whether the Government are really trying to seek orders in this way, whether they are prepared to use the intervention fund, and what will be the whole attitude to the previous Government's commitment of £85 million for the intervention fund now that we have had a change of Minister.
There are all these fundamental points on which, as the representative of a shipbuilding constituency, I am totally ignorant of the Government's intentions. Frankly, when I return to my constituency—if we have this recess—I shall have to meet shop stewards and the work force and discuss their prospects with them. It will not be good for the Conservative Government, any more than it will be good for me, if I have to say "Actually, Parliament does not know what is happening. We do not know what the Conservatives intend to do about these important matters, so you will just have to 1103 sit with all the patience you can muster, among a cloud of mounting anxiety, awaiting the pleasure of the Government."
This is not a matter of metaphysical discussion about how we organise the free market economy. We cannot wait for the Secretary of State for Industry to go on circuit, as he has promised, learning and perhaps propagating the works of Adam Smith over the months that lie ahead. It is a lot more urgent than that. It is a major crisis of the whole industrial substructure of West-Central Scotland. I am very unhappy indeed that we are not getting more information and a willingness to face up to these problems in the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) raised a great number of these questions in the debate on the Queen's Speech. He did so precisely, concisely and persistently—and answer came there none. That is not a situation that we can accept. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to give me not just consolation but some definite information as to when I shall get answers to these overwhelmingly important questions for my constituency and for the whole western side of Glasgow.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)
I should like to dovetail into the remarks made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in that my fears as we move into the recess are very similar to his—namely, the future of British Shipbuilders redundancy payments scheme.
While the House is in recess for the Whitsun break, Falmouth docks will close, with effect from 4 June. About 170 men will be retained, however, in some hope of maintaining a form of activity. To the 170 or 200 men who will thus be engaged, it is obviously very reassuring to know that they will have jobs when the jobs of their colleagues have ended under the redundancy payments scheme, but this will be a very hollow satisfaction if the incoming Government fail to extend the scheme, with the result that those who stay on will, as a result of their loyalty and enthusiasm, find themselves worse off than those who are going under the 1104 scheme, which ends at the end of June. Therefore, I hope very much that this evening we shall have some news of progress in this direction.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) said that he hoped that during the recess Government statements would not be made outside the House without first being made available to the House. I must disagree with him. The problems of Cornwall are such that if solutions should be found over the next fortnight, it is vitally important that the news should be given to the widest number of people as soon as possible, to restore confidence.
If the Department of Industry can reach agreement over the future of the Wheal Jane tin mine, which has now been out of operation for 13 months, I would welcome an announcement on that, be it during the recess, on the bank holiday, or at midnight on a Sunday night, because it is of interest to the area and to the community served that this information should be given.
I also hope that if there is any good or encouraging news of a successor company to take on Falmouth ship repair yard, such a development will be given the encouragement, action and publicity that it so rightly deserves.
Thirdly, I hope that on the eve of the Whitsun Recess the Government will urgently consider the problem of fuel supplies to the far west of Cornwall. We already suffer major distribution problems. This afternoon a local baker told me that if he cannot get fuel oil supplies through by next Wednesday he will have to lay off 18 men as he can no longer operate. In Cornwall we have a massive and sustained local demand for all forms of fuel. As we move into the holiday period, there will be greater pressure on our limited stocks from camp sites and caravans to be serviced and car and coach tanks filled.
I hope that on the issues of the Wheal Jane mine, Falmouth docks, British Shipbuilders redundancy payments and the urgency of guaranteeing essential fuel to Cornish industry, the Leader of the House will assure us that Cornwall will not be neglected during what could be a crisis recess.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
I gladly join in the approbation of the 1105 maiden speeches made today and over the last few days. They augur well for the quality of the 1979 intake. I also add my congratulations to those expressed by other hon. Members to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Particularly on Fridays, in our office as Whips, we have worked closely together. I hope that I shall not harm your reputation with your former colleagues in saying that you were scrupulously fair. You never tried what I have been told are the tricks of the trade, and we had a harmonious relationship. Both sides of the House benefited from that, and I am sure that the House will benefit equally from your scrupulous fairness in the Chair today and for many years to come.
I ask the Leader of the House to bring to the attention of the Minister of Transport two urgent and vital matters to the constituents of Edmonton and Enfield. When one thinks of angry southern commuters, one thinks of Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent and rarely hears of those from Liverpool Street, on the Enfield Town line, as particularly militant. The quality of the service that they have to suffer on the Liverpool Street-Enfield Town line, particularly in the past year, has, however, been bad. Commuters were led to believe that many good things would happen, particularly from changes in the timetable last year, but they have been driven to despair by the quality of the service.
Before I am accused of raising these problems after 3 May, let me say that before that date I tried in vain to stress to the Secretary of State for Transport the poor quality of the service. Many good and articulate residents' associations in my area, particularly the Bush Hill Park ratepayers' association, have been persistent, patient and constructive in bringing to the Minister's attention necessary improvements. The greatest distress comes from the cancellation of trains rather than the quality of the rolling stock. It is bad enough to know in advance that a train is cancelled. It is worse to arrive at the station and find that it is cancelled at a moment's notice, and often the staff do not know either.
The secretary of the Bush Hill Park ratepayers' association tells me that two weeks ago, between 5 o'clock and 8 o'clock one night, there were 13 cancellations. Six of those were to Liverpool 1106 Street and seven out of Liverpool Street, which meant that half the scheduled trains were cancelled. That is a disgrace. The commuters who board trains at Silver Street, Lower Edmonton, Bush Hill Park and Enfield Town are weary and sad. I am able to speak from practical experience. One morning last week I went to catch a train that was between 15 and 20 minutes late, and that evening the train that I went to catch from Seven Sisters was cancelled.
The Bush Hill Park ratepayers' association went to a great deal of trouble, and the top brass of British Railways Eastern Region came to a meeting that I convened in the home of one of the members. The dialogue was constructive. As many hon. Members with commuter interests will not be surprised to hear, we were told that the problem was not only one of shortages of staff but, particularly, of guards, and that the main problem is not pay but unsocial hours. Consultation with trade unions, management and commuters should find a means of recognising in 1979–1980 the needs of the family man who wants to lead a life in the community and work on the railways.
The secretary of the Bush Hill Park ratepayers' association, Mrs. Snell, wrote to the divisional manager of British Railways Eastern Region, Mr. Holmes, on 13 May. She refers to the earlier meeting and says:At that meeting both sides were able to put forward their points of view. As far as our side was concerned we believed that you were attempting to make improvements in this particular service.She goes on to say:Our members are heartily sick of the poor service which you provide and are pressing for more positive action. I have now been asked to write to the new Minister of Transport, Mr. Norman Fowler, to see whether he can obtain an improvement for us. A copy of our letter is attached hereto for your information.The letter to the new Minister contains the paragraph:With the continual increase in fares every year, passengers' patience with B.R.'s system of industrial relations and poor service is wearing thin. It is clear that fundamental changes in management and union attitudes are required if passengers and taxpayers are to receive value for their money.I hope that the Leader of the House will bring to the Minister's attention how fed 1107 up are many of the people who live along that line.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) is here. Our constituents share a problem arising from the building of the M25. That road is going around the northern perimeter of London. At one time it was called Ringway 3, and then the north orbital road. It will bring immense benefit to my constituency, the South and the whole country. Every Government in the past 20 years have given the building of that road utmost priority. When it is built and comes around the northern environs of the London borough of Enfield, traffic from that road must not go straight through the boroughs of Enfield, Edmonton and Southgate. If it does, there will be an environmental disaster.
The residents' associations, the three hon. Members representing those constituencies, the London borough of Enfield council and preservation societies are united in the belief that a road called the north-south link road should have a direct link for traffic coming off the M25 to ensure that it does not use the rat-runs of eastern Enfield and Edmonton to find its way into London.
Despite the pressure of all three hon. Members, the Greater London Council, with the prime responsibility for requesting that link from the Minister, has persistently refused to do so. I ask the Leader of the House to prevail upon the Minister of Transport to respond to a request from the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) and myself to meet urgently a deputation of local representatives to see even at this late stage whether it is possible to reserve the land for or agree to a direct link.
Until that direct link is made, heavy traffic and other traffic will come off the M25 along the A10 through Enfield and Edmonton, and eventually the people in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies will be living in a nightmare. I hope that the Leader of the House will tell me before the recess that at least he will convey to the Minister of Transport these urgent, vital fears of my constituents.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I cannot lie; I would like to go on holiday, 1108 and I am sure that it would do the country a great deal of good if the holiday were prolonged and if the proposals that were announced in the Gracious Speech were thereby delayed. In addition, I have no self-interest in rising in the debate, because I do not have a local newspaper, as it has been locked out for the past two months. Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will accept my sincerity in raising the two matters that I wish to raise, because I should like a specific answer to them before we go into recess.
The first matter relates to the Kiribati Bill, whose Second Reading is due to be debated tomorrow. It is impossible to table amendments until the Second Reading has taken place. If the debate ran until 10 o'clock, we could not put down unstarred amendments to be dealt with in Committee on the day we come back. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know, although you are new to your office, the unstarred amendments may or may not be called, depending entirely upon the decision of the Chair. I hope that the Leader of the House will therefore consider whether it is right to choose the day after the recess as the Committee stage for the Bill, in which a great many hon. Members on both sides of the House are intensely interested and to which it is expected that there will be a substantial number of amendments.
The second matter is more important. It relates to the squalid section of the Conservative Party manifesto relating to the changes proposed in the law relating to immigration. The section also referred to changes in the law relating to citizenship, which would require a Bill. Will the Leader of the House say, for the sake of those who are in deepest fear of the undermining of their present status and of their relationships with their families abroad, what pattern of events is likely to unfold in the present Session in relation to those proposals?
Do the Government intend to introduce a Bill to cover all their proposals? Do they intend to produce a White Paper on their proposals in relation to citizenship? Is it intended that some part of these proposals will be dealt with only by amendment of the rules, and, if so, is it intended that those rules will be dealt with, as so much other delegated legislation is dealt with, by a one-and-a-half-hour 1109 debate after 10 o'clock? That would be wholly unacceptable to me and to a great many of my hon. Friends. It would be equally unacceptable to many whose fears have been aroused by these proposals and by the way in which they were argued during the election campaign.
A great many people have the deepest fear that their family circumstances will be severely disadvantaged in a way which is not just a matter of jobs, houses or cutting income tax, all of which may be temporary and may be dealt with later, but in respect of alienating members of the family circle from their loved ones in this country. That goes to the depth of what the Leader of the House argued last night was the central thesis of his party, namely, the maintenance of family life. If he is to allay the fears of those whose family life is prejudiced by these proposals, will he say now what the Government propose to do?
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)
I add my congratulations, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the many that have been expressed to you on your appointment, which are a sign of the widespread approval of that appointment and the good wishes that go with you in your exacting office.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Adams) on his maiden speech. It is my impression that the quality of newly elected Members on both sides of the House is very high. My hon. Friend lived up to that high standard. He comes to the House with a great deal of experience of the social services, in particular from the post of responsibility that he held as a member of the Strathclyde regional council, which has an excellent social services department. I know from his industrial experience that he will add a great deal to our debates on these and other subjects.
This type of debate allows hon. Members on both sides of the House to raise questions that are in their minds before a recess and to attempt to elicit answers from the Government, in the person of the Leader of the House, to some pressing problems that concern them. That is sometimes a vain hope, but I am sure that many of us have high expectations of the new Leader of the House and we shall expect from him clear answers to the questions that hon. Members have put.
1110 From the Opposition Benches concern was expressed about some industrial questions that are unresolved before the House goes into recess. These arise almost directly from the way in which the Secretary of State for Industry chose to handle the debate on the Queen's Speech on Monday. The House, in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), asked a series of pointed, detailed, highly relevant and topical questions about the state of certain industries, including the steel industry and the shipbuilding industry. The only reply that my right hon. Friend had to any of these questions was the insouciant reply that the Secretary of State for Industry would attend meetings of the National Economic Development Council—a piece of information that does not take us much further forward. These precise questions were repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who has a deep constituency interest in the shipbuilding industry. With a little more hope than confidence, we put those questions again to the Leader of the House.
When can we be told about the continuation of the shipbuilding redundancy payment scheme? It cannot be said that that is not an urgent matter. The scheme expires at the end of June, and if we go into recess and come back halfway through the month there will be a period of considerable uncertainty about what will happen to the scheme.
What will happen to the intervention fund of £85 million set up by the previous Government? What will happen on the policy of overseas aid and public sector support for the provision of more work for the shipbuilding industry? The industry is in the grip of great fear as to its future following the result of the election. What will be the Government's attitude to the corporate plan of British Shipbuilders?
These are not idle questions; they are topical and urgent questions affecting the livelihoods of many thousands of people. If we go into recess, we shall be leaving with a Queen's Speech that has made vague proposals about these industries—about which there are great fears amongst those who work in them—without any answers to the questions that have been asked. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to tell us more 1111 about the Government's plans for industry generally.
Other questions have been raised in the speeches made during the debate, and in some the complaint has been that there had not been answers to questions put by the Opposition. I must acquit the Prime Minister of one charge in that respect. She made her intentions brutally clear about the Price Commission on the first day of the debate on the Queen's Speech. What puzzles us about that is that if the Conservative Party had such a clear mind to abolish the Price Commission—as appeared to be the case from the Prime Minister's speech—why was there no mention of it in the Queen's Speech or in the Conservative manifesto on which the election was fought?
It cannot be said that this is a matter of detail upon which the Government require to consider how they will frame the legislation or fill out the details of their policy. It was clear from the way in which the Prime Minister tackled the question in her first speech to the House as Prime Minister that she had all along intended to abolish the Price Commission. It came out quickly and clearly. Indeed, it is about the one clear answer that we have had from the Government during the past week.
That raises a question of probity. If that was the Conservative Party's intention, as we can clearly see it was, why was it not put in the election manifesto? Why did the Conservatives not say before the election as proudly and confidently as they now defend the proposal that it was their intention to abolish the Price Commission?
Those connoisseurs of elections, of whom there are many in the Chamber, who enjoyed some aspects of the recent election will perhaps have found the most entertaining a television exchange between my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the now Minister for Consumer Affairs, who was asked repeatedly and pointedly, not only by my right hon. Friend but by a television interviewer, whether it was the Conservatives' policy to abolish the Price Commission. All that my right hon. Friend managed to elicit from her was that they would review it. Give them one day in office, and we find that the truth is 1112 revealed and they will abolish the Price Commission.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman should reread the speech of his Prime Minister. It is clear that she will abolish the Price Commission. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman or the Leader of the House, whose sophistry in the explanation of Conservative policy has been acquired over many years, will give us another example of that sophistry today in seeking to explain how it was not possible before the election to say what would happen but as soon as it is over all is revealed.
There is another theme that was developed as much from the Conservative Benches as from the Labour Benches—the concern felt by many hon. Members about the developing energy position, and their apprehension about returning to their constituencies with some questions unresolved. I am not surprised that they feel that questions have been unresolved, because the statement by the Secretary of State for Energy was hardly weighty or enlightening on the Government's energy policy, and in particular on the problems of oil supplies. The Government will have a great responsibility over the next few weeks and months in managing and safeguarding our energy policy.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised questions about the effect of Community policy on Britain's energy resources. A slightly different tune was played, perhaps not by those hon. Members but by some of their colleagues, who persistently criticised the Labour Government for being, as they described it, truculent over certain matters within the Community. The Labour Government were clear that the control of Britain's energy supplies remained the sovereign right of the British Government and was not handed over to the Community or encompassed by the provisions of the Treaty of Rome.
One matter to which I hope the Government will pay strict attention is that the last Government fought hard throughout their period in office to prevent the Community asserting sovereignty over the 1113 British continental shelf, which is not encompassed within the Treaty. I warn the House that if the Community obtains sovereignty over the continental shelf, whether by a court decision or by agreement of a complaisant Government, the consequences for the control of our energy policy will be very serious.
I believe that the last Government followed a very intelligent policy on our oil, securing much greater national control over the rate of depletion and the disposition of oil supplies than had ever been the case before. We inherited a situation of neglect in 1974.
I hope that the Government will pause before taking action over the British National Oil Corporation or moving to upset the participation agreements between the Corporation and the private sector oil companies that secure disposal of petroleum for this country. When we see how tight the position can be for a country that has so much oil being produced, we see the importance from a national point of view of having reasonable control over it. I hope that the Leader of the House will take account of these representations when the Cabinet discusses these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) raised two House of Commons matters. I want to ask the Leader of the House about two others. One is the change in the rules of the House to give more opportunity for Select Committees to be established, particularly along departmental lines. The Secretary of State for Defence, when shadowing the previous Leader of the House, committed the Conservative Party to a radical programme in this respect. I hear rumblings that there has been a great deal of opposition within the Cabinet to the Government's endorsing those proposals.
Many hon. Members have signed an early-day motion on the matter, which is clearly highly topical. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House—this is his direct responsibility—could enlighten us a little more on the development of the Government's thinking. In particular, do the proposals advanced by the Conservative Party in Opposition still stand? If so, what action will be taken, and when? Will there be an early debate on what is a very important House of Commons matter?
1114 Before we move on to the debate on Welsh affairs, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that last week, when he was for the first time answering business questions, he was asked what would be the motion for the debate. He did not tell us then that it would be a motion for the Adjournment of the House. He said:the wishes of the Welsh Members will be taken into account."—[Official Report, 17 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 389.]I understand that Welsh Members responded to that generous invitation by approaching the right hon. Gentleman with a motion that he might table for the debate. It was admittedly fairly critical of the Government, but I understand that it was signed by a majority of Welsh Members, including representatives of not only the Labour Party but Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Party.
The Leader of the House therefore knew the wishes of the majority of Welsh hon. Members. Which wishes did he take into account? Did he take into account the minority of Welsh Members, who are members of his own party? That would be a strange way of protecting minority interests, particularly when they are buttressed by a sufficient majority in the House as a whole.
I shall not delay the House long, because there is a desire to move on to the debate on Welsh affairs, but I must mention one other unresolved question that was asked repeatedly throughout the debate on the Loyal Address. It concerns the Government's policy towards pensions. The question was put pointedly by my hon. Friend the former Under-Secretary of State for Trade, the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) to the Prime Minister direct, only yesterday. The question was very simple. I repeat it to the Leader of the House. Is it the Government's policy that retirement pensions shall be increased according to the increase in prices or the increase in earnings, whichever is the higher? The latter was not only the Labour Party's commitment but the practice of the Labour Government.
It is a simple question, and it could be answered simply if the Government had a clear mind upon it. I ask it again, and I give notice that it would be much wiser for it to be answered soon, because we 1115 shall keep asking it until we receive an answer from the Government.
There are obvious deep concerns not only about energy and oil supplies but about the implications of the Government's programme for jobs, prices and pensions—the very matters that were discussed at great length during the election. It is not good enough for Ministers constantly to say "We won the last election. That proves we must be right." The House should not tolerate such answers as the Government's programme develops although we understand that they must be given some time to put detail into place.
We shall expect the Government to justify their policies on their merits and not merely to say that they happened to win the election. It will be our policy to pursue the Government relentlessly on some of these matters, whether we go away for the recess or not.
It will not be good enough for us to be given philosophical dissertations such as we had from the Secretary of State for Industry in response to some precise questions. I recently spoke to a distinguished foreign diplomat who listened to the debate on industry and employment on Monday. He said that his observation the first time he heard the House in action was that it seemed a very oddly cerebral occasion, with a philosophical debate going on. He wondered what that had to do with the Government's programme of action for the forthcoming year.
There was a great deal in that diplomat's observation, because in that debate we tended to be distracted on to philosophical issues and away from some of the practical problems which are on the Government's desk. I hope that the Leader of the House will start a tradition in ministerial replies of moving away from that and giving the House some hard-headed, practical, revealing and enlightening answers to some of the questions that have been put to him. [Interruption.] It really is not fair of Government supporters to say in advance that he will not be able to do that.
In conclusion, I extend to the Leader of the House my best personal wishes during his tenure of office. He is well liked on both sides of the House, but we know the burden that he carries of justifying the foolish policies of the Administration 1116 of which he happens to be a member. I hope that he will make a good start and, if we decide to go into recess, that we will go a little better informed than we have been so far.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I must thank the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) for his generous personal remarks. I always appreciate these courtesies. They are part of our life in the House of Commons, and they get us through difficult moments.
We have had nearly 20 hon. Members raising very important matters in the debate, and I do not pretend that I can answer them all in detail. We should be here for a very long time were I to attempt to do that. However, all the matters which have been raised will be noted in my office and they will be drawn to the attention of the Ministers concerned.
I begin by dealing with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), who castigated us for rising too soon. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) and by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who said that he would not trust the Government out of his sight. I give him a tu quoque reply and suggest that perhaps both of us should hang around the precincts of Westminster during the recess, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, sniffing each other and keeping an eye on each other.
I rather deprecate the use of the word "holiday" to describe the recess, because it is not a holiday. We merely mislead people outside this House if we pretend that it is. We need these periods to catch up on certain aspects of our work. We need this period to spend a special amount of time with our constituents. In the circumstances of the election, moreover, hon. Members are entitled to just a few days off. I also remind the House of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that because of the election the House of Commons did not have a normal Easter break. As life is so intense here, it is important that there should be periods away from the House 1117 as well as periods here. So I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Working (Mr. Onslow), who was kind enough to congratulate me on the length of the recess. I do not think that it is unreasonable. Two weeks makes sense. It is quite normal to have a two-week Whitsun Recess. In the circumstances of the election, it makes even more sense, and we have the European elections as well which will occupy many hon. Members.
This is the first time that a European Parliament will be elected. It is the first time in history that a Parliament will be elected across national boundaries. It is a very important step to democracy; it is an important step for representative government, and it carries with it important implications for the future peace and tranquility of nations. So I think that it is not unreasonable to devote a few days to seeing that there is the highest possible vote in these elections.
This debate is taking place against the background of a six-day debate on Government policy, and I suppose that we could have another six-day debate on the general issues of principle which are involved. I shall try to leave those general issues on one side and answer the specific matters that hon. Members have raised during the debate.
Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy spoke about the fuel problems that we face. To refer to a "fuel crisis" would be putting it far too high. We have some problems, and I can assure the House that although I do not feel that it is necessary to have constant statements from the Secretary of State for Energy, if the position deteriorates in any way I shall be in touch with him to make sure that the House is fully informed.
The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North referred to two specific matters on which he wanted me to comment because they fell within the sphere of my own responsibilities. The first concerned the establishment of Select Committees in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he had detected rumblings of disputes on this matter in the Cabinet. I can tell him that that is not so. The Cabinet has been very fully occupied with the preparation of the Gracious Speech and other matters, 1118 as one would expect when a new Government come to power, and proposals as important and as complicated as those put forward by the Procedure Committee, which involve every Department in government, cannot be rushed through Cabinet in a matter of days. The right hon. Gentleman must know that since he was a distinguished member of a Cabinet. We need a bit more time. I am pressing ahead with energy to get the various problems straightened out, and it is my hope and expectation that before the House rises for the Summer Recess we shall have positive proposals to put before the House, when the House will have the opportunity to decide on these issues, as is its prerogative.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I make my intervention in no carping spirit because I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's heart is in the right place. However "before the Summer Recess" is a very long time for the House to reach a decision. We accept that it takes a long time to set up Committees. It is not so acceptable to say that it takes a long time to have one day's debate so that the House may decide what sort of Committees it wants set up.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, and I know that I shall be harried and pursued by him until we have a debate, so that it is in my interests as well as everyone else's to have a debate as soon as possible.
The second specific matter referred to by the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North related to the Welsh debate which follows this one. I said, when I was asked about the motion on which the debate would hinge, that I would take into account the wishes of hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies whilst trying, as I hope I always will, to be as helpful as possible to Back Bench Members. However, when I consulted the precedents and considered the motion which had been presented by the Welsh Members, I found, unfortunately, that all the precedents going right back to 1946 were for debates on this topic being taken on the Adjournment. I felt that I was bound by the precedents unless some particularly good reason could be shown for departing from them. That is the history of the matter. I would now like to turn—
§ Mr. Coleman
I asked the question. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not give me this reply on Thursday? The precedents were there then. Why did he not say this at the time?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The precedents were certainly there. But I had not gone back through all the precedents for over 20 years. When I did so, I found, unfortunately, that the precedents were against changing the course of action. I was trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. There is nothing more in the matter than that. Perhaps it was a mistake to try to be helpful. Perhaps it lands one in more difficulties than if one is obstructive from the beginning. Anyhow, that is the truth of the matter.
The hon. Member for Neath was concerned about the situation in Wales. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that the level of unemployment in Wales is unacceptably high. While the level has declined slightly over recent months, it is still very much higher than when we were last in office. One of our prime objectives is to secure a significant reduction from the present levels. I am sure that the Welsh Development Agency has an important part to play in that task.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) was concerned about the unemployment situation in London. It is, indeed, an extremely serious problem. The hon. Gentleman did not relate the problem to the problems of other cities. It is important to stress that, however serious are the problems in London, they are part of the general problem of the inner areas of our cities. We intend to concentrate on improving matters. We need carefully to examine whether the existing policies being pursued are right and likely to provide lasting solutions. In considering the way forward, we shall consult the local authorities that have been most closely involved.
The hon. Member for Tooting also had words to say about the shortcomings of London Transport. The Government are considering the Greater London Council's proposals for further extensions of the Jubilee Line beyond Charing Cross, both 1120 in terms of the public expenditure involved and the likely benefits to passengers and the docklands. The Government's position on the proposals will be made clear when the House considers the London Transport Bill and the GLC Money Bill.
The hon. Member for Tooting also raised the question of roads. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is conscious of the general concern in London and elsewhere, particularly over the effect of heavy lorries on the environment. My right hon. Friend announced earlier this week that he had decided to go ahead with an independent inquiry into heavy lorries and the environment with the wide terms of reference proposed by his predecessor shortly before the general election. I am sure that my right hon. Friend's announcement will meet with general support in the House and outside.
I was interested in the suggestion that more use should be made of the Thames for transport. That is a very valuable suggestion.
One suggestion with which I cannot agree is that we should have a Minister for London. I am not sure that multiplication of Ministers with titles of one kind or another is helpful. Too often, it raises expectations which cannot be fulfilled. The problems of London, as I have tried to indicate, are the problems of many other cities and should be dealt with in that context. I do not think, therefore, that it would be appropriate to have such a Minister. I do not believe that we want a question day devoted solely to London. London Members are well able to put their points on the days that are allotted to particular Ministers.
I turn to the important points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West. He was concerned about Rhodesia, the question of sanctions and the policy of the Government. The Government have made clear to the House, in speeches by my right hon. Friends on 15 May and 18 May, our approach to this extremely difficult question. The Government's objective is to build on the change that has taken place in that country to achieve a return to legality in conditions which secure the widest possible international recognition. To that end, we have already established 1121 contact with Bishop Muzorewa. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has had talks with Mr. Vance. We shall be holding early consultations with our friends and partners in the Nine and in the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friends the Lord Privy Seal and others will be reporting to the House in due course on the outcome of these consultations. I hope that this answers not only the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West but also the point on Rhodesia raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West passed on to the subject of pigs. Again, in those queries, he was accompanied by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is well aware of the difficult competitive situation facing our pigment industry arising from the unfair system of monetary compensatory amounts in this sector. I am sure that in the forthcoming discussions in Brussels he will be seeking to improve the position of our industry.
The third point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West related to petrol supplies in rural areas. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy told the House only this afternoon, there is a serious world oil shortage. Consumers in the United Kingdom, like those elsewhere, will have to reduce their demand and oil companies are allocating their supplies equitably according to their own supply situation.
I turn now to the question raised by the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) on the question of providing facilities for Members of the European Parliament. The difficulty, as he pointed out, is the limitation on our facilities here. In my present position, I recognise that we face considerable difficulties in seeing that Members of this Parliament are adequately catered for. I cannot therefore hold out much hope in this regard, much as I believe it is right in principle that we should have close relations with the European Parliament. I shall look at the situation and do anything I can to help in the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) also referred to the fuel shortage. I shall pass on his observations to my right hon. Friend the 1122 Secretary of State for Energy. He asked to whom questions should be addressed on these matters. Should they go to the Secretary of State for Energy or to the Ministers responsible? In my view, they should be addressed first to the Minister responsible for the particular sector where they apply, such as agriculture, and not to the Secretary of State for Energy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton also raised the question of the effect of low viscosity of oil on fuel consumption. We are aware, of course, that low viscosity, in some cases, can lead to fuel savings. Unfortunately, the use of these oils is not suitable for every type of engine. We are looking into the matter, and, at our request, the Property Services Agency is carrying out trials to assess their effectiveness.
I turn now to the questions posed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. First, I shall deal with the point he made about the future of the coal industry. The Government believe that a competitive and efficient coal industry will have an important role to play in meeting the country's future demand for energy. A major investment programme is in progress. Under the previous Administration a review of strategy for the coal industry and of its finances was put in hand. The Government will be considering the results of that review very shortly.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central also asked about increasing old-age pensions. Despite the flattering words addressed to me by the hon. Gentleman, I cannot be expected to answer that question in the terms in which he presented it in the course of an Adjournment debate. Details of the new pension and other social security benefit rates are usually announced in April—at the time of the Budget, of course—and they come into operation in November. I realise that the general election cut across the normal timetable, though the Labour Government, just before the election, gave a broad indication of the kind of pension levels they envisaged for November. The Prime Minister, then in Opposition, said that a Conservative Administration would match those amounts.
During the election we made clear that, as previous Conservative Administrations have done, we intended to show concern for the old, the sick and the disabled—all those who are most vulnerable 1123 in our community. They can, of course, be helped most of all by strengthening the economy and by the control of inflation. I cannot go further than that in answering the hon. Member for Fife, Central at this point, but I feel sure that he will raise it with the Secretary of State for Social Services or with the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I must press on, because there are many points that I want to answer.
I turn now to the point about oil stocks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). The main concern is that oil stocks are at present low and need to be rebuilt for next winter, subject to the need not to aggravate the current supply shortfall. That is of common concern both to the Government and to the oil companies.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) raised the important question of the use of the Welsh language in schools. Our Welsh manifesto unequivocally stated:We shall continue to give active Government support to the maintenance of the Welsh language as a living tongue.That comment was reiterated in the Gracious Speech last week. In that context, we are giving consideration to a specific grant towards the cost of bilingual education in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be looking very carefully, but certainly most urgently, into that matter.
I can confirm that the Government intend to implement the Pneumonoconiosis etc. (Workers Compensation) Act which will come into force on 4 July. The necessary regulations will be laid as soon as possible, and the first payments under the Act should be made in the early autumn.
We shall make an early start on broadcasting on the fourth channel in Wales in the Welsh language. I hope that I have answered the important points made by the hon. Member for Caernarvon.
I turn now to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield. The first related to the green 1124 pound. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is taking stock of the overall position of farming. However, we have made it clear that we aim to devalue the green pound—but in the normal life of a Parliament—to a point which will enable our producers to compete on level terms with those in the rest of the Community. We want to provide conditions in which our efficient farming industry can compete on fair terms and make the best possible contribution to the economy as a whole.
I noted with sympathy my hon. Friend's remarks about Iran and the Shah. I welcome the return of Iranian oil exports, the cessation of which badly affected the international oil market. We welcome, too, the decision by the National Iranian Oil Company to permit all major oil companies to participate in this trade.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Adams) on making his maiden speech in this somewhat unlikely setting. I hope that we shall hear him again in our debates. The hon. Gentleman was concerned about public policy. The Government have made clear their intention to reduce the public expenditure plans that they inherited. That is not for any masochistic reasons but because it is essential to allow the size of the wealth-creating sector of the economy to increase.
The hon. Member for Paisley, along with other hon. Members, referred to shipbuilding. The Government are well aware that the shipbuilding industry is in the grip of an unprecedented recession. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is actively considering the situation and British Shipbuilders' corporate plan. He has already seen the chairman and chief executive of British Shipbuilders. That shows the importance that he attaches to the problem and the urgency with which he is tackling it.
I refer my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price), who raised the question of Departmental Select Committees, to the answer that I have already given with regard to disabled drivers. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will have sympathy with what my hon. Friend said, but I cannot anticipate what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may or may not do in his Budget to help 1125 with the mobility allowance. I noted with interest what my hon. Friend suggested about priority being given to disabled drivers who display the orange badge. We shall look into that matter to see whether any helpful advice can be given to companies.
I turn now to the contribution by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. I have already dealt with the point that he made about pigs. Therefore, I refer now to the closure of Lawsons of Dyce. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of the serious economic consequences for the workers at Dyce and for farmers in the North-East of Scotland as a result of Unilever's decision to close that factory, which is also concerned with pigs. The company has been trading at a substantial loss for several years, and it has identified the pig slaughtering line as the main loss-maker. The Government would wish to become financially involved only if there was a real possibility of developing a viable and profitable operation. My right hon. Friend has indicated that he will continue to offer every possible assistance towards keeping the jobs and facilities which are so important to the future prosperity of the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) asked about airports policy. Bearing in mind the continuing growth in demand and the pressure on Heathrow airport, the Government's immediate objective will be to ensure that Gatwick airport assumes a greater role in handling air traffic in the London area. The Government are well aware that, on current forecasts, even with the developments envisaged by the British Airports Authority at Heathrow and Gatwick, a third major London airport is likely to be required by the late 1980s.
The Government are determined to deal with this problem without delay and have decided that the work of the study group on South-East airports, which is considering the matter, should be completed so as to enable the options to be assessed and a decision reached in 1980. There has been a preliminary publication in which six sites were mentioned, which must all be considered on their merits. Perhaps I may add a personal note here since some of the sites are near my constituency. I hope that the site chosen will be as far away from my constituency as 1126 possible, but that is not, I regret to say, a statement of Government policy, only of my own personal aspirations.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North complained that the Foreign Secretary was a Member of the Upper House. I remind him that this is a bicameral legislature, and that it is totally in accordance with custom that Ministers should serve in both Houses. It is essential by law that that should be so. Quite apart from the nineteenth century precedents, there is a recent precedent for the Foreign Secretary serving in the Upper House. In view of the great burden that rests upon the Foreign Secretary in terms of telegrams, communications and despatches of one kind and another, there is an argument for what we have done, provided that foreign affairs are adequately represented in the House of Commons. I can think of no one who is better equipped to speak about foreign affairs for the Government in this House than my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) wanted an energy debate. We can certainly think about that. He also questioned whether it was desirable for major political statements on matters of importance to be made during the recess. He said that such statements should be made to the House. I take the view that in a parliamentary democracy major statements of policy should be made to the House of Commons first. Holding that view as strongly as I do, I shall certainly be quick to take action if I think that the prerogatives of this House are being infringed in any way. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the essential importance of putting the House of Commons first—even, dare I say it, before the press. There is a Press Gallery here—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I agree that it is not exactly bulging to overflowing, but nevertheless the facilities are there, and account should be taken of that by my right hon. Friends when they have policy statements to make.
I was concerned at the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) about the docks in his constituency. I know that he is indefatigable in protecting the 1127 interests of that part of Cornwall. I also note his remarks about the Wheal Jane tin mine. I am aware of concern on both sides of the House over the uncertainty surrounding the future of the mine. The Department of Industry has been meeting the cost of pumping water from the mine to prevent flooding while negotiations are in progress about its future. I understand that an application for assistance from the Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation is currently being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. While details are, of course, confidential, I can assure my hon. Friend that a decision will be taken as soon as possible.
I welcome the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on his return from exile in the Whips Office, and I hope that he will make up for the years of enforced silence by frequent contributions to our debates. I sympathise with his comments about commuters. I represent a constituency in which there are many commuters. I shall take up with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport the matters that the hon. Member has raised. I appreciate his desire that the Minister should receive a deputation to discuss the road in Enfield and Edmonton to which the hon. Member referred. I certainly hope that the hon. Member's request will be acceded to, but I cannot make other people's decisions for them. I can merely draw the attention of the Minister to the importance that the hon. Member attaches to the issue—and that is a concern that I share.
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) raised an important procedural issue about the Kiribati Bill and the important question of immigration. On the first, the hon. Member is not quite right in his comments about starred amendments. Hon. Members may table amendments on Thursday after Second Reading and on Friday, and those amendments will not be starred. Amendments that 1128 are tabled during the recess will be starred on 11 June. In making his selection of amendments, I am sure that the Chairman—I stress, of course, that this is entirely a prerogative for him—will take into account the difficult circumstances which mean that we have to push the Bill through the House as quickly as possible, in view of the approaching independence day, if we are not to be faced with a difficult situation. We have allotted two days to the debate, and I hope that that will give hon. Members who are concerned about the situation there a full opportunity of raising their points.
The hon. Member for York raised an important question about immigration, and I apologise that I cannot give him a detailed reply. The reason is that the work is still continuing on those rules. However, I associate myself with what he said, that whatever these rules may say it is essential that they should be framed bearing in mind that it is always human beings who are involved, and that they should therefore be applied with sensitivity and discretion, as well as with firmness.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for York for his work at the Home Office. I have reason to know how he helped me personally with a difficult constituency problem. I have the utmost confidence that the tradition of fairness tempered with humanity which on the whole has characterised holders of the high office of Home Secretary will be continued under the role of the present incumbent.
I have done my best in this rather complicated debate to answer the points raised by hon. Members. I dare say that I have not satisfied them all, but I have done what I can in the limited time available to me.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 11 June.