Motion made and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 14 April and at its rising on Friday 2 May to adjourn till Tuesday 6 May.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not selected the amendments on the Order Paper in connection with the Adjournment motion.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I rarely detain the House on the Adjournment motion, as I believe that unless one raises a matter of extreme importance it is a bit of a charade when a very tired House pleads not to have its recess. Hon. Members would perhaps be shocked if the Government conceded the motion and we did not have our Easter Recess.
However, the difficulty of travelling at night is of extreme concern to my constituents and the country at large. All last weekend it was impossible to travel on the Underground into my constituency, because the stations were closed as a result of the serious attacks that have taken place over the past six months on the line that goes through Neasden and serves my constituents.
The problem is serious, especially if it continues. I support the railwaymen in my constituency, who have said that enough is enough. They are being injured. The last train driver who was attacked may well lose the sight of one eye. It is wrong that my NUR members, who have served the country and my constituency so well year in and year out, should be liable, on Friday and Saturday nights, to find themselves in the situation that occurred at Neasden, when a sledgehammer smashed every window in the train. The entire travelling public was at risk.
I do not criticise the police force in my area. By and large, it does a good job. I wish to bring to the attention of the House the need for decisions much higher up.
Under this Government especially there is a shortage of cash, and there is generally a shortage of personnel. It is incredible that when 100 members of the National Front are likely to go on a march, 3,000 policemen are used to protect them, yet when people travel through 424 my constituency, having visited relatives, friends, the theatre or the cinema on Saturday night, they risk not completing their journey without being seriously harmed and ending up at the Central Middlesex hospital.
When one is dealing with two or three different Departments it is surprising how often papers go backwards and forwards between the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office and other Departments concerned. We should have a speedy resolution of this problem, and I am anxious that the House should discuss the matter and have a statement from the Home Secretary on the progress of negotiations. I raise the matter on this occasion as it is urgent. Over the Easter weekend my constituents are unlikely to be able to travel on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, because of such action.
When the national newspapers reported the terrible incident at Neasden, they said that they hoped that the London Underground service would not become like the service in New York—a no-go area after dark—which worried me intensely. We should not wait until the problem develops so that all that people can do to avoid danger after dark is to stay indoors and watch television. Action should be taken now.
There are many Bills in Committee. I believe that two Standing Committees finished yesterday. There is much business to be completed this Session. There is not much likelihood of finding time to debate the matter, other than on a brief Adjournment, before July. The Leader of the House is probably growing more grey hairs through worry about the parliamentary timetable than any previous Leader of the House for many years. There is a backlog of material to be dealt with before the end of the Session.
I again apologise to the House, because I rarely use the Adjournment motion to raise a matter of this kind. However, it is the only opportunity that I can see to bring the problem to the attention of the Government and the country at large. It is time that action was taken. Negotiations should be expedited.
I pay tribute to such people as Bob Kettle, the leader of the metropolitan NUR in my area, who has done much over the past two years to try to solve the problem for his men.
425 I ask the Leader of the House to take the problem seriously and to try to find time for the Home Secretary to make a statement immediately after the recess.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I wish to raise briefly two or three important matters.
I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). My research assistant was gravely inconvenienced last weekend by not being able to use the Underground. Security on the Underground must be fully investigated. The concern expressed by those who work on it deserves serious consideration by the Government.
I wish to raise a matter relating to my constituency that has received attention in the national press. It relates to a long-established Act of Parliament—the Local Government Superannuation Act 1922, under which it is possible for long serving local government officers to retire and receive their superannuation pension, yet be taken on again 24 hours later in the job from which they have just retired.
In the Congleton borough council two senior and well-respected local government officers, by a council resolution last year, retired for 24 hours and were taken back again. For two, three or four years they are likely to be in receipt not only of their superannuation pension, which is 50 per cent. of their last year's salary, but their full salary, which will continue to increase. In the eyes of many hard-pressed ratepayers that gives those officers a salary increase of about 50 per cent.
I believe that the Act affords officers or other employees in local government service the opportunity of opting for a pension and then being taken back on again only if they have worked in local government for more than 40 years. I am pleased to learn from the chief executive of the Congleton borough council, Mr. Arthur Molyneaux, that there are no other officers in the employ of the borough council who can use the system, as the two officers have, by the resolution of the council, been held to have abused the system.
When the Government are appealing to the country for cuts in public expenditure it is important that such an abuse of the system should not be allowed to con- 426 tinue. I ask the Leader of the House whether there are other councils in which senior officers or senior council employees have retired, have started to draw their superannuation pension, and have been taken back again on full salary. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell me that that abuse is limited.
I believe that it is quite legal for those officers to do that, but it is immoral, wrong and undesirable. It sets a bad precedent for the rest of the country and for the manual workers in NUPE and NALGO within local government.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
Will the hon. Gentleman look at Hansard for today? I asked a similar question with regard to the top-paid civil servants, who do the same thing, only better. They get a full indexed pension and take a job as chairman of a bank at £20,000 or £30,000 a year. Their combined pension and salary is then greater than the salary of the person who succeeds them, yet the Government refuse to stop that practice.
§ Mr. Winterton
I am not necessarily opposed to that practice. If a person leaves his job and finds another job outside his previous activity, it is a different matter. I have cited an example of two persons retiring from a job for 24 hours, drawing their superannuation, and then being re-employed in the same job.
It is right that the House should appreciate that the officers concerned sacrifice a small increase in their superannuation pension when they finally retire. Their pension would be based on their final year's salary, that is the salary for 1979–80, rather than on the final year of their employment, which will cease when they are 65.
I am not levelling criticism at the two officers concerned, with whom I have an extremely good and close working relationship. They are well-respected officers of the borough council. I level the criticism that the arrangement is an abuse of the system. It is as much of an abuse as the abuse of the social security system, of which Conservative Members—and I hope many Labour Members—are highly critical.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I am not condoning the position, but I must ask my hon. Friend whether 427 he realises that, under the normal redundancy schemes that apply to workers throughout the country, there have been many cases in which redundancy payment has been taken and the workers concerned have then been re-employed in the same firm.
§ Mr. Winterton
My hon. Friend appears to have misunderstood my criticism, which is that the two officers are voluntarily opting for retirement to draw their superannuation pension early. That is wrong. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to quote some statistics to indicate that the abuse of the system is very limited. If some form of parliamentary legislation is required to close the loophole—it might be more widespread than we believe—I hope that the Government will take the necessary action.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
The hon. Gentleman may have carried the majority of hon. Members with his persuasive argument. However, does he not agree that in the case of senior civil servants who opt for a similar arrangement there could be a serious breach of confidentiality? They are abusing their position of high trust, and, as a result, are being made attractive offers that can carry them comfortably into their retirement.
§ Mr. Winterton
If my memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman has made that point before. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will be allowed to develop that argument. I do not wish to go down that path this afternoon.
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of one point. The local government officers to whom I referred have contributed to their pensions. It is not a noncontributory scheme. It is only fair to present both sides of the case. However, an abuse has been committed and that is an unfortunate example. The Government should provide statistics to indicate that it is not a widespread abuse.
I wish to refer briefly to the lobby of the House that took place last week by physiotherapists, radiographers and speech therapists, following the anomalous and unjust recommendation of the Clegg Commission. The findings relating to these important paramedical groups within the Health Service show how unfortunate it was to appoint a commission 428 under Professor Clegg to do the work that it has done in recent times.
In short, the Clegg Commission has recommended that these vital groups—who are highly skilled and need to undertake considerable training—are expected either to work much longer hours to qualify for an increase, or, if they continue on their present hours, to take a reduction in salary. That is utterly wrong.
The well-disciplined and impressive demonstration and march that took place last week will have had considerable impact upon the House. I believe that it has had considerable impact upon my hon. Friend the Minister for Health.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Last year the lion. Gentleman asked for a police escort for a demonstration by Health Service workers. I supported both that demonstration and the one that took place last week.
§ Mr. Winterton
We are used to dealing with the hon. Gentleman in many of his guises, not least in the House. I hope that he is prepared, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to stand up and support the case that I am advancing on behalf of the valuable groups who operate within our Health Service. They bring tremendous benefits to so many people who need to use the Health Service.
May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to say what action the Government are taking? I understand that these groups feel so aggrieved that they may be forced to take some form of industrial action while the House is in recess. It would be unfortunate if they were to do so. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health is aware that an anomaly and an injustice has been done. May I have some form of assurance from my right hon. Friend that the Government are using their very best endeavours to ensure that industrial action does not take place, and that the injustice that is being suffered by these important people will be rectified quickly?
Perhaps I am speaking somewhat light-heartedly—I hope that I speak for all hon. Members—when I say that the lobby that we saw last week is one that all male hon. Members are delighted to receive. The lobby was extremely well 429 disciplined. The groups produced their case in a concise manner. They left no one in any doubt that they had a good case. They were not seeking in any way to rock the economic boat in Britain.
§ Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Clegg Commission, I must ask him whether he appreciates an important point. If there is a comparability commission—the whole concept was a nonsense dreamed up by the Opposition Party—and it says that comparability requires an increase in working hours or a corresponding reduction in wages, surely either the concept of comparability with its consequences must be accepted, or the whole idea should be scrapped.
§ Mr. Winterton
I am rather inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that the Clegg Commission should be disbanded immediately and that no further reference should be made to Professor Clegg. The recommendations of his commission have been damaging in many areas. I have given an example of how inadequate investigation into what is involved with a vital group within the Health Service has led to an undesirable recommendation.
If my hon. Friend wants more evidence, let us deal with middle management within the Health Service. Middle managements in hospitals in my constituency have written to me pointing out that a sister on night duty in a geriatric or psychiatric unit earns £8,252 maximum annual salary. That is far more than a senior nursing officer, two grades senior to that sister, can ever earn under the present salary system. The sister earns £1,568 more than the senior nursing officer's maximum basic salary. Even if the senior nursing officer works in a geriatric or psychiatric unit on night duty, with more than 1,000 patients to look after, the most that she can earn would be £7,649. That is £603 less than is received by the sister to whom I referred. Many anomalies and injustices have resulted from the Clegg recommendations.
Another matter that is of continuing concern is the position of the textile industry.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware that I have 430 pestered him—I use that word purposely —during business questions for week after week. I have been asking my Government—a Conservative Government—to find time to debate the continuing problems of a vital and a strategic industry.
The hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) may receive representations from the various trade unions that work within the textile industry. I receive representations from employers and the professional and commmercial associations that represent the industry—for example, the British Textile Employers Association, the British Textile Confederation and the British Clothing Industry's Council for Europe Limited. I also receive representations from the trade unions. The British Clothing Industry's Council for Europe Limited is a body of considerable importance, which operates within Europe and looks beyond the shores of the United Kingdom.
The industry's position is grave. It is true to say that it has probably been in no more serious a state for 40 years. The Government owe something to the industry, the employers, the many people who have placed considerable investment in the industry over the years, and the skilled and responsible work force. They owe it to the industry to take action to bring about fair competition.
I shall quote from the annual report of Berisfords, which is a large company in my constituency. It is the biggest single employer in Congleton, the town and the borough in which I live. Under "Future prospects" the chairman stated:We are worried by the continued increase in imports of clothing from the Far East and the low-cost Mediterranean countries under the terms of the multi-fibre arrangement made with the EEC. Successive Governments do little to save textiles from this erosion of the British clothing industry. As manufacturers of accessories like ribbon, trimmings and labels, we suffer because clothing is imported complete with such items.Later, the chairman said:The closure of Courtaulds, the United Kingdom's last viscose yarn-producing factory, which has been one of our traditional sources of supply for raw materials, constitutes a serious problem for us and we shall now have to import yarn at higher prices and maintain larger stock holdings.Again, the hon. Member for Keighley and I are as one. The textile industry is 431 being driven into a corner. We are eroding Britain's manufacturing base. We are forcing those higher up the textile-producing cycle to purchase commodities from abroad which they would like to purchase in Britain. If we allow that situation to continue, the textile industry, which is the third largest employer in Britain, will be driven to the wall. If that happens, not tens of thousands but 200,000 or 300,000 employees over the next five years will find themselves out of work. That will be unacceptable.
I must press my right hon. Friend to produce some answers. I hope that he will be closely in touch with the Department of Trade during the next couple of hours. What is the point of having a multi-fibre arrangement if we grant not only new quotas but increase existing quotas? Under category 8, the original quota for Romania was 665,000. Why has a revised quota of 765,000 been granted by the EEC? Romania is a Comecon country. Surely at this time we owe nothing to Comecon countries or to the Soviet Union. Under category 7, Hungary's original quota was 42,000. It has been increased to 62,000. Why was that increase granted? Under category 8, Hungary's original quota was 153,000. Why was it increased to 183,000? I could continue giving examples. The list is almost without end. The situation is serious. The mills that have closed this year total almost one a week.
Whatever party is in power in Whitehall has a responsibility to an important industry. It is an industry that has always modernised and rationalised in accordance with Government guidance. It has a history of industrial relations that is second to none in any industry in Britain.
If my right hon. Friend cannot obtain answers from the Department of Trade, and if he cannot obtain an assurance from the Department that action will be taken to prevent Britain losing its industrial base, I hope that he will say that early after the Easter Recess he will find time for the House to debate the problems facing the textile industry.
I am sick and tired of having to reply every day to letters from sensible, good employers and from those who work within the industry in my constituency and elsewhere. They write to me as they 432 know that I am involved as chairman of the all-party group on cotton and allied textiles. They put great pressure on me and my limited secretarial staff. They ask what the Government intend to do and when they will take action. I am not prepared to tolerate the textile industry being sold down the river. My right hon. Friend is always courteous to me, and I hope that I can be courteous to him. I hope that he will be forthcoming with some answers to the questions that I have raised.
I do not seek to ensure that the House sits through Easter. We all have families, and we do not wish that. However, these short debates enable us to raise matters of considerable importance to us, as individual Members, and to our constituents, which is even more important. I beg my right hon. Friend to respond positively to my remarks.
§ 4.7 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I am in a somewhat equivocal position in seeking to address the House on this motion, as I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure which recommended that it should no longer be the opportunity for precisely the type of debate in which I am seeking to intervene. However, the House having in its wisdom decided that we should continue to have the opportunity, I should feel uneasy in going on Easter Recess, albeit in my constituency, if I were aware, as I am, that considerable numbers of my constituents and others in the Province were not receiving, owing to administrative failure benefits to which they were entitled.
I shall state briefly to the Leader of the House and to the House the circumstances to which I refer. At the beginning of January I became aware that a family in my constituency that was entitled to FIS had not been receiving it since the expiry of its book on 7 January. Apparently, the family had made proper application for a renewal before the middle of December.
I naturally wrote to the Minister of State, assuming there had been some administrative mishap—perhaps a loss in the post—and that the matter could easily be put right. I was astonished to receive from the Minister of State in the middle of February a reply to the effect that the 433 facts were as I had alleged but that payment had not been resumed until the beginning of February. I did not find that in itself to be a sufficient explanation. Therefore, I pursued my inquiry with the Minister, who in the middle of March replied thatthe Prescribed Amounts for Family Income Supplement were increased from 13 November 1979. This resulted in an influx of claims which became more pronounced when the Government introduced a further measure to offset heating costs for Low Income Families and the Prescribed Amounts were further increased. The significant increase in the number of claims made caused a backlog in the Branch.The Minister gave me an assurance that every effort was being made to clear and to process the claims as quickly as possible; but it was only at that stage that he offered any expression of regret that my constituents had been deprived for over three weeks of income to which they were fully entitled. Nevertheless, I still assumed that there could be only a few cases to which that applied; but thinking it a matter which ought to be established, I tabled a question to ascertain the nature and condition of the backlog. On 26 March I was astonished—I think the House will be astonished—to learn in reply that on 18 March the total number of claims outstanding was still 1,037. Thus, after an increase in amounts that had taken place in the middle of November, there were over 1,000 families who were not receiving their addition four months later; and in some cases they were not receiving any of the payment to which they were entitled, let alone the additional amount. In 472 cases—nearly half—requests had been made for additional information before a decision could be given.
The Minister of State—who I am glad to see on the Treasury Bench, and whom I thank for his courtesy in attending to hear these points—further said that it wasnot possible to state at this stage when the backlog of claims will be cleared, but extra staff have recently been trained and the situation is being kept under review.Any hon. Member who went down for the recess without bringing to public attention a failure of administration of this character—apparantly so lightly taken —which results in people entitled to benefits not receiving them over many weeks, would be open to censure. There are 434 priorities within departmental administration. In some circumstances, time has to elapse before a backlog can be removed. But surely this was a type of case where emergency measures and the drafting of additional staff from less urgent work should take place. It should not be possible that at the end of March 1,000 families are still not receiving the benefits to which they became entitled long before. I hope that when on the advice of the Minister of State, the Leader of the House replies to the debate, he will be able to tell me and the House that emergency measures are being taken, and that what constitutes a scandal on a considerable scale will be brought to an end.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
I wish to raise three matters, in respect of two of which I gave notice to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on Monday. The first concerns a subject which, to my mind, should have been debated already because the regulations to which I shall refer took effect yesterday—the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations 1980, statutory instrument No. 286. They introduced for the first time fees for the submission of building regulations, on which many hon. Members have received representations. A prayer has been tabled against them by a Member of the Liberal Party.
I wrote to my right hon. Friend about the matter a couple of weeks ago suggesting that it was of sufficient importance to be debated. The powers to introduce those fees were included in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act introduced by the Labour Government in 1974. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) was responsible for the Act, and I am pleased to see that he is present in the Chamber.
There is no political question about whether the fees should be introduced. The question is whether they are being introduced in the right way. It would have been of considerable advantage to the House if we had been able to debate the matter, as a number of hon. Members would have been able to give reasons why they felt that the fees were not being introduced in the right way. There is no attempt to make a reduction for repetitive work, such as house building. As the House knows, I am a house builder. I favour fees in principle, but the method 435 by which they have been introduced is incorrect.
I am concerned to receive reports from the House-Builders' Federation and others that local authorities are taking on more staff for the purpose of collecting the fees. The Federation has produced a list of local authorities—which it submitted to the Secretary of State for the Environment —which indicates that they are likely to take on more staff for the purpose. I regard that as unsatisfactory. The matter should be debated in the House.
There has been no indication that, in performing their duties and collecting a fee for them, local authorities will perform their duties in a speedy and efficient manner. There should have been adequate debate on that. Hon. Members from all parties are receiving representations on these matters. It is regrettable that they were not debated before the regulations took effect yesterday.
The second matter which I wish to raise—which I also drew to the attention of my right hon. Friend in advance—arises out of a constituency case, which I hope has been sorted out by private negotiations. However, the principle remains. It concerns passports for people who have ceased to be citizens of the United Kingdom through no fault of their own. One of my constituents, a Mr. A—I have given my right hon. Friend's office his correct name—has been living in Britain since 1938, having been born in a Caribbean country. He had a British passport, which recently came up for renewal. When he tried to renew it, he was told that he could no longer have a British passport because the country in which he had been born became independent in 1973, and that a passport should be issued by that country.
Having lived in Britain since 1938, having served in our Army for five years, and having subsequently worked for the Government in various capacities, he was not pleased about that. Nevertheless, he accepted the advice and went to the high commission of the country concerned. He was told that it would take a considerable amount of time for him to obtain a passport. He will not have any travel documents before May, when he is due to go abroad on a family holiday. That problem has, I hope, been sorted out through negotiations with the Home 436 Office. However, I trust that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the Government will shortly make a statement on its review of the law of nationality, because difficulties of that sort arise quite frequently, and it is not the first such case that I have experienced.
My third point is also a constituency matter. It relates to the urgent need for the Government to make a decision on a planning appeal—an appeal by British Gypsum Ltd., to mine gypsum at Barrow-on-Soar. This has been subject to an unusual procedure. On 25 February the Department of the Environment issued a semi-decision letter in which it said that the inspector had heard the appeal but that he felt that it should be dismissed —the plasterboard plant should not be built, and the gypsum should be carried away by rail. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that he was not prepared to decide upon the matter until people had been able to comment on the rail proposal, and he gave 28 days for comments to be received.
That is an unusual procedure, but not necessarily objectionable. Comments have now been received, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the Government will make an early decision on the matter. It is wrong tht the objectors and the applicants should be left in doubt when the inspector's report has been published and the Minister has left the decision in the air.
Those are three matters, two of which are of constituency importance, on which I hope my right hon. Friend will comment.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The House should not adjourn for Easter without considering matters that arise from the publication this morning of the latest defence White Paper, and in particular the proposal to deploy 160 cruise missiles on British soil.
It has been said that we all live a telephone call away from disaster. That can apply to us personally, in that, for example, someone whom we love may be in a road accident, but it can also apply to the whole of humanity. By design, or more likely by accident, a nuclear bomb could be dropped on Moscow or Leningrad tonight. I do not think that the Russians would wait to set up the 437 Russian equivalent of a Royal Commission. They would wipe out the possible sources of the bomb. As Aneurin Bevan once said, there is no label on a nuclear bomb.
We are a priority target, and we shall become far more of a priority target if we go ahead with the proposal. We are extremely vulnerable in our overcrowded island.
The White Paper says that the Government warmly endorse the proposal. It is easy for them. They will be safe underground, about five levels down. But I do not think that the rest of the population would warmly endorse the inevitable retaliation.
The position is not hopeless. We have three years to negotiate before the weapons are deployed on our territory. Mr. Brezhnev has offered to reduce the number of his nuclear missiles if we do not install these weapons. Today's newspapers report that four out of 10 tests of the weapon, production of which has been given to Boeing, have been failures, and it has gone astray. I do not fancy that happening on our territory.
People say "Ah, but look at civil defence." It is odd that there is not a word about civil defence in the White Paper. I am not very worried about that, because I think that it is futile. There is no civil defence against nuclear weapons. The only defence is to try to stop their being used. If nuclear bombs land on our country—and it would need only a dozen—
§ Mr. Allaun
I shall be generous, and say that a dozen megaton bombs would make life unliveable in this country.
I hope that if nuclear bombs fall my wife, my children and I will be underneath the first bomb, because we should die immediately. If we were 50 miles or 100 miles away, we should still die, but days later and in agony, because the atmosphere would be radioactive and the water, the soil and the food would all be poisoned by radioactivity.
Part of the revised proposal, for civil defence, which does not appear in the White Paper, is a question of morale building. A good deal of brain-washing is going on. If one can involve people 438 in some kind of activity, in the belief that they are defending themselves, one is in a way indoctrinating them, preparing them for a third world war. There are hon. Members who are not prepared to play that game.
§ Mr. Allaun
That is right. I repeat that there is no defence against nuclear weapons except to prevent war breaking out.
There is another and more terrible weapon, Chevaline, the updated Polaris missile system, on which £1 billion has been spent by both Governments, after deceiving the House and the people. A number of us asked questions and we were not told that Chevaline was the updating of the Polaris missile system.
Another terrible weapon is the Trident missile. The cost is £5 billion for five submarines and the missiles to go with them. The money spent on one of those submarines—£1 billion—would build homes for 74,000 families and I know which those families would prefer.
I do not know whether others have noticed it, but I find it noteworthy that in the White Paper, which consists of two beautifully illustrated volumes, the word "detente" does not appear. Perhaps relaxation of tension is now an out-of-date idea. Although the word does not appear, there are misleading illustrations, beautiful illustrations in colour. There is no need to buy The Sunday Times Magazine.
The illustrations are misleading in two ways. First, in comparing the military strength of the two sides they omit China. China on the eastern flanks of Russia is no joke. Secondly, there is no mention of Polaris in dealing with medium-range missiles.
The White Paper says that the Government are demanding an improvement in the military machine. I think that the country needs an improvement in the nonmilitary machine, which the Government are dismantling day by day. There is a huge increase in arms spending, to nearly £11 billion, and further increases are to come in the years ahead. At the same time, the Government are smashing our housing. I believe that in three years no more council houses will be built and nothing more will be spent on improvement. Total housing expenditure is 439 planned to be cut by £2½ billion compared with last year and by £3½ billion compared with what a Labour Government would have done.
Whatever Labour Party leaders say in the House, the party is opposed to nearly every measure for increased expenditure on arms and the expansion of the arms programme mentioned in the White Paper. It is particularly opposed to the acceleration of the arms race, and most particularly to the deployment of 160 cruise missiles. Unless we prevent it, they will be deployed on British soil and probably lead to the deaths of all of us.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I wish briefly to raise two points. First, before adjourning for Easter we should have an opportunity to discuss the inequities and iniquities of the rating system. In the next few days people will receive their rate demands. In some parts of the country the increase that ratepayers will have to bear can be described only as horrendous. The overall rate increase imposed by my own local authority of Trafford is 19 per cent. That is high enough, but it was kept down to that amount only after the most stringent economies.
Some people believe that high spending is compatible with low rates. The authority has recently come in for a good deal of criticism because of the economies that it has made. I received a letter from an irate constituent who complained bitterly about the economies, but underneath her signature she wrote that she was a teacher and a parent and that her rates were excessively high. I wrote back saying that I should be grateful if she could explain how we could have high expenditure and at the same time have low rates. Unfortunately, she did not have an answer.
Whatever the cause of high rate bills, we must try to find a fairer system of collecting local government finance. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have constantly raised the problem of the person who lives alone, who has a small fixed income and who is paying exactly the same in rates as a family living next door, in an identical house and perhaps with four wage-earners.
In the general election campaign of October 1974 the Conservative Party 440 promised to reform the rating system. In the election campaign last May rating reform took a back seat in the party manifesto. We were told that it had to have a lower priority because after four and a half years of Socialism the burden of personal taxation had risen tremendously and, therefore, the lowering of direct taxation had to be the top priority. But I hope that the Government have not forgotten the need to do something about a system that is so patently unfair.
What is even worse is the system of assessing water rates. Last summer the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) introduced a Ten-Minute Bill to try to deal with the problem, which concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. At least with domestic rates the poor can apply for a rates rebate. That is of some help to them. But no such system operates for water rates. Like domestic rates, water rates are unfair. Whereas domestic rates take no account of a person's ability to pay, water rates take no account of the water used or the amount of sewage that must be disposed of from each house. Water rates are assessed on the rateable value of a property. Again, a person living alone will pay the same amount in water rates as a family with four or five in the house next door.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
The situation is even worse than the hon. Gentleman has described. A hereditament does not need to have a water supply to be charged a water rate.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman may make that point in his speech, but I do not disagree with him. I should like the whole system to be looked at, because we must find something fairer. I am sure that he agrees that the system is unfair, because it takes no account of a person's ability to pay or of the amount of water consumed. For example, a family with four or five children will undoubtedly use a great deal of water, but the amount that family pays can be exactly the same as the amount paid by a single person living in the house next door. I see no equity at all in that system.
If domestic rates have jumped substantially in recent years, they are as nothing compared with the increases in water rates. I have just had the demand for 441 the water rate for the small flat in which I live in London. My water rate will amount to £70 a year. A bill for £70 a year could be a disaster for families on low incomes or for the elderly living alone.
I cannot see why rebates are allowed on domestic rate bills but nothing is allowed for water rates. It is essential that the Government pay urgent attention to this vexed question. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an undertaking that the Government will deal with this problem in an effort to achieve a fairer system.
The second point concerns the way in which certain oil companies are dominating and taking over the retailing of petrol in this country. As the oil companies take over more of the petrol sales, so we shall see the disappearance of more small garage businesses. By the end of 1977, more than half of Britain's petrol was sold by company-owned sites. In the last two years, I understand that the percentage has increased.
The point that I particularly want to make concerns the tactics being employed by Esso, because it is seeking to replace many of its tenants' leases with licences —a move which will deprive those tenants of their legal rights under the Landlord and Tenant Act and give Esso control over pump prices. This has caused great bitterness amongst Esso tenants.
It is a worrying situation. In 1979, 1,815 filling stations closed down. Of these, the majority—1,349—were independently owned filling stations often providing other services.
So worried were the Esso dealers that on 18 March they had a protest meeting in London. From all accounts, it was a bitter meeting with retailers complaining of the way in which they had been treated by Esso. Many of these tenants have been kept waiting for months after the expiry of their leases without knowing whether the leases would be renewed, whether they would be forced to accept licences in place of their tenancies or whether they would be in business at all. Apparently, more than 13 per cent. have been kept in the dark about their future since their leases expired in 1978 or earlier.
442 But there are also serious consequences for the consumer. If the major oil companies are allowed to control the retail price of petrol, it will result in the closure of the smaller independent businesses. We must remember that the most important difference between a leased site and a licensed and directly managed site is the ability of the petrol company concerned to fix retail prices. The general view is that about 26 per cent. of petrol sold in the United Kingdom today is at prices dictated by the petrol companies, or, put in another way, one in every four gallons.
Shell has approximately 1,450 licensed sites. Esso is anxious to increase its number. If it manages to do that, it will be only a question of time before BP and National follow suit, and that could result in one in every two gallons of petrol in the United Kingdom being sold at prices firmly controlled by the supplying company.
That is at total variance with the report of the Monopolies Commission in 1965. That report declared:The power and resources of the petrol companies are such that, if left entirely free to pursue their own chosen policies, they will be likely to gain an increasing degree of control over the retail trade.The report went on:The practice on the part of petrol suppliers of acquiring retail petrol premises may be expected to operate against the public interest unless some limit is imposed.The limit proposed was 15 per cent. The undertakings given by the oil companies 15 years ago not to take more than 15 per cent. of the market were abandoned in 1968, and the percentage is getting greater each month. If it continues to increase at the same rate, it will mean the end of many small businesses. As the Government believe in trying to create conditions for greater and fairer competition as well as the encouragement and protection of small businesses, which give employment to many people, I think that they must listen to what the people from these small businesses are saying at this time.
I was alerted to this problem by a constituent of mine who operates the Altrincham service station. A few years ago his lease was due to expire and Esso decided that it wanted to redevelop the site. It wanted to turn the garage into a self-service station. It submitted plans 443 to Trafford council. Those plans were turned down and Esso, as was its right, appealed to the Minister. On appeal, Esso was represented by members of the legal profession. My constituent, who was fighting for his livelihood, decided that he must also employ legal advice. The appeal was rejected, so my constituent could breathe again; but he was faced with legal costs which amounted to £5,000.
That in itself would be bad enough, but Esso has now made modifications to its original plan and is again applying to Trafford council for planning permission. If Trafford council should decide to reject that application, Esso could again appeal to the Minister. No doubt Esso would again employ lawyers to represent it and again my constituent, fighting to protect his livelihood, would also require legal representation. As I said, on the last occasion it cost him £5,000, and he had to pay that money out of his own pocket. If he has to go through this process again, I believe that he could be broken financially and Esso would have defeated him by what I can only describe as dubious tactics.
It is unfair that the law as it stands means that people, such as my constituent, can be put to such enormous expense and have no power to claim one penny back from the organisation which lodged the appeal and was unsuccessful.
I find it very strange that Esso can do in this country what it would be prevented from doing in the United States of America. At the moment it seems to be price fixing at the pumps, refusing to renew tenancies, taking over successful independent sites and arbitrarily ending contracts to supply petrol to filling stations which, in Esso's opinion, do not sell in large enough volume.
I believe that this whole business demands urgent investigation by the Government to try to ensure that there is no further enforced reduction in the number of independent filling stations in this country. At the same time, the planning laws should be looked at so that small businesses cannot be driven into bankruptcy by repeatedly having to spend large sums of money in successfully warding off planning appeals.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to give me some 444 message that the Government will look closely at this situation with a view to ensuring that small businesses will be allowed to prosper and trade fairly.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
I have no wish to detain the House for any great length of time or to deny parliamentarians the approaching recess. But I am surprised and concerned that so far we have not had a ministerial statement from the Secretary of State for Industry about the location of the NEB-Inmos production unit at Bristol.
This important point was highlighted in a letter to The Times by three of my right hon. Friends on 29 February last. They were my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)— the former Secretary of State for Industry —for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). In their letter they suggested that NEB-Inmos was guilty of a breach of faith in suggesting that its production unit should be located alongside the technology centre at Bristol.
For the House to appreciate the significance of the letter it is necessary for me to recall the establishment of NEB-Inmos itself. It was set up with £50 million of public money. The handful of computer technologists who were attracted to return from the United States to establish a microprocessor industry were given a financial stake in that business. Additionally, when their view that they preferred to establish their technology centre at Bristol was made known, that was agreed to.
Former Labour Ministers claim, however—and this was indicated in the letter to The Times—that in return for those undertakings NEB-Inmos was to locate the production units—there will be four providing a total of 4,000 jobs— in the assisted areas. There has been no statement from the Secretary of State for Industry in reaction to the proposal to locate the unit in Bristol. He has a locus in the matter because he is now considering the payment of a further tranche of £25 million to NEB-Inmos. If the production unit is to go to Bristol, he will have to authorise an industrial development certificate.
In considering these two suggestions from the organisation, the right hon. Gentleman should re-endorse the approach 445 of Labour Ministers and seek the undertaking which those Ministers sought and were given. The right hon. Gentleman should be getting a commitment from NEB-Inmos that the production units will be located in the assisted areas.
The North-West has an unanswerable case in this respect, and I say that not from any sense of mere parochialism. The last Government located the National Computer Centre in Manchester and the North-West because Manchester university is where the first computer was invented, and Manchester university, UMIST, and Salford university produce 12,500 graduates every year with a facility in computer technology. Before Inmos went to Bristol, the university there did not even have a chair in microelectronics.
I advance the claims not only of the North-West but of Wales, Scotland and the North-East. These are the areas which in recent years have lost tremendous numbers of manufacturing jobs. In the North-West the textile industry has been decimated, and there has been the contraction in coal mining, engineering and steel. If we are not to be considered for the new mobile industries upon which the future of Britain will depend—and I wish NEB-Inmos the greatest of success in establishing a microprocessor industry—the outlook is very bleak.
I have sufficient confidence in the Leader of the House that he will convey our concern on this matter to the Secretary of State for Industry. I hope that he will convey one other thought to his right hon. Friend—the hope that any Government statement on this crucially important issue will not be shuffled out by way of a written answer. We do not want an announcement of that significance to be dealt with in that manner.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I do not think that we should adjourn for Easter until we have debated the influence which the BBC has on public opinion. We debated fairly recently the question of an additional television channel, but that debate touched only the periphery of this subject. Every hon. Member will agree that the BBC is the most powerful medium of news and propaganda in the country. It still enjoys immense prestige and reaches almost every 446 household. It probably has far greater influence even than Parliament.
I was for many years an admirer of the BBC. In many ways I still am. I greatly respected Lord Reith, its first director-general, and I admired the tone and the high standard that he set from the earliest days. During the last war the BBC distinguished itself by the respect in which it was held, not only in this country but in enemy-occupied Europe and throughout the world.
Since the war there has been an enormous growth of television. In some senses it now dwarfs sound broadcasting. On the whole I prefer the latter. It is more responsible and has higher standards. Certainly the radio news bulletins are first-class, giving factual statements of the news which in my view are clearer and more succinct than those to be found, for instance, in the popular newspapers. The BBC television news falls short of its sound broadcast counterpart. The temptation for television is to concentrate on those items which will show up well through the camera. That is one of the grave faults of all television.
The broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament is improving slowly. I was an outright opponent of the scheme, but having heard the transmissions from the other place I have to admit that their Lordships come across extremely well—so much better than we do. In broadcasting the proceedings in this Chamber, there is still too much emphasis on rows, scenes, angry confrontation and sensationalism which have little or nothing to do with the issues of significance here.
The BBC has much to be proud of. Its coverage of State events is magnificent. Its reporting of sporting items is, rightly, highly regarded. Above all, it still recognises the place of religion in this country, following in the traditions set by Lord Reith. However, I regret that the BBC falls down seriously in two other vital aspects—in morality and in the impartiality of its views. That is why I believe we should debate the subject before we adjourn.
The lapse in morality and taste started in the day of Sir Hugh Greene, the director-general who was proud to personify the permissive society, a phrase that fortunately is seldom heard today. It was under his leadership that the BBC began a whole series of reviews, sketches, skits 447 and plays which fell far below its earlier high standards of morality.
The BBC might have plumbed even lower depths had it not been for the valiant efforts of one woman—and I refer to Mrs. Whitehouse, whom I greatly admire and who is greatly admired throughout the country. She at least partly stopped this moral rot.
Most hon. Members will agree that the inclination of the BBC is still far too much towards sex and violence in much of what it shows, inflicting, I fear, appalling damage on the moral fibre of the nation, particularly our young people. In some of the variety shows, the smutty jokes, the innuendoes and the sheer crudity and vulgarity jar in many households. We must never forget that, unlike the cinema, where entry can to some extent be regulated by age, BBC programmes can enter any sitting room. If no adult is present, the set may not be turned off.
At the same time as there has been a fall in moral standards, there has been an attack, I regret to say, by some BBC producers on the integrity, cohesion and patriotism of the nation. In the myriad of talks, commentaries, discussion groups, surveys and all the paraphernalia of the modern news media in dissecting and debating absolutely everything, whether or not a suitable subject, I find, to my distress, that there often creeps in bias that is inimical to the best interests of the nation.
The producers themselves may not even realise this. Being men of ideas with little practical experience of life, they are naturally bound to be more criticial than constructive. We may have found this here from some of those who, at one time, followed that profession. These producers seem to have a very free rein from their controllers. Some of them, I suspect, are the sort of people who, in private life, read The Guardian newspaper and who mistakenly believe that those are the views of the ordinary Englishman, not realising, of course, that the ordinary Englishman never reads The Guardian. Some of them have never even heard of it.
In spite of all the brainwashing by the BBC, the ordinary Englishman still loves his country and its institutions and reveres its heritage. Often, in BBC discussion programmes, it is painful to see how the point of view of the ordinary 448 man in the street is belittled or ignored and various so-called trendy or progressive views are purveyed as if they were opinions generally widely held.
More serious Is the bias and the occasional appalling blunder of which there have been several examples recently —for instance, the interview with the IRA, giving it a status and publicity it dearly seeks. Can one imagine any foreign broadcasting organisation committing such a crime against the security of the State? More recently, there was a scandalous programme about the Army called "Gone for a Soldier" which gave great and universal offence. Even after showing those programmes, the BBC was actually considering selling this damaging indictment of our Army to foreign organisations before public opinion forced it to shelve the plan. This attack on the Army was particularly inappropriate at the time of its outstanding success in Rhodesia—a success, I venture to suggest, that no other army could equal.
These are highly disturbing matters. They cause great resentment, not amusement, as I know from representations by my constituents and from more general protests. If the BBC, the State institution, cannot stand by its own country and people, who, after all, pay for it and wish to look up to it, where can people look to in public affairs? Surely this is "treason by the clerks" writ large. That is why I believe we should debate this matter before we rise for Easter.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks. It is interesting that Conservative Members frequently berate the British Broadcasting Corporation—I have, from time to time, criticised it myself—but rarely devote any time or energy to criticising newspapers such as The Sun when they would not allow that newspaper to enter their homes. I would not like it to enter my home. I have no intention of allowing it to do so. It seems to me that if Conservative Members are concerned about morality and responsibility they should devote more attention to the cheaper newspapers.
§ Mr. Stokes
I have frequently criticised The Sun and other newspapers for their photographs. I do so now.
§ Mr. Hardy
I am delighted to hear that. I only hope that more Conservative Members will emulate the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards such newspapers. There is a noticeable quiescence among Conservative Members about the appalling way in which Britain is served by the cheaper newspapers, both during the week and on Sundays.
My purpose in speaking, I hope briefly, is to suggest, for the first time in the 10 years I have been a Member, that the House should not rise until it has examined some urgent and serious problems. I shall reduce the number of items to which I refer, although the list is very long. I am concerned, for example, about the rate of unemployment in Yorkshire and Humberside, especially the impending enormous increase in the unemployed in the building and civil engineering industry. The needs and the lengthening dole queues in Yorkshire and Humberside show an insanity in our society. The air, the water and the environment of the area could be improved.
The quality of the local rivers—the open sewers of the Don, the Dearne and the Rother—recalls to my mind the hopes of a few years ago that those rivers would be upgraded in their classification by the mid-1980s. It is no wonder that my constituents are angry about the water rates now coming through their letterboxes. Although the people of South Yorkshire are prepared to contribute from their pockets to secure the improved cleanliness of the rivers, it is not acceptable that they should now be paying more while the rivers remain dirty for a great deal longer. The water rates, to some extent, are a consequence of the Water Act 1973, about which I have spoken in the House before. It was a muddled piece of legislation.
I was delighted when the previous Labour Government prepared a Bill to put right the inadequacies of the 1973 Act. Among those inadequacies—one that is felt sorely in at least 235 homes in my constituency—are the problems of people whose homes are not connected to the main sewers. This is the fourth time I have mentioned this issue in a debate in the House. As I said in 1979, there was a prospect of the Labour Government getting a Bill through the House to put the matter right, but there has been no 450 sign whatever that the present Government will put right the appalling injustice to the 1 million or more people in Britain who depend on services not connected to main sewers. It is not fair for a Government to pretend to be the guardian of rural England when those affected, who are largely the dwellers of rural England, face increasing disadvantage.
Water rates are increasing. People are getting less of a bargain. I do not deplore or condemn those who serve on the water authorities. The root of the problem is the inadequacy of the Government's economic policy.
Just as water rates are rising, so are local government rates rising enormously. It is a far cry from the time, two or three years ago, when the Conservative Party was pledging to abolish the domestic rate. No doubt it will return to that demand in the autumn of 1982 as the election approaches.
Local government is placed in appalling difficulty. In my area the Government would like the borough council savagely to cut education and social services. The council is seeking to stand fast, but during the next year or two the pressure to reduce expenditure will grow. It may be that if pressure is maintained and the rate support grant shrinks in value the local authority will be hard put to it to maintain services.
In my constituency, as in many others, the number of elderly people is rising rapidly. Far from reducing social services expenditure by 6¾ per cent. as the Government wish, we should be increasing it in order to match the need.
Rotherham borough council has a first-class record in the provision of social services for the elderly. If the Government had their way, the facilities which we offer would be pruned drastically and problems would ensue. Unless the council increases provision over the next two years, services for the elderly will be in danger.
That is bad enough, but at the same time my area health authority is plunged into serious difficulties. It has not enough money to meet local needs. I have tried recently to secure an opportunity to raise this question in the House, and I am 451 glad to have that chance to do so before Easter.
Rotherham area health authority is proposing to close Rosehill hospital, at Rawmarsh, and the Listerdale maternity hospital, at Wickersley. These hospitals will remain empty while need is severe. It is ridiculous that hospitals will be empty when the need is reaching appalling levels.
For many years until recently, psychiatric patients from my constituency were automatically sent to Middlewood hospital, in Sheffield. We are now told that such patients can no longer be sent to Sheffield. If there was adequate provision in Rotherham, that would be desirable perhaps, but we do not have that capacity.
I became involved in a case not long ago in which a very old and senile lady offered violence to the baby granddaughter of the family with whom she lived. She had to be rushed immediately to Middlewood. From now on we shall not be able to send such cases to Middle-wood. I do not know whether we have the facilities to cater for such a case in Rotherham, and that worries me. If the area health authority is expected to meet local needs, it should have extra finance. When the Government deny that area health authority even the money needed to keep up with the increase in VAT, imposed last year by the Government, we are in a serious situation.
Another matter of immense local importance in my constituency—and I believe of national importance—is the future of British Steel Corporation (Chemicals) Ltd. I believe that yesterday it was intended that the two large coking plants which form the bulk of the coking capacity of BSC (Chemicals) were to be transfered to the Yorkshire and Humberside division of the British Steel Corporation. Whether that occurred I do not know. Perhaps I should know as the Member of Parliament concerned.
However, I was relieved to hear that the coking capacity currently owned by BSC (Chemicals) would be transferred to another division of the BSC and not hived off. Unfortunately, however, I believe that it is the intention of the BSC and its masters in the Department of Industry that the chemicals content of BSC (Chemicals) is to be disposed of, or at 452 least that a majority interest is to be sold.
I am anxious about that for a number of reasons. I considered the matter carefully over the weekend and I discovered that BSC (Chemicals) Ltd. is a highly successful enterprise. Even in the face of the serious and avoidable steel strike —.it would have been avoided had the Government not embarked upon a lunatic course—BSC (Chemicals) will be profitable in the current financial year as it has been profitable for a good many years.
The company is a developing organisation. It has invested in various parts of the country and in one or two outlets abroad to develop its electro-coating process. The firm would be a profitable source of investment and I understand that it needs capital of about £8 million or £9 million for current development.
However, the BSC main board, partly because of the interfering attitude of the Department of Industry, is unable to provide that capital. It seems likely that the main board has suggested to BSC Chemicals that it disposes of a majority interest —for perhaps a grossly inadequate sum —in order to develop capacity at Port Clarence and to develop overseas outlets for the electro-coating process.
Many hundreds of my constituents are employed by the BSC yet they do not know, and I do not know, what the position is. As a representative of those constituents, and of the taxpayers of Britain who are possibly being denied the opportunity to benefit from future and perhaps imminent profitability, I think I should have detailed information about the present position.
It is regrettable that the BSC in London —I do not complain about the Sheffield headquarters or at this stage about the Chesterfield headquarters of BSC (Chemicals) Ltd.—has not informed those employed in the industry, or hon. Members who represent them, of deals which are, perhaps, currently being negotiated. People should have adequate information about their future, and their parliamentary representatives should be informed about deals which are now clearly being done behind closed doors. I hope that those doors will soon be open.
Parliament is entitled to a short holiday. If the Government were taking a holiday as well, we would probably be overjoyed at the prospect of a break. However, we are going away but the Government 453 will continue to govern. Tribute has been paid to Mrs. Whitehouse. I find some things to criticise in her utterances, but if we are to go away and leave the Government in charge I would rather Mrs. Whitehouse were at No. 10 Downing Street over Easter than the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
I wish to refer on this motion to an institution in my constituency which serves a national function. But before turning to that I would like to say how much I agreed with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes). Anyone who speaks as he did about what needs to be done about the BBC exposes himself to the charge of naivety in the eyes of some. This is a serious national problem. We either have confidence in ourselves as a community and a nation or we face a doubtful future.
The problem which the BBC faces—I have always recognised this—is not bias among top management. I differ with my hon. Friend on this. The BBC has a problem of recruitment which it does not know how to solve. The difficulty underlying the complaints of my hon. Friend is that those who are, shall we say, on the Right in politics or in the middle, or who are not politically minded when they come down from the universities, go into useful and productive occupations. On the other hand, those primarily concerned with Left-wing politics make a straight line for the media.
§ Sir R. Bell
Not the law. They go into newspapers and broadcasting. I often criticise the results of that. I believe that such people think that they are being impartial, but they do not know where the middle of the road is.
§ Sir R. Bell
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is wrong. I never imagined that I was in the middle of the road. On the contrary, I have always said that the middle of the road position is defined by those who are on the far Left or the far Right. One discovers the middle by adding the two together and dividing. Those of us who do not seek 454 to be in the middle of the road have a greater influence than those who like to be there.
I turn to a local consideration—the Farnham Park rehabilitation centre in my constituency, which is threatened with closure. It is threatened for a reason which explains why I raise it in this forum. It is being closed because it serves a national need and not a local need. The local health authority, seeking economies, naturally turns to an institution which serves a national need.
The centre rehabilitates seriously damaged people. Its main function is to restore working capacity to individuals who are disabled by whatsoever cause. The criteria for admission are that the patient should be unable to work and that he should have been previously, but unsuccessfully, treated at a district general hospital. We are discussing a centre of second referral. When a district general hospital has had a go at a patient and has failed, that patient is sent to the Farnham centre. Such a patient might have suffered a stroke, an athletic injury, disseminated sclerosis or another disabling disease.
The centre is so successful that in recent weeks hon. Members from all parts of the country and in all parts of the House have written to me after receiving representations from their constituents. I have been asked to do what I can to ensure that the centre continues its work.
When health authorities scrutinise their budgets, they naturally consider what is most useful for the area. The East Berkshire district management team has concluded that the services provided at Farnham Park rehabilitation centre are of only marginal benefit to the district. A total of 70 per cent. of patients come from outside the region, so an even higher proportion comes from outside the district. I have no doubt that the health authority has examined the cost and said "Goodness, the vast majority of patients come from other parts of the country, so this is a jolly good candidate for economy."
It might be said that the issues could be raised in an Adjournment debate, but such an idea is preposterous since so many hon. Members would wish to take part in the debate. On the other hand, the subject is hardly suitable for a five-hour debate on a balloted motion. The 455 decision is apparently to be made by the district or area health authority and yet the centre is important nationally. How can one deal with it except by having a debate in the House? How otherwise can one exercise influence? It is not for me to suggest how the problem might be solved, but perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services should make a special allocation of funds for the centre, which is financed by a local health authority but fulfils a national function as an institution of second referral for totally disabled patients.
The centre has an extraordinary record of restoring patients to health and normal activity. I have a large pile of letters which have been sent to me in the last few months since the threat arose. The letters come mainly from outside my constituency. They are from patients who have profited and returned to active work as a result of the special skills at the centre.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will deal with the matter. I hope that he will bear it in mind when I raise the issue as a possible subject for debate. I hope that he will draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the problem of the rehabilitation centre.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I wish to speak of one issue alone. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris), I wish to explore the mystery of the missing statement. Two weeks ago my right hon. Friend and I, during the Consolidated Fund debate, raised yet again the question of the £25 million and the fight for Inmos. We were told that a decision was imminent. We expected a decision to be taken within days because it had already been considered by a ministerial Committee.
On the day before we go into Recess, nothing has been said to the House. A motion on the Order Paper has attracted nearly 100 signatures, such is the anxiety of hon. Members in various parts of the country. In the Chamber now are right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish, Yorkshire, Welsh, North-West and Northern constituencies. They all represent areas which have a direct interest in the Government's decision.
456 We must bear in mind that at this stage in our economic affairs a production unit providing 1,000 jobs is attractive to and necessary for many parts of the country. I emphasise the peculiar nature of the development of the decision. When I was a Minister at the Department of Industry, the original assurance was given to me by the National Enterprise Board that if an industrial development certificate was given to Inmos to allow it to go to Bristol all the production units would go to assisted areas. That would result in 4,000 jobs.
A PA Management Consultants report was commissioned to analyse potential sites. Local authorities in various parts of the country, at considerable cost, made submissions to the consultants, explaining the sites that were available and the advantages of their localities. The report is surrounded in mystery. When I asked a National Enterprise Board spokesman whether the report recommended that the production unit should also go to Bristol, despite the promise from the NEB, he said that he could not remember what was in the report and that he did not have a copy of it. I was also told that the board would not want to put a copy of the report in the Library because it would be confusing to hon. Members. I am sure that it would be confusing if the report did not endorse the site for which Inmos is now pressing at Bristol. That is why we expect a statement from the Minister before the House goes into recess.
What has happened in the last two weeks that has prevented us from obtaining the information? There is considerable interest on the Government Back Benches about whether the£25 million should be given. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are united in saying that we think that the money should be given to Inmos. But it is right that Government Members who take a different view should at least have an opportunity to question the Minister when he announces his decision. Whether or not the Minister decides that the production unit should go to Bristol, there are hon. Members who represent Bristol constituencies and assisted areas who will want to probe further the reasons for the site that has been chosen.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
My right hon. Friend is 457 making a point that is extremely important to my constituency and to the North-West. What he has said about the siting of the production unit seems to imply that there may have been some breach of faith. I read my right hon. Friend's letter in The Times on 29 February. What was said then was very disturbing to localities such as my own, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us more about the intentions of Ministers in the previous Government.
§ Mr. Williams
I shall be as helpful as I can, but I must be careful because there are other hon. Members who want to speak.
When the application was made, I immediately said that I opposed it because in my view it was almost inevitable that Inmos would follow up with an application to site the production unit nearby. At that stage I was given an absolute assurance by the then deputy chairman of the National Enterprise Board, repeated by him at a further meeting and repeated by the chairman at a final meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), the then Secretary of State for Industry. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) was also present. We were given assurances that it was not necessary for the production unit to be near the actual research and development unit.
I went into lengthy discussion with the deputy chairman about a Manchester site. I pointed out that in assisted areas, such as Manchester and the North-West, there was already a strong computer link and a good international airport. The same applies to Scotland, Wales and the North of England, where there is considerable infrastructure in terms of university back-up, labour availability and so on. All this was discussed, and it was on that basis that the PA report was to be commissioned, to find out which would be the most suitable site in the assisted areas.
We shall not be satisfied with a furtive written answer, slipped out at the last minute tomorrow afternoon when there will be no press and few hon. Members available to interrogate the Minister. If the Secretary of State for Industry does that, it will be seen as cowardly in the House and in the areas that have a direct interest in the siting of this project.
458 Therefore, I emphasise to the Leader of the House that we expect a full statement. If we are not to have a statement this side of the recess, we expect an assurance from him that there will be no furtive, underhand announcement tomorrow or during the recess. We want an assurance that an announcement will be made when the House is back, when the Minister can be fully interrogated.
§ Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)
I am inclined to agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea. West (Mr. Williams) in his request for a full statement on the Inmos project and an opportunity to discuss it. I, among others, have considerable scepticism about the wisdom of this proposed investment. I would not share the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for finding this project dumped down anywhere near my constituency back-yard, because I have a nasty suspicion that it will probably end in tears. However, I certainly believe that it is investment which the House should have an opportunity to discuss; so to that extent I agree with the right hon. Gentleman.
I also agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), that this debate has tended to be occasion for hypocrisy. We all rise, one after another, and announce all sorts of reasons why the House should not adjourn, but we know in our heart of hearts that we would be absolutely horrified if my right hon. Friend turned round and said "I am so impressed by all the arguments that have been advanced that I have decided that we should abandon the Easter Recess." So we should be a little careful about the way in which we approach the matters in hand.
Having said that, I want to throw into the pool three little items of varying importance upon which I feel we could benefit from some elucidation before the House rises for this brief break. The first item is the report which emerged from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission yesterday evening on the Post Office monopoly. It may be recalled that this is a matter which has been before the Secretary of State for Industry for nine months. We now have from the commission a report which seems to be a remarkably half-baked document. The report finds, as if we did not know, that there is a 459 Post Office monopoly of the mails. It also finds, as if we did not know, that that is a monopoly which works against the public interest. For reasons which, I confess, entirely escape my understanding, the commission also finds that, perhaps on balance, it would be better to do nothing about this monopoly.
The commission points out that it is about the fourth body that has examined the Post Office in the past four or five years and that all of them have found rapidly deteriorating services and rapidly escalating costs, together with mountainous public dissatisfaction. All these bodies have told the Post Office that it must mend its ways or else, and the Post Office has responded with a solemn pledge that mend its ways it would; yet each of these bodies has been equally ineffective in achieving any visible improvement.
Against that background, it is urgent that we should have from my right hon. Friend—before we rise for the Easter Recess if humanly possible, but certainly immediately after our return—a response to the report and, for preference, a response which shows the courage of the conclusions of the commission and determines that the time has come to rescind the legal monopoly in which the Post Office basks. Although the commission's report relates to the services supplied—if that is the right word, but reading the report I do not believe that it is; perhaps the words should be "supposedly supplied"—by the Post Office to its customers in inner London, its conclusions clearly apply with equal force to the rest of the country.
The only argument which the commission seems to be able to sustain in favour of the retention of what it admits to be an abusive monopoly is that if the monopoly was withdrawn those in rural areas, whom the commission was not considering, would suffer from a diminution of public service not compensated for by access to cheaper, if less reliable, services. Since the whole drift of the report is that competition, if it were allowed, would possibly be more expensive though more reliable, that is an even more profoundly mystifying conclusion than many other aspects of the report.
What we need now as a matter of some urgency is a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, in the light of this report 460 and in the light of the departmental investigation which he has conducted for more than nine months, about the desirability of continuing with a Post Office monopoly. I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that when the Secretary of State for Industry announced the departmental inquiry, he promised to announce the conclusion thereof early in the new year. Three months have now elapsed, and we are about to go into the Easter Recess. Therefore, this is becoming a matter of urgency.
That is my first point. I can raise the second point very briefly. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave an undertaking at the beginning of the year that there would be an early debate on British Leyland's corporate plan. I must admit that when I heard him give that undertaking it did not occur to me that we would be rising for the Easter Recess without having had a debate. I must point out that £300 million of taxpayers' money is involved and that Sir Michael Edwardes informed the Secretary of State back in December that that corporate plan would have to be reconsidered completely de novo in the event of a shortfall in the corporation's cash flow. I suggest that there are reasons for questioning whether that event has not already occurred.
At any rate, from reading my right hon. Friend's answer to me in January, it would be difficult to have drawn the conclusion that we would be rising for the Easter Recess without ever having had that debate. I hope that my right hon. Friend can now assure us that he will give time for such a debate at an early moment after our return. Members of Parliament are answerable to their constituents for the enormous sums that are being put into that business. We need some opportunity to scrutinise whether that is a proper utilisation of public funds.
My third point is also of direct concern to my right hon. Friend. I refer to the report published yesterday by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, which commented on the manner in which the Spring Supplementary Estimates are handled. As my right hon. Friend knows, I raised this matter only a few days ago on the Floor of the House, when we were invited to pass £850 million of Spring Supplementary Estimates on the nod.
461 The Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service has basically come up with two recommendations, one of which we could all endorse. That is the appeal to my right hon. Friend to establish the new Procedure Committee as soon as may be, so that we can have a fresh look at the quite inadequate way in which Parliament at present scrutinises these enormous additions to public expenditure as they are supposedly put before us.
The second recommendation seems to raise rather greater problems, but again it is obviously a matter at which the Procedure Committee should look. Apparently, the Select Committee recommends that the Supplementary Estimates should be scrutinised by the relevant Departmental Select Committees. The trouble about that is that if one takes the latest Spring Supplementary Estimates, there were two serious defaulters with regard to breaching cash limits. One was the Scottish Office and the other was the Ministry of Defence. I put it to the House that one must ask whether the Select Committee on defence or the Select Committee on Scottish affairs represents the best substitute for proper scrutiny by the House of Commons as a whole of the way in which a Department has burst its stays and breached the cash limits which were set for it.
We must remember that to some extent Select Committees must inevitably be regarded as something in the nature of captive balloons of the Departments to which they are attached. That has always been the criticism which can be made about the system. At any rate, it would be desirable for the Procedure Committee, when it is set up, to look rather carefully at this aspect of the proposals that have now come from the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service.
Perhaps the point of greatest relevance this evening is that we need the Procedure Committee. I must confess to my right hon. Friend that I was a little disappointed—I hope that this is not being ungenerous—by the terms of the reply which he made to our brief debate on the business motion the other day, when the subject of the Spring Supplementary Estimates was raised. I hasten to add that I was disappointed only with that 462 part of his reply which referred to the establishment of the Procedure Committee. I would hate to suggest that my right hon. Friend was implying that this was a matter for the wild blue yonder, but on the other hand, from reading or listening to that part of his reply, I do not think one could get the impression that this was the highest item on his list of priorities. I believe that this is a matter of urgency. Again, if we cannot see progress before the Easter Recess—and I agree that time is short—I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to offer the prospect of movement very early after our return.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I believe that our discussions today have shown value of a debate on the motion which has been put forward by the Leader of the House. It would clearly be wrong to take that motion on the nod. This debate provides an opportunity for hon. Members to put various matters to the House which they consider to be important. While it is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) said, that we do not believe that the end result will be that the House will not adjourn for the Easter Recess, nevertheless it is right and proper to have this opportunity of debating various topics.
The topic that I wish to raise is important. It concerns Britain's reputation. I refer to the possibility of the Government allowing arms to be sold to the Chilean authorities. The House knows that when the Labour Government came into office in 1974 they rightly decided that arms should not be sold to the Chilean junta, for the most understandable political reasons. A story appeared in The Guardian last Saturday which seemed to indicate that it is the intention of the present Government to reverse that policy. I hope that there will be some announcement before we go into recess about what the Government intend to do.
I also understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who is the Shadow foreign affairs spokesman has written to the Foreign Secretary expressing his strong concern at the possibility that arms will be sold to the Chilean authorities.
463 In the last few weeks, much has been said in the House about represssion in the Soviet Union. As I understand it, Conservative Members, and, indeed, the Government, argue that it is not simply the Russian aggression in Afghanistan which should prevent sportsmen from participating in the Olympics but the lack of freedom inside the Soviet Union itself. Conservative Members have often taken the opportunity to tell the House how dreadful things are in Russia and in Eastern Europe generally.
I am one of those Socialists who does not deny for a moment that there is a complete absence of civil liberties in the Soviet Union. I think that is the view of most, if not all, of my right hon. and hon. Friends. But it would be utter hypocrisy if Conservative Members or the Government lectured us about the situation in the Soviet Union and yet were quite willing and enthusiastic to sell arms to the Chilean authorities.
The position in Chile has not changed a great deal since the coup in 1973. Then, of course, a democratically elected Government were destroyed by violence, and a group of people—army officers and the rest—took power in their place and pursued a policy of murder, torture and brutality. One of the people who was tortured was a British citizen, Dr Sheila Cassidy. As a result of the treatment that she received at the hands of the Chilean authorities, the United Kingdom ambassador was withdrawn. I believe that it was highly deplorable that we should have sent an ambassador back to Chile. Once again, it seems that a Tory Government show a willingness, to put it no higher, to collaborate with a Fascist regime.
There is an important difference between saying that we do not like the regime, but that is no reason why we should not have diplomatic relations, and saying that we should supply arms to the Chilean junta. I can see no possible justification for a policy of selling arms to people who still carry on a policy of murder and torture.
I argue that Britain's reputation will be tarnished if we decide to reverse our policy and sell arms to the sort of people who now rule in Chile. If there is a feeling that I am exaggerating, I turn from The Guardian to a quotation from The Times. I remind the House that when 464 the coup took place in Chile The Times decided to justify it two days after the event, just as the Tory Government justified it. However, on 18 January this year The Times said:The regime is in fact resisting all attempts to account for the hundreds of people who have been tortured and killed since the military came to power. It has also retained the apparatus of oppression which enables it to hold down organized opposition, and still includes torture as a way of extracting information.That is a quotation from The Times—hardly the voice of radical thought in the United Kingdom.
I hope that we shall get a statement before the House rises for the Easter Recess. It worries me that perhaps while we are away the Government's policy will be changed and we shall not have an opportunity to challenge it. That would be a most unfortunate way of carrying out such a reversal of policy.
I urge the Government to be consistent. They say that they do not like the lack of freedom in Eastern Europe. They say they are concerned about the lack of civil liberties. I agree that things are deplorable in Eastern Europe, but what consistency can there be if a Tory Government argue on those lines and yet are quite willing to allow arms to be sent to a repressive and brutal regime which continues to hold power in Latin America? I hope that this country will be consistent, and that the Government will pursue the same policy as the Labour Party pursued when it was in office.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I believe that the House should not adjourn until it has had the opportunity to discuss a matter of major importance, namely, the lengthening period of delay between committal for trial and the holding of the trial in criminal cases. This is an injustice which has been present for a long time in our system and which has increased considerably in the last few years.
To their credit, the previous Conservative Government managed to bring down the average period for those awaiting trial by the provision of a number of extra courts. In 1974 defendants on bail had a waiting time which averaged 11.2 weeks. Defendants in custody waited for an average of 7.1 weeks. Those were the best figures that we had had for several years.
465 My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General supplied me with some helpful statistics on 24 March which show that the figures have increased progressively every year since 1974. By 1979, defendants on bail were awaiting trial for an average of 19 weeks and those in custody were waiting for an average of 11.1 weeks. In other words, on average, after a defendant has been committed for trial, if he has been remanded on bail he must wait almost five months for the trial, and if he is remanded in custody he must wait three months in prison for his trial.
These figures conceal a horrifying reality. Being averages, they do not take account of the large number of cases in which those on bail or in custody wait a considerable time before their cases are heard. In fact, in some cases now being heard in the criminal courts up and down the country the defendants have been in custody for more than 12 months. That is disgraceful, and unfortunately the figures are increasing all the time.
In all cases, a gross injustice is committed to the defendants. That is particularly so when they are subsequently acquitted of the offence, so that in the eyes of the law they have never committed it at all. In such cases they have either been incarcerated in custody for a long time or have been on bail under suspicion and with the threat of imprisonment hanging over them. That gives rise to tremendous misery and hardship.
I am not concerned only with the problems of defendants. I am also concerned with the quality of justice. After 12 months, witnesses simply cannot remember the detail of what they may have heard or seen on the occasion which forms the basis of the facts on which the allegations of crimes are made. Many times in periods of far less than 12 months witnesses have gone into the witness box and been unable to remember details of identity, time and distance—details which are very often vital for the prosecution or the defence; its cuts both ways. The result is gross injustice.
What is more, our laws of evidence, which were framed in a more gracious, spacious and leisurely age, do not assist in this respect. It is no help to a court that is trying to get at the truth when the facts concerned occurred several months before and when the laws of evidence 466 prevent the admission of evidence that might otherwise assist in getting at the truth. The result is not only injustice because of the quality of justice, and the misery and hardship caused to the defendants and their families, but overcrowding in our prisons, especially local prisons, and remand centres where people are remanded in custody to await trial.
One notices that on the Order Paper no fewer than 112 Members have signed early-day motion No. 536 which calls attention to this great problem within our prison system. Therefore, this is regarded as an important and difficult problem which must be tackled within the context of our penal system. However, I believe that it is in respect of the quality of justice that the matter needs urgent attention. One accepts that the Government are doing their best, but unfortunately this is not a subject which is often raised in the House or which often receives the most urgent attention from the Government. That is why this is the right time to raise it.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
An added problem is that remand prisons are overcrowded. Unconvicted prisoners are now being moved to other prisons as category A prisoners. They are being refused the right to wear civilian clothes while in those prisons. They are being treated as convicted prisoners.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I completely accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Speaking as a London Member, he knows of the hardships and miseries that are inflicted upon those in Brixton. That prison is overcrowded, and occasionally incidents have occurred. Overcrowding is a great strain on prisoners and on prison warders and staff, and that bodes ill for all concerned. The problem must be tackled urgently.
One recalls that the last Conservative Government were able to help by the provision of courts. They accelerated the building programme. Courts were built rapidly and provided great relief for an over-pressed system, and one must look forward to more courts being built. However, as a result of public expenditure constraints we may have to find fresh courts within existing buildings. I am sure that that can be done. We should make greater use of our court buildings.
467 Perhaps we shall be told that it is a question not only of buildings but of staff. I suggest that we should adopt unorthodox methods for organising trials. For example, we could stagger court hours. Perhaps two courts could sit in the same premises on one day. One court could start at 8.30 am and finish at 2 pm, and another could start at 2.30 pm and finish at 8 pm, using a separate staff. The personnel rota would be organised accordingly. Something like that must be tried because the problem is desperately urgent. We may well see a horrifying explosion if we take no action. Justice may suffer from such delay. Justice delayed is justice denied. I hope that the Government will bring their proposals before the House as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My speech will be truncated because I have given notice to the three relevant Departments. My first point concerns the Department of Health and Social Security. It concerns the cost of kidney dialysis. Mrs. Elizabeth Ward, who has done sterling work for kidney patients, spoke on the radio this morning. She raised the point—as she did at a press conference yesterday—that the British Kidney Patients' Association can have a four-unit dialysis set-up for £42,000.
The average price for a similar unit for area health boards in Scotland and England is £150,000. That arises partly because they will not accept the Portakabin method. I checked with Mrs. Ward this morning, and that is known to the Department. Quite rightly, she is unwilling to make a personal issue of it and she will not name the authorities about which she is complaining. However, as there are lengthening lists of kidney patients, the Department should ask how the British Kidney Patients' Association can apparently do a job three times more cheaply than area hospital boards. I spoke to the Secretary of State on this point. I gather that his Department will comment.
The second issue concerns the Board of Trade. Again, I have given notice of my question. A very serious issue has arisen as a result of the dual pricing system carried out in the United States. It is operated by the American Government for energy supplies and for chemical feedstock. Areas such as mine and the con- 468 stituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) are greatly threatened because whole sectors of the European chemical industry will be at risk by 1984–85 unless urgent decisions are taken in relation to iso proponol, acrilonitrate, styrene and vinyl acetate.
Notice has been given to the office of the Leader of the House and to the Department of Trade. They know the precise nature of the problem. In the various international discussions that will take place before Parliament reassembles, I hope that the Secretary of State for Trade will make some argument for a common tariff on behalf of EEC countries.
The third issue of which I gave notice concerns my constituents, particularly those on North Sea oil rigs, who are involved at Hound Point and many other terminals. One of my constituents was among the lucky ones to be saved from the recent rig disaster. I ask the Leader of the House, in his capacity as Government business manager, to change the business of the House so that instead of discussing the Criminal Justice (Scotland) [Lords] Bill on April 14 we could discuss the Burgoyne report, "Offshore Safety."
Like many of my hon. Friends, I am very concerned about the minority report that comes from two trade union members, Mr. Miller and Mr. Lyons. They say, in paragraph 24, page 62:Meanwhile in the UK sector the position is really quite scandalous. In spite of UKOOA understandings with the Inter-Union Offshore Oil Committee (IUOOC) over trade union rights to access and recognition offshore, a battery of devices are used to minimise the trade union presence amongst permanent platform employees involved in production. To date there is only one collective bargaining agreement offshore, covering gas platform staff in the southern sector, and that was only secured after several years of resistance. Elsewhere pressure, intimidation, temporary bribes, and other means are used to hold back the development of bona fide trade union organisation and recognition".Having said that, they think that the Norwegian set-up is slightly better. They conclude:We firmly believe that the alternative advice we have given in our report is vital to the aim of achieving the maximum possible reduction in deaths, injuries and dangerous occurrences offshore. So many of the other recommendations of the Committee, which we fully endorse, would, in our view, be overshadowed by the weaknesses of the Report that we have identified. We particularly desire to avoid a 469 well-meant exercise in reviewing offshore health and safety standards being turned into the vehicle for an ill-considered attempt to exclude the HSE and the development of realistic, responsible tripartite consultation, from the North Sea".For many decades the mining industry has accepted that those who are responsible for safety should not be connected with the sponsoring Department. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) will have some sympathy with my argument concerning the discussion of criminal justice on Monday 14 April. We should turn our minds quickly towards offshore safety.
Among the various rig workers in my constituency with whom I have talked, I cannot detect any great panic. Of course, it is natural that their wives and families are worried. That is understandable. The sooner that we get down to detailed consideration of the Burgoyne report, the better.
I have two further points, the first of a domestic House of Commons nature. The summer is once again on us. Will the Leader of the House look at the Strangers Gallery at Question Time? We all know how difficult it is to run around like the proverbial fly, trying to get tickets for our constituents. At 3.5 pm during Scottish questions, a whole sector of the Gallery was empty. I had the curiosity to go outside, and I counted over 50 people sitting in the area leading from St. Stephen's entrance, and doubtless there was a further queue outside.
We should turn our minds to a proper system of allocating tickets. The fault lies not with the Serjeant at Arms and his Department but with ourselves under this system in which the House Committee insists that the tickets should be allocated. Colleagues who may be away on delegations or at the Council or Europe often put tickets into their pockets, which are not used, and those of us who may need tickets do not get the benefit of them.
Before the summer, could some consideration be given at least to a trial period to allow hon. Members to put in for tickets when they need them, without the allocation? None of us will apply for tickets unnecessarily, but any hon. Member who is unduly greedy will surely be sorted out by colleagues. A more rational system should prevail.
470 From a comparatively minor matter, may I turn to a major matter? It will be in the recollection of the House that last Friday we had a five-hour debate on the Brandt Commission report. With qualifications from the Government and with the exception of one Conservative Member, there was unanimous support in the House for its recommendations, which were far-reaching. They included a tax on international arms sales and dealt with the basic issue of the North-South relationship.
With due deference to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), who raised the matter, it is of great importance that we have a two-day debate shortly after the recess on the whole issue of the Brandt report. Surely the Government are not satisfied with a Friday debate on such a major issue and will make time for proper House of Commons consideration of these vital issues.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before we continue, I have a brief statement to make. I hope to be in the Chair tomorrow morning from 9.30 onwards. It will therefore be necessary for private notice questions that hon. Members wish to table tomorrow to reach me by 9 am at the latest, otherwise I shall not be able to give them proper consideration before the House sits. Once I am in the Chair for Question Time, I cannot consider private notice questions.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
On these occasions the Leader of the House is expected to answer for all omissions of Ministers, real and imaginary.
I wish to raise matters of which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware. The Public Accounts Committee has published seven reports which we have not yet had the opportunity to debate. That is a record number of outstanding reports. It is particularly important that these reports should be debated. At a time of financial stringency, it is necessary to draw the Government's attention to the waste of money that often occurs when politicians start construction works long before plans are properly prepared. At a guess, over 70 per cent. of the excess expenditure to which the Public Accounts Committee has to draw attention results from that.
471 It is clearly demonstrated in the recent White Paper that due regard has not been given to the fact that plans should be prepared. The Treasury is so hidebound that it will not allow work to start on design work until funds are available for the entire construction. Over the years, with regard to schools, hospitals and town halls, it has not appreciated that the gestation period for a building is two to two and a half years. If we can debate the matter in the House, we may be able to get some sense into the Treasury to help Ministers in other Departments. I support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) on the need for a debate on the building aspect of planning permission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) mentioned the concern over rate, water rate and sewerage rate demands. In my constituency it is even worse. We have our ordinary rate demands and then we have demands from the Folkestone and Hythe water company. Having got over those two shocks, my constituents receive a further demand from the Southern water authority. They cannot understand why they should have to pay for water twice when they were once able to pay for it in their general rates.
I never delay the House for longer than necessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to give us some satisfaction in his reply.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I shall be brief, as I have only two points that I wish to raise.
My amendment to the motion indicates my concern that the Government should make a statement on the disposition and control of cruise missiles. It is clear from their evasive replies that the Government do not have control. They have not produced any statement to show that the key to cruise missiles is in their hands. It is in the hands of the Americans.
Secondly, I have received information, which I have not yet had confirmed, that these sites are already being prepared, which is of great concern to East Anglia. A large number of meetings have been organised against the cruise missiles.
472 I introduced a Ten-Minute Bill a few weeks ago, which was not opposed. The only interjection came from the hon. Member from Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes) from a sedentary position. However, it appears that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), according to a report in The Guardian today, tried to intervene in the affairs of a district council seeking to hold a referendum on the missiles, when Forest Heath district council, through Brandon parish council, proposed to provide money for a referendum.
I prefer my Bill, and I hope that it will be given time. It would allow people within a radius of at least 30 miles of these sites, who may be devastated by planned or accidental retaliation, to vote on whether they accept them. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who did not oppose my Bill, is now trying to intervene with local authorities that wish to permit the exercise of democratic choice.
§ Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Eye)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable local anger at the way in which, with no local knowledge or involvement, he has constantly sought to speak in this House for the people of East Anglia? Local Members of Parliament, including myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), are closely in touch with parish, district and county councils that may be affected by cruise missile sites. Questions are constantly put down. The moment that any statement is made about where the sites are likely to be placed, we shall represent our constituents. We do not need the help of the hon. Member on how to run our constituencies.
§ Mr. Cryer
This is not a constituency matter. In any interchange of missiles the whole of the country would be affected. If the hon. Gentleman does not realise that, he is a bigger fool than he has appeared so far. He had the opportunity to oppose my Ten-Minute Bill. Why did he not do so? Why did not any other Conservative Member oppose my Bill?
§ Mr. Gummer
The reason why I did not oppose it is that this is a sovereign House, in which we can discuss such matters. Referenda are not the answer to matters about which we are elected to 473 take decisions. When the Government bring forward their proposals for cruise missiles, we shall put forward the views of our constituents. We shall fight for them a great deal harder than the hon. Gentleman fights for his constituency.
§ Mr. Cryer
It appears that the hon. Gentleman will oppose the proposal to site missile bases in East Anglia. What he said confirms my point. He says that he is waiting for legislation and that referenda are not the right way in which to deal with his issue. I introduced a Ten-Minute Bill. The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to oppose it. He could have gone to Mr. Speaker's office as did the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who subsequently withdrew his opposition. Why did not the hon. Gentleman do that? Why did he not get to his feet when I presented my Bill, open his mouth, and divide the House? Did he not have the guts to do so? He could have done that. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Parliament is an important institution. It is the most important assembly in Britain, and he is inside it. He had an opportunity, but he did not exercise it.
§ Mr. Gummer
I did not oppose the hon. Gentleman's Bill because I believed it to be part of his continuous party political operation. He does not know anything about East Anglia. That is why he has to draw from his top pocket the name of the district council to which he referred. He does not know where it is, he has never heard of it, and he has never made any previous reference to it. The hon. Gentleman should confine himself to his constituency and to matters that he knows about, instead of constantly raising matters relating to other constituencies which have nothing to do with him and which he can leave to the reasonable legislative processes of the House.
§ Mr. Cryer
The hon. Gentleman is quite extraordinary. I received a telephone message from a person whom I do not know in an area that is concerned with cruise missiles. The message was about the cancellation of the proposed referendum to be held in Brandon, apparently under the expenditure provisions of the Forest Heath district council. I do not wish to reiterate my previous remarks. However, I promoted a Bill and the hon. Gentleman kept his counsel and kept his 474 mouth shut. He did nothing. He had the opportunity to oppose the Bill, as did other hon. Members. However, he thought that discretion was the better part of valour.
§ Mr. Cryer
I do not wish to give way too often. I am concerned that other hon. Members wish to speak. They are desperate to speak, as I was. I shall not give way on any further occasion.
I wish to emphasise one more point. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) said that the House is important, and he is absolutely right. Therefore, it was all the more disappointing that the Secretary of State for Defence took the decision to install cruise missiles in Britain. He is using East Anglia, or anywhere else in Britain—we do not yet know all the sites—as a parking area for American-owned missiles, without consulting the House. That is why special measures are necessary.
I have already spoken for seven minutes. I wish to complete my comments within the average of 10 minutes. I shall be as brief as possible. I should like the Leader of the House to comment on the circumstances in which the Government gave permission to a civil servant—Mr. J. D. Lippitt—to leave the Department of Industry and take up an appointment with GEC. There were no conditions placed upon his accepting the appointment as group director for exports at GEC.
I received a bizarre answer to my parliamentary question which stated:This reflects the Government's view that Mr. Lippitt can make a greater contribution to the country's interests in his new capacity." —[Official Report, 31 March 1980; Vol. 982, c. 34.]That is a strange reflection on Mr. Lippitt, or GEC, or the Civil Service. I cannot detect to which it applies.
It is a factor that brings the public service into disrepute. Mr. Lippitt may be a man of the utmost integrity. However, when he was giving advice to the Department of Industry in favour of GEC—as was the case—we could not decide whether he was paving the way for his future career or whether he was giving his sound and independent judgment to the best of his ability.
Civil servants who are in a position of great responsibility and high authority are 475 able to advise Secretaries of States and other Ministers. When such a person moves to a company that has close contacts and is intimately involved with the Department of Industry, people may say that there is an element of corruption involved because a man cannot stand apart from two masters. It is inevitable that that conclusion should be drawn.
This is not the first move that has occurred. It has happened under both Governments. A Mr. Odgers moved in similar circumstances. I was at the Department at that time, and I know that he was intimately involved with GEC. He was a member of the industrial development unit, which was part of the selective financial assistance group which presented cases to the Industrial Development Advisory Board, which in turn was chaired by the vice-chairman of GEC. When Mr. Odgers finished his three years' secondment from a merchant bank, he did not return to the bank—which was a condition of his employment—but went to GEC as a non-executive director.
The tentacles of GEC are too closely entwined with the Department of Industry. Arnold Weinstock was able to ring the Department at any time that he chose and talk to any of the deputy or permanent secretaries on first name terms and attempt—as he did—to set the Secretary of State for Industry against other Secretaries of State within a Labour Cabinet. Those relationships are too close.
The movement of Mr. Lippitt, a deputy secretary, indicates that something is very wrong. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that in future there will not be such movements, that civil servants will help and advise companies—as they do on many occasions—uniformly and without any prejudice, and that they will keep such companies at arm's length. It is important to the maintenance of our public service that there should be an arm's length relationship.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
We should not go into recess before giving the Government an opportunity to place beyond any doubt or possible misunderstanding their attitude to Israel and the Palestinian problem.
476 The outstanding achievement of the past 30 years in the Middle East has been the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel. As a result of that agreement, Egypt has given Israel its friendship, and Israel has not only given Egypt its friendship but made substantial sacrifices of territory and resources. That resulted in the major part of the Sinai returning to Egypt, with all that that meant in terms of the weakening of Israel's defences. Israel is now entirely dependent upon the importation of oil.
The other part of the Camp David agreement concerns negotiations for the autonomy of the West Bank and Gaza, on behalf of the Palestinians who live there. Any agreement on that matter will be difficult, and negotiations may be protracted. It is important that Jordan should be encouraged to join the discussions. If there is to be any hope of a solution to the Palestinian problem, it will come about only if the United States, Israel, Egypt and the European nations agree on their approach and if that approach does not contemplate any dealing with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Hitherto, that has been the Government's position. I hope that is still their position. Before we adjourn, I ask the Government to make it absolutely clear, beyond any question of misunderstanding, that that is their position.
Doubts have been raised in the media and elsewhere. We have supported a European approach. But one of the European countries, France, has recently made noises of friendship and support for the PLO.
No one can possibly expect Israel to enter into any agreement that will mean its suicide as a State. A third Palestinian State such as the PLO demands, sandwiched between Jordan and Israel, would mean suicide for Israel and a far worse Palestinian problem than the present one. Such a State would be completely unviable in terms of agriculture, industry and commerce. It would develop as a festering sore of discontent, no doubt irritated further by those whose interest it is to foment instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. The PLO is a terrorist organisation that is utterly determined to destroy Israel.
477 Although attempts have been made to give the impression that the PLO is moderate, it is clear from the recent utterances of Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders that the PLO has not moderated. If it appears to have moderated, that is merely a means of gaining time until it can drive Israel into the sea.
I refer to some of the recent statements by PLO leaders. On 21 March 1971, at Buenos Aires, Yasser Arafat said:There can be no compromise and no moderation … No, we do not want peace. We want war and victory. Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else.In Beirut on 31 July 1976 Arafat said:We will not concede even an inch of Palestine. We will fight a prolonged people's war for the liberation of our territory. We will stand with our rifles in Haifa and Jaffa.In April 1977 Arafat said:I am not a man who makes deals or compromises. I shall struggle until the very last inch of Palestine is regained … I foresee a new war, the fifth in the Middle East. This is a revolution of liberation, not compromises. We will never abandon any part of our lands, nor concede any one of our rights.On 19 February 1979 Arafat said:Our activities will continue in Tel Aviv and elsewhere until we achieve victory and hoist our flag over Jerusalem and the other cities in the occupied homeland.On 19 February Arafat said:We shall fight together, as one Moslem nation, under one flag. We are all zealous of the Moslem faith. We shall all stand together under the Moslem flag.In June 1979 Arafat said:The Israelis have to remember that their State will not exist more than 70 years … and 32 years out of it are already gone.In July 1979 Arafat said:The Palestine resistance will never agree to a cease-fire before the complete liberation of all Palestine.Recently in Buenos Aires, in an interview in a newspaper, Arafat said:Peace for us means the destruction of Israel.Any suggestion that over the years there has been a moderation of view is completely false. In April 1979 George Habash, the leader of the hard-line Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a faction of the PLO, said:We repeat and emphasise that co-existence with Zionism is impossible, considering that our conflict with the enemy is a struggle of existence, and not a fight over borders.478 In Beirut in June 1979 he said:The crisis in the region could be resolved by the liquidation of the Zionist entity … We reject the presence of a Palestinian State whose price would be the consecration of the Zionist entity's presence in part of Palestinian territory.There is no moderation there. There is no possibility that there can be established a PLO State that will not threaten the very survival of the State of Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organisation's covenant makes clear that that is the position. The danger of such a State sandwiched between Jordan and the existing State of Israel is obvious. It would be 21 miles to Haifa from the border. It would be nine miles to Natanya, 11 miles to Tel Aviv, 22 miles to Ashod and 10 miles to Beersheba. All those distances are well within the range of 175-mm artillery and would be covered in a matter of seconds in any air strike. That is the reality.
My right hon. Friend must be aware that any hint that the British Government —I do not think that they have given such a hint, but this is an opportunity before we rise for the Easter Recess to ensure that the hint is non-existent—are prepared to tolerate any dealings with an organisation that would be thus placed to give effect to its ambitions would be utterly unacceptable.
I ask my right hon. Friend to reaffirm that the Government intend to refrain from contracts with the PLO while it continues to have links with terrorism and so long as it fails to endorse the principle of a negotiated settlement in which Isreal's right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries is accepted. The Government should undertake that they will continue to give their support to Israel, Egypt and the United States in the implementation of the Camp David accords. I hope that we may have that reassurance this afternoon.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I shall refer to only one matter, the Civil List. On the very day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was painting a grim picture of the deepening depression, the recession and hardship, the Royal payroll was announced for 1980. As the Chancellor was lecturing us on the need to stand on our own feet, to pay our own way and not to seek any more income than we properly earned, the list was 479 published in Hansard. It appeared on Friday last. In effect, the Chancellor was saying—other Ministers have said it, too—that we must all share the Tory misety—all, that is, except those on £30,000 a year and those who are members of the Royal Family.
Let us consider the facts. Since the early 1970s there have been massive Royal handouts by stealth, or at least by means of a planted yearly question in the House of Commons. There is now no Select Committee to investigate in depth the justification for any claim that the Royal Family might care to make. That was regarded as much too great an intrusion into Royal privacy. It was considered unseemly for hon. Members such as myself to poke their noses into such magic and mystery. It was grubby and greedy, was it not, to talk about money? We just had to make the money available and shut up. That is what now happens every year.
The facts were published in Hansard, and I shall refer to one or two of them, but before doing so I point out that there are 10 named individuals on the list and that the total received by them in 1979 was £715,300. In 1980—the current year —the total for those 10 highly privileged individuals goes up to £849,000, an average per individual of £84,900. A footnote to that answer in Hansard states:All the increases are directly linked to increased expenses incurred in carrying out the Royal duties."—[Official Report. 26 March 1980; Vol. 981, c. 597–8.]It was not long before the sycophantic press was seeking to demonstrate how hard working those individuals are. On 30 March The Sunday Times contained an article entitled "The productivity of Princesses". That article indicated that last year, contrary to commonly assumed assumptions, Princess Anne was the busiest. A list of her public engagements for last year was given. She had 121 official engagements—about two a week, sometimes three when she was working overtime. Princess Margaret was only slightly less hard worked, with 113 official engagements for the year, and Princess Alexandra had 79 official engagements—about three every fortnight. When the trade unions talk about shorter working weeks, they should take an example from their Royal betters.
480 Princess Alexandra's 79 engagements last year cost the hard-pressed taxpayers £74,900—about £1,000 a visit. She is now to receive an increase of £10,500, so she will now receive £85,000 a year. Let me put that in perspective. A coal miner slogging his guts out at the coal face five days a week, taking home, say, £100 a week, would need to work 17 years before he earned as much as each of those princesses receives in any one year.
The allowance for Princess Anne leaps from £65,400 last year to £85,000 this year. Some press comment was less sycophantic than others. I quote from "Londoner's Diary" in the Evening Standard of 27 March. Under the headlineThe private cost of the Princess's public £20,000",the article states:The questions raised by Princess Anne's extra £20,000 are not perhaps as indelicate as they may seem. For while the Princess and her husband seem to show no signs of cutting down their considerable expenditure on horses, the nation through the Civil List spends ever increasing capital amounts on Gatcombe Park which they will be passing on to their children.The 32-room house in Gloucestershire in the middle of its 700-acre estate occupies a peculiar position in Royal finances. Although bought and redecorated for the couple with a reputed £750,000 of the Queen's private money, it became in 1978 a charge on the Civil List as the Princess's official residence. This change in status was agreed with the Labour Government at the time.I should like to know whether that was ever agreed by the House, and what is the total cost incurred by the taxpayer on Gatcombe Park as a direct consequence. When a house such as that becomes an official residence, the taxpayer automatically becomes responsible for the complete maintenance of it—for everything except the interior decoration and furnishings. A considerable sum must have been expended on the house as a direct consequence of the Labour Government accepting it as an official residence.
To be fair, the Phillips' household has many commitments. The press made that abundantly clear when the increases in the Civil List were announced. A court spokesman said that they are certainly not being paid for what they do, and that the allowance helps to maintain a certain standard—such as maintaining, for instance, a 32-room mansion and an estate of 730 acres with a 16-unit horse stable 481 complex which alone cost £100,000 to build. Somebody has to pay for that.
In his Budget Statement, the Chancellor clobbered the unemployed, the sick and the poor. Millions of people in Britain do not know how to make ends meet, and yet the Civil List figures are increased without a murmur of protest. I tried to speak during the Budget debate, and I requested a debate tomorrow. The reason why I am using this occasion is that it is the only opportunity that I have to put my views on record.
The justification for the claim for Princess Anne was that she suddenly discovered that Gatcombe Park had a leaky roof. She bought it from Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who was a good landlord. She should have called in a surveyor before she bought the house, to determine whether the cost of the leaky roof should be charged to Lord Butler or to her. She should not expect the taxpayer to foot the bill.
When Captain Phillips accepted the sponsorship of British Leyland for £60,000, he said that he and Princess Anne were just a young couple with a mortgage. Some young couple! Some mortgage! Our hearts should bleed for them, but we should not foot the bills. They should be like every other young couple with a mortgage, and grin and bear it and manage their affairs without asking the taxpayers to foot the bills. They admitted that they had overspent by a few thousand pounds last year. That is their problem, not ours. We are hard pressed. Last week we listened to the grim two-hour speech of the Chancellor. We are hard pressed, and we should not have those burdens on the public sector borrowing requirement.
I turn now to the question of Princess Margaret. The Leader of the House must be disturbed by the behaviour of that lady. The Department of Health and Social Security recently appointed many hundreds of professional snoopers to catch the scroungers on supplementary benefit. Those snoopers would be much more profitably engaged investigating the higher echelons of our society than those that go into DHSS offices. There is a widely held view, even among pro-royalists, that nobody does more damage to the institution of monarchy than that wayward woman—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that whilst he is as free as everyone else to criticise the Civil List, he must refer to the Royal Family in courteous language. It is one of the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall certainly not withdraw, unless I am directed to do so by Mr. Speaker.
The Leader of the House can have access to the correspondence that I have received from all sections of the community about the behaviour of certain individuals whom I have named. I know that Conservative Members and people in the highest positions of authority believe that certain behaviour is doing a disservice to the institution that they sincerely believe in. I do not happen to believe in it, but I know that there are people throughout the country who do but who deplore the kind of behaviour that has been going on. I do not need to spell it out, because it has been plastered all over the press. It is time that the Government made their views known. As taxpayers, we should not be asked to foot the bill for that kind of indefensible behaviour.
This is not a party matter. Despite all the anger and distaste, successive Governments have mollycoddled and cosseted with cash and accommodation over the years people whose behaviour has been reprehensible.
In the name of justice and sanity, can such behaviour go on any longer? One can expect it from a Conservative Government, because the institution is all part of the establishment to which they belong. But we expected much more radical approaches by our own Government. We did not get them. The sycophancy was even greater among Labour Ministers when we were in power. So in that sense it is no party matter.
There must be a return to far greater accountability to the House for what goes on in the institution of monarchy. It is no good pouring out money on the Royal yacht and the Royal flight of aircraft. 483 which is to be modernised at a cost of God knows how many millions of pounds. There is not as much accountability to the House as there should be. There should be a return to the Civil List Select Committee procedure, under which claims would not be granted until there had been a comprehensive and detailed investigation to justify them.
I hope that the point has been made. The Leader of the House and I have crossed swords on these matters many times. This will not be the last such occasion. I know what the right hon Gentleman's views are, but I think that privately he will agree with some of the points that I have made. If that is so, the debate will have been well worth while.
§ Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Eye)
I had hoped not to trouble the House tonight, but some of the comments that referred to my constituency should be answered.
Therefore, I shall not deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), with his obsessive concern to make as many unattractive comments about the Royal Family as he can. The hon. Gentleman never mentions the enormous sums that they earn for this country in the form of revenue from tourists. They have also provided for the national Exchequer a great deal more money through handing over Royal lands to the State than anything the House has ever offered them.
Many of us believe that few people contribute as much to this country as the Royal Family do, and we are sad that small numbers of people who do not represent any noteworthy group constantly speak so offensively about members of the Royal Family. It is a pity that we have heard another playing of that gramophone record by the hon. Gentleman.
The question of the Government's responsibility to deal with the matter of cruise missiles has been raised. Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House accept that we need a clear undertaking that the Government will provide time, if not before the recess at least at a reasonable date before the missiles are put into position, for the House to discuss the whole nature of our nuclear defence?
I ask that question not on the basis of the traditional anti-nuclear stance of the 484 hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)—with the notes that he holds in his top pocket—but for a much more fundamental reason. This country owes a great deal to the consistent defence that has been provided by NATO since 1948. The peace of Europe has been defended for a longer period this century because of its strength than at any previous time. It would be wrong if we did not have the opportunity to welcome the establishment of cruise missiles in this country as a further significant contribution towards the peace of Europe and of the world.
It would be morally wrong for us so to weaken our defences that we encouraged aggression. There is no doubt that that is as immoral a stand as can be imagined. Many of us believe that the hon. Gentleman, with his constant demands, is trying to make party political propaganda out of matters that should be the subject of a much more serious debate than that which he invites us to have.
The hon. Gentleman flippantly suggested that because some of us did not oppose his Ten-Minute Bill we had avoided the issue. We felt, and I still feel, that to bandy words with the hon. Gentleman on the subject of referendums in East Anglia, when he cannot remember the name of the town from which he has received a communication, and when it seems remarkably likely that he cannot tell us where East Anglia is, is to lower ourselves to a level to which we are not prepared to go.
This is the sovereign Parliament of Britain. The Members for East Anglia are elected by our constituents to represent their interests in the House. It is our intention, as it has been in the past, when the exact locations of cruise missiles are proposed to examine them and discuss them properly here. We shall not be led astray by all kinds of populist comments from the hon. Gentleman. We shall ask the Government to give a proper opportunity to discuss the real issues: first, whether this country should be defended; secondly, whether the country is in any sense challenged by aggression; thirdly, whether that challenge must be answered by an updating of our nuclear force.
Those are three sensible points for discussion. They are not properly put down on a partial referendum proposed by the hon. Member for Keighley; they are suitable subjects for discussion in the 485 House. I ask my right hon. Friend to give time for that discussion not because I wish to oppose the provision of cruise missiles in Britain but because I wish properly to examine the importance of defence against those countries whose aggressive purposes have been shown not only by the invasion and occupation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia but by their continued occupation of Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Poland—
§ Mr. Gummer
Georgia, indeed, and the Ukraine. Those countries are under the thumb of Soviet aggression. I wish to discuss whether, in relation to those countries that the hon. Member for Keighley appears so easily to allow to be stronger than ourselves, defence is a necessary part of our policy.
§ Mr. Cryer I wonder why the hon. Gentleman did not press for this debate before his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence went to the NATO meeting without coming to this sovereign Parliament but going on television and explaining what he was going to decide. Why did not the hon. Gentleman press for a debate in this sovereign Parliament? Why is he now seeking a debate after the decision has been made? Does he agree with that?
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman suggests that I should have pressed for a debate on a subject on which the House had already decided.
§ Mr. Gummer
The House had decided upon it. Since Clement Attlee agreed to the first atomic bomb, the House has successively and continually supported the nuclear element in our defence. This is merely the next stage in that nuclear element. The hon. Gentleman is opposed to a nuclear element. He was a member of a Government who supported that nuclear element, but did not resign on that issue. Indeed, he joined a Government who were committed to the nuclear element.
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman now says that there is something qualitatively different about the cruise missile. Yet the cruise missile will mean the removal of over 1,000 nuclear warheads from this country. It is safer, it is far more flexible—
§ Mr. Gummer
—and it is more protectable than the present situation. There is no difference between the control over the cruise missile and those missiles which are already here largely controlled by American forces. The hon. Gentleman can point to no difference between them, except that it is a populist campaign. The hon. Gentleman is not as concerned about Russian aggression as many Conservative Members are. The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the nation.
The time has come to ask the hon. Gentleman some clear questions, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will make sure that we have a debate on this subject so that the hon. Gentleman can answer these questions. The first question that I hope the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of explaining to this nation in such a debate is: why is he prepared to leave us defenceless against the Soviet Union? The second question is: why was he a member of a Government who were committed to the nuclear deterrent, and why did he resign on a totally different matter? The third question is: why is it that, whereas he believes in the denuding of our defences, whereas he accepts that this nation may reduce her defences against the Soviet Union, he has not been prepared to come out publicly in the constant attack on the Soviet Union which Conservative Members have mounted?
I believe that the debate for which I am asking is one that we must have. It is a debate that we need to have, not because we are opposed to the cruise missile but because we want to flush out from the Labour Party those whose concern for this country is less than that of those of us—
§ Mr. Gummer
I have been called many things, but to be referred to as a mass murderer seems in some senses to be opposed—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I think that the expression "mass murder" ought to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Gummer
That seems a slightly unparliamentary phrase. Indeed, it sums up the comments of the Labour Party in my constituency. The Labour Party in my constituency, rather like the Suffolk Labour Party, has decided to dissociate itself from the Labour Party in the House because it is opposed to all nuclear defence and nuclear power as well. It has suggested that any kind of nuclear defence is wrong.
One of the reasons for the debate which I hope my right hon. Friend can arrange is to give an opportunity to the Labour Party to declare where it stands. Does it support the hon. Member for Keighley or does it continue in the tradition of the Labour Party, which is to be opposed to Russian aggression? That is the question that we have to ask. I hope that, when the opportunity arises, my right hon. Friend will arrange a debate on this subject so that the people of Suffolk will have the opportunity of hearing the representatives that they elected in an election in which those representatives made clear their position on nuclear arms say what we believe—namely, that the people of Suffolk are proud to help in the defence of Britain.
It is all right for Labour Members to laugh, but it was people like them who left this country defenceless against the Nazis. It was the Peace Pledge Union and the other Left-wing "wets" who left this country defenceless against the other Fascist group—not the Russian Fascists, but the black Fascists. [Interruption.] The Russians died only two years after they had fought on behalf of the Nazis—a fact that the hon. Member for Keighley often forgets.
§ Mr. Gummer
I agree that relation with the Easter Recess is important. If my right hon. Friend cannot promise us a debate on this subject before the Easter Recess, I hope that he will promise one immediately after the Easter Recess. I was led astray by the animal noises from the Opposition Benches.
488 Those of us who represent the people of Suffolk ask the House to give us an opportunity to state clearly that we respect the integrity of this nation. We are concerned with the defence of this nation. We are not prepared to be used for cheap party political propaganda led by the hon. Member for Keighley, who I doubt has set foot within East Anglia, of which we are proud. We would assert, and want the opportunity to assert, our desire to play our part in the defence of a nation for which we care.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I have listened to every speech today. The debate and the subjects that have been raised show the wisdom of the House in throwing out the recommendation of the Select Committee that the debate should not take place.
I do not criticise the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—who is in, but not within, the Chamber—for making the points that he made. He used the rules of the House.
The subjects raised today justify our original decision, if only by flushing out some of the East Anglia Tory Members on the issue of the cruise missile. It does not matter whether my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has been to East Anglia. I have been to East Anglia. I worked in East Anglia. I have family connections with the constituency of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer). I shall be spending the Easter weekend in his constituency. I spend many bank holidays in that area. I can claim to have taken more work to East Anglia than the hon. Gentleman in that I have been responsible for moving industry into that area.
§ Mr. Gummer
If the hon. Member will state how many jobs he has provided for East Anglia, no doubt we could argue about that. Will he accept that some of us have put down a large number of questions about cruise missiles? We have constantly questioned the Minister on the subject. We therefore have a right to comment on it as it affects East Anglia. The hon. Member does not represent an East Anglia constituency, even though he may spend his holidays there. I am happy to invite him to East Anglia to discuss these matters.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is tempted to say how many jobs he brought to East Anglia, will he relate that to the Easter Recess?
§ Mr. Rooker
Everything that I say will be related to why we should not go into recess on the dates proposed. I do not know how many East Anglian jobs I am responsible for having created. The factory that I helped to establish there has grown enormously since it was built. It is not in the constituency of the hon. Member for Eye, but in Ipswich.
The hon. Member for Eye was an expert on Lewisham, West until the electorate there gave him his marching orders. Of course, it may be unfair for my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley to call him a potential mass murderer, but "carpet bagger" would certainly have been in order.
The last point that I wish to make in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley concerns the vicious personal attack by the hon. Member for Eye suggesting that my hon. Friend was not adequately representing his constituents. My hon. Friend's majority at Keighley is even smaller than mine in Perry Barr. His is only 78, but he was returned to this House at the last election against the national swing. We were both returned because—and I say this with all modesty—of our records in representing our constituents.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That has nothing to do with whether we go away for Easter. Will the hon. Member relate his remarks to that?
§ Mr. Rooker
The point is, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if we adjourn for the Easter Recess I shall be in no position to come here and defend my hon. Friend from the attacks upon him by Conservative Members. However, I leave that issue to rest. The East Anglian Tories have been flushed out and we have brought out into the open the fact that they have not been doing their job properly in defending their constituents.
I now come to why the House should not go into recess. There are two reasons concerning my constituency. The central one is that for the past six weeks there has been a strike, stoppage of work or trade dispute at the Birmingham assay 490 office. This matter is not so parochial as it might at first sight appear. There are only three assay offices in the country—at Birmingham, Sheffield and London.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred to an early Act of Parliament, and I now refer to one which goes back a long time. The Birmingham assay office was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1772. Since mid-February, 200 of the staff have been on strike because they were faced with a shortage of work, allegedly due to the increase in the price of gold and silver, which resulted in their being told that 43 workers would have to be made redundant. That number was whittled down to 38. Against the original wishes of the workers concerned, 21 volunteers for redundancy were brought forward, leaving only 16 jobs to be accounted for. All this has happened during the course of the dispute, when no work has been done.
Initially there was a sit-in, but the police had the workers thrown out after three weeks because, it was alleged, they could interfere with the extremely valuable goods in the assay office. The workers who were on strike voted to accept a £15 a week reduction in pay to fund the 16 jobs in question under a work-sharing scheme.
I raise this issue today because the workers are still on strike. They voted this morning to continue it until the bitter end. It may seem that there is no Government responsibility involved—the Government are opting out of industrial relations—but the work at the Birmingham assay office is of extreme importance to our valuable export trade in jewellery. Some 10 million items a year are hallmarked by the assay office in Birmingham.
Of the three assay offices, only the Birmingham office is unionised. Work at the Sheffield office dropped off 80 per cent. because of the rise in gold and silver prices. The figure for the London office was 40 per cent. However, there was no threat of redundancy at those offices, and the natural conclusion is that the Birmingham office has been got at because the trade union is recognised and active there. Much to the annoyance of the workers on strike, and to the shame of some people in this country, work has been diverted from the Birmingham office to Sheffield during the dispute even though the workers at Birmingham have asked Shef- 491 field not to do it. There are some well-known trade unionists in Sheffield, so perhaps they ought to get a few of their members along to picket the assay office there.
The reason for our not going into recess and the Government's connection with this dispute are both to be found in section 20 of the Hallmarking Act 1973, which contains the power for the Secretary of State tocause a local inquiry to be held in connection with the discharge of any of his functions under this Act or … with any of the functions of assay offices.So he has the statutory duty, if there are major problems in the assay offices, to order a local inquiry.
§ Mr. Rooker
Well, I am asking him to use the power. I am asking the Leader of the House to tell me that the Department of Trade will be contacted about the problem. It knows about the dispute. It has been continuing for six weeks. The employers in this case are a peculiar band known as the Guardians of the Standard of Wrought Plate. They number 36. When one of them passes on, another is elected by the remainder to take his place. Most of the members turn up for their meetings in their Porsches and Rolls-Royces. They have refused to get involved in the dispute. The chairman told the leader of the workers at the office that the Guardians could not get involved because that would tamper with tradition. I do not regard that as an acceptable reason for allowing the dispute to carry on.
The West Midlands police, who are guarding the assay office, have told the workers on picket duty that they have a duty to accept redundancy as have other workers in steel and in British Leyland, but not, I gather, in the police service.
§ Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Ladywood)
Because of the soundings that he has taken, particularly among the employees of the small jewellery companies that are situated in the centre of Birmingham—many of them within my constituency—does my hon. Friend agree that there is great anxiety about the difficulties and problems occasioned to them by the dispute and as a result of the wild 492 fluctuation in gold and silver prices, and that these are placing almost unbearable burdens upon them? Does he agree that these people deserve the very support that he is seeking from the Government?
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is correct. The jewellery quarter in Birmingham is probably the epitome of the small business. It is a unique part of the industry of Birmingham. Many of the companies cannot afford the time for their goods to be moved around the country to be hallmarked. Some of those firms will go bust if the strike is allowed to continue.
The Department of Trade can get involved. I make the plea now that it should do so. It will not be satisfactory for it to adopt the high-handed approach taken by the Department of Industry over the steel strike. Birmingham cannot afford the complacency shown by the Government towards industrial relations so far. Time is not on our side. About 186 employees of the assay office are still out on strike. A few have left during the strike, which is normal, because they cannot afford to be not working. The remaining workers have offered to accept work-sharing and a cut in pay—a most unusual arrangement and something that I should have thought would be applauded by the Conservatives. So far, however, there has been no response from the Government.
This is an important matter because of the unique and historic role played by the assay office. It is a classic example of the protection of trade. People buy products from this country because they trust the hallmarking process, established over two centuries, as giving good value for money. It is a tragedy that the dispute has been allowed to continue and that the Government have taken no action.
The second point that I wish to raise —I am sure that the Leader of the House will not be surprised that I return to it —is the Rossminster tax case. I last raised this issue on the Christmas Adjournment motion on 18 December. Since that debate, when the Leader of the House answered some of the points that I put, concern has been expressed inside the Inland Revenue that an attempt will be made to limit the scope of the tax 493 fraud case regarding the Rossminster companies and group of companies. That is a cause for concern.
The allegation is that the fall-guy for the Rossminster case will be the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon), in order to give the Minister of State, Treasury and the Secretary of State for Trade a clear run out of the matter. That is the concern expressed inside the Revenue. My request is a simple one. If the Leader of the House cannot give a response today, I certainly require a response in writing at some future date.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman has referred to another hon. Member, may I ask whether he observed the normal courtesy and informed that hon. Member that he intended to do so?
§ Mr. Rooker
I am in fact defending the hon. Member to whom I referred. I do not want the hon. Member for Abingdon to be the fall-guy in this affair while the others get off because the inquiries are limited. I am making no attack whatever. I am not impugning anyone's motives in this case. I have never done so. If anything that I say can be taken as an attack on the hon. Member for Abingdon, even though some might think that I have justification for doing so, let me make it clear that that is not so. I am saying that it would be unfair if he were the fall-guy, should these inquiries be curtailed.
I simply want an assurance that there will be no curtailment of the powers of the Revenue in this case. This case is not sub judice. There are no charges and no prosecutions pending. The fact remains that statements have been made by the Minister of State, Treasury in the last couple of months to the effect that the investigating powers of the Revenue ought to be curtailed. For him to make that statement while this case is under the perusal of the investigation officers of the Revenue can clearly be taken as a warning to the Revenue from him to "watch it". I want an assurance that the Revenue will not have to watch it and that it will have complete and total freedom to investigate, under existing laws, every aspect of this case and to interview every person who is involved, whatever his involvement.
494 If there is concern inside the Revenue, I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is concern outside it. This matter has been quiet for the last few months, but Opposition Members have not forgotten it. Opposition Members, unlike Conservative Members, are concerned about any abuse in the public expenditure system, whether it is public expenditure in terms of benefits or public expenditure in terms of tax relief. One is as much a handout as the other. "Handout" is the wrong word. I think that my hon. Friends will understand what I mean.
We shall attack all forms of abuse wherever we see them. The Tory Party is defending those who wish to abuse the tax system. The number of tax investigators has been cut. Concern has been raised within the Revenue about the Rossminster case, and that has to be answered. It needs a fairly simple answer, namely, that the Revenue has carte blanche, under existing law, to pursue this investigation to the bitter end. I hope that it will be a bitter end for some Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I should like to explain why the House should not adjourn without discussing a particular British institution that is widely respected abroad, earns revenue for the country and is generally held in fair esteem. I am not referring, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) did, to the Royal Family. I agree with the sotto voce comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) that it was a great pity that the only princesses that could be sent back to the factory, if not up to specification, were those made at British Leyland.
I should like to raise the position of the British Council following the cuts made in its budget for 1980–81 and those that will follow for the next three or four years. I wish to say to the House and to the Leader of the House, who has an interest in cultural and educational matters, how disastrous and demoralising are these cuts. It is humbug to sit through the debate on the Easter Recess motion and hear a number of speeches from Conservative Members, all of whom have now departed, running down the BBC and various institutions of cultural exchange without ever mentioning the real harm 495 done by the cuts now imposed on the BBC and the British Council.
The cuts on the British Council for the coming year will work out at about 11 per cent. of its total budget. I am told that they will amount to 27 per cent. of its total budget over the next three years. The effect of those cuts is extremely serious. I have some questions that I wish to put to the Leader of the House. The cuts will mean that, right across the world, there will be a massive cutback in the staff and activities of the British Council. This will affect, among other things, our export trade, the advisory tours that the British Council runs abroad and the specialist help given in overseas countries to British exporters. That should be a serious matter for anyone in the House who wishes to see this country paying its way.
I should like to refer to publishing and the book trade. The funds available for book promotion have been cut back seriously. I believe that the cut in the corning year is 40 per cent. The consequences for the book trade in this country will be serious. Those hon. Members, like myself, with a large publishing concern in their constituencies, which has returned pretty disastrous figures in the first half of the year, will know what is happening as a result of some of the Government cuts. We tend to regard cuts in the public sector as money that has been saved. When those cuts help to diminish the amount of orders that go into private industry, they help to diminish the buoyancy and production of the industry upon which everyone bases hopes for industrial revival.
Another topic I should like to mention is the teaching of English abroad. In many areas of the world our influence is trumpeted loudly by a Government spending more money on the Armed Forces and prepared to adopt a higher profile in defence matters but almost entirely destroying our cultural presence in countries where we wish to have influence. We are told that the Government are begging the British Council to increase its presence in Zimbabwe. But the British Council has been running down its presence in many parts of Africa and central and southern America—areas of the world that are in ferment and where a British presence in the cultural sphere is crucially important.
496 Our European competitors take the reverse view. The French have just announced a strengthening of their cultural budget by about 15 per cent. They are increasing their budget, which in real terms, in any case, is far larger than ours, by precisely the same proportion as we are reducing ours. The result, as hon. Members who have recently been abroad will confirm, is that in most countries the British Council offices, if left at all, are housed in tatty buildings with a shrunken and demoralised staff and a diminished and decaying stock of books.
Down the road the Alliance Francaise has moved into new offices and is spreading the cultural presence of France and the francophone mission in that country with success and élan. This country is doing neither. We are allowing the British Council to run down. The consequence of the cuts imposed upon the British Council will almost certainly mean that over the next two or three years it will have to make a major decision on which it needs, as the House needs, the views of the Government.
Should the council try to preserve a wide overseas network as it has done up to now? Should there be a council presence in most of the important areas of the world? If it does that, it will not be able to maintain its main functions intact. If it maintains those functions intact—which is the alternative—that avoids an irrevocable dispersal of specialist knowledge and experience but it will also mean that the council's geographical spread is greatly diminished.
I want to hear from the Leader of the House what he thinks the British Council should do and what value he places upon it. Over many years he has made a contribution to the great debate about education and the arts and about the way in which those elements are enshrined in British national life. How much of a contribution in the overseas projection of this country and what it does—and, most importantly, in what it sells—will he allow the British Council to make? Which of the choices open to the British Council—to maintain a geographical spread or maintain its specialist services in contradiction to that geographical spread—would he advise it to make in the next few years?
If we look ahead—not just to 1980–81 but over a period of three or four years 497 during which more cuts are projected—what will the right hon. Gentleman say to British Council staff to explain why they should continue to work there and why they are valued by the Government and the people of this country and what their promotion and expansion prospects are?
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I apologise to the House for arriving late. I have just returned from the Requiem Mass for Archbishop Romero. I make my remarks before the Easter Recess in the hope that, during the Easter Recess, the Government will not think of reestablishing diplomatic links or sending back an ambassador to E1 Salvador.
It is important that people of all parties in this country use every opportunity we have as a democracy to emphasise to other countries that we care about what is happening to them. I hope that Right-wing politicians like myself will pay special attention to Right-wing countries where we might have some influence and that Left-wing politicians will do the same in Left-wing countries where they might have influence. It seems better to go about improving relations that way rather than by the Right criticising the Left and vice versa.
Ten days ago I did not believe that it would be necessary for me to raise such an issue as this. Nine days ago Archbishop Romero was assassinated. On Palm Sunday his funeral was disrupted by bombs and shootings and death. I believe that it would have been possible to avoid most of that if in 1977, when President Molina lost power to General Romero—no relation of the dead archbishop—the united Western world had stepped in to say that we would not tolerate the giving up of land reforms in El Salvador. We should have said in 1978 that we would not tolerate the getting rid of the relatively fair elections which gave victory to the opposition parties, an alliance between the Christian and Social Democrats.
Had we been faster off the mark, the deteriorating situation in E1 Salvador would not have got as far as it has. I hope we may learn from the tragedies of the last 10 days and be of help in avoiding the further tragedies that are likely to come.
498 I hope that in this House of Commons we shall always find sufficient time to care for the troubles and the problems faced by others. We shall thus gain an understanding which will enable us to use our influence not only on our Government but also on our normal political contacts to make sure that the tragedy that is happening in E1 Salvador does not happen in too many other countries.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
You took me unawares, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I came in late for the debate and was deferring to my colleagues who were here before me. However, I am pleased to have been called.
I should like the Leader of the House to respond to three points. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been pressed for debates on particular subjects—even for two-day debates—but I hope that he will be able to find time for a long overdue debate on the North-West. We have not had a full day's debate on the problems of the North-West for a long time. In the last Parliament I think we had one debate on it, in Standing Committee. We had a morning's debate when, if I can put it so, we were able to discuss almost anything, and that was next to useless. I have pressed on the Floor of the House for a similar debate because if we could get agreement through the usual channels we should choose one item and debate it thoroughly, though such debates are no substitute for debates in this Chamber.
The North-West has many problems. I am well aware of the problems of Wales, Scotland and the Northern region. But I think that my hon. Friends representing those parts of the United Kingdom have had, if not a good run, a chance to express their views. The recent debates on the steel strike have almost been mini regional debates. We were not able to draw the North-West region into those discussions because, unfortunately, we lost our steel industry a long time ago.
I was delighted that on 31 October we decided by a substantial vote to retain the opportunity for Back Benchers to raise the variety of subjects that have been raised today. It would have been a sad day if we had allowed the Government to rob us of this opportunity. We need a response from the Leader of the House on the important matter of a full 499 day's debate—perhaps two days—on energy. We tend to touch on it early in the middle of the night in perhaps 1½-hour debates. Energy is of prime importance and every country in the world now has its attention directed to the formulation of an energy policy that takes note of the international situation.
We have had statements from the Government, and one three-hour debate and one 1½-hour debate. On each occasion the chances for Back Benchers to contribute were slim. On one occasion there were four Front Bench speakers in the debate, who more or less took up all of the time. It is of fundamental importance that the House should have at least a full day's debate on energy matters.
I sent a note to the Minister for Social Security about the unequal treatment which this House, unwittingly, has accorded to the families of people serving prison sentences in Northern Ireland. When this problem was brought to my attention, I did not believe it. I did not believe that anyone living on the English mainland would be denied the assistance necessary to visit a relative in prison in Northern Ireland. The family of a prisoner in England, Scotland or Wales would receive the proper treatment which the House—I cannot recall whether it is /aid down in an affirmative order—has laid down. Assistance is given by the DHSS to allow wives and families to visit prisoners as part of the rehabilitation process. That facility does not apply if the prisoner is serving his sentence in Northern Ireland and his near relatives live in England, Scotland or Wales.
I questioned the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the position of a Northern Ireland family which wants to visit a near relative serving a sentence on the mainland. I was told that such families are given assistance to visit prisoners in England, Scotland or Wales and Northern Ireland. The only people who are unfairly treated are the prisoners in Northern Ireland whose families live in Great Britain. The House will not, and should not, accept that.
I also questioned the Home Secretary, because he has overall responsibility. I asked why the situation had been allowed to occur. It seems to have been the result of an oversight. I asked what estimate had been made of the number of extra staff 500 required to administer a fairer scheme. I did not need to be told that not many extra were needed.
The Minister for Social Security, who is in the Chamber, should take note that we believe that the situation is not acceptable. There is supposed to be equal treatment before the law for all the citizens of the United Kingdom, although we make different arrangements in some respects for people who live in Northern Ireland.
The present situation is neither right nor just. I do not believe that Ministers could, or would, want to defend it. The Minister of State has drawn the short straw. He should take speedy steps to remove the absurd anomaly. Our decisions on 31 October to retain Adjournment debates for Back Benchers to raise matters such as this is justified. We should be proud that we continue to give Back Benchers the opportunity to raise important constituency and national issues.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) for a debate on energy. That subject has not been treated as seriously as it should be. We hope that the Leader of the House will arrange such a debate after Easter. I also agree with my hon. Friend that we should have a debate on a region. He will forgive me if my choice is different from his. I believe that we must have a debate on London and its 7 million people. They represent one-sixth of the country and are entitled to have their share of debates.
We must have a debate on London because of the anxiety that Government policy on housing in London in moving towards chaos. Yesterday, April Fool's Day, the GLC decided to divest itself of its responsibility for strategic housing in the Greater London area. It has disposed of about 148.000 hereditaments in its care. As a direct result, it is possible that local government tenants, who occupy about 78 per cent. of the hereditaments in my constituency, will he unable to transfer to any form of alternative accommodation.
The local authority can try to help by using resources to build and rehabilitate 501 property to satisfy the needs of the elderly who need warden accommodation and families who depend entirely on help to obtain proper housing. About 12,000 or 36,000 people, families are on the waiting list. How do the Government react? The local authority attempted to help elderly people who need special care in warden-assisted property by imposing a compulsory purchase order on a site on which it planned to build a large number of dwellings. Before the Secretary of State had been in office long, he countered that compulsory purchase order in favour of a speculator—the Fairview company. That company has taken over the site. It will not build homes for the old people who are waiting desperately to be housed.
The same speculative firm has gobbled up an area in my constituency. It has hoarded up the area with corrugated sheeting. This is one of the great, dynamic speculators about which we hear so much. I complained bitterly. In one part of the site tenants still occupy houses. The company will not rehouse those tenants. It is busy trying to winkle them out by sending them to the local authority offices to urge the local authority to rehouse them, so that the company can take complete control of the site.
I wonder what we are talking about. It will cost about £50,000 for the local authority to rehouse tenants for a speculator. The local authority has already rehoused a large number of tenants. I have insisted upon that because of the appalling conditions. The owner of the site is a friend of the Government. The speculator will not carry out necessary work. One of my constituents lives in deplorable conditions. His home is damp, rain leaks in, vandalism is rife and the back of the house is being pulled down. The local authority environmental health officer is trying to put pressure on the speculator but he takes no notice. It is hypocritical of the Government to keep saying how much they are doing for housing in London under such circumstances.
The Government are cutting housing improvement programmes. Some of the inner London boroughs have a reason for 502 wanting a substantial housing improvement programme, but the total sums have been cut drastically. The Government are sending out a flurry of instructions. Some of them are dated 31 March and others 1 April. The instructions say that local authorities should not begin any rehabilitation work on any of their projects until they have received affirmation from the Secretary of State.
Previously, there was a cost limit for which subsidies were paid. There was no argument between the Government and the local authorities. The local authorities could commence work and subsidies were paid up to the agreed limit. If local authorities went above that level, it was a matter for negotiation between the local authority and the Government. The local authority had to justify its action. If it succeeded the subsidy was paid, but if it failed it was not. The point of the argument was that the local authority had to be in a position to begin the rehabilitation so that people such as those in my area could be rehoused as quickly as possible.
I cannot understand why the Secretary of State has now decided to do business in this way, by sending out the instruction dated 1 April. We have to look behind that approach. There will be an enormous increase in the number of applications, because the other instruction requires that a far more detailed description of the work that is to be done be submitted. That is not all; a description of the work to be done on every individual property has to be submitted; previously the properties could be treated en bloc. This will mean that an enormous amount of work will come into the Department, and I ascertained today that it has only 14 architects to deal with such work in London. Additionally, there is a proposal that the number of architects should be cut by three. So, although the amount of work will be increased, the number of architects will be reduced.
The amount of work will be increased because the number of applications for approval will increase. The councils are told that they are not to start work until final approval has been given and are warned that they will receive no subsidies if they do not wait. The number of architects is being reduced, even though it is already too small to deal with the 503 volume of work, which means that councils will wait that much longer for the final decision.
In London the DCL will be substantially exceeded, and the Government know that. That has always been so. The Government are aware, therefore, that the buildings will not be rehabilitated and they will continue to delay and vacillate and finally, because the DCL will be exceeded, the whole project will be turned down. That has already been done in one London borough; two schemes have been turned down because they exceeded permitted expenditure. One of those schemes was in a conservation area and the amount of work that could be done was limited. The other was a housing action area where a bulldozer could not be used.
When I asked the Department what should be done, I was told that we would have to create open space—that is in a housing action area where one is supposed to be building homes.
One can see the issue that is being raised here, especially in an area where the council has rehoused tenants from those two sites. Already a vast amount of ratepayers' money has been spent rehousing those people and now the sites are held vacant because the Minister will not give approval. One can only come to the conclusion that what the Government have in mind by imposing this Machiavellian legislation is to ensure that the number of these sites is increased so that councils are forced to hand them over to the greedy speculators at knock-down prices. So the ratepayer and the taxpayer will have paid for the rehousing of such people and the site is then handed over to the speculators who simply makes money.
What hypocrisy for a Government to pretend—as we have heard so often in the past few weeks—that the Department is actively reducing the number of planning delays and speeding up procedures while the Government are deliberately deciding to slow down the procedure in the way that I have described. In areas such as mine, where we have such a difficult housing problem, we shall be unable to solve it.
I am urging local authorities to erect information boards on all such sites informing people that the Conservative Government have deliberately created this 504 situation. This information must be publicised, because one cannot rely on the newspapers. The public will thus be able to see exactly who is responsible for the conditions in which people have to live.
The housing problem in London is so bad that I urge the Leader of the House to see that we have a debate on this matter as soon as possible. There are many other problems in the London area, but I have highlighted this problem because of the flurry of instructions emanating from the Department of the Environment which, I believe, will have a catastrophic effect. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will arrange a debate on London as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
Like the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley), I returned to this country in the last 48 hours, having been a member of an overseas parliamentary delegation, to find correspondence on three issues that seriously affect my constituency, all relating to the excessively high unemployment figures which were published while I was overseas. The seasonally adjusted figure for the Northern region is 121,600. That is surely the worst figure that we have had in any normal period in the post-war years—indeed, I believe that it is over 40 years since we have had that type of figure, which represents 9.1 per cent. unemployed across the board in the Northern region.
The first major issue that was brought to my attention was a letter from the managing director of the Vickers Elswick works advising me that unless that company received an order by the end of this month the first tranche of notices of redundancies—about 350—would be issued. This follows closely on the closure of the Tress engineering works and the Vickers Scotswood factory, which is in my constituency. I should also say that the Vickers Elswick plant is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans), although the bulk of the workers reside in my constituency.
I do not apologise for raising at this late hour the issue of the order for 77 Chieftain tanks, because I have raised it at least six times in the Chamber with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence within the last few 505 months and we are still no nearer an answer.
As Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army 18 months ago, I was told by the Army Board that we urgently needed a decision to purchase 77 Chieftain tanks to bring the war maintenance reserve of the British Army of the Rhine up to strength. I accepted the advice of the military members of the Army Board and convinced my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), the then Secretary of State for Defence, that this order was necessary. It went through the machinery of government just as we approached the general election. Yet here we are, 11 months after the election, and still there has been no decision on this order, which I am convinced would have gone to Vickers Elswick.
I say to the Leader of the House that this is now an urgent issue. As I have said, the letter I have received from the managing director of Vickers Elswick clearly states that unless an order in some shape or form is received by the end of this month redundancy notices will become operative.
I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who has visited the BAOR. Personnel in BAOR are throwing their hats in the air because they believe that they will shortly be getting the Challenger tank, which is a revised version of the Shir tank. I quickly skipped through the defence White Paper and I saw nothing which could give the BAOR any confidence. There are only four lines on future tank plans and there is nothing which indicates any likely orders in the near future.
Secondly, I have received a mass of letters from constituents about the alleged decision of the Tyne and Wear county council to re-route tanker loads from the Al to the A69. I have not had time to contact the county council. I can only assume that my constituents have seen a press report. Nevertheless, I can understand their reasoning if the county council has taken such a decision.
Clearly the A1—part of which is the Tyne tunnel—is vulnerable to any form of tanker accident which involves either explosives or inflammable materials. However, the alternative is to re-routed 506 down Ponteland Road, Silver Lonnon and Denton Road, which are all heavily populated areas. The only answer to this serious question, which is causing extreme concern among my constituents, judging by the type of letter that I have received, is to get on with the building of the western bypass. Again, I do not apologise for raising this matter. I have pressed the Minister of Transport over and over again. Such a development would have a major impact on unemployment in the area and would give a badly needed boost to the construction industry.
The third matter that was brought to my attention in correspondence is that at a time of appalling unemployment in the area the House has learnt—again, while I have been overseas—via a written reply that the Government grant to the North of England Development Council is to be cut savagely for the next three years. The North of England Development Council is a major employment and promotional body in the Northern region. In today's circumstances, surely its activities are more important than ever.
At this stage, I do not want to get involved in a debate on the best form of employment promotion body for the North of England. Obviously, there has been a fair bit of discussion about it. However, with the misery that we are facing as a result of such high unemployment and a multiplicity of calculated Government decisions, which will further increase unemployment in the North-East, it is nothing short of a criminal act to cut the money which is so badly needed for employment promotion.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I should like to comment briefly on the debate. If I do not touch on the speeches delivered by everyone, particularly those by my hon. Friends, I hope that they will not think it discourteous in any way. However, there are some remarks which my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have made to which I should like to add a few comments.
Every hon. Member who has spoken, and those who have listened, must agree that the House of Commons made a wise decision when it did not accept the advice of the Procedure Committee with regard to the organisation of this debate. I was glad to see that Conservative Members were not 507 intimidated by the shameful and disgraceful pressures that have been put on them during the past two or three hours. We all watched with horror the scenes that happened, and I congratulate them on their independence and spirit as well as on their determination to resist pressures from any quarter whatever. I am sure that that will continue the tradition of the House with regard to these debates in the years to come.
First, I should like to refer to the speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) and Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). They referred to the siting of the Inmos project and the developments associated with it. We believe that it would be wrong if any announcement about these matters were made during the recess. If the Government had any such devilish thoughts in their mind, I am sure that they have now abandoned them in view of the representations made by my right hon. Friends. I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us in a few minutes that any decision on this matter will be stated to the House, so that we can have the opportunity of cross-examination. We believe that there may have been some departure from the undertakings that have been given in the past. Such a project is of great importance, particularly to areas which are hit by heavy unemployment. I therefore hope that we shall have a proper answer on that subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) raised the same topic as I raised in the debate on the motion for the Christmas Adjournment. I referred to the injury which Government policies were inflicting on the book trade and the British Council as well as on some of the activities of the bodies associated with the publishing trade in this country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give a better answer today, but, alas, it appears that Government policy is wreaking its miserable results in that area.
One of the most important aspects for the future of this country, to put it at its very lowest, as well as for the encouragement of trade, is to ensure that the English language continues to extend its supremacy throughout the world. Government measures which injure the sale of books and the activities of the British Council throughout the world in my 508 opinion represent two most retrograde steps. I hope that even now the Government will reconsider the effects which those measures have had, and I hope that they will consider the representations that have been made by my hon. Friend.
I now turn to the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). They both referred to the attitude of the Government towards two countries in South America. My hon. Friend raised the extremely important question of the danger and disgrace of any projected renewal of arms sales to Chile, if that is indeed contemplated by the Government. It was bad enough for the Government to restore diplomatic relations in the circumstances in which they did. If that were to be followed by a reopening of the arms trade to Chile, we would regard it as a dangerous turn of events which would reflect no credit on the Government or on the reputation of this country in that part of the world. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give my hon. Friend the assurance for which he asked.
The House should be extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West for the way in which he raised the subject of El Salvador. The House and the country have been horrified by the recent events there. I believe that the hon. Gentleman put the case to the House in the best possible manner, and I am sure that he will receive a response from the right hon. Gentleman.
When we were in power, we took steps to halt the arms trade to El Salvador. I believe that was the correct step to take. I hope that the response from the Government will be better than their attitude towards Chile.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) is not present, and perhaps I should not comment in detail on what he said. However, it is necessary to repudiate the attack which he made upon Sir Hugh Greene, who was a most distinguished servant of the BBC and of the country in the task which he performed. We were told by the hon. Gentleman that in recent times, partly as a result of the activities of Sir Hugh Greene, some appalling skits by playwrights who should have been banned were shown on the BBC.
509 I did not quite catch the names which he mentioned, but I thought that he mentioned Congreve Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Beaumont and Fletcher. I think he also mentioned that William Shakespeare made some attacks on the British Army. If anybody reads what happened to Henry V on the night before Agincourt, as described by William Shakespeare, he will see that, according to the reckonings of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, that was not something that could be tolerated on the BBC at all. Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will not be too deeply swayed by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge on these cultural matters. We know that the Leader of the House has great difficulty with his barbarian friends in the Cabinet and that he has perpetual difficulty in preventing them from turning further in the direction of the kind of activities that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge has recommended.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put one or two questions—not the famous question that he has put on earlier occasions. I am glad to say that he has turned his attention to some other topic and this has been a great improvement. He raised a number of serious matters which should be debated by the House, and I fully support his recommendations.
The first matter that my hon. Friend raised was the appalling and tragic accident in the North Sea. That must mean that we should look afresh at the whole area of safety precautions in the North Sea. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the necessity to distinguish between the sponsoring Department in such cases and the body responsible for health and safety precautions. That was one of the reasons why the last Government set up the Health and Safety Executive; it was precisely to ensure that it should be independent in these respects. In many areas the health and safety of workers in this country has been advanced by the way in which the Health and Safety Commission has gone about its business. However, there are many places, including the North Sea, where the commission has not been able to carry out to the full the work for which it was 510 instituted. I hope that we shall soon have a general debate on that matter.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian about the necessity for a debate on the Brandt Commission report. I know that we had a debate on a Private Member's motion last week, but I do not regard that as a satisfactory discharge of the question. It is right that hon. Members should raise such questions in private Members' time, but the matter is of such great importance that it should be the subject of a debate for which the Government should provide time. I have no doubt that the Opposition would be prepared to provide some time as well. I know that there are a few Conservative Members who sit below the Gangway who do not think that this topic should be the subject of a major debate. I do not include the right hon. Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath), who is not in his place tonight, in that category. I know that there are fine distinctions to be drawn between the right hon. Member and some of his hon. Friends who sit below the Gangway. They belong to the same party, but they try to live that down. None the less, despite the association of the right hon. Member for Sidcup with the question of the Brandt Commission, we still believe that it is a matter of great importance which should be debated in the House.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who has pressed for a debate on London affairs. We hope that that can be arranged. We also believe that in the near future there should be further debates about the North-West and other areas of the country. In the past the Opposition have provided time for debates on particular areas of the country, and we believe that that tradition should be carried further.
My hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) raised the most important question of peace and war. Certainly, I believe that we should have more frequent debates on this supremely important matter. When we return after the recess, we shall have defence debates. Perhaps these have been prevented in the past by the tedious interventions of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer). 511 He even filibustered this debate, and I am sure that he will receive a severe reprimand from his Whips. Every minute of that reprimand will be deserved. When the hon. Member protested that my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley and Salford, East were not entitled to raise these matters, it was nothing short of a piece of impudence on his part. Obviously these matters are of supreme importance for the future, not only of East Anglia but of the whole country. I hope that when the House returns we shall treat these topics in the serious way that they deserve.
There is one other aspect of this motion to which no reference has been made so far. The motion refers not only to the period of the Easter Recess but to the May Day holiday, for which provision is made. I am glad to see that the Government have now fully accepted the proposition that was made by the last Government that we should have a proper May Day holiday every year. We had a few objections previously from some of the more neolithic Members on the Conservative Benches who were apparently unaware of this country's history. If they probed more deeply, they would understand that there is a great tradition in this country for celebrating May Day. Some of us think that it should always be celebrated on 1 May, but nevertheless we have made some progress and I am glad that the Government have accepted the proposition.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I thought that right hon. Member would raise this matter, so I waited until he did. When he brought in the May Day bank holiday, was he aware that it would not actually fall on May Day until 1989? Would we not be well advised to use the intervening years to move the holiday to the Monday on or before I May so that those who want to keep William Shakespeare on television and in other places can use the holiday for that purpose?
§ Mr. Foot
If there is any suggestion about altering the date, we would certainly be prepared to look at it. When we were in Government, we looked carefully at the proposition of always having a holiday on 1 May. Many of my hon. Friends, for many excellent traditional reasons, wanted to do that and I would still prefer that arrangement. I know 512 that there have been objections from the CBI, which has put forward some fatuous financial arguments. We did not quite overcome those arguments when we were in power. At any rate, I am glad to see that the Government accept the establishment of the May Day holiday, and when Conservative Members fail to divide the House on the motion tonight they will be showing their acceptance of that principle.
§ 8.8 pm
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I can at least agree with one point that was made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). He said that the House had been wise enough not to abolish this debate. It is clear from the number of hon. Members who have spoken tonight—about 30 have taken part—that there is a demand for this debate. The House rejected the recommendation of the Procedure Committee to abolish this debate in the interests of efficiency. I am delighted that the House has resisted that pressure.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that it appears that some pressure was being brought on me to limit the length of my remarks. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have been quite robust in resisting that. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, it was St. Patrick who preached for three days and three nights without ceasing. That is an excellent example, which I shall emulate in moderation. After all, Lloyd George's Budget speech took four and a half hours. That makes the recent speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer seem absurdly short.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to May Day and the May bank holiday. He wanted that holiday to take place on 1 May. He advised us to "probe a little deeper". I suggest that he should probe a little deeper. He will find, if he studies our traditions, that that is also a famous saint's day, that of St. Joseph. That day was celebrated long before Karl Marx had been heard of. We are delighted to have his support on this issue.
About 30 hon. Members have spoken in the debate. It is, of necessity, impossible to reply fully to all: hon. Members. 513 I shall refer all the points to those of my right hon. Friends who hold direct responsibility for them. However, I shall endeavour to answer the points raised by all those hon. Members who are still in the Chamber. Alas, some hon. Members have faded away as the day has progressed. I regret that. If one raises a point, one should remain to hear the answer—inadequate as it may be. I shall not go on for too long about that. It is like denouncing those who have come to church for the empty pews. The only effect is to empty the pews yet further.
I shall comment briefly on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale concerning my position in the Cabinet. I suppose that it was kindly meant when he said that I was the only civilised person in a Cabinet of barbarians. May I say the same to him? He is not exactly typical of the Shadow Cabinet. When I look at him, I think of an orchid among a field of turnips. He has an exotic quality, a little frayed perhaps, but definitely not typical of the attitude of his colleagues to the arts. If the Cabinet is so barbarian, it is remarkable that we have managed to give a record grant of £70 million to the Arts Council. That represents a 20 per cent. increase on the amount given by the Government of the right hon. Gentleman and a general increase in the arts grant of 18½ per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman must have a guilty conscience. His Administration excluded the most civilised person in the Labour Party. There he is, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who is listening to the debate.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Only a barbarian Government would have excluded the hon. Gentleman for so long from their counsels.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am paying the hon. Gentleman a tribute. He should let me finish. Of Labour Members, he knows most about the arts and has done the most for them. He was excluded from office for many years. It is a measure of the degree of their desperation, resulting from the trauma of defeat, 514 that at long last the Opposition have included him in the Shadow Administration.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's kind encornium. However, I appeal to him to desist from giving me publicly such a kiss of death.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is not nasty. It is comparatively nice if one considers some of the things that the hon. Gentleman has said about me. I assure him that that tribute was not made purely for polemic purposes aimed against the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. It was a genuine trouble. The hon. Member has done a great deal for the arts. I trust that that will be recognised even more fully by the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will be similarly recognised for his work on procedure.
The first contribution was made by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). He rightly raised the grave question of the violence at Neasden Underground station that occurred earlier in March. I assure him in general terms that the Government attach the highest priority to the preservation of civil peace under the law. That is why we have taken steps to strengthen the police through increases in their pay. We believe that the strengthening of the police is the basic answer to crimes of violence. We must reduce the chances, that are so high, of getting away with crimes of violence. Unfortunately, that chance has increased to such a degree that the deterrent effect of punishment has been greatly reduced.
We also intend to give further urgent consideration to the specific issue of violence on public transport. My right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport are soon to hold a working conference on the subject, to which a wide range of interested organisations will be invited. They will consider in detail the nature of the problem and ways of controlling it, with particular reference to what more can be done.
The hon. Gentleman was right to use this opportunity to raise such an important question. While it is of constituency interest, it is also of interest to other hon. Members. 515 My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) raised a question about the re-employment of officers by the Congleton district council. He expressed concern. I understand that the two officers to whom my hon. Friend referred are able to draw a full local government pension only while continuing to be employed in local government, because they were both local government employees on 1 April 1939. They opted to remain subject to the original Local Government and other Officers' Superannuation Act 1922 rather than the 1937 Act which came into force on that day. The 1937 Act introduced considerable improvements. Most of those who were able to would have opted to be covered by it. However, it contained a provision to the effect that if an officer retired and was re-employed his income from his pension and his new salary should not exceed his former salary. That provision was not included in the 1922 Act.
The decision to offer these officers reemployment was a matter for the Congleton district council. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services has reviewed the position. He has given me no reason to believe that he thinks that this is a desirable situation. However, the law is as I have said. This is the first case of its kind that has come to the attention of the Department. My right hon. Friend would very much regret it if there were further cases of this type.
With regard to textiles, the Government accept the industry's continuing need for protection against low-cost imports. About 95 per cent. of our imports from low-cost sources are already subject to actual or potential restraints. Their share of our market is being held to around 12 per cent. under the present range of import restrictions, centring on those negotiated with supplying countries under the multi-fibre arrangement.
Secondly, with regard to imports from developed countries, the basis of Government policy is free but fair trade. If convincing evidence is provided, the Government can act against such practices as dumping, and we shall act if evidence is produced on dumping, subsidies or false declarations of origin, which cause injury to the industry.
516 Regarding abuses of the import regime, the Government are determined to implement the present import regulation effectively. We do not allow quotas to be exceeded, and when significant quantities of quota goods enter the United Kingdom via other EEC member States we ask the Commission to suspend the free circulation rules.
The Government are vigilant, and we are grateful to my hon. Friend for once again drawing our attention to these matters.
I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to look into the question of the physiotherapists. It is not the Government's intention to make extensive use of the Clegg Commission, but my hon. Friend must await policy developments.
I turn to the important point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who, with his usual courtesy and puctiliousness with regard to the procedures of this House, is in his place. I have consulted my right hon. Friend, and the right hon. Gentleman will realise that it is a point of expertise. Prescribed amounts used to determine the rate of family income supplement were increased twice in 1979. The second uprating exercise had to be undertaken at short notice, and in Northern Ireland trained staff had to be diverted from their normal assessment work. The right hon. Gentleman is right that that, compounded by the significant increase in the number of persons claiming benefit, led to delays in dealing with cases. Temporary staff have been appointed to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to make quick inroads into the backlog, partly because of the need to train additional staff, but I am assured that every effort is being made to clear it as quickly as possible.
I am happy to be able to inform the right hon. Gentleman that the backlog has been reduced from 407 cases to 852, and nearly 300 claims are being received every week. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will to some extent be reassured by that. He is quite right on the question of principle. We are doing our best to see whether the situation can be improved in practice.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
If I start giving way, other hon. Members will not have the opportunity to have their questions answered.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I believe that there was a misreading by the right hon. Gentleman, because he appeared to read a larger number as smaller than a smaller number.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am sorry. It is my enunciation that it at fault and not my figures. The figure was 1,407 and it was reduced to 852. That should reconcile any apparent discrepancy.
Turning to what my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) said about fees for building control, I do not believe that it is possible to have a debate now, and the scheme has to go ahead. It implements Government policy, because it enables local authorities to recover income assumed in assessing rate support grant. We believe that it will enhance the status of building control and could lead to a better relationship between building inspectors and developers. Given common sense, the scheme will be simple to operate, especially for developers with experience of the system in inner London.
There was widespread consultation. Details of the scheme were circulated four and a half months ago, on 14 November 1979.
With regard to my hon. Friend's constituent, the matter has been looked into and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has corresponded with my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend was advised on 1 April that the Minister had agreed to the issue of a temporary travel document to enable his constituent to travel in May, on the understanding that he continues with his efforts to obtain a passport. If there are further questions on the matter, they should be pursued directly with the Minister.
With regard to British Gypsum, Leicestershire county council refused its application for planning permission for a gypsum mine and plaster board factory at Barrow-on-Soar. A public inquiry was set up, and the inspector recommended that planning permission be refused. The parties, however, were invited to submit further representations by 24 March to the Department of the Environment. These are being considered, and the Sec- 518 retary of State will give his decisions as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who is not at present in the Chamber, raised the question of defence, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) in the nuclear context. The hon. Member for Keighley got into a dispute with my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer), who is in his place. I do not want to get involved in that dispute if I can possibly avoid it.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The dispute between my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Keighley is of interest but hardly a national issue. Both Members are very distinguished, but we must have some sense of proportion. They gave each other as good as they got.
Turning to the issue of nuclear weapons, there will be an opportunity to discuss these matters in the context of the defence White Paper. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made clear, he will make a statement to the House as soon as possible as to where in the United Kingdom the ground-launched cruise missiles will be sited. He is still having discussions with the United States authorities, and no decisions have been taken.
The position on the control of cruise missiles was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 21 December and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army in the debate on 24 January. Let me repeat what was said at that time. The understanding relating to the use by the United States of certain bases in the United Kingdom has often been referred to in the House, was first reached between Mr. Attlee and President Truman in 1951, and was confirmed in 1952 by Mr. Churchill and Mr. Truman. The understanding, which continues to apply today, provides that the use of these bases in an emergency would be a matter for joint decision by Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time. I hope that that 519 will be of some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter on numerous occasions. He is entitled to do so. Whatever our views on defence may be—and I do not share the hon. Gentleman's views—we should be aware of the terrible risks that we are running in an age dominated by nuclear weapons. We should be aware of the danger of proliferation. I happen to believe that the way forward is by multilateral and agreed disarmament.
Whatever our views on that may be, we should be increasingly aware of the dangers that every nation is being put in by the nuclear race. It is right that these matters should be raised in the House at regular intervals.
I turn to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery). He was concerned about the unfair system of rates. In principle, I agree with him that the rates system is unfair. It is a tax that is levied on a minority for benefits for the majority. There is no getting away from that. However, we have had that system for a long time, and the Government have made it plain that their first priority is the reduction of the weight of taxation rather than the reform of the rating system. We have not given up the idea of that as a long-term aim of reform.
With regard to water service charges, the Government have no plans to introduce a rebate system for domestic consumers. All water authorities provide facilities to allow bills to be paid by instalments. In addition, help is available through the supplementary benefits system.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of retail outlets used by oil companies. It is for the oil companies themselves to decide with whom they do business. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy informed the House on 29 October and subsequently, we have obtained assurances from the major oil companies which safeguard our petrol supplies to rural areas and provide the best opportunity for retailers to remain in business. There is evidence that many retailers no longer supplied by the major companies have continued to trade successfully with supplies obtained from other sources. The matter is being kept 520 under review by the Department of Energy.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) raised the question of Inmos. The National Enterprise Board has sought the approval of Ministers for a further £25 million funding for that project. The company has sought the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry for an industrial development certificate for a production unit at Bristol. It is a complex issue which is currently under consideration. My right hon. Friend will make a statement as soon as a decision is reached.
I turn to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes), who spoke with his customary candour, clarity and vigour. I do not wish to intervene in the debate on the rival merits of Lord Reith and Sir Hugh Carleton Greene. No doubt they both have their champions and their detractors.
My hon. Friend was acting well within his rights as a Member of the House in putting forward certain criticisms of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It would not be right for me, as a Minister, to express either agreement or disagreement with those animadversions on the BBC. It is a ministerial responsibility which rests with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He is responsible for broadcasting authorities. I may have my personal view, as he has, but we have to be careful about what we say because of the ministerial responsibility involved.
Certainly it is good and healthy that hon. Members should express their views on the BBC in no uncertain terms. Those views are appreciated by the governors of the BBC. They may well listen to those views and, who knows, they may eventually percolate down to producer level. Let us hope that that is so.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) referred to unemployment, especially in Yorkshire and Humberside. We believe that it is crucial to tackle the root causes of rising unemployment. One of the main causes is the world recession. There has been an upward surge in oil prices. These are factors that are not within the Government's control. The 521 unemployment problem has been endemic for some time. It is only by the creation of jobs that are economically based that the problem can be tackled in the long term. However, the Government can create conditions which will enable United Kingdom firms to compete successfully in world markets and so create a genuine demand for labour.
Hon. Members have referred to pollution. The Government intend to implement part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, but no timetable has yet been decided, nor can it be decided until we have better information about expenditure implications. These are being examined and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.
A further topic raised was that of social service cutbacks, especially in terms of area health authorities. About £1,300 million is spent on personal social services by local authorities, which in England and Wales were asked to reduce current expenditure on their services as a whole in 1979–80 by 1½ per cent. below the 1978–79 level and by a further 1 per cent. in 1980–81. I think that everyone deplores social service cuts, but until we have a more productive and wealth-producing economy the cutbacks are, unfortunately, inevitable.
BSC (Chemicals) Ltd. is a profitable company. It is making coal tar chemicals and various related products. It is among the non-steel-making assets that the corporation is considering selling to help to overcome its serious financial problems. The disposal of this asset is a matter for the corporation and not one for the Government.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) referred to the Farnham Park rehabilitation centre. I cannot add to the parliamentary answer that was given by Lord Cullen on 31 March—namely, that the proposal to close the centre is currently the subject of public consultation locally in accordance with the normal procedures. It would be inappropriate for me to make a statement while the consultations are taking place. I am sure that the intervention of my hon. and learned Friend in the debate will have been noted in his constituency and that the arguments that he advanced will be taken fully into account.
522 My hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) spoke about the postal services, and especially the report on London postal services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will soon be discussing the report with the chairman of the Post Office, and he will be making a statement in due course.
I agree that a debate on the British Leyland corporate plan would be desirable. I hope to arrange such a debate not long after the Session resumes. I did not promise an early debate. I have checked the various remarks that have been made and it seems that a time limit was not given. I reassert my undertaking that there will be a debate on that corporate plan. In deference to my hon. Friend, I shall try to find time for a debate as soon as possible.
With regard to the Procedure Committee and the important issue of the review of the Estimates, which my hon. Friend also raised, I have considerable sympathy with the point that was made about the Supplementary Estimates and the amount of money that goes through on the nod in the House. It is not satisfactory that that procedure should continue when it is historically and constitutionally the first function of the House to grant Supply and to survey and control it. The relevant Select Committees, particularly the Treasury and Civil Service Committee, can make a considerable contribution to the question —rather more than my hon. Friend allowed.
With regard to appointing a new Procedure Committee, we have still not disposed of the remainder of the recommendations of the present Committee's major report on procedure. I hope to make further progress with that before appointing a new Procedure Committee. However, if an urgent need is shown for a new Committee, we can review the position.
The sale of arms to Chile—a point raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—is an important issue at the present time. As he knows, there has been an embargo on the sale of arms to Chile, and I assure him that there are no plans to lift that embargo at the moment. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
523 I turn now to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who was concerned about delays in trials. That has been due partly to the increase in serious crime and the consequent number and length of trials. We are doing all we can to reduce the delays. An increasing number of judges are being recruited, and a substantial building programme is being carried out to provide additional court rooms, particularly in London. As a result of those measures, there are signs of improvement. Outside London, in four out of five provincial circuits, 50 per cent. of all defendants, including those on bail in the Crown courts, come to trial within eight weeks of committal. In London and the South-East—about which my hon. Friend is particularly concerned —the position is still bad. To reduce the backlog, special arrangements have been made this year by which over 50 judges from circuits outside the South-East have volunteered to sit in London for a certain length of time.
I turn now to the variety of topics that were raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). He raised the subject of kidney patients. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we fully support the cooperation between voluntary bodies and the National Health Service, and the generous offer from the British Kidney Patients' Association is an excellent example. However, the original suggestions would have entailed the provision of considerable supporting National Health Service funds, and the health authorities were bound to consider the implications of that on their other services. I understand that discussions are still proceeding with the authorities on possible ways of using the money to increase services for kidney patients, and we hope that they will lead to a satisfactory outcome.
With regard to the question of chemical feedstock and the related issue of price advantage, it is doubtful whether the price advantage enjoyed by the United States chemical and synthetic textile industries, through access to cheap feedstock, counts as a subsidy under the GATT code on subsidies. However, we have taken action to protect ourselves against the growth of imports from the United States of certain synthetic textiles, and we shall continue to monitor carefully the imports of other products which benefit from the feedstock price advantage. There is no 524 evidence yet that the imports of these products are causing damage to the United Kingdom industry.
Careful consideration of the many and varied recommendations in the report of the Burgoyne committee on offshore safety is necessary, not least in regard to the aspects involving the machinery of government. Therefore, I believe that a debate at this stage would be premature, but ray right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has given me an undertaking that when the recommendations have been fully examined he will, later in the year, inform the House of his proposals. That would be an appropriate time for a debate.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas I think that I made it clear that we should debate the report later in the year. I cannot go further than to give that undertaking. I am sorry if it does not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, but there are complicated matters that must be reviewed. The work is going on.
§ I turn to the Brandt Commission report, a most important report on a vital problem facing the world. I am delighted that the House had an opportunity to discuss that significant report and to hear the Government's views in the debate on 28 March, on a motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). I congratulate him on raising that important subject, so giving the House an opportunity to debate it. There was also a debate on the subject in another place on 12 March. In those circumstances, I cannot promise a further early debate.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is not disgraceful; it is a matter of the timetable and the fact that we have just had a debate. I do not rule out another debate, but I cannot promise it at an early date. We have had a five-hour debate, but it is a vital problem and the House should have an opportunity to discuss it again in due course. Let us wait for further views on the report to come forward in 525 the light of the discussion that is going on in the House and elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will pursue the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) raised about the construction industry. His point about the water rates has already been dealt with in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale.
With regard to foreign policy, our attitude to the State of Israel and the dispute in the Middle East—matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence)—the Government's objective is a comprehensive and lasting Middle East peace settlement guaranteeing a secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We support all constructive efforts to this end and hope that current negotiations on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will soon make progress. We are ready to make a constructive contribution, together with our European partners, if that is likely to be helpful. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in a statement on 20 March the Government's attitude to contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm what she said then.
I turn to the remarks about the Civil List made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman is not strictly my "hon. Friend", but we are old sparring partners on this subject. I am delighted that chance has brought us together again on a subject on which we hold diametrically opposed views. Little has changed over the years. I am very familiar with much of the hon. Gentleman's speech. We heard again the same accusations as he has made over the years against the institution of the monarchy and its expenditure. There was only one new approach—over Gatcombe Park, Princess Anne's house. I could sum up his speech by asking: should one buy a secondhand house from Lord Butler? That seemed to be the gravamen—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is a good question. I think that I put it rather more 526 graphically than did the hon. Gentleman, but it is a rhetorical question and I do not propose to answer it.
I am alarmed about one thing regarding the hon. Gentleman. He is becoming much milder in his strictures on the Royal Family. He seems to be mellowing. He is mellowing with age. I have heard him say much worse things about Princess Margaret than he said in the debate today. Perhaps he has been impressed by the article in The Sunday Times, which showed in that interesting table, to which I may refer as the productivity table of princesses, that Princess Anne came out top with 121 engagements, and second amongst the princesses came Princess Margaret with 113. I remind the hon. Gentleman that those bare figures do not give a clear or fair indication of the amount of work involved. One engagement in that list may involve between 10 and 20 other engagements. That gives a much fairer picture of the degree of activity undertaken by members of the Royal Family.
The hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that we would see this problem of the Civil List in perspective. I ask him to follow his own precept. Let him look at the Civil List, which amounts to £3 million-plus, in the context of the revenue from the Crown Estates which were surrendered, which amounts to over £9 million. Of that, £3 million has, as it were, been restored in the Civil List. I think that that is quite a good bargain for the taxpayer.
I should point out that the cash limits that are applied to the Royal Household are the same as those that are applied to Government Departments. I further point out that this concerns the salaries of the people employed by the Queen and members of the Royal Family. That is the vast bulk of the expenditure involved in the Civil List.
The evidence given by the Civil Service unions to the Select Committee on this subject indicated that it would meet with their very strong disapproval if comparable rates of pay were not kept up in the Royal service. They did not wish people to work for the Queen or other members of her family at reduced rates for the honour of so doing.
I should also point out to the hon. Gentleman that the private lives of various members of the Royal Family and 527 what they do are financed totally out of their own income and have nothing to do with the Civil List or moneys voted by the House. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but I do not share it. There is something to be said for a splendid monarchy; there is something to be said for a republic; but for a mean monarchy there is nothing whatsoever to be said.
I turn now to the next contribution. It is no use the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) sighing like that. He has not been present. I do not know where he has been. He has been to the Shadow Cabinet. No wonder he is sighing. It is a reasonable thing to do. It is a most exhausting process. It is even more exhausting than sitting here. But those of us who have been here for the last four or five hours, as I have, are entitled to conclude our debate in peace, uninterrupted by the hon. Gentleman's sighs.
I turn away from the sighing, and I notice the Patronage Secretary. I am caught in a crossfire of sighs. Nevertheless, I shall continue to do my duty to the House. I am Leader of the House, and I shall answer the questions that have been raised by hon. Members.
I turn to the points made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who is assiduous in his attendance at these debates. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to look urgently into the situation that the hon. Gentleman has revealed at the Birmingham assay office. That is a national asset, and we should be concerned about it.
I am less sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman said about the Rossminster tax case. He was less than fair in that. He defended his reputation with great vigour when he was under attack. I do not reproach him for that. He is entitled to do so. However, he must accept that the Revenue is an independent department. On the question of investigations, it does not act on the decisions of Ministers. It makes its own decisions. Previous connections of a person in a private capacity before he becomes a Minister are a matter for that period. They are not relevant to a ministerial career or to actions taken when in office. I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that.
528 I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) that we are extremely concerned about the situation in E1 Salvador. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his visit to that country on behalf of the British Council of Churches. Of course, the Government deplore the wicked murder of the archbishop. In the death of that man we have lost not only a great Christian champion but a great champion of human rights for all people. The crime was utterly deplorable and we have made clear our condemnation of it. I have drawn my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. I assure him that we are doing all that we can to see that there is a peaceful solution to the problems facing that country and to protect British nationals in E1 Salvador. The Government condemn that wicked crime utterly and without reservation.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) wanted a debate on energy, and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have sympathy with his wish for a debate on the affairs of the North-West region. We have had many debates in this Session on regional affairs. I hope to be able to arrange, in the reasonably near future, a debate on the North-West, because that region faces particular problems that need to be examined. The hon. Member's point about pensions was heard by my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, and he will take the matter up.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) raised the question of GLC housing transfers. Orders transferring some 125,000 dwellings and the associated staff to the boroughs and districts that have requested them take effect as from Tuesday 1 April 1980. We think that this is a valuable step towards transferring the management of housing to the local level, with consequent benefits for tenants.
The hon. Member, with others, asked about the future of the GLC's remaining 100,000 houses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment does not propose to take any initiatives to transfer those. If he receives a unilateral request for transfer, he will have to consider it and consult the parties.
529 The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) raised a most important question about the British Council, which was referred to also by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. I agree that the work of the council is vital to the future influence of Britain. Power in the nineteenth century sense has passed from us, but influence has not. I therefore fully support the work of the British Council and pay tribute to what it has done.
Unfortunately, we cannot afford for the British Council the level of support that other countries can afford for their councils. That is because they have a higher standard of living and higher productivity and more efficient industry. Certain reductions have had to be made but these amount to less than 10 per cent. of the council's total turnover. Nevertheless, I regret that the reduction has had to be made. I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he draws attention to the vital nature of the work that the council does. When we have a better economic situation, I trust that we shall be able to restore the situation to levels more acceptable to the hon. Gentleman.
I shall raise with my right hon. Friend the matter to which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) referred.
530 I am grateful to the House for the patience with which hon. Members have borne with these answers. I make no apology for them. If hon. Members raise a question that they consider important, they have a right to a reply. The hon. Member for Bedwellty would be the first to criticise me if I attempted to skimp this task. I do not intend to do that in this debate or in any subsequent similar debate.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am not at all angry. The hon. Gentleman should see me angry. He would get a shock. I am my good-humoured and equable self, despite the continued barrage of sighs coming from the exhausted member of the Shadow Cabinet. The House will be relieved to hear that this debate also covers the ill-fated May Day bank holiday. It will not be necessary to have a further debate before that day. I look forward, however, to answering hon. Members' questions on the debate on the motion for the Whitsun Adjournment.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 14th April and at its rising on Friday 2nd May do adjourn till Tuesday 6th May.