§ Motion made, and Question proposed
§ That, at its rising on Friday, this House do adjourn till Monday 27th October and that this House shall not adjourn on Friday until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. MacGregor.]3.32 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
When hon. Members go up for the long recess, one of the many anxieties which they take with them is the sense that on matters affecting individual constituents, especially those which fall under the heading of health and social services, they will have no parliamentary opportunity for several months of bringing pressure to bear upon Ministers.
I feel that this is a proper occasion to press upon Ministers matters which, during the three months that we shall be absent from this place, may be the subject of ministerial discretion where that ministerial discretion seems at present not to be consistently or equitably exercised. I wish to detain the House for a few minutes to raise a subject of which I have given notice to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, who is responsible for health and social security, although I take this opportunity to say to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the care and fullness with which he has dealt with the individual matters raised in previous debates of this kind have been very much appreciated: and no doubt he, too, will have had notice of my point.
It was on 5 March this year that, as a result of a parliamentary question, it came to my notice that there was an extraordinary variation in the use by different health boards in Northern Ireland of their right and duty to give assistance in certain cases with the installation of telephones. I have in mind especially cases where elderly persons of limited mobility, who might be in medical danger if they were unable to communicate rapidly through the telephone, could be assisted.
The figures showed an enormous and inexplicable variation between, for example, 0.85 per thousand of the population in the Northern region and 0.27 per 33 thousand in the South region, where my constituency is located. I therefore put down a further question seeking the explanation of this from the Minister concerned. He confirmed in his reply thatThe telephone scheme is administered in accordance with uniform criteria laid down by the Department—this only made the problem more difficult—and went on to say that the fact that application wasa matter for the judgment of the Board stafftogether with differences inmatters such as population densities"—[Official Report, 12 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 699.]He said that these might account for the variation.
Considering that differences in the distribution of aged families might at any rate account for some of the immense disparity, I put down a similar question but restricted it to assistance with the telephone for persons aged 65 years and over. The result on 26 March was to show up an even more crass disparity. For example, the rate per 1,000 population aged 65 or over was 4.2 in the Southern region but 13.4 in the Northern region. On the face of it, figures such as that seem to me to show that whatever may be the uniformity of the criteria the administration of the scheme is unsatisfactory and must surely cause hardship, especially in the region to which I have drawn attention.
It is impossible to suppose that between the different regions, which are very large and each represent roughly a quarter of the Province, there can be demographic or other differences sufficient to account for that inequity. I was impressed when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford), whose constituency is not one where this problem might be thought to be all that pressing, passed to me a letter which he had received from a community worker. With permission, I shall quote one or two sentences from that letter, since it refers to this matter:
The community worker said:I am concerned that the present system does not have the safeguard of an appeal procedure if help or assistance is refused to a person by the Board. Recently I have heard of several decisions made by our local office which I personally feel have been grossly unfair, but unfortunately the individual does not have the right of appeal and the decision has to be accepted as final.34 I thought that that was a very apt illustration of anxiety which I know is shared by at least some of my colleagues and is evidently felt more widely.
Whether the correct answer is to have an appeals procedure, I do not venture to say. I should hesitate to institute yet another procedure of that kind, with all the deterrent trappings, from the point of view of ordinary members of the public, which tribunals, and so on, can have.
However, with the House rising for a matter of three months, I consider that the evidence constrains the Northern Ireland Office, especially the Minister of State in charge of health and social security, to institute a detailed investigation of the manner in which the scheme is being applied by the different boards in order to end the serious unfairness and failure to render an intended service which the figures appear to disclose.
It should not be too difficult, by taking appropriate samples from each of the board areas, to understand how the scheme is being worked and how it is being interpreted, and to bring what surely must be only fairness and justice into the working of the scheme, particularly for those in the areas where its application has clearly been too limited. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to say, in the all too common slang expression, that the matter has been "taken on board" by the Minister of State concerned.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I should like to raise on or two wider matters than those dealt with by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), because my support for the motion is qualified. That qualification centres around the use which will be made of the recess by Ministers, and particularly by their officials. I am perfectly content that the House should rise for three months and that Ministers should be answerable to us over that period only by correspondence, so long as they set their officials some homework.
To start with the Treasury, I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to commission a study from his officials of the benefits of abolishing stamp duty for first-time home buyers, where it has become an unnecessary example of fiscal drag. The burden on first-time buyers is 35 probably £50 million, and abolition should help to increase the mobility of the working population without an intolerable cut in taxation.
It would be useful if the Chancellor also commissioned a study of the advantages of abolishing corporation tax, which no longer serves the purpose for which it was designed. It is a burden and a bore for industry, it does not yield much and everyone would get on much better if it were abolished. However, I concede that there should be a study of the advantages of doing so.
I would also ask for a study of the advantages of a return to what used to be known as schedule A, by which the prudent householder was encouraged to spend money keeping his house in good order. I concede at once that I might be said to have an interest as a director of a company in the home improvement industry, but the importance of the matter goes wider than any such sectional interest. It is to the nation's advantage that its houses should be kept in good nick and that there should be no growth in the black economy.
Most hon. Members know that many householders these days have their houses painted or their roofs repaired or other tasks of that sort done by little men who do not necessarily declare every penny that they earn to the taxman—to put it as mildly as I can. If it were possible to restore schedule A, not merely would the householder be encouraged to be prudent and sensible, not only would the Inland Revenue benefit, but there would be a significant drop in the unemployment figures, because all the little men would on the surface cease to be members of the black economy. That is a profitable way in which the Chancellor's officials could spend the coming three months.
The Northern Ireland Office has an important task to which Ministers are apparently committed—that of reviewing the arrangements whereby they make free with our money in grants and loans to businesses in the Province. That should be reviewed and the review should be finished before the House returns, since some deplorable situations seem to be arising.
For instance, an organisation called Lear Fan Ltd. has recently been formed 36 with a Government contribution totalling £3.4 million. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has properly said that it is not the Government's normal practice to disclose the other funds which may be made available from public resources to such a company, but in this case the company itself is telling people that it has also negotiated Government loans and guarantees of $50 million.
If it appears above the surface that the taxpayer is providing only £3.4 million but the actual or prospective commitment is about £25 million, Ministers should bring their review forward with maximum urgency so that the House may know all about this matter as soon as we reassemble. I make no comment on the merits of this project, but I am worried about the financing of it and the control over it which the House should have.
There is a matter on which the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Industry should do some joint work and on which recommendations should be made to Ministers. That is the evaluation of a conscious strategy of support for British manufacture from public procurement—particularly in defence projects but in other areas as well. I should like those two Departments, possibly together with the Treasury, to study the advantages to be derived from calculating the true cost of some procurement programmes in terms of what I would call a "red, white and blue pound". Money spent overseas is gone for ever, but public money spent here costs us less in the end—precisely how much less it is impossible to calculate, but some people say that it is 30p in the pound less.
That is an overwhelming argument for placing in our own economy as much as possible of necessary spending on defence and other things, and for declaring the reasons for it. If there were a study, Ministers would be able to inform us when we return.
There are other such suggestions that I could make. I would dearly like the Department of the Environment to take the regional water authorities by the scruff of the neck and shake them until some of the staff fell out. I hope that we can have a report along those lines. If such a report appears before the recess ends, I 37 shall not be the first to complain. Many of us feel that the regional water authorities and the whole water industry are totally out of control and that their principal activity has become one of writing themselves blank cheques. Ministers may take a different view, but their civil servants would be well employed writing a forceful and not necessarily long report on this thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I hope that all these points can be connected. This work should be done for a particular and additional reason. I am not asking for any U-turn. The Government's policies are right and they are working, but the closer they come to the point where results begin to show, the more important it is that we should be ready with the second-stage policies. Whether that happens during the recess or later on, when we reassemble—whether the upturn in the American economy, which is so dominant in the Western world, comes sooner rather than later—it is essential that Departments, industry and individuals should be ready to take advantage of the economic upturn, which will come when the results of the Government's policies begin to flow.
The present situation may mislead us in some ways. I am not one who thinks that wage increases are the sole reason for our present economic predicament. I certainly do not think that the price-cutting war in the high street is encouraging since it represents de-stocking, which means that firms are trying to turn goods back into cash because the price of cash it too high. Nor does it presage a sudden upturn in demand.
The really important thing for the second stage of our economic policy is that there should not be a self-perpetuating collapse in demand, which would do enormous damage to the economy's prospects of recovery. It is true that there has been a sharp drop in demand. As de-stocking goes on, the requirement to refill the pipeline will help to raise the level of demand to a degree.
It is most important that we should maintain that demand in the productive sector. A high priority must be to curb the demand on the non-productive sector of our economy and to see that the demand goes where it will really do good, namely into the productive sector. That 38 must be the aim of Ministers whether the House is sitting or not, and I wish to be assured that that is very much in their minds over the next three months, which is a longish time for us to be away. I wish to be assured that if there is need during that time for a touch on the tiller, the Ministers will be ready to give it and that their officials will be working—as they will be working themselves—on the longer-term policies which I hope we shall soon find ourselves ready to implement.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I cannot hide my disappointment, Mr. Speaker, at the fact that you did not call what I thought was an eminently reasonable amendment that would give some power to Parliament as opposed to initiative being entirely in the hands of the Government.
Before the House approves the motion relating to the recess, I think that we should discuss two principal items. The first is the application of the criteria by the Government for the restoration of regional assistance. We know that it is set down in the Industry Act 1972, as amended, but the Government are very evasive about what they propose to do. On the one hand they say that regional assistance will not produce jobs, and, on the other, at a time of steel works closures and the rest, they say that they are providing more regional assistance. The Government cannot have it both ways.
I make specific reference to my constituency of Keighley, where the achievement of the Conservatives, after five years of below-average employment under a Labour Government, is that the unemployment level there has increased by no less than 77 per cent. Unemployment in Keighley is at its highest level since 1945 and is now markedy above the national average. That is due to a number of factors, not least of which are the policies of the Government.
I have been trying to find out from the Government how long that level of unemployment has to persist before they take action. When they removed intermediate area status from Keighley last year the Government argued—31 July was the start of the two-year abolition period—that the unemployment level in my 39 Constituency was below the national average. That was the Government's criterion for removing intermediate area status from Keighley. The Government now say that, though unemployment in Keighley is above the national average, it is no good examining the experience of three, four or five months. How long must we wait for the Government to take action? They argue that regional policy is not the sole panacea—none of us says that it is,—but it certainly helps.
Will the Government tell us when the entrepreneurs are going to arrive? The entrepreneurs are part of the Government's alternative philosophy. Giving cash handouts by way of tax concessions to the already well-off, while cutting public expenditure to finance those handouts, is supposed to produce jobs. Yet no member of the Government will say how long that will take. The Government say that many industries are in decline, that productivity is low, and that labour relations are not good. They say that those are the reasons for unemployment, not the lack of entrepreneurs. Let me remind the Government of one of the industries that is in difficulty in Keighley and West Yorkshire. The general secretary of the National Union of Dyers, Bleachers and Textile Workers said of the industry:It has rationalised and reorganised. It has invested heavily in new plant and machinery. Its improvement in productivity is second to none. It has not been subject to exorbitant wage claims and its record of disputes is as good as any other industry and better than most. Yet, after a decade of doing what the Tories say we should do, the result in 1980 will be a loss of up to 100,000 jobs.In an industry where all the Government criteria have been met, people are still facing massive redundancies. So what will the Government do to repair that damage. It is a matter of particular concern because a large proportion of people on the unemployment register are young people. The view expressed by the local paper recently was:Unemployment is now at its highest since records began in 1945 with almost 9 per cent. of the local work force on the dole. In addition, a growing number of firms are operating on short time and according to Keighley Jobcentre manager, Mr. Vic Boyce, the immediate outlook is not very promising.It is reasonable to ask what the Government propose to do about that. What 40 will the Government do about the multi-fibre arrangement and its application now? I do not mean in 12 months' time following renegotiation. I wish to know what Government action will be taken now? We are in the position where there will not be sufficient of the industry left for the MFA to have much meaning.
What about pulling interest rates down? It is absolute nonsense to argue that we have high interest rates because of the public sector borrowing requirement. Under the Labour Government, the PSBR was a higher proportion of GDP and we had a much lower rate of interest. There is no automatic connection between the two. If the Government were concerned about the economy and about small firms, they would pull the level of interest rates down. They are able to do that.
A complaint was made to me by one of my constituents whose firm had borrowed £80,000 in order to modernise during the term of office of the previous Administration. The firm was then paying interest at the rate of 8 per cent. Now it is paying almost double that rate of interest. That is how firms get into financial difficulties. That is the way jobs are lost. I emphasise that the House needs, before we go into recess, some definite idea of what the Government propose to do to rescue those jobs. The Government are creating two nations, one clinging on to jobs and seeing their prospects diminishing week by week and the other constituting the dole queues which are lengthening week by week.
That tragedy has not been created by chance. It has been created as a deliberate act of Government policy. The Government are using unemployment, as they see it, to reduce inflation. That is nonsense, because it means an increase in costs in many ways. It also means that there is little hope for the millions who are on the dole.
Secondly, I am concerned about a matter which I hope the Govenment will look at during the recess. It is a matter of major legal concern and, as I understand it, the Government are the Government of law and order. Section 19(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 sets out the law as it should be operated concerning the appointment 41 of the Factory Inspectorate, the agricultural inspectorate and others by sayingEvery appointment of a person as an inspector under this section shall be made by an instrument in writing specifying which of the powers conferred on inspectors by the relevant statutory provisions are to be exercisable by the person appointed; and an inspector shall, in right of his appointment under this section—From that it is clear to a sensible, straightforward person that the powers must be specified in writing. What is the position of the Health and Safety Executive and the warrant of appointment of inspectors? I believe that the House does not discuss health and safety at work often enough. We should have a debate on the subject. We lose many days in strike action and this is a much more important topic than some others.
- (a)be entitled to exercise only such of those powers as are so specified; and
- (b)be entitled to exercise the powers so specified only within the field of responsibility of the authority which appointed him."
The 1,300 or so warranted inspectors carry identical warrants. They are not differentiated as required by the law. That means that the mines and quarries inspector carries the same warrant as the nuclear inspector, the agricultural inspector, the factory inspector and the alkaline inspector. That is not fair to the occupiers of factories.
If an inspector arrives to examine, for example, an installation under the various detailed and technical regulations covering electrical installations how is the occupier of the factory to know that the inspector is sufficiently qualified? The warrant will not tell him. If the occupier has duties under the law to notify the inspectorate is it right, if, for example, a nuclear installation is involved, that he fulfils that duty by notifying the agricultural inspectorate? That is the position now.
The Health and Safety Executive says that the adjustment is made by administrative means. That, however is not the law. The executive does not exist to make the law conform to its administrative niceties. It exists to obey the law and to see that it is enforced. It is therefore most unsatisfactory for the occupier, the public and employees for the powers and duties of an inspector not to be clearly defined by law as the law says they should be.
42 I hope that the Leader of the House, who has a difficult job to reply to all these subjects, will be able to assure me that the executive and the commission are bringing their powers of scrutiny to bear on this matter. It has already been the subject of at least one report from the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which pointed out that one instrument that was brought forward was ultra vires—I am referring not to the one that was debated last week but to another.
We must ensure that the law that we pass is clear and unambiguous. We should not leave it to the judiciary to tell the executive what its duties are. It is the job of Parliament and the Government to ensure that the law is enforced.
§ 4.2 pm
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) will forgive me if I do not debate the two points that he raised. Instead, I wish to raise with my right hon. Friend a matter that greatly concerns a part of my constituency and the large number of people who will be travelling through Exeter airport on holiday during the next few weeks. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me assurances on this subject, so that we shall be able to adjourn on Friday with this issue having been cleared up. Alternatively, I hope that he will be able to obtain answers from one of the Ministers in the Department of Trade on a number of the queries that I wish to raise.
On the night of 24 July a Viscount aeroplane carrying 62 people had a remarkable forced landing just outside Ottery St. Mary. Hardly any injury was sustained. It was a remarkable achievement by the pilot in bringing the aircraft down on what is about the only piece of level ground in the area. Most people who have seen the crashed aircraft regard his achievement as almost a miracle.
However, certain questions arise, and in view of the publicity that has surrounded the whole incident, and since I have been unsuccessful in raising the matter in the House until now, I hope that the Minister will be able to provide me with the necessary answers.
Will the Minister state categorically that the findings of the inquiry by the Department of Trade will be made public? That is of considerable importance. 43 Will he confirm that the investigation will obtain all and full co-operation from the Spanish authorities concerning the fuelling of the aircraft before it left Spain? A number of extremely unpleasant reports are circulating. If they are untrue they are highly libellous and slanderous. I do not wish to further them in this debate. It seems wrong that anybody—I am thinking particularly of an ex-Minister who was responsible for these matters and who was commenting on the incident only yesterday—should make assumptions until the inquiry has reported in full.
However, the House and the people concerned have a right to know that the Spanish authorities will be giving every facility to the British inspectors when they check up on all aspects of the fuelling of the aircraft before it left Spain. Will my right hon. Friend state clearly that no fault for the accident can be attributed to Exeter airport in respect of the facilities, the radar, or any other matter? In other words, will he confirm that the fact that the aircraft was bound for Exeter and was perhaps only five miles from the runway does not mean that any blame for the crash can be attributed to the airport or the airport authorities? I ask that because many tens of thousands of people will be travelling through Exeter airport over the coming months. Although the airport has the name of another constituency, it is in my constituency. All the many people from the South-West who will be using the airport must be reassured that it lacks no facility and that no blame for the crash can be put on the airport and its authorities.
I shall be grateful for answers to those questions. My right hon. Friend will understand why it is necessary for this matter to be dealt with before we rise for the Summer Recess. If we were to be here for another two or three weeks, I should not be bothering my right hon. Friend with these matters. If my right hon. Friend is able to answer some of the points I have raised or ensure that Ministers in the Department of Trade can provide the necessary answers, I shall be most grateful.
§ 4.7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
I should be a hypocrite if, after the late 44 debates, the numerous lobbies and the constituency problems of the past few weeks I pretended to view the onset of the recess with anything other than relief. I accept that the matter which I seek to raise may require some thought by the Government. If the Leader of the House can assure me that the Government will consider the matter and will bring it before the House early next Session I would not seek to oppose the motion for the Adjournment for the recess.
That is not to say that this is not a matter of some urgency, because for numbers of my constituents and of the constituents of my bon Friend, the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) the summer promises to be very bleak. I shall quote yet another example of the problems arising from the present unhappy state of British industry, particularly industry in the West Midlands. The widespread industrial closures of the past few months have made all the greater the impact in the West Midlands because of the relative suddenness of the transformation from relatively high prosperity and relatively lower unemployment to the position where closures occur almost daily, and where an increased number of unemployed persons is chasing a diminishing number of vacancies.
Birmetals is a company which forms part of the Birmid Qualcast group of foundries. It is situated in the Woodgate area, outside my constituency. However, its 900 employees live in a number of constituencies in this heavily populated area, and a substantial number live in my constituency. A number also live in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr and of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). I wish to deal with the problems of those workers.
The sad story began in August 1979, about a year ago. I have no direct knowledge of the events. I am piecing the story together, and I will listen to any corrections. The management proposed to restructure the company and brought in auditors for that purpose. Wage agreements had previously been negotiated between the management and unions on an annual basis, running from August to August. Because of the restructuring in August 1979, the management suggested that the agreement should be for 45 only a six-month period, from 1 August 1979 to 1 February 1980, with a new agreement in February 1980. The unions accepted that proposal and gave their entire co-operation. A pay increase for manual workers of 12½ per cent. was accepted. The company indicated that each group of employees would receive equal treatment. But, while the unions representing the shop floor employees accepted at 12½ per cent. increase, the staff, as defined within that company, received a 14½ per cent. increase and the managers received a 17½ per cent. increase. I say that lest the House should imagine that the offer which the unions accepted was excessive.
As the six-month period drew to a close, the unions sought to re-open negotiations with a view to a new agreement, as had been suggested. They asked for 20 per cent., which has been represented as an effective cause of all that followed. But anyone with experience of industrial negotiations will appreciate that that was an opening bid. There was nothing to indicate that the unions would not settle for less. They expected the management to complain that the demand was too high and to make a counter offer. Had the management wished the company to continue manufacturing, there appears to be no explanation of why it did not make a counter offer, but it made no offer. One can only conclude that it had no intention of reaching agreement. The dispute procedures having been exhausted, with no offer from the management, the unions gave notice of industrial action. That step must have been foreseen by the management, but no attempt was made to suggest an alternative.
In the event, the only employees who took industrial action were the drivers and loaders in the dispatch department. They ceased to load lorries. The other employees continued to report for normal working. The management approached all the other manual employees, group by group, and instructed them to load lorries. First, those employees were being asked to work as strike breakers. No one with any understanding of industry could have expected them to comply with that instruction. Secondly, it was work for which the majority had no training. The work requires fit people with a knowledge of how to load and unload, failing which it can be dangerous. Women of 46 up to 59 years of age and men of up to 64 years of age were asked to carry out the work, and some of them could not have done so safely. Thirdly, I am told that the duty to perform that work was no part of their contract. The matter may have to be decided by an industrial tribunal, and I shall pursue it no further now. In other circumstances, I may have been tempted to add more colourful comments.
The other employees declined to replace those who normally loaded the lorries. The company subsequently laid off the entire work force for six weeks and then dismissed everyone. Some of those employees had 40 years of fairthful service with the company. Not a word was said about redundancy or severance pay or other benefits. Not surprisingly, the employees are claiming compensation for unfair dismissal before the appropriaate tribunals.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I have great respect for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He is not being in the least bit controversial, and nor shall I be. The factory that he mentions is only a few hundred yards outside my constituency, and 200 of my constituents are involved. They have been to see me on a number of occasions. The slight difference of emphasis that I make is that I consider the 20 per cent. claim to have been absurd, reckless and most unwise. Although there may have been faults on the management side, the 20 per cent. has a great deal to answer for.
§ Mr. Archer
With his usual fairness, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that any opening bid in negotiations invited by the management would at least be expected to attract a counter offer. The immediate cause of the problem was that no counter offer was made.
It was necessary first to explain how the situation arose. I come now to the present problem, and I do not believe that the House should adjourn before dealing with it. The employees, on applying for unemployment benefit, were told that they were not entitled to benefit. And the reason was not that they had been dismissed for misconduct. Had that been suggested, the matter would have been investigated, and had they been dismissed for that reason the 47 situation would have been understandable. But it appears that their disqualification rests on section 19(1) of the Social Security Act 1975, as amended by section 111 of the Employment Protection Act 1975, which reads:A person who has lost employment as an employed earner by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute at his place of employment shall be disqualified for receiving unemployment benefit so long as the stoppage continues … but this subsection does not apply in the case of a person who proves—(a) that he is not participating in … or directly interested in the trade dispute which caused the stoppage of work".That raises a number of issues. The first is whether the stoppage was due to a trade dispute or whether a decision had already been taken by Birmid Qualcast to close down the company in any event. Some believe that the confrontation was deliberately brought about by the management, after it had decided that the company should not continue in production. Secondly, even if the initial stoppage arose from a trade dispute, the question arises whether a trade dispute continues to be the reason for the stoppage. We do not know whether the management is saying that if the dispute is resolved it will open the factory with the same work force and resume production. Thirdly, the employees' case is that, even if there was a trade dispute, they were not participating in it. They simply declined to do work which they were under no obligation to do.
Those are issues which have to be resolved. There is machinery to resolve them, although the House may wish to consider whether we should introduce machinery which operates more quickly. These employees are receiving no money. It does not help someone who has starved to be subsequently told that he was entitled to the money and that he will recieve the arrears.
But it is the fourth issue to which I wish to invite attention. The scheme of that section is understandable. It says that if the stoppage of work which led to the claimants' being unemployed was due to a trade dispute he shall be disqualified from benefit. Even if the merits of that rule are questionable, it is at least comprehensible. But it would be monstrous if there were no exceptions. If the trade dispute was not of the claim- 48 ant's making, if he played no part in it, or if he was in no way concerned with it, is he still to be disqualified from benefit? It is said that if the stoppage was due to a trade dispute, even if the claimant did not participate in it or support it, and it was brought about without his wishes, he is disqualified if he is directly interested in it. If these employees may benefit from the outcome they are disqualified from receiving benefit whether participating in the dispute or not.
Some of my hon. Friends will remember the old grade or class provision which disqualified employees from benefit if the stoppage arose from a trade dispute which was not of their doing and even if it was against their wishes. That was a monstrous provision. Some of us campaigned against it for many years, and it was repealed in 1975 by the Government of whom I had the honour to be a member. But it seems that we failed to bolt the back door, because a claimant is still disqualified if he is interested in the trade dispute. That is a monstrous injustice.
That problem may not have been obvious in the past when stoppages were relatively few, but now that companies are closing their plants in fearsome numbers, looking for confrontations which will excuse them from making redundancy payments and enjoying the prospect of beating the unions, with a union-bashing Government looking on like the vestal virgins of ancient Rome, that provision is likely again and again to lead to manifest injustice as it has for my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr and the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge.
The House ought not to adjourn until the Government have at least indicated that, after the recess, they will come forward with proposals designed to correct that injustice.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter which is causing concern to those whom I have the honour to represent in this House and could be decided by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary before we reassemble after the long recess. For that reason. I am anxious to raise the matter now. The subject is the Local Government Boundary Commission for 49 England's proposals for electoral arrangements in Hertfordshire.
Together with others who are interested, I received a letter dated 18 July 1980 which included the final proposals for the county of Hertfordshire. I find when I come to the St. Albans district, which I represent, the statement:We replaced six of the 10 electoral divisions proposed by the county council"—which is Conservative controlled—by six divisions proposed by the St. Albans Constituency Labour Party.I make no complaint on that point. The point at which I become anxious is when I read further in the report:St. Albans City Council made no observations on our draft proposals".On reading that, I made inquiries of the St. Albans city council and found that, contrary to what is stated in the report, the council had submitted observations on the proposals on 29 March last. On discovering that, I contacted the Home Office and the Local Government Boundary Commission's office to make that point abundantly clear. Less than a fortnight later, in a letter dated 1 August 1980, which has been sent to the permanent under-secretary of state for the Home Department, it is said:The commission did not receive the district council's previous letter of 29 March 1980".It is said that it had been lost in the post. It goes on:The commission have now seen and considered a copy of the Council's letter of 29 March but they do not wish as a result to propose any change in their recommendations in Report No. 390.I cannot believe that, having taken from March to July to make final proposals, the commission can within a fortnight decide that, having looked at the city council's letter, it has no wish to change any of its recommendations.
It is clear that the basis of the proposals was that the city council had no observations to make, and the commission makes it clear that it had taken account of other representations which it had received. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that in such a short time, other than for reasons of convenience, it should reach the conclusion that the city council's observations were of no concern to it.
I have received 70 letters from constituents during the past fortnight whilst 50 I have been trying to grapple with this problem. My anxiety is that their representations and those made originally by the city council might be ignored and that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary might reach a conclusion on the matter before he has had an opportunity to read or properly decide upon those representations.
Therefore, I hope that before the House goes into recess I shall receive an undertaking that the Home Secretary will take into consideration the observations which he has now received from the city council. If the commission considers that they are insufficient for it to take note of, at least the Home Secretary should look carefully at them before reaching a decision on this important matter. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me the assurance that I seek.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I should like to raise a matter which I think merits the attention of the Leader of the House. I have raised this matter repeatedly in recent months with the Government. I refer to the impact of high electricity and gas prices on industry, especially steel making in the Sheffield area.
I cannot do better than to inform the House of the financial impact that such energy price increases is having on the British Steel Corporation in the Sheffield area this year. The director of the public steel sector in South Yorkshire and on Humberside, John Pennington, has stated that the BSC in Sheffield will be paying £52 million this year for electricity and that that represents half of his production costs. At a press conference a month ago, he stated:If we pay the increased electricity charges, we go out of business.We are all familiar with the tremendous problems which have beset steel making in recent years. I am not sure that we are as yet sufficiently aware of the threat that increased energy charges is presenting for steel making. There are other extra costs from increased rates, other public utilities and raw materials. The BSC has to meet and absorb those increased costs by increased efficiency, because it cannot increase its prices. Moreover, it has to compete with rivals in Germany and France who, on the best 51 information available, are protected against such penal energy charges. John Pennington is concerned that if recent increases in electricity charges are maintained and repeated over the next few years, electric are steel making will become uncompetitive and the large electric are operators will go out of business.
The plight of the private sector is even more serious. Private steel also has to contend with increases in the prices of raw materials, local rates, gas and electricity and, more recently, telecommunications. It is expected to absorb those increased costs by increased efficiency. Private steel, like public steel, has done remarkably well, but there is a limit to what either sector can do.
Furthermore, the private sector is even more locked into a pricing structure than is the BSC. Nominally the BSC is the price leader, but, as some of my hon. Friends representing steel constituencies know, the real power lies with the European Commission.
Nothing could more clearly illustrate the contradictions that the Government have allowed to creep into their industrial and financial strategies than these large increases for gas, electricity, telecommunications, rail and post. The Government are making impossible the attainment of those other targets that they are setting for public sector industries—notably the British Steel Corporation.
We know that over the last few weeks some breathing space has been granted to the BSC. But what of private steel? I was interested to hear the Prime Minister say in the censure debate last Tuesday that some aid would be granted to Dunlop. I sympathise with the plight of Dunlop. It is wholly deserving of that aid. I shall not taunt the Government about U-turns. However, Dunlop does not quite fit into the strategy that I had come to identify with the Secretary of State for Industry. With the best view that one can take of it, Dunlop certainly does not lie in the growth sector. I can only assume that Dunlop is being assisted in order to modernise or to be helped over temporary difficulties.
Those are precisely the criteria that private steel would claim for itself. I hope 52 that the Leader of the House will convey to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the plight of private steel. I hope that he will ask whether his right hon. Friend is prepared to act as a long stop for private steel as well as for public steel and firms such as Dunlop. I do not have much optimism in inviting the Leader of the House to do that, because, as I have already said, I have raised this problem with the Departments of Industry and Trade as well as with the Prime Minister. I shall not detain the House by quoting from the last letter that I received from the Department of Industry. I know that my hon. Friends will not be surprised to learn—I suspect one or two Conservative Members as well—that I received no encouragement whatever from the Department of Industry that it is prepared to assist firms now under threat from penal energy charges, nor is it prepared to take any step to ease their competitive position in the face of more advantageous trading terms enjoyed by their Continental rivals.
I go back to the contradiction to which I have already referred and the target that the Government have imposed on the BSC. The BSC will run out of cash in the autumn. Mr. MacGregor is expected to submit his plans in the next few weeks, which are widely expected to propose more closures and redundancies on top of the existing programme of 52,000 jobs.
I therefore hope that the Leader of the House will point out to his right hon. Friend that it is one thing for the BSC to be saddled with a target which, however burdensome, it is struggling honourably to meet, and another thing, simultaneously, for the BSC to be saddled with increased costs arising directly out of Government policies which, to say the least, do not square with the first strategy.
I know directly from one or two industrialists that what upsets them at present—perhaps a growing number of them—is the apparent indifference on the part of Ministers to the practical problems that industry is facing and the simplistic solutions that are sometimes suggested for overcoming them. Those are harsh words to address to a Conservative Government who traditionally, and by reputation, are expected to have a closer acquaintance than any other party with the feelings and wishes of industrialists. 53 Some of us have reason to believe that when Labour was in Government during the 1970s that attitude was changing. Some industrialists are now quite uncertain about where sympathy and understanding of their problems really lie.
I cannot do better than to inform the House that only last week I received a copy of a letter addressed to the Department of Industry from the chairman of a large steel firm in my constituency, who pointed out that he found it inconceivable that the Minister should feel that he could do nothing on steel price policy and that he would prefer to leave it to the European Commission and take no steps himself. The chairman referred to similar correspondence that he has conducted in recent months with the Department of Industry. He said that if that correspondence was a fair reflection of what the Department was prepared to do for men in industry such as himself, "God help us all". He concludes his letter by saying:We want men to run this country, not mice".I do not think that he is by any means alone in his thinking about the Department of Industry and, perhaps, other Departments of State.
What industry wants more than anything else is some tangible evidence of sympathy and support in coping with the dangers that it now faces. Such sympathy and support have become more and more necessary because of the combined effects of Government policies and the growing economic recession.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
In view of the amount of time that is available for this debate, I shall not comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), except to say that many firms in the Midlands, including firms in the private steel sector, understand only too well some of the problems that he outlined. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I support the Government's measures in general, but I am disturbed at the fact that among our competitors in France and Germany the price of gas is half what it is here. I still await a satisfactory answer to that question from the Government.
54 Before stating why I think we should not disperse for the Summer Recess, I should like to add one comment to the speech of my respected neighbour, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), with whom I have close and friendly relations, about the strike at Birmetals. In the account that he gave, he omitted so say—at least, according to my information—that the unions which in the past had good relations with the management unfortunately allowed some young hotheads to gain great influence. That has a lesson for all of those now in employment—that they must attend their union meetings and make sure that their views are expressed.
I feel that we should not adjourn for the Summer Recess until we have discussed education. I do not mean education narrowly, in the sense of the assisted place schemes, or even in the context of the Labour Party's proposal to try to abolish private education. In my view, there should be a debate on education in the wider sense, because it affects the life and future of the nation in a tremendously important way.
The assisted places scheme is a very modest measure, intended to replace in some small way the direct grant schools. Those schools, in the view of many people, afforded a marvellous ladder up the slope for any boy or girl of parents of modest means who could not afford to pay the fees for private education.
The Opposition opposed the measure bitterly, for quite mistaken reasons, but their objection pales into insignificance compared with the recent proposals of the Labour Party to abolish, if it can, all private education. It is nothing short of a totalitarian proposal, depriving parents of a fundamental right, and is fraught with the most dangerous implications. It almost seems to presuppose a one-party, all-powerful State where everyone has to be moulded into the same form, without any deviation being allowed.
If this proposal were to be formally adopted by the Labour Party and published in its election manifesto it would cause immense resentment among large sections of the electorate, including many Labour Party supporters. I often wonder why the Opposition are so opposed to private education. It cannot be because private education does not fill a need 55 and is not highly successful. I am afraid that it is because of sheer prejudice, based on envy and a sense of egalitarianism: because everyone cannot afford private education, the Opposition say that no one should be allowed to have it.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree with the point of view put forward recently by Dr. John Rae, the headmaster of Westminster school? He said that what parents do about the private education of their children must be a private matter, but when they make it the subject of public discussion, as they have done, and when many of them have educated—and continue to educate—their children at public schools, it becomes a matter of public hypocrisy.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. It brings me to my next point, which is that education is so important to the nation and its future that no party in the State should be so arrogant as to want to use it for its own political ends.
We have all seen the Labour Party's successful attempt to destroy the greater part of our grammar schools in this country—many of them with old foundations, with long years of service to the community, and with standards of scholarship, behaviour and moral principles second to none.
Most grammar schools, alas, have now been destroyed, and the Labour Party attack has been switched to the public schools. The case for the public schools needs to be stated fearlessly in the House, and before we adjourn for the Summer Recess. The public schools are an almost unique institution in this country. They take in boys and girls of a quite broad band of intellectual attainment and potential, but they also look for other qualities, such as leadership, the ability to mix, and soundness of character. A public school tries to train the whole person—I am glad that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is nodding, as he went to a public school l—and not just the brain. The fact that many public schools are boarding schools must make their task easier. Underlying many public schools is their strong Christian tradition, including service to the community.
56 The product of the public schools has never been so badly needed as today. Far from trying to close these schools, the Labour Party should be trying to help more public schools to open, so that more boys and girls would have the opportunity of going to them.
We all know that for years the products of the public schools went into the Empire, they went abroad, they went into the Civil Service, the Church, the Armed Forces and the City. Now the need is equally great in other spheres, particularly manufacturing industry. I am certain that one of the reasons why industry in this country has had such an unsuccessful record since the war has been the lack of public schoolboys in our factories—boys who could become foremen and managers and give the sort of leadership for which they are trained. It is sorely needed in many of our factories today. I can think of a very large factory, owned by a public corporation, only a few miles from my own constituency, which would benefit from such leadership. The nation must train its leaders, and the public schools have always succeeded in doing this.
Another sphere in which public schoolboys are needed in larger numbers is the police force. I yield to no one in my admiration for our police. I believe that they are the best in the world. But they could be even better if public schoolboys, in larger numbers, could be persuaded to join the force, and if there were a college for training future officers, such as there used to be under Lord Trenchard.
The House seldom debates leadership. When we do, it sometimes causes giggles on the Opposition Benches. I am talking now not about leadership of the Labour Party but about leadership throughout our society, at every level. The French take the greatest pains over it in their different highly specialised and selective schools and colleges, and I understand th at the Russians do the same.
In a democracy we must not, above all, be afraid of leadership and of training men and women for it, We have it in the highest degree in the Armed Services. I wish the rest of the country could catch them up. I believe that the retention—and, indeed, the extension—of the public school system would be the best way to do it.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Wolverhampton, South-East)
I shall not follow very closely the speech made by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). Perhaps it will not be out of order to remind the House that the public schools were originally founded to help the children of the poor to get a decent education, but the ruling class moved in and took over those institutions.
A dominant feature of British industry over the past decade or so has been that it has been run by the elitist wealth-owning class of this country. It has made a hopeless mess of most of our industries. But I must not follow the temptation to go too far along that road.
I am opposed to the motion, for a particular constituency reason. It relates to the siting of the enterprise zones. In March of this year we received a Treasury document which short-listed the enterprise zones. One of the zones listed was the town of Bilston, where the steel mills had been closed, creating great difficulties for some of my constituents. Although the development of enterprise zones is highly controversial on the Labour Benches and does not receive a wholehearted welcome, it is greatly welcomed in Wolverhampton. All parties in Wolverhampton, the trade unions and industry, welcomed the statements in a Treasury document to the effect that Bilston should be one of the zones. However, to my amazement, and to the great displeasure of the Wolverhampton council, the Prime Minister made no mention of Bilston in terms of one of the zones in the censure debate on Tuesday. Therefore, there must be some change in Government policy. We have had no explanation why the change has taken place.
In March, immediately following the reference to Bilston as one of the seven zones, the Wolverhampton council called a special meeting of its economic development sub-committee. It invited local industrialists, local trade unionists and the trades council to attend. It had a long and constructive meeting, and the zone was welcomed. There were 34 industries represented at the meeting and 12 firms offered their enthusiastic support. Richardsons Development Ltd. offered immediately £5 million to develop areas of land adjacent to the steelworks for factory development.
58 The Wolverhampton council immediately sent a constructive document to the Secretary of State for the Environment. It contained a great deal of information and many maps. It worked energetically and constructively to produce a scheme that would create jobs for some of the 1,800 steel workers who had been made redundant.
The Secretary of State for Industry made a statement on 16 July and he recited all the steel-producing areas where there were special problems arising from closures. No mention was made of the closure at the Bilston steelworks. I questioned the Secretary of State and he promised faithfully that he would write to me in detail about help for Bilston. I have received no reply from the right hon. Gentleman. After the energetic response of all parties in Wolverhampton, including the trade unions and industry, and offers to help make the enterprise zone a success, the House will understand that massive disillusionment has taken place.
There was an emergency meeting of the council's economic sub-committee and the town clerk has written to the Department of the Environment to ask the Secretary of State to meet a small delegation of members of the council, the trade unions and industry to discuss why the Government have had second thoughts, apparently, about the zone that was promised to Bilston.
For 100 years steel has been a major means of employing the Bilston work force. Steel making was closed down last year. We lost 1,800 jobs. The rolling mills, which were guaranteed for five years, are now to close, with a loss of 450 jobs, During the past 10 years 200 factories have been closed down in Wolverhampton and a large part of my constituency. During that time 16,000 jobs have been lost. Bilston, a part of my constituency, will become a wilderness of despair unless we get some early and urgent assistance from the Government.
I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of my remarks. I am raising an urgent issue. My constituency needs some definite information before the House goes into recess for three months. I hope earnestly that the right hon. Gentleman will take up these issues with the Secretary of State for Industry—bearing in mind that the right hon. 59 Gentleman has promised to help steel areas—and with the Secretary of State for the Environment. For the reasons that I have stated, I am opposed to the motion.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
The issue to which I wish to turn the attention of the Government before the House rises for the Summer Recess is the transferability of occupational pensions. I am aware that the evident appeal of such a subject at this late stage in the Session must be questionable. However, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to listen carefully to the case that I shall be deploying. At a time when we are again emphasising the need for mobility of labour there can be little doubt that the freer transferability of occupational pensions is high on the list of factors that would facilitate that desirable objective.
It is often said that public service pensioners are much better off than their private occupational scheme contemporaries because their pensions are index linked. That is so. I contend that they are much better off because there is free transferability between Government Departments and agencies. There is no such obvious free transferability between one private company and another.
Successive Governments of both parties have understood the need to hasten the process of transferability. I pay tribute to the Labour Government for introducing the Social Security Pensions Act 1975, under which an earnings-related guaranteed minimum pension is required to be provided when a person leaves a firm. It was not appreciated by that Government—it is sometimes not appreciated by many outside the House—that to leave such a guaranteed minimum pension accumulating at inadequate interest rates at a time of high inflation can only lead to the erosion of the total pension that a man finally draws at the age of 60 or 65 years.
It is a fact that public service pensions are index linked whereas private occupational pension schemes are not. It is also a fact that on transferring from one occupation to another a previous pension contributed to by the individual is not dynamised to take account of inflation 60 after departure to another company. The Government understand the urgency of putting this matter right. They have asked the Occupational Pensions Board to try to solve the dilemma by making recommendations. When the Prime Minister is rightly calling for a greater mobility of labour, added urgency is needed to get the issue finally resolved.
Let us consider the problem confronting Mr. A and Mr. B, who both join a private company at the age of 25 years. Mr. A stays with the company throughout his working life until 65 years of age, while Mr. B leaves at 45 for a job with a better salary with another company. Mr. A's pension is accumulating at current interest rates but Mr. B's contribution to his former employer's pension fund is accumulating at only a modest rate. Assuming that Mr. A and Mr. B earn in parallel to the age of 65 years, Mr. A will have a pension up to 20 per cent. better than Mr. B's. That must be a major disincentive to the mobility to which my right hon. Friend has recently drawn our attention.
Why not merely transfer Mr. B's contributions to his new firm? On the face of it, that would be a simple solution. I fear that it would be too simple. First, not every private pension scheme is on all fours with its competitor. Secondly, to expect a new firm to be well disposed to looking after contributions made when it had no responsibility for Mr. B is to stretch the employer's responsibility. After all, the employer may have attracted Mr. B to his employ by means of an increased salary. He may feel that that it where the responsibility should end.
In such a situation, the State has not and should not have a major role in the solution of the dilemma. I have some knowledge of occupational pensions both as an hon. Member and as a result of previous employment. I submit with all the force at my command that there is something that the Government can do, and that would cost nothing other than the time of some of the Inland Revenue's staff.
My submission is quite simple. Instead of leaving the contribution with the original employer, with little growth, and instead of expecting the new employer to accept retrospective responsibility, the 61 employee should be able to take his contribution, plus any part of the contributions of his original employer, and place them in an institution's fund under section 226 of the Act. On the face of it, this is an easy solution. One is inclined to ask why it has not been used before. What is to stop a man from taking such an obvious course of action? I fear that the answer is that investment of a lump sum return of contribution is reserved, under section 226, for the self-employed. It is impossible for a person who has not been or who is not about to become self-employed to take advantage of a single investment under that section.
An amendment to the law is necessary My suggestion should enable the cash uptake to be invested once only on the same basis as that available to a self-employed person. That would allow past pension contributions to accumulate as favourably as future contributions. It would help to equate the disparate positions of Mr. A and Mr. B. Its very simplicity and lack of involvement in Government expenditure encourages me to urge this course of action on the Government.
I shall outline the advantages in simple terms. First, it would introduce an element of fairness between the man who stays with one employer and the man who changes jobs from time to time. Secondly, it would assist mobility of labour, to which the Government have recently turned their attention. Thirdly, it would provide an incentive to move, where all the circumstances point to the desirability of doing so. Fourthly, it is the essence of simplicity. Indeed, I hope that that will not be seen by the Inland Revenue as a reason for not turning its attention to my suggestion.
I hope and believe that the Government will see the force of this fundamentally simple argument, and that they will turn their attention to equating the situation between Mr. A and Mr. B, which is manifestly unfair.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I am sure that the Leader of the House will not be surprised if the first Welsh Member to speak in this debate raises the subject of the job crisis in the Principality. However important the transferability of pensions is, it pales into 62 insignificance in comparison with the immediacy and urgency of that crisis.
On 30 July the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, created by leave of the Government, reported. I commend the report to the House. It concluded:there exists in Wales not a jobs gap but a jobs chasm into which the economic and social structures of large parts of Wales are in danger of falling. Only a sustained programme of Government assistance to the Principality can prevent this.That quotation gives some idea of the measure of the problem facing us. Indeed, that problem was made manifest to my colleagues and I as we journeyed to London from Wales. We have been brought face to face with the daily deterioration of the economy of our area.
Although the three-month recess may give Government Ministers an opportunity to travel in Wales and to see the crisis at first hand, it would be wrong to go into recess without having received some response to that crisis. Despite the Government's helpful response last week in relation to Inmos, and despite the one enterprise zone that we have been given, which will assist the lower Swansea valley, the Government have not understood the measure of the crisis. I need hardly remind the Leader of the House of the great political gaffe that the Prime Minister made in Swansea two or three weeks ago. Despite the sensitivity in Wales on the issue of job mobility, she suggested that those in Wales—no doubt she was referring to the skilled—should be ready to move, as their fathers had done, to other parts of the country in search of employment. This issue was raised last Monday during Question Time. When pressed to inform the House about the whereabouts of those job "El Dorados", the Secretary of State said that there were job opportunities in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), in that of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) and in the Heads of the Valleys.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
Does my hon. Friend also recollect that the Secretary of State said that there were job opportunities in Bridgend? He made that statement in immediate response to a question that I had put, which highlighted the number of redundant workers in the Bridgend area. I pointed out that 4,000 people were already registered at 63 the Bridgend employment exchange and that 500 students, who were not included on the register, were out of work. That means that 4,500 people are seeking work in the Bridgend area. There are only 38 vacancies. The Secretary of State said that if people wanted to be mobile they should move into Bridgend. My hon. Friend knows that last Monday a further 1,000 redundant steel workers registered in Bridgend because they had been made redundant at the Margam steelworks.
§ Mr. Anderson
It is clear that neither jobs nor houses exist. If hon. Members need further evidence, they need look only at early-day motion 848, which states:in Cardigan there are just 55 vacancies for 561 unemployed, at the Heads of the Valleys, Merthyr, with 2,864 unemployed, there are only 122 vacancies, Aberdare with 2,937 unemployed has a mere 51 vacancies and Ebbw Vale, with 4,792 unemployed, has only 179 vacancies.The Secretary of State counsels the people of Wales to travel to such areas. How out of touch he must be. In the next few months he will have to get ready to take cover from the people of Wales. The figures illustrate that he is out of touch.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to present a balanced picture. The headline of my local paper states:Firm can't find men for skilled jobs.The firm's order book is overflowing. The chairman said:We would like to expand, increase output … There is absolutely no shortage of work … we will have to import the workers we need.The picture is not as straightforward as the hon. Gentleman may think.
§ Mr. Anderson
The hon. Gentleman should have a word with the Secretary of State for Wales. I recall another Conservative canard last week in relation to British Rail. It was said that British Rail had many jobs for people who sought them, but that was contradicted a few days later by the British Railways Board. I wonder whether the statement reported by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) will be contradicted.
The history of West Glamorgan's difficulties is clear. In July last year the Conservative 64 package reduced the level of grant available for development areas from 20 to 15 per cent., abolished regional development grants and changed not only the rate but the boundaries.. As a result Swansea was downgraded to intermediate area status with effect from 31 July. Similarly, Neath was downgraded to development area status.
These changes were modified on 19 June, when the Secretary of State for Industry announced that the Port Talbot travel-to-work area was to become a special development area. The constituency of Newport was also affected. However, that is manifestly not enough. The Government have failed to take into account the interdependence of the whole West Glamorgan area and of the part of Mid-Glamorgan represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. It is absurd in the extreme to regard a travel-to-work area as involving Port Talbot when, because of the ease of communications, workers from Neath. Swansea, Llanelli and Bridgend travel into the same area. It is absurd that there should be dramatic changes in the status of the areas.
Perhaps the ultimate absurdity was in relation to the Duport site, which was moved recently from Port Talbot to Neath to gain the advantage of the special development area status which Neath then enjoyed. Now the situation has changed. Port Talbot is a special development area and Neath is a development area, and the Duport site, which the West Glamorgan county council seeks to develop, has lost its status.
The position is deteriorating daily, partly because of the general recession—and we can make political points about that. It is also because of factors specific to West Glamorgan and South-West Wales. I refer to the steel closures. Throughout, the Government have failed to see the interests of what the local regional geographers call "Swansea Bay City" and the interdependence of that whole work area. That was underlined clearly in the Select Committee's report.
If the Government take us seriously—and there is a large question mark over that—they must take four actions. First, they must upgrade Swansea and Neath because of the deterioration and dramatically worsening picture which the area 65 presents. The figures speak for themselves. In June 1980 unemployment in the Swansea travel-to-work area was 8.5 per cent. In July 1980 it was 10.1 per cent., and the forecast for May next year is 11.9 per cent. The figures for the Neath TTWA are 9.4 per cent. in June 1980 and 11 per cent. in July 1980, and the forecast is 18 per cent. by May next year. That is before the bulk of the Port Talbot redundancies reach the unemployment books. Those areas must be upgraded.
Secondly, the Government must end the uncertainty about the future of the Port Talbot and Llanwern steelworks, which hovers like a cloud over the whole of South Wales. Thirdly, an investment which is within the powers of Government could bring enormous jobs benefit to West Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan. I refer to the go-ahead for the new Mar-gam pit. The area straddles West Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan. The National Coal Board is geared to go ahead almost immediately. It would directly create 1,000 new jobs in the construction period of seven or eight years at a cost of about £20 million per annum. However, there would have to be some modification in the external financial limit of the NCB.
That proposition is linked to the Venice summit and the new emphasis on coal. It is also linked to the bonus which Britain expects from the EEC budget agreement of 30 May this year. Extra funds will be available for social and regional projects and for infrastructure projects related to the coal industry. Six pits with over 4,000 jobs are under direct threat. In the light of the extra money that will be available from EEC funds as the result of the budget settlement, we hope that the Government will examine carefully net pit investment at Margam, which could yield enormous dividends for an area of high unemployment.
Fourthly, I refer to a matter which has been pushed hard by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). I raise the issue with his permission in his absence. It concerns the apprentice school at the British Steel Corporation's premises at Port Talbot. There is considerable spare capacity there as a result of the steel recession. From evidence to the Select Committee we know that the level of apprenticeships in Wales is already 66 among the lowest in the country. Since the facilities are there, the Government could provide extra training in schools for young people in a very deprived area at relatively little cost.
If the Government fail to measure up to the challenges and let us down, and if they fail to respond to the jobs crisis, there is a danger of increasing social tension and distress in South Wales. That is not a matter which has been paraded by people who wish to foment such unrest, but it is the considered view of the all-party Select Committee. We look to the Government for a response to our jobs crisis.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes. It would be wrong for the House to go away without an expression of sympathy and support for the good people of Manchester who currently are labouring under probably the worst city council in the country.
On 12 March the council agreed a budget of £208 million. By 19 June the policy committee was saying that it had to make a cut of nearly £22 million. The dates are relevant. The only event to intervene between the two dates was the May election. The council has put itself in the position of being forced to cut its cloth to face a possible deficit by the end of the year of about £20 million and is now forcing through an inevitable series of cuts amounting to about £15 million. It is thereby exhibiting the worst form of local government.
I wish to draw attention to what happens when a city council behaves, for reasons of political difference, bloody-mindedness or simply in an effort to win local elections, in such a thoroughly cynical way. Let us consider some small aspects of what is being done. The council says that one of its first tasks is to get jobs into the city centre. I support that aim. The council is maintaining expenditure on various forms of publicity and job support and that action is supported on both sides of the council. However, the burden of rates on businesses in the city centre is astronomical. Stores are paying rates of hundreds of thousands of pounds, reaching even to £1 million. The burden of rates continues to rise, despite the fact that the Government 67 have increased the amount given to Manchester by 22 per cent. this year.
It is not sufficient for the council to say that it cannot do anything about that situation. The biggest cynicism is that the council has got itself into the position of running the city for the benefit of its employees rather than for the benefit of the citizens. That is not a glib statement. More and more people are administering less and less.
In 1971, there was one council employee for every 18.61 citizens. In 1974, there was one employee for just over 16 people. In 1979, there was one council employee for every 12 citizens and this year there is one employee for every 11.28 people. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, where in the House is there a supporter for the proposition that in times of great stringency, when the businesses of the city are under great strain, the city council should not only exempt itself from the difficulties but should increase the burden of its manpower on the people of the city?
Secondly, council tenants are to face an increase of £2.50 on their rents. Some would say that that is a bad thing to happen. It will certainly be a great strain for the families concerned. However, that position has arisen because the council has refused to consider the matter for the past three years. It has postponed making decisions, and consequently the rent rises will come with great force.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
Can my hon. Friend tell us the average rent in Manchester?
§ Mr. Silvester
I cannot give an accurate figure. In the situation that has arisen in Manchester it is difficult for the local electorate to do much. There is built into the city structure tremendous inertia and vested interest. Even though the electorate is feeling the burden, it is almost impossible for voters to do much about it in a reasonable time.
The Government are taking steps to bring pressure to bear on Manchester, and I hope that they will continue to do so. I do not want to see the powers of local government weakened, but the behaviour of places like the city of Manchester will make it difficult for local autonomy to be maintained. The people of Manchester are doing well by their 68 own efforts, in spite of the council. But, my God, it is a close-run thing.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I am sure that the people of Manchester are fair enough to recognise that their council is doing a first-class job in the face of Tory cuts. If there were a referendum in Manchester, I am sure that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) would get his reply. Indeed, the fact that there is a large Labour majority on the council is a sufficient answer to the unfair point that the hon. Gentleman raised.
I wish to raise three matters. We shall be starting the Summer Recess when the economic situation is getting even worse. The recession in the economy is deepening, as the Secretary of State for Industry admitted at Question Time today. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it was due to overseas factors, but that was not quite what we heard before the general election.
We have the worst unemployment level since before the war. All the indications and forecasts are that it will get much worse. We have nearly 2 million registered unemployed, and one wonders what the number will be when the House returns on 27 October. The House should be concerned about the industrial and economic situation and I hope that if things get worse the Government will recall Parliament.
Unemployment is spreading throughout the country. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Edwards) have already referred to the situation in the West Midlands, that once prosperous industrial region where, even in pre-war days, families from the worst-hit parts of Britain were able to find employment. Today, there are redundancies, decline, depression and pessimism in the West Midlands. Most of that has arisen since the Government came to office.
Between 1 April and 30 June this year, more than 12,500 redundancies were officially announced. We are often reminded by Government spokesmen of the number of trade unionists who voted Tory at the election. I concede that that is true, but I doubt whether many trade unionists, 69 certainly in my part of the world, would be so keen to vote again for a party that has brought back a level of unemployment that we have not seen for 40 years.
A chamber of commerce survey in the borough of Walsall showed that 48 per cent. of firms in the area plan to make workers redundant in the next three months. The survey showed that only 19 per cent. of businesses were working at full capacity. A total of 50 per cent. of companies in the town were losing orders and 58 per cent. will have a decreased turnover next year.
It is understandable that the local chamber of commerce, which is not necessarily the strongest defender of my party, has said that it wants a change in Government policy. It is particularly keen to see a sharp reduction in interest rates. When one also takes into account the present value of the pound one can appreciate why it is difficult to export successfully.
I make no excuse for referring to my town before the House is asked to approve the motion to rise for the recess. There are nearly 11,000 out of work in Walsall—an unemployment rate of 9.7 per cent.—and the number of vacancies totals 170.
It is understandable that we should be concerned about unemployment nationally and how it affects our own people. It is all very well to quote statistics, but translated into human terms unemployment means despair, poverty and humiliation for thousands of our constituents. One of the best reforms of post-war years was the elimination of the sort of unemployment that the country had to suffer before the war. We now see the return of what I can describe only as near-mass unemployment. The Government have got us into that situation.
The second matter that I wish to raise relates to The Observer. It has been announced that the paper intends to close on 19 October, a week or so before we return from the recess. I do not want to go into the details of the dispute, but the Government, and certainly the Secretary of State for Employment, have a duty to intervene if it seems that the newspaper is definitely to close.
The management of The Observer has not said that it will be willing to sell 70 the paper or the title. It has said only that the paper will close if the dispute cannot be resolved.
There are many occasions when I do not agree with the editorial policy of The Observer. However, it would be most unfortunate to lose such a serious and informative paper. In view of that, every step should be taken by the Secretary of State for Employment, by the use of his good offices and the conciliation and arbitration machinery, to ensure that the paper does not close.
The final matter that concerns me is the sale of arms to Chile. I hope that we shall not be told that this is necessary to help resolve our own unemployment difficulties. The level of unemployment will not be altered by exporting arms to a tyranny such as the Chilean junta. My first concern in this matter relates to the Leader of the House and the way in which the decision was announced. One would have thought that a controversial decision such as lifting the arms embargo on Chile would have been announced in the House. Instead, the news came in answer to a written question.
The Leader of the House has often told us that apart from his obvious responsibilities as a Cabinet Minister and a senior member of the Government, he has duties and responsibilities to the House itself. On such a controversial matter as permitting the resumption of arms sales to Chile, in my view the Leader of the House should have made sure that a statement was made in the Chamber. I consider it rather contemptible and cowardly to treat the House in this manner. It is a controversial matter. Whatever one may think of the rights or wrongs of it, it certainly is wrong that such a controversial decision should be announced in an offhand manner in reply to what may well have been a planted written question.
I raised the matter when we discussed the Adjournment motion for the Easter Recess. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) made his own comments at the time, as he will remember.
We have had no chance to debate the decision before rising for the Summer Recess. Obviously I consider the decision to be quite wrong. However, I should 71 like to consider the manner in which the Government took the decision to resume arms sales to Chile.
On 10 March of this year, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence said in another place during exchanges about arms sales to Chile that the Government would not export arms to a country which was guilty of torture. The noble Lord said during the same exchanges that arms would not be sold to what would be regarded by the Government as repressive regimes. That, he said, was the clear policy of the present Government.
Is there any doubt that torture and repression occur in Chile? The Government seem to believe that they do, because last December they voted for a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the increased use of torture in Chile.
The Government have recognised the state of affairs. In answer to a question about Chile on 7 February, after the resolution had been debated in the General Assembly, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) asked about it, and a Foreign Office Minister replied:We are aware of the view expressed in this report that the rate of the improvement in the human rights situation has slowed considerably during the past year. Our concern was evident from our vote in favour of a recent United Nations General Assembly resolution. The return of an ambassador to Chile"—the Minister was attempting to justify the decision—will assist us in making Her Majesty's Government's views known to the Chilean Government at the highest level."—[Official Report, 7 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 310.]No one can deny that since the officers—the band of traitors who now rule Chile—overthrew political democracy in 1973 in the notorious coup, many people have been tortured, including a British citizen, Dr. Sheila Cassidy. Indeed, it was as a result of her torture that the last Government decided rightly to withdraw our ambassador from that country. Although I am opposed totally to an ambassador from Britain being sent to Chile, at least the Government have some justification on the basis that we have diplotac relations with many countries to whose views we are opposed. However, permitting arms to be sold to what—even in 72 the Government's mind, judging by the way that they acted at the United Nations last December—is a regime which bases itself on repression and torture is an admission of the worst type of hypocrisy.
The Prime Minister often boasts of her commitment to human rights. Repeatedly she says at Question Time how much in favour of human rights she is, albeit that usually she is referring to Eastern Europe. She cites the action that she took over the Olympics. In common with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I am extremely critical of violations of human rights in Eastern Europe. Those who know my views and have heard me speak on the subject will know that I am no defender of repression in Eastern Europe. But at least I am consistent. I do not justify the resumption of arms sales to a tyranny such as Chile. That is why the Prime Minister is guilty of the worst type of hypocrisy, in common with other members of her Government.
The need is clear. It is to permit this House to debate this very important matter before rising for the Summer Recess. As I have said, the Leader of the House has not carried out his duties to this House. It is because I feel so strongly about the matter that I urge that a proper statement be made to the House even at this late hour. I do not want any statement in reply to this debate. I have no doubt that a suitable brief will be supplied to the Leader of the House. There should be a proper statement to the House from the Lord Privy Seal or from the Prime Minister.
To those three issues, therefore—the high level of unemployment, the difficulties of The Observer newspaper and, even more importantly, the sale of arms to Chile—I urge that the House should give serious consideration before we rise for the Summer Recess.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Mr. John Wells. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to remain seated, that will be quite in order.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I wish to raise a matter which in my view should be debated before right hon. and hon. Members go away for the Summer Recess, namely, the conduct of the 73 Southern water authority in particular and the activities in general of the entire water authority system.
At the beginning of business today, the Southern water authority presented a small and innocuous Bill to which I objected, not because I was against the whole Bill but because one of its provisions was offensive. The Bill is entitled:An Act to dissolve the Commissioners for the Newhaven and Seaford Sea Defence Works and the Shoreham and Lancing Sea Defence Commissioners; to confer further powers on the Southern Water Authority; and for other purposes.Considering the activities of the Southern water authority, in my constituency and elsewhere in the South of England, I believe that it might have been a great deal better if a Bill had been presented at 2.30 today entitledAn Act to dissolve the Southern Water Authority and to confer further powers on the Newhaven and Seaford Sea Defence Works Commissioners.I can see no reason why the Newhaven and Seaford sea defence commissioners could not run the Southern water authority a great deal more cheaply and a great deal more efficiently.
The sad fact is that under the 1972 Act the Newhaven and Seaford commissioners will vanish, anyway, quite apart from this little Bill. Therefore, the offensive item in the Bill is that it gives fresh powers to the Southern water authority.
I understand that under clause 12 pensions are to be paid to two gentlemen currently employed by the Newhaven and Seaford commissioners who already are past the age of retirement. They are to get compensation.
We live in an era of Government restriction. It is my belief that all these matters should be aired throughly before we go away for three months. It seems to me that the Southern water authority management is grossly overstaffed and unsympathetic to our constituents. I am glad to see so many hon. Members from my part of England in their places. They will be aware of the problems faced by our constituents. In particular, the Southern water authority has been sending out direct billing to people, threatening to cut off their water supply if they do not pay, including people to whom the authority does not even supply water. That seems to be demanding money by 74 false pretences, because it would not be able to carry out its threat anyway.
I have a pathetic letter from a constituent who was worried that his water supply would be cut off because he had not paid something which, in truth, he had paid. I admit that the chief executive of the water authority wrote a grovelling letter of apology, as well he might. He had still frightened my innocent constituent, who had paid in April and was threatened in July and into August. This is not good enough. Such bullying tactics should be brought before the House.
I trust that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will not seek to reply tonight, but will speak quietly but firmly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that all water authorities are brought more closely under the control of the House, if not before the recess at least soon after we come back.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Before adjourning for the recess, the House may care to note that the Transport Act 1980 was given its Third Reading on 25 March. I understand that the provision to permit car sharing by private motorists is to become effective on 6 October 1980. However, the Act does not apply to Northern Ireland and the Minister responsible for such matters in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), has stated that he intends to seek a suitable opportunity to promote similar legislation in Northern Ireland. The House could be forgiven for wondering why it should be necessary to wait for what the Minister calls "a suitable opportunity" before bringing the law in Northern Ireland into line with that in Great Britain. One might have thought that an ideal opportunity occurred when the Bill was drafted.
As hon. Members prepare to depart for the Summer Recess, I invite them to reflect over the next three months on how they could spare themselves much waste of time and loss of sleep if they persuaded those who manage the business of the House to end the farce of devoting 1½ hours, usually in the middle of the night, to consideration of a Northern Ireland order that repeats, in 75 slightly different form, sometimes in identical form, the Great Britain Bill that made the order necessary.
During those three months, a gap will be created between the law in Great Britain and that in Northern Ireland. It will be a gap that could affect United Kingdom citizens in a real and perhaps costly fashion. Many motorists in Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken are under the impression that the legislation will apply automatically to the whole of the United Kingdom. Many citizens of Great Britain, moving, perhaps temporarily, to Northern Ireland, will naturally assume that this innovation, which has attracted more interest, for example, than an obscure clause in a social security Act, applies to the United Kingdom. They will say "Did not Parliament, which governs the whole kingdom, solemnly debate and approve the new provisions? Did we not read about it in all the papers?" The newspapers, naturally, will not have informed their English, Scottish and Welsh readers that one part of the country has so far been excluded.
I need not take up the time of the House to list the many and varied traps into which otherwise law-abiding citizens may fall in the interval that will elapse before the Minister finds what he calls a suitable opportunity. Those citizens have a right to be protected against the possibility of their incurring serious liabilities. The House cannot adjourn and leave this trap for the innocent and the unwary. The Government will have to display a much greater sense of urgency than that shown so far by the Leader of the House. In his reply to my question last Thursday, the right hon. Gentleman simply indicated that his right hon. Friend intends to introduce legislation, addingwe shall avoid any unnecessary delay.—[Official Report, 31 July 1980; Vol. 989, c. 1735.]There ought not to be any delay. Any delay, never mind unnecessary delay, could have been avoided if the Government had legislated originally for the kingdom as a whole. Their failure to do so saddles them with a responsibility to ensure that such an important alteration in the law becomes operative simultaneously throughout the United Kingdom. I trust that before the debate ends the 76 Leader of the House will be in a position to assure hon. Members that steps will be taken by the Government to ensure that the law on this important matter is made effective on the same date throughout the entire area for which the House legislates.
§ Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I agree entirely with his appeal to the Government for the universal application of legislation throughout the United Kingdom.
I wish to raise the matter of the difficulties of the United Kingdom paper and board industry. I begin by declaring an interest. I have worked in and for the United Kingdom paper and board industry since 1974 and still continue to do so in a small way. The paper and board industry is a heavy capital-intensive industry. There are about 150 pulp, paper, and board mills, employing about 60,000 people and producing 4.2 million tonnes of paper and board. The mills are largely concentrated in North Kent, London, the Home Counties, Lancashire and central Scotland.
The problems affecting the paper and board industry are the problems currently affecting many industries in the country—high inflation, a strong currency, high interest rates and high energy costs. I believe that we should debate the plight of this industry—the matter has not been debated in this Session—before the Summer Recess. A number of questions relating to the industry need answering.
I should like first to examine the question of import penetration of the United Kingdom market. In 1976, imports took 45.2 per cent. of the market. In 1979, the figure had risen to nearly 50 per cent. Tariffs on paper and board were swiftly harmonised after the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community. Zero rating was reached in mid-1977.
From 1976, imports of paper and board from France, Germany and the Netherlands into the United Kingdom, based on the new productive capacity installed in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, began to grow substantially. The figures are revealing. Imports from France rose from 34,000 tonnes in 1976 to 130,000 tonnes in 1979, an increase of 253 per cent. The 77 equivalent figures for West Germany were 73,000 tonnes to 155,000 tonnes, an increase of 95 per cent.; for the Netherlands, 69,000 tonnes to 114,000 tonnes, an increase of 50 per cent. The percentage increase for Italy was 125 per cent. In that period, total imports from the EEC rose from 244,000 tonnes to 526,000 tonnes, an increase of about 100 per cent.
The comparison with other countries is striking. Imports from Sweden went up by 6 per cent., Finland by 1 per cent. and Norway by 20 per cent. Imports from Austria fell by 12 per cent. and from Canada by 16 per cent.
There are several reasons for thee dramatic figures. One difficulty is that the United Kingdom industry uses a high percentage of energy and has to pay a high cost for it. It is difficult for Members of Parliament to get the most up-to-date figures from Ministers at the Department of Energy, but I ask the Leader of the House whether the Government believe that United Kingdom energy costs should be competitive with those of the other EEC countries. Once that is established, we can start to look at the facts.
According to the facts that I have, there is a remarkable disparity of costs between a typical small United Kingdom paper mill and its equivalent overseas competitors. In July 1980, it cost £49.70 a tonne for energy to produce paper in the United Kingdom; £35.60 in West Germany; £33.20 in France: £23.90 in the United States; and £14.80 in Canada. As a result, the German product is 4 per cent. cheaper than the United Kingdom product, the French is 4.7 per cent. cheaper, the American is 7.3 per cent. cheaper and the Canadian is 9.9 per cent. cheaper.
I should like to give some examples of the difficulties faced by paper and board mills in the United Kingdom. The firm of Portals Limited makes our banknotes. There is no shortage of demand for money, yet foreign competitors can now undercut our prices for banknotes and high security papers by up to 25 per cent. Following the 50 per cent. increase in gas prices in 1978 and again in 1979, energy costs now represent an alarming 78 per cent. of total variable costs of production for that firm. Its associated companies abroad can now sell bank 78 paper at lower prices than the United Kingdom mill can produce it.
Another example is Bible papers for religious publications. Imports from France are 20 per cent. cheaper than the domestic product and will undoubtedly cause short-time working in the second half of 1980.
Reed Paper and Board (United Kingdom) Limited makes 16 per cent. of all paper and board produced in this country. Over the last three and a half years, when the retail price index has risen by about 54 per cent., because of good investment and good profitability. Reed's total costs have risen by only 24 per cent., but over the same period the percentage of energy content in total costs has risen from 12 to 21.
In addition. Reed pays £3.2 million at the current annual rate to the Customs and Excise on heavy fuel oil. It should be remembered that Reed sells newsprint. The selling price of Canadian newsprint in dollars has risen from 100 to 154 over these three and a half years, but its price in the United Kingdom in pounds has actually fallen, from 100 to 99. The Government could help the beleagured paper and board industry immediately by considering the removal of the Excise duty on heavy fuel oil for industry.
Another firm, TPT Limited, has had its margins cut, particularly by high oil and gas prices. That company finds it ridiculous that oil should be priced 16.2 per cent. higher at British mills—£97.20 a tonne—than at TPT's German board mill, where it is currently £83.63.
I will give just one more example to end with—that of a good, medium-sized paper and board firm with a turnover of £12 million. It exports 70 per cent. of its product, of which 70 per cent. is sold for dollars. That mill has suffered severely from the strengthening of the pound. It has lost £20,000 in profit for every cent that the pound has strengthened against the dollar. Thus, with the pound strengthening to the equivalent of 20 cents of the American dollar, that firm has lost £400,000. In addition, the company has been investing in what is a high technology product and has to find £450,000 in interest annually. A reduction of 5 per cent. in interest rates would give the company relief of over £100,000, 79 but that would not offset the £400,000 lost in export profit.
I should like to deal now with board mills. Since 1976, sterling has strengthened in real terms by 27 per cent. against the dollar, 15 per cent. against the deutschemark and 25 per cent. against the Swedish krone. This has allowed imported boards to enter the United Kingdom from those countries at prices well below those of British boards, so that imports have now secured nearly 40 per cent. of some markets. United Kingdom board mills are making losses and some have, regrettably, already closed. If this trend continues, most mills will close within two years. Not even the most modern and efficient units, with low labour costs, can withstand that sort of pressure.
For example, the costs of German mills are expected to rise by 8 per cent. over the next year, but those of United Kingdom mills may rise by 15 per cent. That will have a devastating effect on the United Kingdom's prices and profitability. In the absence of any weakening of the pound, and assuming no further strengthening, the only solution is to bring cost increases below 5 per cent. in the next 12 months and to maintain them at that level thereafter.
Costs in the public sector and other factors under Government control are major obstacles to that achievement. The costs of energy, posts, rail transport and rates are expected to increase by an average of about 25 per cent. over the next 12 months. That will affect about 20 per cent. of mill costs and will directly increase overall costs by about 5 per cent. The effect is also felt indirectly via supplies and services, adding about another 1 per cent. to mill costs. Overall the public sector will cause board making costs in the United Kingdom to rise by 10 per cent. thus making it quite impossible to achieve the inflation rate of 5 per cent. at which survival is possible.
Faced with that situation we must have straight answers from the Government about what will be done to help the United Kingdom paper and board industry. The Government must act quickly. They must examine energy costs to ensure, at best, that they are no higher than the lowest in the EEC and that they are equal at worst. Other public sector costs 80 should not rise by more than 10 per cent. in the next 12 months. If possible it should be less. The Government must consider the abolition of the national insurance surcharge.
I accept, as does the industry, that the main thrust of Government policy is to bring down the rate of inflation. As soon as that is achieved interest rates must come down to single figures and must be kept there as long as possible.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the hon. Gentleman please explain to the House what measures he is advocating in the context of energy pricing?
§ Mr. Proctor
I am advocating that the Department of Energy, spurred on by the Department of Industry, should agree what these costs are. It is extraordinary that those Departments produce figures which are out of date and also at odds with the figures given by the United Kingdom paper and board makers.
First, we must find the true figures and get them clear in our minds and get them accepted by the Government. Thereafter, we must ask the Government whether, if those figures reveal what we anticipate, namely, that the United Kingdom energy costs are higher than those of our EEC competitors, they will suggest to the EEC that energy costs should be harmonised throughout the Community. Will the Government examine the possibility of reducing prices to industry as opposed to all consumers of energy? As I understand it, that cannot be done under present legislation. I hope that I have in part answered the question of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
§ Mr. Proctor
I had better proceed. Other hon. Members are waiting to speak. I recognise that not every hon. Member has a paper or board mill in his constituency. However, more than 100 hon. Members do have such mills in their areas. For that reason it is right that I raise these matters now.
We heard at Question Time today of the problems of the newsprint industry. I have one question for the Leader of the House on the Government's attitude to that industry. Does he see a future for 81 the industry, and should it continue on security grounds? We are in great danger of finding, in the not too distant future, that there will be no capacity for producing newsprint in the United Kingdom.
The duty-free quota system, which enables the bulk of paper and board imports from EFTA countries—non-EEC candidate countries—to enter the United Kingdom free of all duty, began in 1974. It ends on 31 December 1983, when all EEC and EFTA countries become a duty-free market for paper and board products—duty, once the quotas are exceeded, having come down from 8 per cent. in 1978 to 6 per cent. in 1979– 80, to 4 per cent. in 1981– 82 and to 2 per cent. in 1983. Duty at those levels is charged on all EFTA imports into Europe, excluding the United Kingdom. These quotas are reviewed each year. It was thought that Her Majesty's Government might negotiate a framework for these quotas from now until 1984 [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). He has a perfect right to mention any subject he likes on the Adjournment motion. However, I think I should remind him that he will have a further opportunity to discuss this specific matter in a later debate.
§ Mr. Proctor
I am coming to a brisk conclusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I notice that some hon. Members who are heckling have not been present during the whole of the debate, as I have.
The issue of duty-free quotas will not be settled while the House is sitting and I wish to get the points cleared up by the Government. The quotas will be negotiated some time in October and the stance will be taken some time in September. My point is that the Department of Trade should not give way in any respect in those negotiations and that quotas should not be increased for paper and board imports except in a few instances.
It might seem churlish if I did not end my remarks by wishing Ministers a happy recess and by expressing the hope that the next Gracious Speech does not contain as many legislative proposals as the last one.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Frank R. White (Bury and Radcliffe)
I speak against the motion. We should not go into a long summer recess, for many of the reasons expounded by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). However, my analysis of the situation, as my hon. Friends might expect differs from that of the hon. Gentleman.
I have little hesitation, and much less shame, in declaring a personal interest in this subject, though it is not an interest from which I am likely to gain financially from any successful outcome. My interest is that of a Member who represents many people who will suffer extreme hardship and financial loss should the outcome be different from the one we hope for.
If the United Kingdom paper and board industry goes the way of the other industries that we have debated in the past it is extremely likely that I shall be forced to stand by while a large part of my constituency dies with that industry. My constituency has within its boundaries more paper mills than any other constituency. The area has the heaviest concentration of paper and associated industries in Europe, but I realise that if the industry dies I shall not be on my own.
As I survey the list of hon. Members whose constituencies also play host to the paper industry—not the least of them being that of the hon. Member for Basildon—I envisage that the boat will be quite full. However, I confess to great trepidation. When I recall the hard faces of Government Ministers and when I remember the parsimonious attitude of the Prime Minister to the problem of unemployment I see little reason to hope. I see few signs of optimism and I greatly fear that, in the final analysis, I shall be faced with the usual ostrich-like posture where the Government offer nothing but sea and sand. They will offer platitudes and display a depth of ignorance that makes hon. Members feel that on matters related to manufacturing industry an attempt at dialogue with the Government is like attempting a dialogue with the deaf.
The United Kingdom paper and board industry plays a major role in the life of the country and the industry must be the 83 immediate concern of the whole nation. If, for any reason, the industry nationally were to decline further, the unemployment level in my constituency, already suffering from Government policy, would become disastrous.
Considerable concern for the future is now being felt by all sectors of the industry. With related industries in printing, publishing and packaging, the paper and board industry constitutes 8.3 per cent of the manufacturing contribution to the gross domestic product. It currently employs over 5,000 people in all sectors and onward processes. It is therefore time that we in the House—and that includes the Government, who have been so hardhearted to other sections of industry—showed our concern about what is happening.
If the Government are not impressed by any other fact, perhaps they will be impressed by the knowledge that the United Kingdom industry contributed about £1.25 billion to the balance of payments in 1979. Since the early 1960s the overall performance of the industry has been disappointing compared with the achievements of the industries in other Western European countries. During those years unfair competition created by the EFTA-EEC tariff imbalance disastrously affected most of the United Kingdom manufacturers. Between 1969 and 1974, 21 mills closed down and 51 machines did likewise, causing a loss of 20,000 jobs. When I refer to a paper machine, hon. Members must not envisage something like a small lathe. A paper machine would fill the Chamber.
It became almost impossible for those mills that were left to make a profit in certain grades of paper. It therefore became necessary for them to change course and to integrate in order to compete. This led to the old familiar lack of capital investment while competitors invested heavily in large, technologically more advanced, machines. We were left to modernise and make do. The exception to that trend came as a result of the actions of that Labour Government, which provided £23 million of selective financial aid. That scheme generated nearly £100 million of investment. Much of today's investment is the result of that scheme coming to fruition.
84 A new threat to the United Kingdom industry is looming in the United States. The immense scale and low cost of production in North America will increasingly constitute a long-term problem. United States capacity has been increased from 51 million to 62.5 million metric tonnes in less than 10 years. It is planned to increase it further, to 68 million metric tonnes by 1982. So far, home consumption in the United States has matched capacity, but with the drop in domestic demand caused by the world-wide recession leading to substantial over-capacity there is every possibility that the American industry will be seeking fresh fields to conquer. Therefore, with the threat looming of even greater penetration of the United Kingdom market, it is necessary to impress upon Ministers that it would need imports of only a tiny percentage of United States capacity to devastate the United Kingdom industry.
An illustration of the combined effects on the United Kingdom industry of American competition, based on cheap subsidised fuel, and a high value for sterling, was given by Mr. E. D. Peacock, director of the commercial division of the United Kingdom Paper and Board Industry. He explained by example. A corrugated case is made up of liners and flutings. Both can be made from virgin pulp or from recycled waste fibres. Most of the world's kraft liner is made from virgin pulp and is made in the United States and Scandinavia.
Most European countries have substantial capacity for the manufacture of liners based on waste. The selling price of waste-based liners depends entirely on the price of kraft liners, and that is dictated by the United States. In May 1978 the average price of kraft liners was $280. Even at that level it put the producers of waste-based liners in the United Kingdom under severe pressure. Since then kraft liners have risen to about $400—an apparent increase of $120, or 43 per cent. The real increase in sterling terms, however, is only 15 per cent. Since then the pound has increased in value against the dollar from $1.80 to $2.25. During the same period manufacturing costs have risen far more than 15 per cent., and even the index of packaging materials has gone up by over 22 per cent. It is not surprising, therefore, that margins are under even greater pressure.
85 Today I received a telex from a company in my constituency. For reasons that will become clear, it wishes to remain anonymous. I could make no greater criticism of the Government's response to that American threat than to quote what the company says on exchange and interest rates. On the former it saysAn investment of £1.5 million in 1977–78 on plants produced for export with reasonable profit expectations based on the United States dollar at $1'80 to the pound. Now faced with American competition and the dollar at $2.35 to the pound the plant is not viable and has produced losses of £61,000 in the past 12 months with a current selling price in sterling no greater than that appertaining in 1977. Total exports for the first half of 1980 valued at £3,218,000, that is, 42 per cent. of total sales, but profitability is less than 5 per cent. as most prices have to be in US dollars to be competitive. The sterling price is only marginally higher than 1977.On the subject of interest rates the company indicates that its current overdraft interest is £175,000 per annum. This has a significant impact on profits, which are currently running at £400,000, a return on capital employed of 2£5 per cent. That is a disaster for the industry. As with many other manufacturing industries, the Government's policies, combined with their refusal to assist our industry at the level that our competitors are assisted by their Governments, have put the paper and board industry in a precarious position.
Imports are penetrating the home market at alarming rates. In the subsector in which we held the largest share of the market—the printings and writings sector—the position has deteriorated. Recently the sector working party report concluded that theUK printings and writings sector in general will slowly decline because of competitive pressures from overseas paper makers unless positive and constructive action is taken now.Once again we must ask the Government whether they want a United Kingdom paper and board industry. They must make up their minds, and do so quickly. It is not enough for them to mouth platitudes and promises for the distant future. It is not enough for them to expect our industry to compete with highly efficient competitors who enjoy the massive benefits of Government subsidy. It is ludicrous that a nation that is almost floating on oil, built on coal and self-sufficient in energy should leave its paper and board industry to fight, un 86 assisted, competition based on cheap fuel. The workers in the paper industry in my constituency want to know whether they are as important to this Government as the American paper workers are to theirs.
In the telex to which I referred the company points out the problems of energy. It states:As a percentage of total costs, energy has risen from 7½ per cent. in 1977 to 10.2 per cent. in 1980 per kilo of paper sold. The energy costs have risen by 105 per cent. over this period.I doubt whether our Scandinavian and North American competitors have faced such an escalation in costs.
It is not as though the industry has not responded to the problems and changing circumstances. Management and unions have created a working relationship that could be held up as an example to others in manufacturing industry. The last official dispute that caused a strike in the industry was in 1926. Labour productivity is high. The union has always displayed a willingness to co-operate to obtain further improvements. On one occasion, in a paper mill in the North-West, given a deteriorating situation, the union accepted the challenge and brought before management schemes for improving productivity, which were accepted. The result was that productivity increased from 61 to 84 per cent. The contribution was acknowledged by the company and led to a prolonged life for the mill.
The threat to the United Kingdom paper and board industry is not the attitude of its workers but the political pricing policies of our North American and Scandinavian competitors, which control our basic raw material—wood pulp. They operate a scissor pricing technique—high-cost pulp against low-cost paper or vice versa, whichever suits them and depending on the United Kingdom market conditions. The Government's reply has been to allow Fort William to close, with the result that we have exported 1 million tonnes of United Kingdom timber to Scandinavia to be used against us.
The North Americans, with their cheap oil policy for industry, and the Scandinavians, with access to cheap hydro power, complete the tourniquet that is throttling our paper industry. This year six mills have closed and 5,000 jobs have been lost. With the potential threat from our 87 competitors, further mills may close. There are severe doubts about six other mills. It is possible that by the end of the year 20,000 jobs will be lost.
I hope that the Leader of the House will inform the Prime Minister that the problem has nothing to do with workers pricing themselves out of a job, introducing restrictive practices or refusing to introduce high technology. It is that the Government are unwilling to respond to the unfair pressures from our competitors and that we have to suffer the pressure of their domestic policies.
Before the House adjourns, the industry must be given an injection of confidence. I and many of my hon. Friends support selective import controls. Unfortunately the Government do not. Action over the exchange rates and interest rates also have to be ruled out, as is apparent from the economic blindness that the Government have shown when we have debated other manufacturing sectors. I agree with the hon. Member for Basildon that one answer is that there must be a commitment to assist industry with energy costs and to match our competitors pound for pound over their subsidies. That is the least that we can ask from the Government before the Summer Recess. We should then at least feel that we had given the paper industry a kiss of life. If the Government refuse to consider that, we shall be giving the industry a kiss of death.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The two previous speeches would have been more appropriately made in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. It is an abuse of our procedures to make such speeches on the motion for the Adjournment. It is also unfair to hon. Members have drawn earlier places in the ballot.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I hope that I shall not abuse any procedures and that I shall not tire the House by raising a matter that I have raised on many occasions before.
Two weeks ago Wolverhampton area health authority, under pressure from the community medical authorities, reversed its earlier policy and recommended that the authority should proceed immediately to arrange the artificial fluoridation of the water suply in the area. 88 The effect of that decision is to remove the one block preventing the Severn-Trent water authority from fluoridating the whole region, including Staffordshire and Burton. At present artificial fluoridation is spread only around the Birmingham area.
So this fluoridation madness is apparently to go on unchecked by the Government—nay, encouraged by them. I believe that the House should not adjourn to the end of October without someone pressing on the Government yet again the need for a reconsideration of their policy. There should be at least a moratorium on fluoridation until a high-powered, independent committee, chaired by a High Court judge, decides on its safety and until Parliament, on its return, is allowed to decide on a free vote whether the water supply should have fluoride added to it.
The arguments against fluoridation are substantial, far more so than the evidence that it reduces tooth decay. It is not only that mass medication is a gross infringement of the liberty of the individual, since the consumer has no choice whether he will have it in his water, although that would be substantial enough. It is not only that the decision to fluoridate is taken by bodies that are not democratically elected and is too often made against the decision taken by democratically elected county or district councils, although that would be substantial enough. It is not only that eminent legal opinion has been given that water authorities have no lawful power to fluoridate, since doing so is ultra vires their powers, a matter which successive Governments have apparently accepted, because they offer an indemnity for action which is taken pursuant to fluoridation, although that, with a law abiding Government, should be substantial enough.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
The hon. Gentleman says that successive Governments have accepted that. I assure him that he is quite wrong. If it is a fact, let it be tested in the courts.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I should welcome the matter being tested in the courts. I understand that it is now being tested in the courts, but I say that Governments have accepted that it may be unlawful, because they offer an indemnity for actions that are taken under that provision.
89 What gives rise to the need for urgency is the growth of a substantial body of evidence to the effect that fluoridation causes or precipitates cancer. That evidence is extremely well documented and thorough. After five years of attack by medical authorities, which have their reputations on the line, that evidence has not been refuted. It has been upheld by a court of law in Pennsylvania and a Government commission in Quebec. The evidence suggests that we are killing 2,000 or more people in Britain a year by artificially fluoridating 10 per cent. of our drinking water. That evidence was not properly considered or not considered at all by the Royal College of Physicians, which reported four and a half years ago. It is disgraceful that the medical authorities continue to refuse to consider the new evidence and that the Government continue to rely on an outdated report.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
The former Attorney-General suggested that the matter should be tested in a court of law. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to the question of ultra vires. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the medical aspects have been tested in a court of law? He himself drew attention to that. I refer to the Pennsylvania decision, where the matter was fully canvassed. The burden of proof was on those who were seeking to show that fluoridation was harmful. Notwithstanding that burden of proof, the learned judge upheld the case put forward to have the fluoridation removed from the water supply.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting that decision. It was reached after a careful hearing, lasting five months, with evidence from the leading protagonists and antagonists in the world. The judge was overwhelmingly of the opinion that fluoridation was dangerous and that the case of those who advocated it should fail. I should welcome a court of law deciding this matter. It is difficult for the anti-fluoridation campaigners to raise the necessary money; it is easy for the Government to place the matter before a proper tribunal for consideration. There is no reason why those who are against fluoridation should not welcome a thorough investigation, and that is what I am calling for.
90 As chairman of the all-party anti-fluoridation committee in the House, I have from time to time, and most recently on 6 March, given chapter and verse for our reasons for calling for an end to this insanity, so I shall not delay the House by repeating that evidence. But on Tuesday last week, Dr. Dean Burk, who for 35 years was one of the chief cancer scientists at the National Cancer Institute of America, presented a paper at the Fourth International Symposium on the Prevention and Detection of Cancer at Wembley on the subject of fluoridation. He concluded that the fluoridation of Birmingham in 1964 was followed by a most alarming increase in the cancer death rate—greater than in any unfluoridated English city such as Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester, Coventry, Sheffield or Greater London. In particular, there has been an otherwise unexplained increase in cancer deaths of about 8 per cent. in the Birmingham area when a similar city, Manchester, which was unfluoridated, increased by only 1.5 per cent.
§ Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)
Was proper account taken of the ages of the people in Birmingham and was that not a factor in the increase in cancer at that time?
§ Mr. Lawrence
—has highlighted the error that has been predominant in medical authorities over the past few years. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said that my hon. Friend had shot me down. When I first raised this matter several years ago I was told that the findings in America had not been weighted for age, race and sex. All the combined efforts of the medical authorities to disprove the Burke-Yiammouiannis findings in America failed, and they rested on the criticism that the figures had not been weighted for age, race and sex. Burke and Yiammouiannis said that they had weighted them for age, race and sex.
A few weeks ago, I received an indication from the advisers to the Government that they were now satisfied that the 91 American figures had been weighted for age, race and sex. The answer to my hon. Friend is that the Birmingham analysis has also been weighted for age and sex. The only substantial criticism of the epidemiological study seems to have fallen to the ground.
There is much evidence that fluoride at one part per million induces cancers in insects and animals, and there is laboratory evidence as to how that happens. The epidemiological evidence from America has been vociferously challenged, but now that challenge has fallen to the ground and been shown and admitted to be now without foundation. Therefore, there is no valid challenge to the evidence that exists both in the United States and on the Birmingham figures.
Surely there is now more than a doubt about the safety of fluoridation. Surely there ought to be no more fluoridation until that doubt is at least resolved. Surely the Government should wake up to the fact that in this matter Britain is wholly out of step with other countries. None of our EEC partners except Eire fluoridates. There is no fluoridation in Austria, Greece, Norway or Spain. Belgium, Holland, Germany and Sweden did fluoridate but have now stopped, as have hundreds of cities in the United States.
Those who are being made to drink artificially fluoridated water against their wishes should not see Parliament going into recess for nearly three months without some undertaking from the Government that they are seriously considering a moratorium. On behalf of all whose freedom and health are threatened by this madness, I ask the Government for that undertaking.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
Before the House adjourns for the Summer Recess, it is important to consider a problem featured in many of our inner city areas, namely, the problem of derelict land, often owned by local authorities. I fully appreciate that the recent cuts in public expenditure will make it more difficult for local government to cope with the difficulties of derelict land. Such land is dangerous, especially in inner city areas, where children play on it.
92 I refer in particular to a 26-acre site in my constituency called the Wandsworth gas works site, which is owned by the Greater London Council. Last Saturday afternoon there was a tragedy on that site. A small boy was drowned in fairly deep water in the bottom of a derelict gas holder. I watched him being pulled out by police frogmen. That site was unfenced along part of the perimeter. The GLC was warned by me and by others some time ago that there were dangers in allowing that land to remain unfenced.
There is a central Government responsibility, both through legislation and in terms of support and encouragement, for local authorities to take action on such sites. Primarily, I accept that the responsibility is that of the Greater London Council, which can only be judged to have been negligent and to have failed in its responsibilities.
In 1977 the Department of the Environment sent out circular 17/77 called "Derelict Land". Under the heading "Safety Measures", it states:The treatment of derelict land often needs to be undertaken in the interests of public safety. Water hazards are especially dangerous and lives have been lost because of the special attraction they have for children. … Local authorities are asked to give special consideration to schemes which will eliminate safety hazards from derelict land.The Wandsworth site has been in a dangerous condition for some years. It has been derelict for about 15 years. Originally it was earmarked for housing and industry. The Department of the Environment then allocated the site to the GLC rather than to the Wandsworth borough council, I think because it was felt that the GLC would need it for extra housing as a result of properties being lost through the building of the motorway box. Subsequently doubts arose because of pollution on the site. There was a change in the political control of the GLC, and a new proposal was put forward that the site should be used for a sports complex—a type of astrodome. The failure of successful tenders for this development meant that the intentions for the site reverted to industry and housing. Indeed, until the middle of last week it had been thought that the site would be part of an enterprise zone to be created in Wandsworth. The Secretary of State for the Environment turned that 93 down, but the proposal that the site should be used for industry and housing remains.
For 15 years this site has been derelict and dangerous. Despite many warnings, not only from me but from many other people, no action has been taken by the local authority. I have today written to the GLC asking that immediate action be taken to safeguard the site and that there be an inquiry into why the local authority failed to take any action to safeguard it. I appreciate that we cannot say or do anything today which will make up for the tragedy of a child's death, but we may be able to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
It is scandalous that the Government should suggest that the House should go into three months' recess with areas such as the Northern region in such a plight that if the region had a provincial government and governor a state of emergency would already have been declared. The Northern region had 157,200 people unemployed at the last count. God knows what it will be at the next one. That is the highest rate in Great Britain.
In the city of Newcastle, part of which I have the honour to represent, there are nearly 16,500 unemployed. The level of unemployment there has been persistently high for far too long, and the people whom I represent have a right to demand some action from the Government to alleviate the position. Newcastle now has 3,700 more people unemployed since the Government came to power—which represents 231 more walking the streets for each month of their tenure of office. Hundreds more of our people in Newcastle are doomed to despair every month. Several hundred unskilled workers have for some time chased one vacancy. That is increasingly becoming the case in relation to both skilled and unskilled workers. For example, on Tyneside in June, there were 656 unemployed platers and no vacancies, 632 unemployed welders and one vacancy, 14,835 unemployed labourers and 32 vacancies, 2,878 unemployed clerks and 106 vacancies, 586 unemployed fitters and 10 vacancies. That is the magnitude of the problem that Tyneside faces.
94 The city council is doing all that it can, and it will continue 20 take whatever steps it can to generate employment in the city, including help to small firms. But clearly, if any major improvements are to take place, we need Government action this side of a three-month recess. The Government must act by bringing forward major construction schemes, such as the building of the city western bypass, and by major Government orders which can be placed in the city. For example, the Ministry of Defence could play a major part by giving badly needed work to Vickers Elswick works and new naval orders to Tyneside shipyards.
Instead of threatening the inner city partnership, which is what the Secretary of State for the Environment has been doing for the last three months, why not widen its scope? The city's initiative on the proposed combined heat and power scheme should be pursued with determination, instead of the same Secretary of State pouring cold water on the project. The city's employment pattern has undergone a major change in recent years, including a decline in manufacturing employment and in the number of private and public services. My constituency alone has been devastated by the close of Tress Engineering and Vickers Scotswood works. As a result of the dependence on major manufacturing firms—half of all our jobs are provided by only four firms—we are in a vulnerable position, because half the number of manufacturing jobs are in the traditional engineering and shipbuilding industries, which are suffering world-wide contraction with no sign of any improvement in the immediate future.
It is estimated that 15,000 manufacturing jobs in Newcastle are entirely dependent on central Government, either as a result of direct ownership or their procurement policy. I hope, therefore, that no one will accuse me of overstating the case for Government Departments getting off their backsides if Newcastle is not to slide further into the morass. I could use much stronger language.
The most important issue in the Northern region concerns the Secretary of State for Industry's lack of will to generate an effective regional policy. The area's traditional industries have been helped by a strong regional policy, but the Government's public expenditure 95 White Paper indicates that total expenditure on trade, industry, energy and employment is budgeted to fall by 40 per cent. over the next three financial years. As a result of more stringent criteria applied to applicants for selective assistance to industry in development areas of the North, assistance will be cut back by about 40 per cent. Section 8 selective assistance is also to be cut back, and will be more selective than ever before, at a time when there is a need to be less selective and to relax the criteria in the special development areas. That is apparent to all but this woeful Government. From next year on there will be reductions in ACAS of 11 per cent., and of 13 per cent. in the Manpower Services Commission by 1983–84. Industrial training is to be cut back by killing off courses and rationalising skillcentres.
On top of all the hardship that is already being suffered by the unemployed, we must consider the Government's Budget proposals to tax unemployment benefit and other short-term national insurance and invalidity benefits. For the next two years, as an interim measure, the Government have decided to uprate benefits by 5 per cent. less than their estimate of price inflation. A reduction in the real value of benefits will surely have the greatest effect on the poorest who are already below the tax threshold. It should be fairly obvious to any thinking person that price inflation hits lower-income groups harder than anyone else, because they spend a much higher proportion of their income on the necessities of life, and the costs of basic necessities show a sharper increase in price than the average range of the retail price index.
The Government's estimate of price inflation is only 16½ per cent., while actual inflation is more than 21 per cent. Therefore, the cut in benefits will be nearer 10 per cent. than the 5 per cent. which the Government suggest. In a period such as this it is nothing short of scandalous to cut the real incomes of the disabled and the leng-term sick. The proposed reductions in real terms will of necessity increase the number eligible for supplementary benefit. We all know that about 25 per cent. of those entitled to supplementary benefit fail to claim, so further hardship is bound to follow—hardship on top of hardship. The same 96 can be said about the abolition of the earnings related supplement. Here, a married man on average earnings with one child could be more than £9 a week poorer.
Last weekend I spent some time with Tom Burlison, the regional secretary of the General and Municipal Workers Union, discussing the unemployment situation in the region. He produced for me a schedule of six foolscap sheets of figures, outlining a list of 77 firms in the union's northern region which by redundancy, closure or liquidation account for a loss of members to the union of no less than 2,301 since the Government took office. I know that the Government are not too fond of trade unions, but surely that is a desperate way in which to cut down trade union membership.
Mr. Burlison also produced some figures for apprenticeships which, frankly, appalled me. In 1975, Baker Perkins took on 19 apprentices, but the firm will take on only 12 this year. The National Coal Board, mining and engineering section, took on 32 apprentices in 1975 but will take on only 18 this year. Northern Gas, for which I used to work, took on 66 apprentices in 1975 and plans to take on 52 this year. N.E.I. Reyrolles took on 32 apprentices in 1975, but not one apprentice will be starting this year. Tyne Ship Repair took on 55 apprentices in 1975, and only 29 will start this year.
That is tragic, because the apprentices of today are the craftsmen of tomorrow. As sure as night follows day—some time we shall climb out of the recession—we shall need skilled people. It is clear that the training of apprentices should be placed in the hands of the Government, perhaps through the MSC, which would ensure that when the upturn arrives we shall have the skilled workers that the Northern region so badly needs.
There are currently closures and redundancies within the traditional industries, such as shipbuilding, in the region, and the problem is that people are being given time limits in which to produce certain levels of productivity. When used in this way, time limits can only reduce the morale of the work force and adversely affect productivity.
The constant threat that the workers in the shipbuilding industry have hanging 97 over their heads in relation to the denationalisation or the privatisation of naval shipbuilding can only have further depressing effects on morale and efficiency in the industry. Let me say to the Leader of the House that while the Government, on making these announcements, prattle that they have a mandate from the country to indulge in privatisation, and so on, there is certainly no mandate for denationalisation of naval shipbuilding if the end result means that we cannot possibly carry on a competitive merchant shipbuilding industry.
Even the most die-hard Tory in the country could not put his hand on his heart and say that he had voted to give the Government a mandate to deprive the country of any merchant shipbuilding capacity in the future, but that is exactly what will happen if the naval shipbuilding yards are denationalised.
Unemployment in the Northern region is not only higher than in any other region in Great Britain; it is higher than in many other countries. Eire has 66,000 unemployed—not one-third of that in our region. Greece has 49,000, Austria 91,000 and Sweden 94,000. I could go on retailing the figures from countries which have less unemployment than we have as a region of the United Kingdom.
I suppose that I ought to be grateful that Newcastle and Gateshead are to have an enterprise zone. However, I should like to quote from a letter that I have received this afternoon from the manufacturing manager of Glass Bulbs Limited. The letter is from Lemington Glassworks, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the manager pleads for the enterprise zone to be extended westward to include Lemington and the Stanners trading estate at New-burn, where there are ample opportunities for people because of empty advance factories standing there waiting for industries to go in. In making his plea, he says:We are now operating with 130 less employees than 1st January 1979 and we are losing a further 96 by 4th October this year. With the latest assesment of our business we could have shed another 70–90 before the end of the year, it is really depressing, leaving us with a total work force of 390/400 compared with 700 on 1st January 1979. With the closure of Consett, which seems to be going through, it can be argued that any development on either side of the river to the east or west of Scotswood Bridge would help to absorb some of this labour; commuting between Consett and Scotswood would be possible.98 The problem has been manifest in the announcement of the enterprise zone. I hope that we shall do well from it, but, broadly speaking, I think that the concept will export unemployment from one area of Tyneside to another.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
An hon. Member attacked the United States of America for subsidising the paper and board industry to the detriment of its counterpart in the United Kingdom, but it is not the only American industry which engages in unfair competition with industry in our country.
The United States seems to put profits and votes before its international friends. As for the special relationship which exists between the United States and the United Kingdom, that seems to be one-way traffic. The United States likes to make use of the United Kingdom whenever it wishes to bring pressure to bear on other countries. It wishes to turn the United Kingdom into a launching pad for a new generation of missiles.
The United States shows hostility from time to time against the United Kingdom—as, for example, when it fails effectively to stop the flow of arms and ammunition from the United States to the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. It does nothing to expose the lies on which the IRA propaganda in the United States is based, or to enable people in the United States to realise that innocent people—civilians as well as members of the security forces—in Northern Ireland are being slaughtered by bullets and bombs often bought by money contributed by sympathisers in the United States.
Bearing in mind the position in Ulster, I am opposed to the House adjourning for a long Summer Recess. Hon. Members will go off to their homes, to their constituencies, or on holiday, and will be able to come back here after the recess thinking, perhaps, only of unemployment in Great Britain. But in that intervening period, many people will be slaughtered in Northern Ireland by the Provisional IRA. Many people will suffer grievous wounds and be gruesomely mutilated by the actions of the Provisional IRA. It is wrong for this House to adjourn for a long recess without bearing in mind what 99 innocent people will have to sustain, together with the courageous members of the security forces.
It is now about two months since the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched the White Paper on constitutional proposals for Northern Ireland, yet nothing has been heard since from this elusive Secretary of State.
One of the tragedies of the present position is that the Secretary of State and the other Northern Ireland Ministers are not truly part of the Ulster community. When they emerge from the Stormont redoubt they are insulated from the ordinary Ulster people and their everyday problems, by the security guards and by their restricted movement.
This is truly damaging to the prospects of progress in Northern Ireland. It does not help the Ministers to understand the basic trouble with the economy and the basic social problems which exist there. They have no real knowledge of how Ulster people live. They have no real knowledge of the cost of living, which, although higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom, continues to spiral upwards.
The Ministers have no knowledge of the jobless, or of the particularly damaging effect on young people who, full of idealism and hope, cannot find employment. Today in Ulster there is stagnation as well as inflation, and unemployment exists at twice the national average.
The present disastrous unemployment figures will be inflated further during the next few months, when those who have already received redundancy notices are thrown out of work. There are some who seem to take pleasure in the ever-increasing number of unemployed and regard it as evidence that the Government's policy is working. That is a hardhearted attitude, which displays a callous indifference to a human tragedy. It is necessary to live close to the unemployed or to live in a house in which someone is unemployed to realise the heart-ache that is caused by being thrown out of work. I do not believe that there is any philosophy that can justify tens of thousands being thrown on the scrap-heap.
If the Government do not help, the Ulster people must be mobilised to face 100 the challenge of despondency and depression. Surely the Government should do something before the House rises for the recess. They should pledge themselves to do something to meet the disgraceful situation in Ulster where the standard of living is lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Government have not given any lead so far. The £92 million that was mentioned about a month ago should be given as additional funding to industry and public expendiutre cuts should not take place. Despite what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says, more people in Northern Ireland depend upon public expenditure than in any other region in the United Kingdom. Those who advocate cutting public expenditure are advocating kicking people out of their jobs. That is not acceptable to the majority in Northern Ireland.
The evil terrorists still hope to drag the Ulster people into a bloody confrontation. It is because of that terrorism that there is a clear need to involve all reasonable and decent Ulster people, young and old, in the worthwhile struggle to improve the quality of life in the Province. The first assault must be made on bureaucracy, especially on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment, both of which cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to run. However, they ride roughshod over those whom they are meant to serve.
For example, everyone in Northern Ireland has complaints to make about planning matters throughout the Province. The latest manifestation of the bureaucratic attitude of the Department of the Environment is its determination, despite strong local pressure and the judgment of some professional people, to go ahead with the plan to pour comminuted raw sewage into Strangford Lough, an area of outstanding beauty.
There is a desperate need for housing in Northern Ireland. The executive is top-heavy. It costs colossal sums to meet staff salaries. It has failed abysmally to build the necessary homes in Ulster. Officials in local offices do their best, but unless tenancies are available for those in overcrowded or substandard accommodation, many, especially young married couples, will continue to suffer.
101 Recently the chief executive came to the village where I live to issue another executive pronouncement on repairs. Perhaps it is as well that I was not invited to be present. It may be that my presence was not desired in case I should put to the chief executive the failure of the executive to meet the numerous complaints of tenants about repairs.
There must be a close examination of the executive's hierarchy to ascertain where staffing cuts may be made. Experience indicates that the greater the number off staff the fewer houses are built in the Province. The housing situation in Northern Ireland is disgraceful. There are thousands of families living in conditions that warrant rehousing.
There are streets of houses in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast, which have been vested by the Department of the Environment and the Housing Executive and are lying vacant. Most of them were reasonable homes when they were boarded up. They have deteriorated with the passage of time. As I said in an earlier debate, these houses should be used by the Government to rehouse those who are desperately in need of a home.
The House should not adjourn for a long Summer Recess, because of the social and economic problems that exist in Ulster. The problems will worsen in the coming months, quite apart from the increase that we are _bound to see in terrorism before the House meets again. There is an overwhelming argument why Ulster Members should meet regularly as the Northern Ireland Committee at Stormont. If the Government do not intend to alter the dates of the recess, they should make arrangements for the Northern Ireland Committee to meet at Stormont so that the vital problems can be debated by Ulster representatives in Ulster, where the Ulster people may make their views known.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Before the House adjourns for the Summer Recess I wish to draw the Government's attention to the need to tighten certain planning laws and regulations and to ensure their more speedy application by local authorities. It is, of course, the Welsh Office that has responsibility for these matters in Wales.
102 My attention is being drawn to this issue by the residents of Moiden Road, in the St. Julians district of Newport. From my analysis of the situation they are aggrieved for very good reason.
Briefly the issue concerns the property, No. 14 Moiden Road, which is owned by a Mr. Roy Richards, a local antique dealer. About two years ago workmen commenced alterations to the property. The residents were immediately suspicious about what was afoot. Their doubts were certainly soundly based. They have taken the trouble to record a blow-by-blow diary of what has taken place. They have supplied me with a copy. My submission is based almost entirely on their written submission.
The issue began in August 1978. The residents approached the owner when the workmen appeared on the premises. They were told that the workmen were merely putting up new ceilings in the property. A few days later they were told by the workmen that the property was being converted into four flats and that they had been instructed to tell no one of that fact.
The residents inquired immediately at the planning department of the local council. They asked whether permission had been given for the development. They were given a very definite "No". Other neighbours wrote or telephoned the council and they were persistent in their approaches. They were told by a Mr. McKinty, of the planning department, that he was dealing with the matter. No action was taken. The conversion work was eventually completed. Curtains were put up and the work came to an end. The residents made many more fruitless phone calls and representations to the council. They wrote to Mr. Straw, the director of technical services. They also contacted their local ward councillors, including councillor Roy Morris, who was chairman of the planning committee at the time.
On 19 October 1978 a meeting was held at the residence of one of the people in the street, which was attended by certain council officials and residents. The same Mr. McKinty from the planning department said that no action could be taken until the property's use had changed. On 20 October the residents informed that gentleman that the flats 103 were occupied. He promised that the council would take action. The following week the council sent a building inspector along, but he did not enter the premises. However, within seconds Mr. Richards, the owner, arrived accompanied by someone whom the residents believed to be a local solicitor. The residents firmly believed that Mr. Richards had been tipped off about the inspector's visit. Their suspicions were multiplied when Mr. McKinty told them that Mr. Richards, the owner, had friends who werehigh up in the council".The residents then went to the citizens advice bureau. They were advised to write to Mr. John Long, who was then chief executive of the council. They did so. Numerous phone calls were made to the council. Eventually the residents were told that the matter would be discussed by the planning committee on 28 November 1978. Again, no action was taken. Mr. Payne, the council's solicitor, said that Mr. Richards would not admit to ownership of the premises. He also said that he would need to know the names of all the tenants. Meanwhile the police had been called as a result of certain disorderly conduct, including excessive noise.
A further complication arose because the tenants of the four flats had now sublet their flats. In one case, four or five people shared a single room and slept on the floor. By now, the residents were up in arms. Again, they went to the citizens advice bureau. An official of the bureau approached the council. Mr. McKinty of the planning department replied that the enforcement order was ready to be served. By this time, the residents were thoroughly dissatisfied by the way in which Newport council had handled the matter. On 20 November they met Mr. Ferris, of a local Newport firm called Emmanuel Marks and Cocker. He suggested that the matter should be referred to the Ombudsman. Later, two councillors for the ward, councillors Roger Williams and Roy Morris, who were out canvassing, were asked specifically if the matter could be referred to the Ombudsman. The residents were told that the matter would be looked into.
104 The residents also expressed concern about the alleged connection of Mr. Richards, the owner, with "a high-up" representative on the council. It was implied that the gentleman concerned was councillor Gerald Davies, the chairman of the housing committee. On 1 May 1979, an enforcement order was placed on the house. The following day the landlord came and took it down. On 3 May Mr. McKinty came with the order and saw the landlord. He refused to accept the order. It was then placed at his feet, but Mr. Richards picked it up and ripped it into small pieces. On Friday 4 May a young girl came to occupy the top flat, which had been empty since 30 April. This apparently gave the landlord a legal loophole, because the operative date of the enforcement order was 9 May. The young girl had been in occupation before that date, and her name was not included on the order. The order was therefore ineffective. Mr. McKinty then—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will soon tell us why Parliament should not rise before this little dispute has been resolved.
§ Mr. Hughes
There are some unusual aspects to this case. For example, on 9 May 1979 Mr. Richards went to the house of a resident accompanied by a CID officer. Allegedly, they had come about a broken window. A lady was questioned and was scared out of her wits. A complaint was made to the local police headquarters. An inspector came over and took a statement from her. By way of official explanation, the police indicated that the CID man had been off duty at the time of the incident. The man was transferred to the uniform branch, and shortly afterwards left the force.
On 14 May, Mr. Richards went to the property with a Mr. Brian Williams. The residents discovered that he was from the technical services department. It would be reasonable to ask what his connection with the case was, and whether he was acting with the council's authority. I have asked the council to investigate the case fully.
It is aware that I am raising this subject in the House of Commons today. It is 12 105 months since the enforcement order was served, yet the Welsh Office has done nothing but delay and prevaricate.
Apparently, the owner has indicated that he will appeal against the enforcement order. Whenever the Welsh Office has set a date, the owner has said that that date was inconvenient. Meanwhile, he continues to collect rent from this unauthorised development. I estimate that he has collected about £6,000, and have based that estimate on the assumption that he has collected about £280 a month. Respectable and law-abiding citizens are being treated in a disgraceful way. They have been trying merely to secure the proper enforcement of the planning laws and regulations in order to maintain the standard of their homes and of their area.
In that quest for elementary justice, the residents have appealed to all manner of agencies. For example, they have appealed to three of the local council's departments. They have been to the police on several occasions. They have been to the fire service, to the citizens advice bureau, to a solicitor, to their councillors, and eventually to their Member of Parliament. This issue raises some important questions. Why did it take nine months to serve the enforcement order? Was it—as the residents allege—because the landlord had connections in high places? There has been an obvious infringement of planning regulations. However, we all know how decisive councillors can be if, for example, a pensioner wishes to make a small unauthorised extension to his home.
The rateable value of the property is also involved. Four separate dwellings are involved and therefore the rateable value is higher than for a single dwelling. However, no extra revenue has accrued to the council, although the landlord is collecting an unauthorised rent. Why did not the environmental health department take action when four to five people were found to be living in a room? This is a case of multiple occupancy. We often hear about Pakistanis being prosecuted for the same thing. Is not that an indication that some people are still more equal than others?
What about the fire regulations? From a safety angle they leave much to be desired. What is being done? A request was made for the issue to be referred to the Ombudsman. I thought that councillors were obliged to act upon such a 106 request. What about Mr. Richards, the owner? It is not a question merely of restoring the house to its original condition. The owner appears to be guilty of a down-graded type of Rachmanism. He should be brought to book.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who made an admirable speech on Chile, I wish to bring to the attention of the House a grave breach of human rights and the rule of law which led to the serious injury of a British subject abroad without redress. I seek assurances from the Government about what action they propose to take. In view of the long delay, the matter cannot wait until after the recess. I want to know what action the Government propose to take to secure the proper protection of our citizens abroad from conduct such as that which I shall describe and to ensure that compensation is paid where appropriate.
The case is that of Mr. Humphry Berkeley. It has created a great deal of concern among many right hon. and hon. Members of this House and Members of another place, including two former Prime Ministers and three former Foreign Secretaries, who have made representations on his behalf. The case began in February 1979 when Mr. Berkeley was in Transkei. He was kidnapped by six members of the security police, put in the boot of a security police car with his wrists tied with a piece of wire and driven for two and a half hours across the border from Transkei to the Republic of South Africa. When he was on South African soil an attempt was made, fortunately unsuccessfully, to kill him. Eventually he was admitted to hospital with severe multiple bruising, internal bleeding and shock.
The South African Government have been given the names of five of the six security police officers who were identified not merely by Mr. Berkeley but by a senior Transkei civil servant. Despite an extradition treaty between South Africa and Transkei, no action has been taken to bring the people concerned to justice. The South African Attorney-General has refused to do so.
The matter does not rest there. Mr. Berkeley has had the advice of the chairman of the Bar Council of South Africa 107 as to the strength of the case for the prosecution. He is satisfied that there is a strong case. He is prepared to bring a private prosecution if the Attorney-General for South Africa is not prepared to bring proceedings publicly. However, he has encountered the most appalling obstacles even in getting to South Africa to give a statement to the police.
Eventually, after a long delay and great pressure, he was allowed earlier this year to go there for a week. When he arrived, the police did not want to know. They refused to see him. He was unable to make a statement to them. Only after he had returned to Britain did the police say that they were willing to receive a statement. Not unnaturally, the Attorney-General for South Africa decided that nothing new had emerged that enabled him to change his mind.
The fact remains that Mr. Berkeley suffered grievously without any redress. It happened apparently without the South African Government being willing to give any compensation and, it may well be, to listen to any arguments put forward on behalf of the British Government as to why a British citizen should be treated in such a way, why proper steps should be taken to deal with those responsible, or why compensation should not be provided.
It is to the credit of Mr. Berkeley that, despite all that, he has continued to bring the matter to the attention of hon. Members on both sides of the House and others. The only reply that he has received from the South African ambassador in London isI have taken note with regret the fact that you feel it necessary once again to publicise this matter.I have written to the Lord Privy Seal to tell him that I intend to raise the matter in today's debate. It is utterly disgraceful that a British citizen should be subjected to such conduct and be unable to get any redress, and that the people concerned should be allowed to go free. So far as we know, the Government have taken no action to ensure that such a British subject is properly treated.
I ask the Leader of the House to say that stringent measures will be taken to ensure that the South African authorities do what is right, either by prosecuting or by enabling Mr. Berkeley to go to 108 South Africa to bring a private prosecution against those responsible.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I shall be brief. I begin by asking a simple and factual question of the Leader of the House. Depending on his answer, some of my hon. Friends will decide whether to divide on the motion. On what date will the October unemployment figures be published? I understand that Government statistics are published on regular days and that unemployment figures always come out on a Tuesday. Invariably they are published on the day on which employment questions are asked in the House.
When I visited the Library on Thursday assistants could not tell me when the October unemployment figures will be published. In the last two or three months the figures have been published in the third Tuesday of the month. That means that the October unemployment figures will be published on Tuesday 21 October. If that is so I want the House to return on Monday 20 October.
It would be in the interests of all hon. Members if the House were not in recess for the publication of three consecutive unemployment figures.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman wish the House to return in September so that we can hear the September unemployment figures?
§ Mr. Rooker
Yes. That would avoid repeated calls to the Government to return. Each time the figures come out there will be round robins, telegrams, statements and letters. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be able to put up with all that twice. He will be able to say "No. Sorry. There are party conferences."
It may be that the figures will be published on Tuesday 28 October, the day after we return. In that case, all that I have said has no validity. It is not that I mistrust the Government. When I went to check the matter in the Library I found that I was following a well-trodden path. Some years ago, the present Secretary of State for the Environment was unhappy when the recess dates were announced, because he thought that the then Labour Government intended to rig some trade figures. He thought that there 109 was a correlation between the date when the House was due to return after the Summer Recess and the publication of some important statistics.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) referred to the Birmetals dispute. The matter was also raised by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who was unkind in attempting to lay the whole of the blame on "hotheads" in the trade unions. The hon. Gentleman did not mention anyone by name, but two weeks ago four of my colleagues, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West an marched with and spoke to those involved in this tragic dispute. Trade union officials and leaders from the work place were not criticised by any of the 300 workers who were present.
The letter sent to hon. Members by the works convener, Mr. Maldon, who is a Transport and General Workers Union member, and the deputy convener, Mr. Glasford, who is a member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, explained the position exactly as it was set out by my right hon. and learned Friend. There was no criticism of those men and it was a little churlish of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge to blame all the problems on the trade unions.
The central point that I want to reinforce is that it appears that the company has discovered, perhaps not intentionally, a loophole in our employment laws. I should have thought that even the present Government would not be happy to have that provision left on the statute book.
The workers who have been sacked are not on the unemployment register. They are not receiving unemployment benefit, because they are not eligible for it. They have not received redundancy payments, because they are alleged not to be redundant. They are receiving no benefits. They are not receiving supplementary benefit. They do not appear in the figures.
We are in a sorry state of affairs if, following a dispute over pay—it is not true to say that the workers did not receive a pay offer; they received a nil offer—a company can lay off the work force and subsequently dismiss all the workers and close the factory, thereby getting round the redundancy payments 110 laws and depriving workers of national insurance benefits to which they are entitled.
Some bucket shop operators will deliberately exploit that loophole and will make it part of their company policy. When they want to close a plant or consolidate the business by moving machinery from one factory to another in the group, they will manufacture a dispute—which is not difficult, given our present industrial problems—over sales, job demarcation or pay and use the loophole to deprive workers of their legal rights.
In the light of the sweet words used by the present Secretary of State for Employment in Committee on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill and the Employment Protection Bill, I cannot believe that the Government would condone companies deliberately using a loophole to deprive workers of their legitimate rights.
We cannot allow this matter to fester throughout the recess and to go through industrial tribunals, as it would in the normal course of events. It is wholly unsatisfactory that the workers should have been thrown on the scrap-heap in that way. Some had worked in the factory for 40 years. They were not involved in the dispute. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said, women of 59 and men close to retirement were ordered to do unloading and delivery work in the warehouses where the dispute was taking place. They were not fitted for that work.
I should put on the record a point made by the trade unions. For the past two years, the company has been operating without a health and safety officer. There was no one employed by the company to whom the workers who thought that the work was unsafe for them could complain. We are not talking about a bucket shop company. It is part of a large group.
There was an Adjournment debate on the matter on 9 July. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Cadbury) who initiated that debate. The factory that was affected by the closure is in his constituency, but many of us have discovered that the work force seems to be spread all over the West Midlands, the Birmingham area and the 111 Black Country. However, even if hon. Members did not have constituents working in the plant, anyone interested in good industrial relations should be concerned about the existence of the loophole and should want it closed as soon as possible. That is why we have raised the matter and why some of the workers from the plant have visited the House during the day.
The last point that I wish to raise touches on a matter brought up by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who spoke of the red, white and blue pound. I am concerned about the Government's procurement policy. The Leader of the House has heard at least 95 per cent. of the debate and he knows that much of it has been devoted to unemployment. It is forecast that 1980 will be the first year in our history in which we shall be a net importer of manufactured goods. We shall not know whether that forecast is accurate until the first quarter of next year, but we know that last year we became net importers of machine tools. About 900 workers from Alfred Herbert, in Coventry, will be marching to a lobby of the House on Wednesday to highlight again the fact that they are on 90 days' notice and will be sacked in September.
I have a question for the Government. What have they done since, say, the initiative taken not by a member of the Government or by an hon. Member, but by Sir Michael Edwardes, who wrote to The Times on 1 January to try to get the "Buy British" campaign under way? All hon. Members received copies of Sir Michael's letter. He said that even hon. Members were not averse to importing unemployment because they buy foreign cars while unemployment soars. One can walk round our car park any day of the week, as I did today, and count enormous numbers of foreign-manufactured cars. Some hon. Members, as the leader of the Liberal Party showed last week, buy products thinking that they are made in Britain, only to discover later that they are not.
What have the Government done to raise awareness following the lead given by Sir Michael Edwardes? For example, are the Government still allowing local authorities and other parts of the public 112 sector to give cheap loans to employees for the purpose of purchasing foreign-built cars? In Birmingham, between one-quarter and one-third of the lists that are published every so often turn out to relate to foreign-built cars.
Are the Government still subsidising companies under their regional policy to purchase foreign equipment for their factories regardless of the source of that equipment? It is well known that under the last Labour Government, if British Leyland wanted to buy foreign for purposes of its capital programme it had to inform the Department of Industry—not just the NEB—and if it went ahead and bought the foreign goods the information went across Minister's desks and the company was asked to explain why. That was done only following pressure from Labour Members of Parliament and in this specific case from the Machine Tool Trades Association, which was concerned about the massive re-equipment programme following the original Ryder report and wanted to make sure that the maximum amount of goods was purchased by BL from British companies.
I know that I have criticised BL, but I should like to know whether that policy still operates. If BL has to go abroad, does it still have to explain why? The reason is obvious, and I should have thought that the Government would be doing that in any event. However, I was prompted to raise this matter by Sir Michael Edwardes' latest letter, which appeared in The Times on Wednesday 2 July. In it he gave some of the history of his campaign and said:It was not a wild appeal to people to buy British regardless of value, but rather to give the British product a fair chance … To buy British wherever it is sensible to do so is something of which no one should feel ashamed particularly if it were part of a nationally agreed strategy aimed at restoring our industrial base.In that context, I was struck by the words of the hon. Member for Woking But he implored the Government to use their own procurement agencies and procurement policy to operate what he called a "red, white and blue pound" policy so that we could see where we were spending the taxpayers' money.
I come now to what I regard as the minimum action necessary on the part of the Government before we adjourn for 113 the Summer Recess. It will not cost anything if the Government start to save the situation by endeavouring to ensure that publicly funded companies, corporations and authorities include at least one British supplier in every quotation. For the avoidance of any doubt, let me spell it out by saying that include Rolls-Royce on that list. I make no accusations. I say that just for the avoidance of doubt so that people do not misconstrue afterwards what I have said.
It will not cost the Government anything to say to British companies, wherever their factories may be or wherever their agencies operate, that they should make sure, as publicly funded bodies, that they give British manufacturers the chance to quote.
If it is shown that British manufacturers do not, will not, or cannot, quote, at least we know where to start looking for the failure of British manufacturing industry. The Government could draw up a list and possibly publish it showing which sections of industry did not feel able to quote for specific items or for a few million components. We would know where to start looking and, what is more, those companies would have fewer excuses that they feel able to offer now.
I make no plea for buying British at any cost. No Opposition Member has ever advocated that. It is not a plea for imposing import controls. None of my hon. Friends has ever advocated general, permanent import controls. It is a total travesty of the argument advanced by the Opposition if anyone alleges that that is our policy. We have urged specific, short-term selective controls. Those are the terms, and we do not hide behind them or use them as an excuse for saying that we really mean general, long-term import controls. If we did, in some of our factories they would never get another product out of the door. If it were known that they were permanently protected, there would be massive problems within management, within the industrial relations structure, and in terms of capital expenditure and product planning. It would be a gift for lazy, uninnovative management as well as for those who wished to create frustration for all sorts of motives. I am not hiding behind that, and it is a 114 travesty of the truth for anyone to allege that that is the Opposition's policy.
But it will not cost the Government anything to meet what I ask them to do. It will defend jobs, and my right hon. and hon. Frends and I will use the last breath in our bodies to defend the jobs of our constituents. That is what the House of Commons is for. But the Government can help us, because we all know of incident after incident of public sector companies going abroad to buy products which they can obtain in this country. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) referred to an example the other day when he told hon. Members about the Russian matches being sold on Sealink ferries. Why is that the case? Was there no British manufacturer able to quote for them? If not, why not? Let us know about this. It will not cost the Government a penny to issue an edict to make sure that British firms get a chance where publicly funded corporations and bodies are involved in spending money.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
The issue on which I wish to detain the House for a few minutes is that of Cyprus, and it is a subject rarely discussed in this House. Six years ago Cyprus was invaded, and even today it is still partly occupied by the Turkish army.
This is not a party issue. One has only to look at early-day motion 798, signed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, to realise that. Those right hon. and hon. Members deeply regret the lack of action by the then Government when Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, and many find it utterly deplorable that, six years later, those troops are still there. We must ask the Leader of the House how this Government—and, for that matter, the last one—can allow a Commonwealth country to be partly occupied by a foreign army and do nothing about it.
In recent months, we have heard a great deal about Afghanistan and about Zimbabwe, and I am sure that the whole House sympathises with both countries and the tragedies which have befallen them. Regrettably, however, we hardly ever hear of the tragedy which has lasted for six years in Cyprus. Many hon. Members believe that a deep injustice has 115 been done to the Cypriot people, be they Turkish or Greek Cypriots, and I intend to touch on some of the questions which have gone unanswered for the last six years.
What are the Government doing about the vast numbers of people missing from their homes? There is an enormous amount of documentation, including names and addresses, yet the Turkish authorities refuse to do anything to help trace these people.
What is the Government's attitude to the Turkish settlers? It is difficult to get the exact figures, but it is fair to assume that many thousands have come from mainland Turkey and are now settled in Cyprus. Many of us believe that it was deliberate provocation by the Turkish Government to allow these people to establish themselves in Cyprus, occupying the homes and land formerly owned and farmed by Greek Cypriots.
Over the last six years, promise after promise has been made that action would be taken. There was the promise that intercommunal talks were about to get under way. Whenever discussions have started, it has been only a matter of a few days before the talks have broken down. I accept that they are, possibly, not easy to get under way, but I do not think that anyone who has followed events in Cyprus in recent years can be in any doubt that it is the attitude of Mr. Denktash that has presented the problems, and that he is the principal cause of the failures of intercommunal talks even to take place. Those who doubt what I say need only study the reports of the General Assembly of the United Nations which clearly show who has been obstructing the development of talks.
The Prime Minister has indicated in reply to a question which I put that she intends to visit Greece in the near future. I would like the Leader of the House to convey to the right hon. Lady the urgency of ensuring, in talks with Greek Government officials during her visit, that discussions take place on the future of Cyprus. One sees the possibility, if the Turkish army—it is understood to number about 40,000 troops—does not leave Cyprus, of a Northern Ireland situation developing. Many people in Cyprus view the future of their country with despair. They regard themselves as 116 little more than a pawn in an enormous military game, the principal reason for the delay in putting pressure on the Turkish Government being related to the significance of Cyprus as an island and a military base.
The matter is urgent. It has dragged on for six years. Nothing has happened during that time except the creation of enormous problems for the people of Cyprus. It is no good anyone saying that they are thinking about the matter and trying to get talks going between the Greek and Turkish Governments. Time is running out. Unless some action is taken, one can see a situation in which Greek Cypriots will not be content any longer to be told to wait and everything will resolve itself. They are fast losing patience, certainly with the Greek Government. They are losing hope that the Turkish authorities intend to start to face up realistically to their responsibilities. If the British Government, one of the guarantor Power of the island of Cyprus, do not start to take constructive action, the fears of many Greek Cypriots will be strengthened.
There are hon. Members, irrespective of party, who intend on every possible occasion to bring forward the issue of Cyprus. We do not intend to allow the issue to fall by the wayside because no one is prepared to stand up and fight for the people of Cyprus, whether Greek or Turkish Cypriots. We are convinced that until the Turkish army and the settlers leave, there can be no lasting peace for the island. It is our duty on every possible occasion to present the issue of Cyprus to the House in the hope that, in the not-too-distant future, dignity and honour will once again return to the island.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I should like to comment on several of the speeches made by my hon. Friends, but I also have some urgent matters of my own that I wish to raise. I shall curb as much as possible my comments on speeches already made from the Opposition Benches, although I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who has spoken previously with equal passion on the same subject, that I agree that deep injustice has been done to the people of Cyprus. This situation 117 should not merely be left to fester. An initiative will have to be taken to try to ensure that discussions take place. The objections to progress come from the quarters that my hon. Friend has described. A special responsibility rests upon the British Government. We were the guarantors of Cypriot independence. We have a closer association with Cyprus than with any other leading country. I agree with my hon. Friend that we have a responsibility to try to ensure a better settlement. A settlement is not to be secured merely by leaving the situation as it is.
I should also like to refer to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) and the case of Mr. Humphry Berkeley. I believe that the Government should be seeking to assist in that direction. I do not know whether the Government can reply tonight, but I hope that they will use their influence to assist him in seeing whether he can secure justice in the matter that he has brought before the House and that has been brought before it on previous occasions.
I should like to refer to the difficulty in which the House is placed as a result of the way in which the Secretary of State for the Environment has sought to get his business through the House of Commons. It is more than a difficulty. It is a shocking situation. We believe that a statement is required from the Secretary of State tomorrow. I shall refer to the particular matter, but I have made these remarks so that the Leader of the House should not think that it is sufficient for him to say that he will raise the matter with the Secretary of State. We are asking for a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment tomorrow concerning the Local Government Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill. Sometimes, hearing the Bill taken through the House by the right hon. Gentleman, we think that no one has carried a Bill through the House in more disgraceful circumstances. However, when we hear what the right hon. Gentleman is doing over the Housing Bill, we know that this is also a strong competitor for the claim. The Leader of the House must suffer guilt by association with his right hon. Friend. On both matters, he must take action to assist the Opposition and the House.
Part VI of the Local Government, Planning and Land No. 2) Bill will 118 enable the Secretary of State to penalise certain overspending authorities. It allows the right hon. Gentleman to construct the criteria by which overspending is defined. He has already announced that if and when the Bill becomes law he will penalise overspenders by reducing the amount of rate support grant supplement that they receive in November. The right hon. Gentleman has said, both in the House and in a circular to local authorities, that he anticipates that he will penalise up to 20 overspend authorities. Three months ago, he gave a general definition of local authority overspending as that by authorities whose notional rate—a wholly artificial figure, that is—exceeded 119p.
On the latest information, almost half the 450 rating authorities exceeded that figure and are therefore liable to punishment. How the Secretary of State chooses 20 from the 225 is entirely a matter for him. Different rules produce different authorities. For instance, the 20 authorities with the highest rates are not the same as the 20 authorities with the highest rate increase. Thus, about 200 authorities are theoretically liable to be punished in November without having the slightest idea of the rules that they can obey or disregard and so avoid or incur punishment. That is a scandalous state of affairs. For the House of Commons to be sent away in that situation, with local authorities placed in that position, is not tolerable. We therefore believe that the Leader of the House should ensure, in order to sustain the decency of the House, that the Secretary of State should come to the House tomorrow to make a statement on this subject.
Another matter of importance is the Housing Bill, which is down for debate tomorrow with a huge number of amendments and groups of amendments. In effect, the Government have introduced a whole new Bill and will seek to take it through the House of Commons tomorrow. We must also take into account the amendments from the other place.
We should have full and proper time to consider all these matters. If the Government seek to press on with that Bill tomorrow it will be an utter disgrace. I hope that they will contemplate no such thing; I hope that they will look at the matter afresh in the light of what I am saying and will agree that the 119 House should have proper time to discuss both the other Lords amendments and the groups of amendments which they have tabled.
So I am asking for a special statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment tomorrow on the Local Government Bill provisions of which I have referred and an undertaking by the Government that they will not seek to push through the whole of the Housing Bill in the time they seem to have in mind They can leave the rest of that Bill until we return after the recess. If they want the House to return a little earlier so as to have more time for that purpose, we shall be happy to accommodate them.
Before we go into recess, the Government should make a further statement on Chile, as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). We asked the Government last Thursday, through the Lord Privy Seal, some questions about Chile, but we received only derisory answers. The Lord Privy Seal normally treats the House with courtesy, but on this occasion he treated it with contempt. He treated the subject as one of no significance, and hardly gave a straight reply to the serious questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore).
I hope that the Leader of the House will understand that we regard the question of Chile and the Government's conduct towards Chile as a matter of major importance for this country's regulation. The Foreign Secretary is at this moment travelling in South America. It is utterly disgraceful that when such a visit was contemplated the Government should have proceeded not merely to restore diplomatic relations but to restart the sale of arms to Chile. We regard that as an offence against the rights and reputation of this country.
The Government have a shoddy and shameful record over Chile altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, they have. They should be ashamed of their statements about Miss Cassidy and what she has said. I heard her on the radio the other day. Anyone who has heard her evidence can see how disreputable were the Government's comments. Because the Government made such comments, 120 all the more should they have been eager to ensure that they did not assist the Chilean regime. But they went out of their way to assist it.
However, the Chilean Government have treated our Government with contempt. At the time of the Munich debates, someone said that this country had eaten dirt in vain. Apparently we have done the same in the case of Chile, because the Chilean Government have taken no notice of the orders which will be made in the light of the statement by the British Government.
Therefore, when the Government decided to embark on that policy they should at least have put the matter openly before the House and given us the opportunity for a debate. I repeat that we regard the Government's treatment of this question as unworthy of this country and bound to injure our reputation in Latin America and throughout the world if they do not reconsider. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will treat the matter a little more seriously than the Lord Privy Seal did.
I turn now to another important civil liberty question which affects this country. The Leader of the House will no doubt have read the leading article in The Times the other day under the headline "A Charter for Wrongdoing". That was the term used to describe the verdict of the judges in the Granada case. I read with interest the description which The Times—I repeat, The Times, not the Morning Star—applied to the judges. One of the reasons why it thought that the judges had reached a wrong decision was:They chose to do so"—that is, the judges chose to give their verdict—in a manner which demonstrated, regrettably not for the first time in recent years, that they have little understanding of the way society operates in reality. Their personal detachment from society—except for the society of the law—has led to their divorce from the realities of the democratic system." tIf I were to have used such language, I should have been severely rebuked, no doubt, by the Prime Minister or some other member of the Government for having improperly criticised the judiciary. But these are the words of The Times and I must say that I agree with them. On a matter of this kind, 121 on which the judgment would require Granada to reveal its sources, contrary to the honourable course in such circumstances, the judges should at least have published the evidence on which they were asking those concerned to make up their minds.
A contempt of court will be committed if Granada does not reveal its sources. However, no explanation has been given for their judgment by the judges who are in favour of Granada doing so. We were also told that Lord Salmon, who is not a judge to be dismissed, is reserving his judgment until later in the year. By dealing with such a case on that basis the judges have certainly confirmed what The Times said. This underlines afresh the seriousness of this case and shows how serious may be the assault upon the freedom of the press if nothing is done about it.
Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will give an absolute undertaking that one of the Government's earliest measures after the recess will be to change the law to meet these circumstances and to ensure that we ward off the perils to our freedom. It is not only the freedom of the press—
§ Mr. Foot
First of all, it is not only a question of stealing documents. The question is whether people who are giving evidence in any sort of confidence are to have the source of their evidence revealed. If journalists are required to do so by the law of the land, the business of this place will be brought to a standstill. We could not operate the House of Commons on a lobby system as most of us understand it if that were to be the practice.
I repeat that the question is not just whether documents were stolen. It is nothing of the sort, and apparently what the judges have said has recognised that it is nothing of the sort—although we do not yet know the grounds on which the judges are demanding that Granada should act in this way.
In my belief, it is impossible to imagine that Granada will come forward and accept the verdict of the court in this situation. Therefore, the judges have brought the reputation of the court in 122 these matters into serious dispute. The responsibility for that rests with the judges. It does not rest with this House or with people here who state the view that I put forward.
If the judges are correct in their interpretation of the law—although there is, apparently, no law for them to interpret—it is extremely serious and the Government should give a clear undertaking not simply that they will look into the question but that they will come forward immediately on the return of the House and seek to change the law. They must do that in order to deal with a serious matter which affects not only the way in which newspapers are conducted but the way in which the House of Commons is conducted and the freedom of our society. I trust that the Government will approach the matter in that spirit, though they have shown little sign of doing that so far.
I wish to put two other major questions to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House. One concerns the written answer given today about the abandonment of the Clegg Commission. The Government have chosen to deal with the matter in a written answer. It is deplorable that the Prime Minister did not come to the House and make a statement on this matter. Either it is an important matter or it is a trivial question.
Some hon. Members who back the Government claim falsely, though no doubt sincerely, that the Clegg Commission has had a considerable effect upon the rate of inflation. I do not believe that. The Clegg Commission secured a system of comparability. If Government Back-Benchers, and the Government themselves, believe that the operation of the Clegg Commission has been so significant for the rate of inflation and for our entire economic policy, it was all the more necessary that the Government should come to the House and make an open, clear announcement of their decision to abandon it. The Government should have made themselves available to cross-examination by the House.
If the House of Commons had done its job properly, and if the Government had treated the House properly, there would have been an opportunity for a debate on the matter. Of course, the abandonment of the Clegg Commission is just another attack by the Government on the public 123 service. Nobody claims that it is easy to decide what is to happen in certain sections of the public service, particularly in relation to the lower-paid.
In the main, though not entirely, Clegg dealt with the lower-paid. Now, apparently; the Government intend that comparability studies for the better-off are to continue but that comparability studies for people covered by the Clegg Commission—a whole range of workers who were brought within the Commission's scope—are to be abandoned. That is a serious step for the Government to take. The Government are saying "All right, we are not going to seek to establish any sense of fairness in the relationship between pay in the public service and private industry. We are going to abandon all the efforts to secure a proper, comparable system and we are going to tear up any arrangements, imperfect though they may be, for securing it." The circumstances in which the Government are abandoning the Clegg Commission is an absolute indication of the re-establishment of the law of the jungle in dealing with these matters. The whole issue should have been debated by the House.
What will happen when the country faces those problems that we are bound to encounter if we are to have fairness for all the groups covered by the Clegg Commission? Those groups will be told that they may not have an inquiry to examine their rights and claims. They will be told that they will have to fight it out with such strength as they possess.
The Government apparently think that it is right to maintain comparability studies for doctors, dentists, the Armed Services and the police but not for those who are covered by the Clegg Commission. That is a piece of gross unfairness. It could be described as a piece of gross class prejudice.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Yes it is. The Government are saying that they do not care about the poorly paid. They are saying that they do not care about people who are employed by local authorities. They are saying that those people must fight for their rights if they have the strength. The Government are not worried about those people.
124 Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who do not accept that that is the case should think more carefully before they support the action—if they do support it—of the Government. The Government have spent anxious hours and days deciding whether to abandon the Clegg Commission. I say that their decision is further evidence that they do not give a damn about treating these matters fairly. They are solely concerned to push through policies that they believe will benefit those people whom they most favour. They have decided on comparability studies for some groups, but other groups are to be abandoned altogether.
I turn to a major question which has figured in all our debates and which will figure in the debates that we shall have in the weeks and months ahead. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) that it would be a good thing if the Leader of the House would tell us when he replies—I am sure that he will have had time to become informed on the matter since my hon. Friend spoke—exactly when the unemployment figures will next be published. The right hon. Gentleman should give the dates so that we know when we will be able to examine the figures.
The unemployment situation has deteriorated swiftly since our last few debates on the topic. In my constituency, which is an example, until a few weeks ago the unemployment figure was just over 14 per cent. In the past month it has shot up to just under 17 per cent. We have a travel-to-work area in which the rate of unemployment is double that of the rest of Wales and is now more than double the rate for the rest of the United Kingdom. That, incidentally, is one of the areas in Wales to which the Prime Minister said the unemployed should move to find jobs. The right hon. Lady suggested that the unemployed should come to an area such as ours which has unemployment on the scale that I have described.
The right hon. Gentleman, and the Government, were asked in the censure debate whether they would come to the House before we went away for the recess and make a statement on the measures they intended to take to re-establish the money paid to the Manpower Services Commission. They were asked about 125 making good the £ 170 million they sought to take away from the MSC when their first Budget was introduced. Since then the MSC itself has indicated afresh that it would not be able to do its job properly with the funds available to it. The MSC has made the position clearer. The right hon. Gentleman, and the Government, should make a statement to the House, during the three or four days that remain to them, on employment and how they will deal with the claims and the problems of the MSC.
In my constituency, where the unemployment rate is 17 per cent., the Government propose to remove one of the skillcentres which we ourselves have built up over the past two or three years. That skillcentre is to be moved further down the valleys after a year or two and we shall be left fighting to attract new industries when one of our main means of attracting those industries has been taken from us.
That is being done by the same Government who claim to wish to assist in the processes of retraining and of trying to ensure that we can overcome the problem of youth unemployment in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) mentioned the appalling number of apprenticeships being taken up. He quoted appalling figures about the decline in the number of people being trained or who are able to obtain training.
In our current circumstances that is an utter disgrace. It is the most shortsighted policy imaginable. The Government should be preparing to put before the House before the recess a statement to cover the whole area of the Manpower Services Commission, measures that would indicate that they were at least trying to deal with some of these training problems, and that they were prepared to give full support for proper training schemes all over the country. Training is one of the most essential measures that the Government can provide to deal with the immediate situation. A statement along those lines would be much more important than any of the other statements that the Government may be contemplating making before the recess.
I ask again that the Secretary of State for Employment, who has been indicating that he wants to bring further measures 126 forward on this aspect, should make a statement before the House departs for the recess. He can make it on Wednesday or Thursday. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that that happens. Of course, he could not solve the unemployment problem by such a measure, but at least if the Government did that they would be making some amends for the policies which they have pursued and which have been outlined by hon. Members on both sides of the House during this debate.
I know that there was some criticism of the fact that the debate on the paper industry took place on this motion rather than later on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill. Anyone who heard my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) will appreciate what is happening to this great British industry. If events proceed in this manner, by the time the House reassembles in late October great industries in this country will be facing extinction or drastic alteration, with appalling consequences for the employment of our people. That applies to the paper industry, as my hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman described. It applies to the steel industry as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) and others have indicated.
I believe that the House will have to reassemble sooner than we have been led to expect. The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) would in those circumstances be most suitable, and I am sorry that it was not selected. I believe that we should accept the motion tonight and depart on Friday. We should do so, however, bearing in mind that the country's unemployment crisis is the greatest economic crisis since 1945 and that there are in power a Government who, with almost every step they take, deepen the crisis, make it fiercer and longer lasting and knock away the props and assistance which we in the Labour Government sought to provide to protect our industry while the storm blew. The Government have wiped away almost all those protections. By the time we come back in October many of those industries may be bleeding to death.
The hon. Member for Basildon knows that I am not exaggerating. As well as 127 the paper industry, however, a whole host of other industries cannot sustain themselves in the face of a combined policy of high interest rates, a high exchange rate, and furious attacks on public expenditure and demand. Many economists now say what we have been saying for many months—that part of the crisis arises from a lack of demand. This is the old crisis described by Keynes. Apparently, however, the Government do not understand the elements of that situation.
Those accumulated reasons, plus the world crisis that the Government failed to mention before 3 May last year—the deepening world recession—will necessitate the return of Parliament earlier than the Government have calculated. The Government have miscalculated everything in dealing with this subject. They are no doubt miscalculating, too, the time when the House will have to return. I would not, therefore, be surprised if we had to come back in September or early October to deal with the supreme crisis which is blowing across the Western world but which has been made infinitely worse by the Government's policies.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (MR. Norman St. John-Stevas)
More than 25 right hon. and hon. Members have contributed to the debate and I shall endeavour to reply in encapsulated form to their points. Of course, they will have to look to the Ministers concerned for full replies on the questions that they have asked. In each case I shall pass on to the relevant Minister what has been said.
I shall deal at the outset with some of the general points raised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), who was severe in his strictures on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, first, over the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill and, secondly, over the Housing Bill.
The local government Bill proceeded through the House without a guillotine. It was possible at various stages to deal with it by agreement. It is not therefore open to the right hon. Gentleman at this late stage to raise points about local authorities. I shall certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend the right hon. 128 Gentleman's request for a statement, but there has been ample opportunity in this House and there will be ample opportunity in the other place—of course, the Bill will come back here again if there are amendments to it—for discussion.
There are many Lords amendments to the Housing Bill. However, as I stated the other day, only a handful of them can be considered to be major and controversial. Many of them are drafting amendments and many were not opposed by the official Opposition in the other place. So far, both Houses have spent no fewer than 225½ hours discussing the Bill. I think there has been adequate discussion.
I turn next to the point of major importance concerning the Government of Chile. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman considered my reply during questions on the Business Statement last week to be inadequate. I should point out that business questions do not provide a suitable forum on which to make major statements of foreign policy.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Loyalty compels me not to be mollified by that response and to say that I believe that my right hon. Friend and other Ministers at the Foreign Office have consistently made adequate defences of the policy.
After careful consideration, we have concluded that the total embargo on the sale of defence equipment to Chile should be lifted. Applications for export licences will be dealt with in the normal way. That means—and this is very important—that arms that could be used for internal repression will not be sold. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Chile. We shall continue to use every suitable opportunity in international gatherings and elsewhere, in concert with our European partners and bilaterally, to ensure that the Chilean Government are aware of our views about the abuse of human rights. The situation has improved since the embargo was imposed.
We do not operate an arms embargo on other countries, where the situation 129 may be no better than it is in Chile. The appointment of ambassadors in no way constitutes support for or approval by Her Majesty's Government of a regime or its policies.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I must move on, as I have 25 hon. Members to reply to.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the Granada case. I repeat that it is important that the law, whether we approve or disapprove of it, should be obeyed. When the law has been declared by the highest court in the land there is a duty to obey it. However, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in answer to a similar question recently, it may be that the law in this regard should be reviewed. Having demanded an immediate statement of intent, the right hon. Gentleman went on to answer his own point by saying that we do not yet know the grounds of the judgment. If we do not know the grounds of the judgment, how can he possibly ask the Government to commit themselves to amending legislation? My right hon. Friend made an adequate response. She said that it might be necessary to review the law. When we know the grounds of the judgment, if the Government wish to produce propositions, that will be the time to bring them forward.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of the Clegg Commission. He greatly exaggerated its utility and the good will in which it is held. I imagine that most people will heave a great sigh of relief to know that it is not to continue. I am reminded of the appalling error of 4 per cent. or £130 million that arose in the teachers' pay claim. That sum was awarded by the Clegg Commission on a false premise. If that money was available, it could have been used to finance the training schemes and aid to the young unemployed that the right hon. Gentleman was calling for. It is ridiculous to say that because the Clegg Commission is to be abolished we are returning to the law of the jungle in the public pay sector. That is a gross exaggeration. The Government are merely once again asserting their responsibility in the sphere where they employ people for forming judgments about what the public sector 130 can afford. That is a return not to the law of the jungle but to responsibility.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned the telephone scheme for handicapped and housebound people in Northern Ireland, which is administered on uniform criteria throughout Northern Ireland. The Department of Health is keeping under review the amount of help with telephones given by the boards so that no one is treated unfairly. The right hon. Gentleman referred to disparities between the southern and northern areas. Those matters have already been brought to the attention of the southern board, which takes the view that due weight is not being given to social and cultural considerations and the level of provision of related services, for example, warden schemes, the home help service and alarm systems.
In addition, the comparatively low level of provision in the Craigavon and Banbridge district is due to a low level of demand. The Department of Health monitors the provision of assistance with telephones using statistical returns submitted annually by the boards. It will be giving special attention to those of the southern board to ensure that no one is being treated unfairly. The intention to review the situation will be reinforced by the contribution made by the right hon. Member for Down, South, which I shall personally draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) made an interesting contribution addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the case for the abolition of stamp duty for first-time house buyers, the case for abolition of corporation tax, the less popular case for the restoration of schedule A, and support for British manufacturers in defence procurement programmes. I listened with great interest to those points and I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friends who have responsibilities for these matters. I fully endorse my hon. Friend's views on the need for economic recovery as a precondition for much of what we would like to do.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) raised the question of the powers of health and safety inspectors. The hon. 131 Gentleman has already tabled a number of questions on this matter. The majority of inspectors appointed by the Health and Safety Executive are given warrants authorising them to exercise all the powers conferred on inspectors by relevant statutory provisions. But the hon. Gentleman was asking for a system whereby each inspector's warrant specified only the powers relevant to his specialism. Such a system has something to be said for it in theory, but administratively it would be highly impracticable. I am assured, however, that administrative arrangements are made by the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that a member of one inspectorate does not do the work of another inspectorate and that inquiries and other matters are notified to the relevant inspector.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) raised the important matter of the Viscount aircraft which crashed in his constituency on its way to Exeter airport. He mentioned that it had come down near Ottery St. Mary and that it was a miracle that no one was hurt. In view of the name of the place where it crashed, that comes as no surprise to me.
I agree that it is necessary to allay the anxieties of people using Exeter airport. The accident investigation branch of the Department of Trade is responsible for gaining information from the Spanish authorities. Two senior investigators have already been sent to Spain and they have received full co-operation from the Spanish authorities. I understand my hon. Friend's desire to allay anxieties, but the investigation is still in progress. He asked whether a report would be published. On completion of the investigation, a report will be made by the Department of Trade. Once that report has been compiled by the chief inspector of accidents it will be laid before the Secretary of State for approval. I cannot go further than that, because the Department is in no position at this stage—nor am I—to make a statement on the apportionment of responsibility for the accident.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) raised a particular case, the circumstances of which have been the subject of an investigation 132 and decision by the insurance commissioners—a decision which was upheld by the local appeal tribunal. It is now for the aggrieved parties, if they wish, to appeal to the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
On the general point of policy which the right hon. and learned Member raised, this Government, like their predecessor, have no plans to move in the direction suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman which would, if followed, make it financially easier for potential beneficiaries from a dispute to encourage their colleagues to strike, secure in the knowledge that they themselves could draw unemployment benefit while the dispute lasted. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that there has not been a change of policy. I hope that that point will also be noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who also has a constituency interest in these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) raised a point relating to boundary changes. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has submitted its report to the Home Secretary proposing new electoral arrangements for the county of Hertfordshire. A statutory minimum period of six weeks must elapse before the Home Secretary may make an order implementing the Commission's recommendations, with or without modifications. During that period, representations may be made to the Home Secretary, which he will then take into account when he considers the commission's report. That will, of course, include the representations made by my hon. Friend, and others that he has forwarded.
I can tell the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) that the Government are well aware of the impact of rising electricity and gas prices, particularly on energy-intensive industries such as steel. The fuel element accounts for 60 per cent. of the CEGB's costs, of which coal accounts for more than 70 per cent. As to steel pricing policy, the low level of steel prices results from a downturn in the Community steel market this year. At the Council on 22 July, the Minister of State, Department of Industry supported the Commission's 133 action in securing Community co-operation to prevent excess production from causing further damage.
The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge on education were of great interest. I do not know whether it is necessarily the solution to British industry to ensure that it is staffed entirely by products of the British public schools.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am exaggerating and am being unfair to my hon. Friend, but it is an interesting thought which should be extended. It is not only before the public schools that the opportunities for serving British industry should be placed. They should be placed before the sixth forms of every school in the country. It is true that the country's wealth and future depend on our success in industry and commerce.
Whatever may have been the case in the past for people going into the Civil Service, the Armed Forces or the Colonial Service, those conditions have now changed. As my hon. Friend indicated, we should give much greater emphasis to the importance of careers in industry. I certainly endorse that. I regret bitterly the totalitarian turn which the Labour Party is in danger of taking in its education policy, because it is that no less which would be involved in preventing parents from exercising their fundamental right of choice.
We have been over this course before. I remember the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) making a similiar speech in respect of the document which has been produced by the relevant education commission of the Labour Party. In the end it came to nothing, and it is certainly my sincere hope that this, too, will be consigned to the dustbin of reports which, because of their deep philosophical and practical flaws, cannot be allowed to become part of the policy of any party which claims to be an alternative Government in this country. It would violate the right of parents to choose the education of their children—a right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Edwards) mentioned 134 Bilston steelworks and the disappointment of the people of Bilston that their area had not been included in the recently announced list of enterprise zones. Several areas were disappointed, particularly those which had been invited to put in bids and did so when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his announcement at the time of the Budget.
Several other authorities made bids, although they were not invited to do so. But it was clear all along that only a limited number of sites could be declared as enterprise zones. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been disappointed but a measure of disappointment is inevitable when there are more bids than sites available. I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety concerning the closure of Bilston steelworks, but that is not a matter for the Government; it is a matter for the British Steel Corporation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), who is an authority on pensions matters, made a most interesting speech. Mobility of labour—my hon. Friend has shown some mobility and moved out of the Chamber—is extremely important for the future of our country. One possible improvement in that sphere would be transferability of pension rights. That question has been referred by the Government to the Occupational Pensions Board, and its report is expected by the spring of next year.
I listened with interest to the contribution of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who is also an example of the mobility of labour in this House and is not here at the moment. He asked for an early announcement on the future of the Port Talbot steelworks. As was foreshadowed in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 26 June, the BSC is carrying out a further review of the capacity of its steelworks but has as yet reached no conclusion on the Port Talbot steelworks or the Llanwern steelworks.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East also mentioned the BSC apprenticeship school at Port Talbot. That question again is one for the British Steel Corporation and should be raised there by the hon. Member.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) raised 135 an interesting point concerning the Manchester city council. He pointed to the fact that employees there have risen in numbers, as have rent increases, due to the fact that the tackling of the problem had been so long postponed.
All local authorities have been asked to review their budgets to bring them into line with the Government's overall expenditure plans. The targets we set last autumn asked local authorities to spend 2 per cent. less in real terms on current spending in 1980–81 compared with 1978–79. Authorities are now producing those budgets and it is our firm intention to see that the total comes back into line.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) made a point about water authorities. He asked me to have a quiet word with my right hon. Friend who is responsible for these matters. I shall take that advice and not go into the technicalities involved in the problem.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) referred once again to car sharing. I am sorry that he is not satisfied with the Government's response. It is our intention to introduce legislative proposals as soon as possible to bring the law on car sharing facilities in Northern Ireland into line with that in Great Britain. The pressure of the parliamentary timetable is such that it would not be feasible to promote such a measure in isolation. It is our intention to include it in a miscellaneous Northern Ireland transport measure as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport did when introducing his recently enacted Transport Act.
The future of the paper and board industry was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) and the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White). They made detailed and technical speeches which, had they been raised in the Consolidated Fund debate, where we had anticipated hearing them, would have received detailed and technical replies. In an Adjournment debate of this sort I cannot give a reply of that nature.
The Government do not underestimate the difficulties faced by the industry, especially our newsprint producers. The only real answer for the industry and for 136 the whole British industry is to become internationally competitive. Productivity and investment are areas in which it is necessary to match our international competitors. Import controls are not the answer. They would breach our treaty obligations, risk retaliation, protect inefficiency and delay necessary adjustments. In the long run the cure would be worse than the disease.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke of the fluoridation of water supplies and introduced some interesting evidence that was challenged immediately by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith).
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton thinks that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper was wrong. I dare say that she thinks that he was wrong. Please do not look to me to give the judgment of Solomon on fluoridation. My right hon. Friend will continue to study any properly documented claims on the subject. I am informed by him that he has not seen any valid evidence of a link between fluoridation and cancer. That is not established by the evidence.
The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) drew our attention to derelict sites and the dangers to children who may wander on to them. He reminded us of the recent tragic case that I am sure we all bear in mind, of the child who was drowned on the Wandsworth gas works site. I express the sympathy of everyone in the House to the parents of that child for that dreadful accident. I shall be drawing the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) asked about the privatisation of British Shipbuilders. As is well known, or should be well known, the Government are studying possible options for introducing private capital into British Shipbuilders. It is hoped to make an announcement before the House rises for the Summer Recess. It would be absurd of me to attempt to anticipate a statement that will be made to the House very shortly.
137 The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to violence in Northern Ireland and rightly drew our attention to the reality that by the time that the House returns after the recess many more people will have suffered death and injury by violence in the Province. That is an appalling situation which everyone in the House condemns. The Provisional IRA could not survive for long if it depended only on the support that it receives in Northern Ireland. Its campaign has survived because it has been financed from overseas, especially, I regret to say, from the United States. I hope that that supply of finance can be cut off. The vigorous policies that are being pursued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may lead to an improvement in the Province.
The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) raised the subject of Mr. Richards, of 14 Moiden Road, St. Julians district, Newport. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his zeal for his constituency. I followed the complicated account that he gave, and it showed that he had a detailed knowledge of the issue. It would be absurd of me to enter into a discussion of such a constituency matter. However, I shall draw the issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and ask him to look into the matter at the behest of the hon. Gentleman.
An important issue was raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) in relation to Mr. Humphry Berkeley. He was a distinguished Member of Parliament. He was involved in an incident in Africa. The Government have made representations to the South African Government about the alleged attack on Mr. Berkeley. I believe that he visited South Africa earlier this year in order to press his case. He has not contacted us for assistance since then. If he wishes the Government to intervene further, I am sure that he will contact us.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) asked when the October unemployment figures would be given. It is expected that they will be given on 21 October. I hope that that piece of information will satisfy him. I 138 also hope that it will prove reliable, as otherwise he will demand an explanation from me when we return on 27 October. The best information available indicates that that will be the date.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about buying British. The Government's general policy is that we should prefer it if everyone who could do so bought British whenever possible. However, that does not remove from individual firms the obligation to be competitive and to offer goods of a satisfactory quality. I am well aware of the situation, as I have a constituency problem in relation to Marconi and radar contracts. I have told Marconi that if it wishes to be successful with its contracts it must ensure that it is competitive. However, we must take into account that hidden subsidies may be given by foreign firms, which are not available to British firms.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) raised the question of Cyprus and said that there was an urgent need for intercommunal talks to be resumed. Dr. Waldheim's efforts continue, despite the failure in June to secure agreement to a resumption. We support the efforts of the United Nations, which were recently endorsed by the Security Council. We shall continue to follow events closely. At present, there is no scope for a separate British initiative, which would cut across that of the United Nations. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's sentiments and wishes to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
In the limited time available I have done my best to answer the wide variety of points that hon. Members have raised.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, at its rising on Friday, this House do adjourn till Monday 27 October and that this House shall not adjourn on Friday until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.