HC Deb 21 May 1981 vol 5 cc426-73

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising to-morrow do adjourn till Monday 1 June. —[Mr. Mather.]

3.58 pm
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The House is asked to adjourn until 1 June when the situation in Northern Ireland is still one of considerable tension and there is no opportunity in sight for a discussion about that situation. In my view, it necessary to try to generate a discussion about Northern Ireland in the House. For that reason, I oppose the Adjournment of the House.

Nobody can believe that there is a simple or easy solution to the situation in Northern Ireland. It would be utter folly to pretend that there was. Although it is right to say that over the last few weeks the House has demonstrated its support for the Government in the serious and difficult situation that they face, and although I believe that it has been wholly right for the political parties in the House to have made it clear that they support the Government in their stand with regard to political prisoners, it is equally right that we should make it abundantly clear to the Government that they cannot expect that full-hearted support, which is given in full knowledge of the need for us to sustain them in their fight against terrorism, unless it is accompanied by a political initiative. The absence of the political initiative and the absence of any time in the House to discuss what could be the framework for such a political initiative convince me that the House should not adjourn without discussing the issue.

If the House is to maintain its standing and status, it is important that speeches on this issue should be made in the House. Many of us have found it far easier to make, speeches—and have them reported—outside the House, but the House ought to be the forum for discussing an issue that divides the people of the United Kingdom and divides two of the member States of the European Community It is in the House that we should attempt to put forward what I hope will be seen to be constructive suggestions.

How do we demonstrate, not only to the people of Northern Ireland but to the people of Ireland as a whole—and the people of Irish descent living in many parts of the globe—that there is a readiness to think again? The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when he was Prime Minister, took an extremely bold initiative in 1973. Whatever views were held in the House about the prospects of power sharing working, no one could deny that it was one of the bravest and most imaginative political steps taken to grapple with the Northern Irish problem. The 1974 election ensured that that package of proposals fell. The political climate changed. The dimension and dynamic that might have been sustained fell away, and instead we saw industrial action and other things happening. The change of Government was another factor. The changed political situation in Northern Ireland was, however, the decisive factor. Irrespective of how and why it happened, there is no doubt that the initiative began to run into the sand, and there has been no political initiative since 1974.

Is this a good time at which to launch a political initiative? Some might say that, while we are witnessing hunger strikes, the deaths of prisoners and the blowing up of soldiers, this is no time at which to discuss the political initiative. My view is that it is the right time at which we should be demonstrating that, just as we stand resolute in our resistance to terrorism, and just as we are determined that terrorism shall not force a solution, so we are prepared in the House to think through the essentials of a new and different approach to the problem.

The Leader of the House has considerable experience of the problem. I do not expect him, in his reply to the debate, to give an instant, snap, answer to my proposition, but I hope that he and the Government will also think about it deeply.

The first essential for success is to recognise that the House, the British Parliament and the British Government will not of themselves and by themselves be able to solve the problem. That was to a great extent recognised in the involvement of the Irish Republic in the Sunningdale arrangements. It has been recognised by the Prime Minister in her meetings with the Taoiseach, and in the discussions and arrangements that were set up in the wake of the earlier discussion. But we have only to watch what has happened over the few months since the meeting took place to realise how much suspicion there still is between the two countries.

There have been different interpretations put in Dublin and Northern Ireland upon the meetings between our Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. Considerable anxiety has been aroused. There have been rumours that various commitments have been entered into. That demonstrates that it is not enough to have a bilateral dialogue, but that the bilateral dialogue has to be put within the context of a wider international framework.

What should that framework be? Many would claim—and with some justice—that the problem of Northern Ireland is not a foreign policy issue, that it is essentially an internal issue within the United Kingdom; but no one can deny that it is an issue that affects the Community. One cannot have two member States with a common border in the European Community without there being a considerable intimacy in their relationships. It is an issue that the Community should consider.

Mr. Skinner (Bolsover)

It has cocked up everything else.

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman is well known for his views on the European Community.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The right hon. Gentleman is well known for his fanaticism for the Community.

Dr. Owen

I am well known for my support for it.

It is a fact of life that the Government of the Irish Republic believe that their decision to enter the European Community was a wise one. They believe that it has been for the benefit of their country. It has been demonstrated in their economy. Membership of the EEC is not a matter of political dispute within the Irish Republic. There is a readiness within the Irish Republic to think in a Community dimension and to grapple with difficult issues within that dimension.

Does a similar will exist in the United Kingdom? Within the European Community there is a framework designed for just this issue. Some of the issues that affect the two countries are, of course, related to the Treaties. I refer to the economic, social, unemployment and investment issues. Those issues are firmly within the province of the Treaties and can be discussed and are discussed between the respective Ministers and officials. But for those discussions on economic, social and employment matters to carry weight it is necessary simultaneously to grapple with the political issue.

The European political co-operation framework was deliberately designed to be able to move across the frontiers of the Treaty, to embrace the political dimension of the Community and also its economic, social and fiscal aspects. The specific design of European co-operation was to have a framework within which the member States could discuss differing aspects of problems. Indeed, they have done so very successfully. They have discussed many world issues.

The present European initiative in the Middle East stems from discussions in the framework of European political co-operation. So have the various attempts to try to resolve the problem of Cyprus. In those instances the Community is concerned with not only the political situation but the trading relationships of the Community with the countries concerned.

There is no reason why that framework should not be applied to the problem of Northern Ireland. Political cooperation works by consensus. There is no way in which, by putting the issue into the context of European political co-operation, the British Government or the Government of the Irish Republic have to give up any of their sovereignty or any of their independence. They are able to have a dialogue within that framework as wholly independent sovereign nations. There are no votes if there is no agreement; nothing comes up that is not mutually agreed.

There are, therefore, many opportunities for a bilateral dialogue. It would be foolish to pretend that the main discussion would not be between the two countries. Yet within that wider context it would be easier for the Irish Republic to think afresh on the problem, and easier for the British Government to think afresh. The Irish Republic would find it easier in such a context to face some of the difficult issues.

In a bilateral dialogue there are all the old hostility and suspicion dogged by history. There cannot be the flexibility which can be achieved in the wider dialogue. I take some comfort from the fact that that has been the view of Irish politicians with whom I have discussed the matter. It was the view of the present Irish Commissioner when he was the Irish Foreign Minister.

The next question is what sort of issues would be discussed within that framework. It would not be sensible to propose now a detailed plan, but the European Community could provide a wholly novel arrangement for Northern Ireland. When the issue of Northern Ireland is posed as a matter of whether one believes in a united Ireland, it is polarised along the divisions that already exist. The issue should be put in such a way that neither faction can answer the question quite as specifically as it does within the current framework.

It would be a complex solution. The inter-relationships of the various aspects would be deliberately divided. The purpose is to find a status for Northern Ireland that is unique. I suspect that we shall have to find a similar status for Gibraltar when Spain's entry into the European Community is further advanced. Possibilities exist for including regional autonomy for Northern Ireland in matters relating not just to local government but to wider issues such as health. There has already been a measure of devolvement in the past.

There is the question of sovereignty. I do not believe that that question will be solved by having an independent sovereign State of Northern Ireland. However, there is a whole range of indeterminate positions, as in the case of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are very close to us. There are confederations and condominiums, and a variety of possible ways of looking at the Northern Ireland problem. Foreign relations, for instance, could still lie with the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom could represent Northern Ireland in all aspects of foreign policy, while its economic policy could be represented by a different arrangement—joint commissions. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) may laugh, but the question has to be faced by the House. There may be better solutions. One other solution involves the United Nations.

Mr. Skinner

I laugh because I have listened patiently to the right hon. Gentleman, and I put it in one phrase: it is called fudging and mudging.

Dr. Owen

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to a form of words that I have used in the past, but I do not believe that it applies in this case. There are two essential ingredients, both of which may be difficult for the hon. Gentleman to understand. They are not fudging and mudging. The first is to accept that there will not be a solution wholly within the United Kingdom, and the second is to accept that it has to be within the framework of the European Community.

It has been suggested that the solution should be within the framework of the United Nations, but that would involve formidable difficulties. First, I do not believe that there would be any enthusiasm for such a suggestion. Secondly, it would need a resolution of the Security Council. If it were supported by a majority vote, the Soviet veto would be involved, and that would involve a consideration of how the Soviet Union views the problem. The issue is not essentially one of peacekeeping, although that might be an element in the solution of the problem. The issue is political. In my view, the political framework would be better within the grouping of 10 countries, all of which have a vested interest in the success of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom.

Many members of the Security Council have completely different political ideologies, different experience and different traditions. Many would see it as purely and simply a colonial problem. They would extrapolate from history in a way that I do not believe would be beneficial. I do not rule out the possibility of the United Nations playing a role, but at this stage the United Nations is not the first international framework in which to discuss the problem.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, aware that the United Nations has many techniques at its disposal for mediation, arbitration and helpfulness which do not involve the Security Council or a veto. It is an exaggeration to say that the Security Council need necessarily be involved, and it is remote to suggest that the veto need be brought into play.

Dr. Owen

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who knows the United Nations extremely well, knows that peacekeeping now requires a resolution of the Security Council. Ever since Dag Hammarskjöld used his power as Secretary-General, his successors have all taken the view that United Nations peacekeeping cannot be deployed without involving the Security Council. The power of initiative that once lay in the hands of the Secretary-General has gone. It is true that the Secretary-General has the power of political initiative if he were asked to undertake a political investigation, but he would have to find a balance in the membership and, in my view, it would be difficult to reach a satisfactory agreement with the two countries most closely involved—the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. We must also face the fact that the present Government are most unlikely to put the matter to the United Nations—and there are good arguments against that.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that we must debate the issue in the House. His ideas are superficially attractive, but the question that must be asked is what one does when 1 million-plus people themselves insist on asking "Who is to determine our future?" Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would push ahead with his idea in the face of what I suspect would be the complete opposition of the majority in Northern Ireland to the EEC, the United Nations, or anyone else determining their future?

Dr. Owen

They would not be determining the future. The hon. Gentleman wholly misunderstands what I am saying. They would be trying to develop a settlement proposal initially within that framework which would then need to be widened. If it is possible to get an agreement on a political settlement proposal in some detail within the Community, it would then be necessary to obtain the support of the United States and Canada, where there are important external influences on Ireland as a whole, and then mobilise support among the population. Perhaps that is impossible. But if one takes that view, one is saying that the present situation will continue and that there is no possibility of a negotiated settlement or of a political initiative and that the situation is deadlocked.

If we take the view that proposals which do not have the support of the different factions in Northern Ireland should not be brought forward, we shall continue to discuss the issue for decades. Experience of such issues shows that one must take a bold initiative and put on the table a detailed package which no one faction wall find totally favourable. The factions will attack various aspects of it. Then it is necessary to mobilise support and exert pressure for an agreement to compromise. Within a political framework, it is possible to mobilise the population against terrorism and the acts of brutality that are happening every day.

It is not enough simply to send the issue to the European Community. It would take three, six or nine months—I do not know how long—to get agreement on a package of proposals that was balanced and thought by people to be fair. Initially, there may be a hostile reception in Northern Ireland. We would need to stand firm against such a hostile background, both in Dublin and in London. The attack on terrorism would then have to be co-ordinated in a way that has never been done before. It would be easier to do that with a proposal that has the support of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Skinner

Why did not the right hon. Gentleman do it?

Dr. Owen

We therefore must ask ourselves: is this the time to bring forward these proposals?

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman had the power.

Dr. Owen

I wish I did have the power. The hon. Gentleman might bear in mind the balance of forces in the House at that time; the Labour Government had no majority.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, they had. They had the Liberals with them.

Dr. Owen

I shall not waste time with the hon. Member for Bolsover, who is well known for injecting his type of politics into these issues.

Mr. Skinner

That is what is called hypocrisy.

Dr. Owen

We listen to the hon. Gentleman with our usual form of disrespect.

I urge the Leader of the House to give careful thought to these proposals. I ask him to recognise—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am unable to see behind the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), but noises which I strongly deprecate seem to be coming from that end of the Bench.

Dr. Owen

I urge the Leader of the House and the Government to give careful thought to this issue over the next fortnight. We have not been promised a debate on this subject in the House during that period. Just another debate without a proposition from the Government would not achieve much. What is needed is a debate on Northern Ireland on the basis of a proposition that has a political initiative that commands the support of many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. If the Government do not do that, they will find great difficulty in sustaining public opinion over the months that lie ahead.

It is not enough, each time a disaster occurs, for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and speak in anguish and pain—genuinely though they do—about what is happening in Northern Ireland. There is a growing dissatisfaction outside at the inability of the House to grapple with the problem. There is a feeling that there is a lack of resolution, boldness and new thinking. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Government come down against my proposition, it behoves them at least to put something more constructive, more innovative and bolder in its place.

4.22 pm
Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I shall refer to three issues which I think should be discussed before the House breaks up for the spring recess. The first is the hardy annual of the need to reform the rating system. Each spring, rates are very much in the news, and they are the most unpopular form of taxation. They are a source of great controversy and, as the rate demands arrive through the letterboxes, so the demands for rating reform grow. As the year proceeds, anger against the rating system will increase.

On 7 May the Labour Party gained control of many county councils. In fairness, the Labour Party made no secret of the fact during the election campaign that its aim in the councils which became Labour-controlled was to spend, spend, spend. It is the poor ratepayers in these areas who will have to pick up the bill. I have no doubt that many people who voted Labour in good faith on 7 May will come to recognise the folly of their ways.

Spendthrift Socialist councils seem to be unable to comprehend that there is a limit to what firms and ratepayers can afford to pay out in rates. My local authority of Trafford has managed to keep rates increases down to a reasonable level, but only after making the most stringent economies—which were not popular. Some people believe that it is possible to have high expenditure at the same time as low rates.

Last year when my local council was trying to make economies to keep the rates at a manageable level, I received an irate letter from a constituent who complained bitterly about the economies that were being made. She signed herself as a teacher, a parent and an excessively high ratepayer. I wrote back to her asking her to explain how we could have high expenditure and at the same time low rates. I need hardly add, answer was there none.

It is because Trafford council has recognised that notice has to be taken of people's ability to pay that the rates in that area are so much lower than they are in the adjoining area of Manchester which is controlled by the Socialists, and where the rate burden on the average house is over £150 a year more than it is in Trafford. The Socialist spendthrifts control Manchester. Manchester must have a higher proportion than any other local authority in the country of people working as paid officials. That all has to be paid for. A large number of people are moving from Manchester into the suburbs. That is why the population of Manchester is falling. People cannot afford to live there because of the tremendously high rate bills.

My basic concern is the rating system. The present system is fundamentally unfair for several reasons. My main criticism is that it takes no account of a person's ability to pay. We all know of cases where a single person is paying exactly the same as the family next door with four or five wage-earners living in an identical house. Householders who pay rates have to bear a disproportionate share of the burden of paying for local government services. Our rateable values, which are based on infrequent valuations, are out of date for most of the time and, because the present system is based on hypothetical rental, there are many anomalies and inconsistencies.

I hope the Government have not forgotten that our October 1974 election manifesto promised a change in the rating system, and that they will do something to change a system that is so patently unfair.

What I find even worse is that water rates are assessed by reference to the rateable value of a property. At least with domestic rates the less well-off are entitled to apply for a rate rebate, but there is no rebate on water rates. The unfairness is therefore compounded.

Whereas domestic rates take no account of a person's ability to pay, water rates take no account of the amount of water used or the amount of sewage that must be disposed of from each house. A person living alone will pay exactly the same as the family next door consisting of four or five people. The substantial increase in domestic rates in recent years is as nothing compared with the increase in water rates.

I want to see the whole system changed, and I feel that the House should have the opportunity of a full day's debate on this subject so that we may consider the options that are being put forward. In the meantime, as long as we have the present iniquitous system, I should like to know why rebates should be allowed on the domestic rate bill but not on the domestic water bill. If anything screams out for action, it is this.

The second issue on which I wish to speak is the proliferation of sex shops. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) finds that funny. A sex shop has opened in my constituency and has caused enormous offence to many people.

Mr. Hooley

I am sorry. I was startled at the way the hon. Gentleman jumped from one subject to the other. I assure him that I have no more enthusiasm for that form of pornography than I have for any other.

Mr. Montgomery

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman must have been asleep when I began my speech because I said that I wished to speak on three matters.

Many people are opposed to this sex shop, and 12,000 people in my constituency have signed a petition. It is called a private shop, and it has a window which does not display very much. When people complained about the opening of the shop they were told, quite rightly, by the local council that there was nothing at all that the local authority could do about this because no change of use was involved.

Perhaps as a starter the Department of the Environment could look at the planning laws to give local authorities more discretion on this subject. I did say that some people from my constituency came down with a petition signed by 12,000 of my constituents and they went to see the then Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew). He was very sympathetic and listened very carefully to what they had to say.

I realise that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has also recently met representatives from the Greater London Council, which is also plagued by this problem. I hope that from this we will get some legislation whereby a licensing system will be operated in this country to give local authorities the right to say how many, if any, sex shops should be allowed in their area and where these shops should be situated. Then, if the licence-holders broke the law, the licence could be taken away from them. To a matter of this kind, which causes enormous concern to many people, I think we have to devote some thought.

My third and final point concerns the question of the pay of Members of Parliament. I can only say to my right hon. Friend that I think that we have made a terrible mess of this whole business. We have come in for a great deal of abuse during the last week or so. When the Boyle committee was set up years ago, I appealed to the noble Lord, Lord Boyle that our pay should be tied to a particular branch of the Civil Service. For some reason this suggestion has never been accepted by the pay review body. Had it been, much of the sting would have been taken out of this issue, because whenever MPs' pay is increased it is never the right time. We have had a great deal of abuse from all sides. The Civil Service union leaders have had a field day, because they are claiming that we are getting an 18 pr cent. increase. The press has not been particularly helpful because it has also emphasised that our pay is going up by 18 per cent.

In 1979 the Boyle report recommended that our pay should go up to £12,000. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister felt that that was too big a jump so she suggested, and it was approved by this House, that instead of getting an increase to £12,000 at one fell swoop we should get it in three separate instalments, one in 1979, one in June 1980 and the third and final instalment in June 1981. Her hope was—I agreed with her—that this demonstration of restraint and moderation would have some effect on the rest of the country. It had no affect at all.

The facts are that in July 1975 it was recommended that Members of Parliament should be paid £8,000 a year. We got £5,750. In June 1979 it was recommended that we should get £12,000 a year. We got £9,450. The Fees Office has reckoned that Members of Parliament in this country have voluntarily sacrificed some £11,500 each during the six years ending in June 1981. That is the cumulative difference between the amounts recommended by Lord Boyle and those authorised by the House.

Let us take our pay out of political controversy altogether. I see my right hon. Friend shaking his head in disagreement, but I cannot see the argument against linking our salary with a particular level of the Civil Service. If that were done, it would mean that every time the Civil Service got a 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. a year rise, we would get exactly the same. That would do a great deal to take the sting out of the question of MPs' pay.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will at least be able to give me some hope that consideration will be given to the three issues that I have raised this afternoon.

4.35 pm
1Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I want to make a very brief speech on a subject that does not capture the imagination of the House of Commons and certainly will not capture the headlines, but a subject which nevertheless should be discussed before the House goes into recess. It is the implications of the vote at the World Health Assembly yesterday on the code of marketing of baby food substitutes in developing countries.

The vote itself was very important, because we now have for the first time a code of marketing on that important subject. The reason is that for years a revolution has been sweeping the developing nations of the world and there has been unscrupulous advertising by the manufacturers of these products right across the impoverished countries of the world. Vast profits have been made. I should like to make it clear to the Leader of the House that there is nothing wrong, in my view, with the products themselves. What is wrong is the ruthless advertising methods that have been used in the developing countries. That is why this campaign has been conducted for about seven years by OXFAM, War on Want and many politicians in Britain and abroad. Successive Governments have rejected every plea and the latest notable example is the Government of the United States who, to their everlasting discredit, yesterday voted against the code of marketing.

The code is a very long document and I do not intend to detain the House on it. But there are three essentials. First, it prevents advertising directly to the public about baby foods. That is perhaps the most important one. Secondly, it prevents sampling by pregnant mothers, which is a gimmick that these companies use. They offer a sample and then the mothers buy the product. Thirdly, it takes out of the hands of the companies so-called educational material, which is yet another gimmick. In the guise of giving education, the companies flog their products to unsuspecting mothers.

The code is important because in Africa, Asia and South America millions of impoverished families have been duped into buying these products. There is nothing wrong with the products when there are good sanitary conditions, but when there are insanitary conditions, such as contaminated water, the result is often disablement of the children, or illness or even death on a massive scale. The House need not take my word for this. I will quote one man, James Grant, the executive director of UNICEF. He said: If we promote and protect breast feeding we can save 1 million infant deaths every year in this decade. Therefore, if we can make a contribution—and we can—in this House of Commons by supporting that code, it will be a very worthwhile thing to do.

Over 200 hon. Members supported my early-day motion on this subject supporting the code of marketing. I want to pay a high tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Social Services, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). He has played a splendid role in this House and his reply to the Adjournment debate on this subject reflects great credit on him.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who opened this debate, was a Minister of State in the Department of Health and Social Security and I worked with him in former days, and the former Minister with responsibilities for the disabled, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), also worked in the same Department, so we know the problem of answering sticky Adjournment debates of that kind. However, the Under-Secretary's response was marvellous. He told me yesterday that the Government are committed to supporting the code of marketing. Full marks to the Minister. I wish to record my praise of him.

However, the vote of the United States Government was a cowardly surrender to corporate interests. They are acting in the 1980s in the way that some Governments acted in the 1890s, placing profit before principles. Their action was deplorable, and great suffering will result if it is supported. I hope that our Government will firmly resist their effort to oppose the code of marketing. There are splendid exceptions in the United States, like Senator Kennedy, who supports the code.

I hope that the Government will help to monitor the code. There is no point in voting at the World Health Assembly and then taking no further action. I hope that they will make their contributions. I hope, too, that the Government will insist that British firms obey the code. I hope that they will tell them that they must observe it, and, if they do not, that sanctions will be imposed against them. Finally, I hope that they will seek to make the recommendation into a regulation.

The Government are right to support the code, although we have a long way to go before we solve the problem of unscrupulous advertising, especially as it is in developing countries, where there is much greater illiteracy. To some extent the great multinationals have power over Governments, although not all the multinationals are bad. Some are good and fairly responsible.

The House has a significant role to play now that the vote has been taken. I hope that the Leader of the House will state today that the Government will back the vote in the World Health Assembly.

4.42 pm
Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

This is the first opportunity that I have had to express a few thoughts to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I was proud to serve him, and I am deeply appreciative of his kindness to me. It gives us a great deal of assurance to see him in his place, although that comment may invite the reply that it has taken him two years to put me in mine.

The House should not adjourn until we have discussed Nissan's proposal to set up a motor car plant in Britain. It is urgent to discuss the factors involved in the decision and to demonstrate our attitude to the Japanese. The outline proposal is to produce 250,000 cars a year with a work force of 5,000. From the figures given, even on the basis of the Japanese experience, it is clear that it would be an assembly operation; hence the anxiety among assemblers here and throughout the Common Market. The announcement was at first welcomed by our component makers, but they, too, are now anxious.

This is not the time to discuss the motor industry in Britain or in the world, although I would point out that it is still our leading export earner and largest employer outside the public sector, with 250,000 people employed directly in assembly and about the same number employed directly by component suppliers. Both sectors have experienced a sharp decline in the past year. Nor is it the time to relate the decline to the problems of the West Midlands, or for me to develop my thoughts on an industrial policy and the importance of proceeding on an industrial rather than a regional basis. Even on those grounds, however, the West Midlands has the highest increasing rate of employment, the highest number of people on temporary short-time working compensation and the highest dependence on manufacturing industry.

It is urgent for the Japanese to have a clear indication of our policy. I do not believe that they have yet made their decision. I fear that they may have been wrongly influenced by today's press reports on the reactions in the CBI council yesterday to Japanese trade. I believe that the reports distort the thrust of the CBI argument, which highlighted Japanese concentration on specific sectors, which they then pursue regardless of the damage done to the industries in other countries. That is one reason why I urge the adoption of a central industrial policy.

We are a major trading nation and enjoy a substantial trading surplus, so we should not be drawn into blanket protectionism. However, we must take account of the peculiar social and industrial structure in Japan that makes its concentration on certain sectors difficult to withstand, and which has important social and employment consequences in many regions that we cannot ignore.

The Japanese need urgently to make a decision and an announcement to dispel growing rumours that they are spinning out negotiations with our Government and other European Governments for similar establishments to protect in the meantime their increasing exports to Europe, and also because of the possibility of frustrated exporters diverting goods to America, consequent on the trade agreement reached only last week.

It is also urgent for the Japanese to reassure European component makers in the light of rumours that they have found EEC components to be uncompetitive in price and quality. It is urgent, too, for United Kingdom assemblers, such as British Leyland, Ford, Vauxhall and Talbot, to know where they stand. If Nissan is to go outside Europe for its components, our assemblers will be driven to the same action to preserve their competitive position if Japanese cars are built here.

That will have a devastating effect on our component industry which, for too long and too lightly, many have assumed to be one of the greatest strengths of our industry, when in many sectors it has become a weakness. That will be serious, as will be seen from the employment figure that I have given. I gave the figure for direct employment and ignored employment in those firms supplying component makers and any employment downstream from vehicle assembly.

A decision is urgent in the EEC context. I warmly welcome yesterday's announcement by the Government that EEC Governments, through the Commission, are to involve themselves in the question of Japanese motor exports to the EEC, and that there is a determination that those exports should not be allowed to exceed the total volume for 1980.

We must examine what will happen to Japanese models built in this country. We are unsure whether they will be counted against quotas or whether they would be accepted as Community-produced cars. That will depend largely on the volume of components used from European sources and on the more tricky questions of content and origin rules within the Common Market. Such rules have not so far been defined for the motor vehicle industry.

Until some understanding has been reached, it would be unwise to assume that the BL-produced Honda model, or any model that Nissan produces, will be automatically accepted by our trading partners in the EEC as originating here. We must obtain that understanding and seek overall limitations on Japanese exports of motor vehicles to the Common Market before we can proceed to more detailed discussions. That should be undertaken urgently so that the Japanese are left under no misunderstanding. I regret, for our component makers, the motor vehicle assemblers and for our trading partners in the EEC, the suspicion that a decision is being reached behind closed doors. I am afraid that the results of that may not be acceptable unless there is more understanding of the position and more discussion of it.

I suggest that a paper should be put into the Library on the process of the negotiations and on the Government's attitude towards the project—which I do not think was sufficiently defined when the announcement was first made. Thereafter we should have an early statement, at least, and an early opportunity for a debate.

4.54 pm
Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

I am grateful for the opportunity of using the Adjournment motion to draw the attention of the House to the closure of a factory in my constituency. The factory is part of the Laurence, Scott and Electromotors Group in Openshaw, Manchester. The closure involves a work force of 650 losing their jobs. The workers are losing their jobs in a city which has seen a 70 per cent. increase in unemployment over two years and where 40 per cent. of the unemployed are under 25 years of age. Unemployment in Manchester is becoming the major political issue.

I want to emphasise that the closure is not just another case of a company suffering from cash flow difficulties or from the effects of the economic recession that the country is going through. Even though the factory is currently occupied by the staff and work force and is subject to an organised sit-in, I hope that, before the House dismisses it as just another case of industrial militancy. hon. Members will listen to the arguments that make this closure somewhat different from other closures that have precipitated sit-ins and occupations in other regions.

In my view, impartial examination of the case would vindicate the staff and workers currently occupying the factory. They are taking this stand because the workers have been dealt with in a shabby, insensitive, and almost callous manner. The company, Laurence, Scott Company Ltd. has existed in Openshaw for over 100 years. it has a long history of good industrial relations and a proud reputation as a centre for engineering excellence.

However, the company has had its difficulties. The group of which it was part last year recorded a loss of £1.9 million. An unusual feature of that recorded loss was that the factory in my constituency made a profit of £70,000. Laurence, Scott was taken over in October last year. In March 1980, the company was valued at £18.4 million. It was acquired for £5.8 million by The Mining Supply Company of Doncaster. The control of the company effectively moved to the managing director of Mining Supply Company—Mr. Arthur Snipe.

Mr. Arthur Snipe is in the great mould of industrial buccaneers. He treats the workers for whom he has responsibility with an arrogance that I find positively staggering. When Mr. Arthur Snipe and Mining Supply Company took over Laurence, Scott in October last year, the company was beginning short-time working and benefiting from the short-time working compensation scheme.

Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror yesterday, in a most illuminating article, records that he was told that a decision to close the Openshaw plant was made on 10 February this year. He is correct, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and myself were similarly informed that that decision was taken in February.

The House will recall that short-time working compensation is paid as an alternative to redundancy and not as a prelude to closure. Thus, the directors of the company were aware on 10 February that the company would close in July, yet they continued to claim short-time working compensation. The public are entitled to know why short-time working compensation was paid to Laurence, Scott (Electromotors) Ltd. between February and April, when the directors of the company decided to close the factory as long ago as 10 February.

A regrettable feature of the closure is that the directors who informed me that the closure decision had been taken on 10 February have, since talking to Paul Foot, been suspended by Mr. Arthur Snipe.

The House and the British people should be made aware that Mr. Snipe has made a considerable fortune out of a State-owned industry. He acquired his capital from the National Coal Board and has taken no account of the social implications involved in purchasing Laurence, Scott and Electromotors. When he acquired control of the company he said: In the event that the offer becomes unconditional, and in the light of these negotiations, it is the aim of Mining Supply wherever possible to provide continued employment for the employees of Laurence, Scott on terms and conditions no less favourable than at present. That undertaking means nothing in the context of 650 of my constituents losing their jobs.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a large Laurence, Scott plant in Norwich, which has also been established for the best part of 100 years, and that recently more than 90 employees were made redundant at less than two hours notice? Since then, Mr. Snipe has proved extremely elusive when the trade unions have wanted to meet him to discuss the situation. His buccaneering behaviour has caused the greatest distress among my constituents, some of whom feel that they have been treated as criminals in being excluded from the works. The experience in my part of the country shows that Mr. Snipe is a thoroughly bad employer.

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for informing me and the House of the situation in his constituency. The circumstances that he has recounted are typical of the cavalier manner in which Mr. Snipe operates. He obtained temporary short-time working compensation for the Openshaw plant up to 13 April, despite having decided in February that the factory would be closed. He has not consulted the staff or the work force at Openshaw under the spirit and intentions of the code of practice laid down in the Employment Protection Act. He is attempting to deprive the work force and staff not only of their franchise under the Employment Protection Act, but of their minimal entitlements under the redundancy payments scheme.

Mr. Snipe has threatened the workers involved in industrial action that unless they cease that action they will lose their redundancy pay. I believe that that is the first time in industrial relations history that such a threat has been made. But the workers have sacrificed redundancy pay to show what they feel about the manner in which their employer has dealt with them.

An important point of principle is involved in another feature of the case. I have related how the chairman and board of the company have, for reasons best known to themselves and because of their industrial strategy, closed a profitable industrial enterprise.

In the process, they have made the taxpayers three-time losers. They have lost out on the short-time working compensation. The sum involved at the Openshaw plant was £296,000. If that sum had been taken by a collection of luckless individuals on supplementary benefits we would have had proposals from the Government for enlisting an army of inspectors to chase them.

Secondly, taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for unemployment benefits for the 650 people who have lost their jobs at Openshaw. Thirdly, taxpayers will have to make a contribution to any redundancy payments to those workers.

I know that the Leader of the House takes an understanding view of all the individual issues that are raised in such Adjournment debates and I hope that he will convey the substance of what I have said to the responsible Minister.

5.7 pm

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I do not believe that we should adjourn for the recess until we have debated one of the fundamentals of government—law and order and, I must add now, terrorism. The prime objects of a Government are to defend the nation from foreign invasion and subversion from within and to keep the Queen's peace at home.

There is no point in our passing sophisticated laws such as those that we get from the DHSS and other Departments if people dare not open their front doors at night for fear of being mugged. England has almost always been a peaceful country, at least since Saxon times, and the desire for order and the respect for the law are deeply ingrained in our people. That is something that some of our immigrants must learn. Throwing petrol bombs is a new and ugly factor in our national life. Unemployment is no excuse. I remember the Jarrow marchers. Not only were they non-political, but they were extremely careful to ensure that there was no breach of the law at any stage of their long march.

People will obey the law readily as long as they do not see others breaking it with impunity. If we do not deal effectively with offenders, particularly those who wound, rob, steal, riot or cause damage, there is a danger that others will feel tempted to disobey the law in the hope that they, too, will get away with it.

We have to vary punishments not only to fit the crime, but to fit prevailing circumstances. When crimes are rife, such as now, the public rightly demand that the element of deterrence should be increased. We may therefore need to use the exemplary sentence with greater frequency as a warning to others. It has worked in the past, and it may very well work again. I appreciate the problems of the overcrowded prisons. I applaud the Home Secretary's efforts to remove from our prisons people who should have no place in them. Even so, there is a case for stiff sentences to cut down crime, although this may, unfortunately, put an additional strain on our prisons.

I have very much sympathy for those who cannot find work at the present time, particularly young people. I was caught up recently in the crowds going to the Cup Final at Wembley. They were making a lot of noise, waving flags and banners and crowding out the pubs. A good many of them undoubtedly were unemployed. There were many police about, but no disorders.

At first, I felt a slight annoyance at the singing and the noise, and also perhaps a little alarm. However, on seeing these young people more closely I felt sorry for them. I was sorry that so much youthful energy and sheer exuberance could be spent watching a football match. I am sure that I have the agreement of both sides of the House in suggesting that the State could devise a better and more satisfying outlet for the energies of these young people in some form of disciplined service to the nation. I know that the practical difficulties are enormous and that the cost may be high, but I am glad that the Government have promised to study the matter.

I am particularly concerned about violence, mugging and vandalism in certain parts of my constituency and, to a greater extent, in the Birmingham area as a whole. This causes much concern to my constituents. They expect the Government to act with greater firmness, as promised at the time of the general election. They want capital punishment to be brought back for murder, as I do, and corporal punishment for young thugs, as I do. It is no good the Home Office saying that it has increased the numbers of police. That is good, but it is not enough. The need is for stern penalties and for firm magistrates so that all can appreciate that violence simply does not pay.

The reasons for the worsening situation are many and complex. One of the chief reasons, I am sure, is a decline in moral standards and in respect for persons and property. I wish that the Government would give greater emphasis to this matter in the many speeches that Ministers make in the House and in the country. Hon. Members seldom debate general social issues apart from unemployment. I am sure that boredom and lack of any positive belief or creed in life are to blame for much crime. The churches would perhaps do well to concentrate on these matters rather than subjects like the British Nationality Bill or the Brandt report.

The collections at seaside towns of skinheads and rowdy motor cyclists, which are extremely alarming, are an example of boredom and misdirected energy. At least in the Midlands, at the time of the last ambulance service strike, we were able to organise some of these young ton-up motor cyclists into squads to run messages to assist the service. They did a magnificent job, which only shows that such young people are very good material if only properly led.

I am afraid that some of our immigrants pose a threat to law and order. The Pakistanis and Indians are usually well disciplined, with a good home background, although their culture will always remain different from our own. The West Indians, on the other hand, with the possible exception of some who come from Bardados, an admirable island, usually tend to leave home early. Often there is no father in the family. These youngsters tend to roam the streets robbing and mugging elderly people and helpless women. When they riot, as at Brixton, the results are terrifying and something we have not experienced before in England.

These breaches of the law must be punished with extreme rigour. The unfortunate statement that the law of England could not be involved because of the need for good race relations was an insult not only to English people but, above all, to immigrants who wish, in the main, to behave properly and to obey our laws. Surely we cannot have one law for the English and one for the immigrants. I look to the Government and, above all, to the Home Office in all these matters of law and order.

I wish to see greater determination and stronger will in the Home Office to combat violence and crime. The Conservative Party is looked upon particularly as the party of law and order. Unfortunately, we have so far disappointed our supporters in this respect, particularly, I believe, our working class supporters, who are most directly affected by breakdowns in law and order.

I appeal to the Home Office, as I have done so often in the past, to tackle this problem now and to convince our supporters, and indeed everyone else, that it really means business in a matter of vital concern to all.

Terrorism now occurs on a world scale. The attack on the Pope by a Turk merely highlights it. We know that the IRA in Northern Ireland obtains some of its support from sources within the United States and from countries behind the Iron Curtain. I have recently put several questions to Ministers on the subject. I do not believe the bland reply that this is simply a matter of co-operation by different national police forces. It must be a matter for Governments. Cannot the United Nations, which is often so futile, take the lead in this matter and perhaps for once justify itself? Cannot the EEC do more in combating terrorism? In the end, the defeat of terrorism is a matter of will. Either one gives way because the terrorist goes on from one horror to another, or one says "We will never give way".

The world is rapidly becoming a highly dangerous and most uncivilised planet. Those who waste their time on futile denunciations of nuclear arms should turn their attack on to the terrorists. Nothing less than civilisation itself is at stake. Governments have a duty to protect us ordinary people. I should like to see our Prime Minister, who is making such a magnificent stand against terrorism in Northern Ireland, taking a world lead and initiative. Governments can and should do more to suppress terrorism.

The House should debate the question of terrorism much more frequently. Otherwise the peril will grow, as has happened in the case of the hijacking of aircraft in recent years. No one will be safe. The remedy is in our hands if only we have the will.

5.18 pm
Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I do not think that the House should adjourn until a clear statement has been made by the Government in regard to the proposal from Brussels that it intends to disallow, prohibit or block massive aid for the steel industry which this House has approved. Of the £1.3 billion authorised to be spent on the financial reconstruction of the steel industry over the next two years until the end of 1982, I understand that the EEC Commission proposes to disallow the expenditure of about £750 million on the grounds that it disapproves of the maintenance in Britain of some 6.6 million tonnes of steelmaking capacity that we want to hold in reserve under the MacGregor plan.

In the last few days the House has debated the Iron and Steel Bill which gives power for a far-reaching capital reconstruction of the British Steel Corporation, the writing-off of capital already expended and the authorisation of further large sums for modernisation and completion in accordance with the MacGregor plan. The plan involves serious and harsh redundancies. The redundancy programme is not yet complete.

The plan also involves closures which have been going on for more than two years and plants, mainly at Scunthorpe and Port Talbot, being closed, but not taken out of commission totally. We are maintaining a reserve steel-making capacity against the day, which cannot be postponed indefinitely even by the present Government, when there will be some form of economic upturn.

Eight or nine years ago Britain was producing 28 million tonnes of steel. Our steel-making capacity was about 30 million tonnes. Even as recently as 1979 we produced 21 million tonnes of steel. That capacity has been cut under the BSC reconstruction plan, and in accordance with the Government's policy, to 15 million tonnes. Neither France nor Germany has cut back on that scale. We have virtually halved our capacity to produce steel, one of the basic raw materials of any industrial country. No other country in the EEC has made a reduction on that scale in the plant, equipment and factories necessary for the production of the various types of steel needed.

Far from being cut back, production in Italy and Spain increased in 1980. In Spain production was about 25 million tonnes and in Italy it rose above 20 million tonnes, although I do not have the exact figure.

I remind the House that the British Steel Corporation still has a turnover of £3,000 million and still employs more than 100,000 workers in one capacity or another. Our huge and important steel industry has been cut back ruthlessly in the past few years and its capacity has been almost halved. Nothing like the same reductions have taken place in other countries. In at least two European countries capacity and production have risen.

One must ask why the European Commission wishes to interfere with this great industry which has gone through traumatic reconstruction and on whose financial and physical structure the House has pronounced by legislation in the past few days. Why is the European Community so anxious to destroy or cut the BSC back further and to reduce the capacity of the United Kingdom to produce a vital industrial raw material?

The answer must be that there is ruthless pressure from our European competitors to ensure that, when Western Europe's economies expand again, they will be able to take over the British market and we shall not be in a position to meet the upturn in demand which inevitably must accompany a general economic expansion. Otherwise, I cannot see why the Commission wishes to interfere with a scheme agreed by the House. I cannot understand why it desires to disallow £750 million for expansion which even the present Government have been willing to authorise and which the Opposition do not oppose. I cannot understand why the Commission is so anxious that we should not keep a reserve capacity of 6.6 million tonnes against the day when we might need much greater output than is necessary now.

We have heard much talk about imports from Japan. Today the problem caused by the imports of Japanese cars was stressed. A more substantial threat to our manufacturing capacity is not from Japan but from Germany, France and Italy. Despite the so-called Common Market and the so-called common regulations on trade, those countries have taken individual steps to protect certain industries.

Italy has made special arrangements in respect of Japanese imports. In some circumstances it demands one-for-one arrangements. For example, Italy will not accept imports of Japanese motor cycles unless the Japanese accept Italian machines. The Italians and French have special arrangements for the protection of their cutlery industries. We have been unable to agree to a common policy on cutlery for that reason. Within the Commission, the Italians and the French are not interested in imposing restrictions on the imports of cutlery because they have made private arrangements for the protection of their cutlery industries.

Pressure will be put on our steel industry, through the European Commission, to deny us the capacity to produce the quantities of steel that we shall need when the economic upturn arrives.

If the Commission's prohibition of the expenditure of another £750 million is not resisted, not only will it have a disastrous impact on the steel industry; it will also be a futher nail in the coffin of British membership of the European Community. Industries and workers in Britain will no longer tolerate the best schemes for preserving our basic industries being frustrated by the demands and presssures of the Brussels Commission which is interfering in our industrial policy. It should be our exclusive right to determine industrial policy.

We need a clear assurance from the Government before the House rises that they will not tolerate the directive from the Brussels Commission and that they will insist on the right of the House to determine the extent and range of the physical and financial reconstruction of the BSC, still one of the great public corporations in Europe.

5.30 pm
Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I have no wish to detain the House for any longer than is necessary. Nor is it my intention to deny hon. Members access to their Whitsun Recess. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) raised the urgent and necessary matter of the reform of the rating system in general. I wish specifically to concentrate on bringing to the attention of the House the rate burden borne especially and most heavily by the industrial and commercial sector, by business men nation-wide, and particularly by business men in the West Midlands.

I must tell the House of the deep concern felt by many firms about the increases in business rates that they have had to bear, not only from high-spending and extravagant authorities—of which we have heard much—but from authorities generally. I must also tell the House of the adverse consequences that those increases will have on firms' prosperity and productivity, and especially on employment. In the current financial year, the business and commercial sector has, on average, had to shoulder a rate increase of more than 20 per cent. Some firms have had to shoulder an increase of more than 30 per cent., and firms in one authority an increase of more than 75 per cent.

It is clear that many local councils have deliberately ignored the expenditure guidelines produced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and an overspend of more than £1 billion is possible in the current financial year, 1981–82. However, I do not wish to dwell on that point, because it is long and complicated. The prospect of a supplementary rate being levied by many authorities this October is a matter which industry and commerce view with great concern. In the face of that grim possibility, my right hon. Friend should take action to limit extravagant authorities from levying excessive increases. I do not wish to dwell any longer on that matter. Instead I want to be more practical and to examine precisely how the burden placed upon the shoulders of industry and commerce can be lightened so that they can get on with the job of making profits and creating work.

To put the enormity of the rate yield from the business sector in perspective, I point out that the anticipated yield in the current year from rates in the commercial and industrial sector is equivalent to the anticipated yield from capital gains tax, capital transfer tax, petroleum revenue tax, development land tax, estate duty and stamp duty—all rolled into one. Looked at from another angle, the rate burden on the industrial and commercial sector will probably be equivalent to at least one-third, possibly more, of the real profits earned by industrial companies during the current year.

I know that my right hon. Friend acknowledges that the most important way to keep down rates is to keep down the level of local government expenditure. He has acted in a number of ways to achieve that. Before the House rises for the Spring Recess, I urge him to give consideration to providing immediate relief to lighten the burden borne by the business sector in the following sixfold manner. First, a ceiling should be imposed on business rates as a safeguard against extravagant, high-spending, profligate local authorities. Secondly, a system of mothballing relief for business premises only partly used during the recession should be introduced. Thirdly, there should be an end to the rating of empty business properties. Fourthly, the surcharge on empty commercial buildings should be abolished. Fifthly, the payment of business rates by instalments should be allowed. Sixthly, the Government should consider abolishing the rateability of certain classes of industrial plant and machinery.

I wish to dwell briefly on those six items. On the question of the ceiling on industrial rates, there is a need to safeguard businesses in areas where councils, such as the councils adjacent to Lichfield and Tamworth—but not, happily, covering those towns—that are extravagant and excessive spenders choose to ignore Government guidelines, and have reacted to the new rate support grant system by raising rates rather than by cutting spending. I do not accept the argument that the introduction of such a provision would be undemocratic. Nor do I think that it would be unfair.

The voice of business simply is not heard in the corridors of power in the town and county halls. That is because the Opposition, when in Government in the late 1960s, and through the Representation of the People Act 1969, abolished the business vote. I am not suggesting that the reintroduction of the business vote is necessarily the right answer. However, the sixfold plan would be a step in the right direction towards protecting the vital commercial and industrial sector against profligate local authorities. Commercial ratepayers contribute at least as much as, and possibly more than, most domestic ratepayers in most local authorities.

The provision of mothball relief should exclude from rating, pro tempore, those parts of premises that have been taken out of productive use, but have been maintained at the expense of the owners or the tenants during the recession. That would be especially welcomed by industrial and commercial ratepayers because the business sector, especially manufacturing business, is going through a difficult time. It would be a valuable contribution to the preservation of our industrial base. I urge my right hon. Friend to give further consideration to that suggestion.

The Government, by statute through the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, have reduced the power of local authorities to levy rates on empty commercial premises from 100 per cent. to 50 per cent. Nevertheless, there is a strong case for the total abolition of levying rates on empty business premises. I ask the House to consider the fact that empty business premises do not yield any income for the owners, but involve them in considerable upkeep costs. We have long left the road that led to Centre Point. There is no point in an owner leaving his premises empty of his own accord. It is sad that he should be punished. He is probably trying to let or sell the premises, but the current economic position brought about by the world recession is making it doubly difficult for him to do so. My right hon. Friend has rightly recognised the unfairness of the provisions of the General Rate Act 1967, and has temporarily frozen those provisions. That part of that Act should be abolished.

I turn to the most important of the six proposals, namely, the ability to pay rates on commercial and industrial premises by instalments. The House will recall that in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 facilities were made available for owners of industrial and commercial premises with a rateable value of less than £2,000 in the provinces and £5,000 in central London to pay their rates by instalments—as owners of mixed hereditaments who live in flats above shops are entitled to pay rates by instalments, and as domestic ratepayers are entitled to pay rates by instalments. It is reasonable that the whole commercial and industrial sector should be entitled to pay rates by instalments. The Government should have equal regard to the cash flows of business and commerce and of local councils.

On the question of the rateability of certain classes of industrial plant and machinery, I believe that only manufacturing constructive, useful and productive plant and machinery should be rated, and that service equipment—necessary ancillary, but in a sense useless—should not be rated.

That leads me to the question of industrial derating. In view of the present economic climate and the severe difficulties still faced by industry and commerce, there is a strong case for the temporary introduction—perhaps for 12 months, and subject to a six-month review thereafter—of an element of business derating. The commercial community sees little merit in the rating system. Rates act as a burden on competitiveness. They are a blunt and unfair instrument. One thing that may, above all else, unite the House tonight is the fact that we all think that the present rating system is unfair and riddled with anomalies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale was sadly silent when it came to making a constructive suggestion for a substitute for the rating system. The Labour Party, which has been joined by the Social Democratic Party, has jumped upon the rates bandwagon and has decided that the abolition of the domestic rating system should be followed by the introduction of a form of local income tax. I do not consider that to be a constructive or satisfactory alternative. In the domestic sector, that would increase the standard rate of income tax by 5p. If we were to abolish the entire rating system, it would involve putting at least an additional 13p on the standard rate of tax. That would be a disincentive to work harder apart from the fact that it would involve another £100 million worth of manpower in the Inland Revenue to establish the necessary system.

For the commercial and industrial sector, the present rating system is unrelated to the ability to pay. It affects different types of business activity unevenly. The relative levels of rating assessment in different areas may affect choice of location either on the establishment of new premises or a decision to close down and relocate elsewhere.

Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale rightly said, small businesses have been adversely affected by the absence of regular and frequent rating revaluations. Rent levels in this sector have risen proportionately less than those of their larger counterparts, with the consequence that they tend to pay more rates than they might otherwise do, and capital-intensive industries tend to bear a greater share of the rate burden than their labour-intensive counterparts.

I hope that the recess will afford hon. Members on both sides of the House time to consider the recommendations of the Layfield committee, which accepted that the industrial and commercial sector paid too high a proportion of the nation's rate bill and that the disparity between the industrial and commercial ratepayer and others was widening. This is not a good thing for local democracy. Far less is it a good thing for the wealth-creating and job-creating sector on the broad shoulders of which our recovery depends.

5.44 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In my view, there is a pressing need for a debate on Northern Ireland. Last week during business questions I raised the issue and the Leader of the House told me that it was not likely that there would be such a debate in the near future. I do not agree with the views advanced today by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). Those who take the right hon. Gentleman's position seek a solution through the EEC. That is, I think, not on. We must try to resolve the problem ourselves with the co-operation of the Government of the Irish Republic.

This week we have seen yet more deaths. There has been the slaughter of five soldiers. We learnt today that the third hunger striker had died. There is undoubtedly within the country—it goes without saying that it is the view of the House—a detestation of terrorism. Whatever views one may hold about Northern Ireland, there can be no justification for the terrorism, be it of the Provisional IRA, which is undoubtedly the major culprit, or the paramilitary units of the other side. Terrorism can only increase sectarianism within the Province as well as continue the deaths and violence that we have seen over the past 10 years.

If the situation continues for another five or 10 years, there may be little change. We shall be talking about further deaths. Basically the position will be as it has been for the past 10 or 11 years. There seems to be little hope that from the present position we shall find a solution. It seems that Ministers do not offer much hope that terrorism will be defeated or that there will be a political solution that will be acceptable to both sides of the community. If there could be found a political solution that would find favour with both sides, the fight against terrorism would become more successful.

There is much concern in other countries about our policy on Northern Ireland. Some may say that those who voice that concern are those in the United States, for example, who take an attitude of sympathy towards the Provisional IRA. I accept that there are those in the United States who take such an attitude. However, there are many others in other countries who find it difficult to understand our policy. I leave aside the mischief makers and those who want to find any reason to adopt an anti-British policy, but there are many who have difficulty in understanding our involvement in Northern Ireland and why hunger strikers are so determined to fast until death. These are questions to which we must try to find answers.

More than anything else we should learn from the recent by-election in Northern Ireland, which was of the greatest political importance. Surely it proved beyond any shadow of doubt that a large majority of Catholics within Northern Ireland do not accept, after 60 years, the position of the six counties being separated from the Republic. They voted for Mr. Sands. They gave the late Mr. Sands over 30,000 votes. Did they vote for Mr. Sands because he was an IRA man? I do not believe so. I am sure that the majority did not. They voted against Unionism in the Province. They wanted to demonstrate yet again that the way in which Ireland was partitioned in 1921 is unacceptable to the minority community within Northern Ireland.

We know that, when partition occurred, three of the counties normally then associated with Ulster were placed in the South. That was done clearly to provide an inbuilt majority within Northern Ireland for a continuing link with Britain. The attempt of the Labour Government seven years ago to have power-sharing in Northern Ireland was destroyed. It was not such a radical scheme but it was destroyed by strikes by many within the majority community.

We must consider afresh the problem of Northern Ireland. There is a danger of saying, in effect, that we should not debate the issue and that the position of the six counties should not be questioned because, if we do so, we shall be giving in to the terrorists. That is an irresponsible argument. It means that we do not debate and we do not question the position of the six counties because by doing so we could aid the terrorists. I do not accept that view. If there were no terrorism in Northern Ireland and if there were no violence, we would have to recognise that a large majority of the Catholic population would not accept the links with Britain.

I hope that it will be possible, with the Government of the Irish Republic, to offer a solution for the six counties. Within the framework of a united Ireland, there could be a degree of autonomy for the six counties that would be acceptable to the majority community. One of the questions to be considered is how the civil rights of the Protestant majority can be safeguarded in any changed circumstances. It could be—I am not very optimistic about such a solution—that two or three of the existing counties within Northern Ireland could join the Republic if that were the wish of those concerned.

The other issue that would emerge in any debate is whether there should be any change without the consent of the majority in the six counties. While I believe that the rights of the people in Northern Ireland are extremely important and should be safeguarded in any negotiations with Dublin, I do not believe that a veto should be exercised over the future by any community within the present six counties.

There is an inbuilt majority against change. It is a deliberate majority and some might say that it was a gerrymandered majority, as a result of the partition in 1921. That may be so, but if we were to find a solution which would be acceptable to the Govenment of the Irish Republic and our own Government, such a proposal for the future of Northern Ireland could be put to the people of Britain and Northern Ireland in a referendum. One would see the outcome in such a referendum.

I implore the Government to look afresh at the whole problem. The people of this country are becoming tired of what is happening in Northern Ireland. There are some who say that the troops should simply be pulled out. That is not my view. I do not see how one could just pull out troops from the Province as long as the Province is very much a part of the United Kingdom. It is necessary to find a political solution. Perhaps matters will change but I fear that the Government have closed their minds to any possibility of fundamental constitutional change in Northern Ireland.

I hope that that is not so, but that is my opinion. I hope that in any debate we are likely to have—I hope, in the near future—right hon. and hon. Members will be willing to speak out frankly and to understand that in debating the issue, we are not giving aid to the terrorists.

5.52 pm
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I shall endeavour to be brief. I can be all the briefer because I wish to raise an issue which has already been introduced by my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle). I do so in the knowledge that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is always sensitive to deeply held views, from whatever part of the House they may be uttered. I hope that he will feel that the fact that at least three hon. Members on the Government Benches have raised the issue of the rating system lends extra force to the representations which I wish to make.

Before the House agrees to adjourn for the recess, I should like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that the Government are actively and urgently examining alternatives to the rating system with a view to its abolition as soon as is practicable. From a parliamentary question which I put to the Secretary of State for the Environment on 1 April, I know that the Government are currently examining all potential alternatives to the domestic rating system. My right hon. Friend went on to say: I cannot yet say when the review will be complete, but I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be public consultation on the outcome, and I will certainly bear in mind the idea of issuing a consultation document on the possible alternatives."—[Official Report, 1 April 1981; Vol. 2, c. 271.] I also recall an extremely helpful reply to a parliamentary question which I put to the Prime Minister a fortnight later. She said: I agree with my hon. Friend's description of the rating system. I had described the rating system as unfair, illogical, undemocratic, inadequate and out of date. I could add some more alliterative adjectives—anachronistic and archaic come readily to mind. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is considering the options … I shall take into account my hon. Friend's remarks about a consultation paper."—[Official Report, 14 April 1981; Vol. 3, c. 149.] I presume to raise this matter because there is an increasing urgency that it should be dealt with. I shall call in aid some evidence to that end. In the financial year 1980–81, the estimated outturn of rate revenue collected by all local authorities throughout the United Kingdom was £8,705 million. In this financial year 1981–82, it is estimated that that outturn will increase to no less than £10,285 million. Incidentally, that is an increase of about 18.2 per cent., well above the inflation rate during the year. Therefore, I make this simple point, that whatever the level and scale of the unfairness last year, it is greater this year.

This iniquitous impost should be abolished. The lost revenue will have to be recouped by other means. As a first step, the Government should publish a consultation paper setting out all the possible alternatives—whether a local income tax, a local sales tax, a surcharge on income tax or a surcharge on corporation tax, a tax based on turnover of a firm or business, or even a poll tax. I suspect that the answer will be a combination of at least some of those taxes, because I am talking about the abolition of the whole rating system, not just the domestic element.

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) in the Chamber. He will initiate an Adjournment motion debate on that issue on the day we return from the recess, on 1 June. If my right hon. Friend cannot confirm—I shall understand if he cannot—that the Government will publish a consultation paper in June or at the latest in July, setting out the options and, I hope, giving their initial comments on each alternative so that a national debate may take place to see whether a consensus can be arrived at, I respectfully ask him to ensure that his right hon. Friend or one of the Ministers at the Department of the Environment who may reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield will give that commitment or that confirmation in replying to that Adjournment debate.

5.57 pm
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I wish to raise only one matter. The House may not be surprised when I say that it is the question of nurses' pay,

On 15 March 1979, a week or two before the general election, the Minister who is now responsible for the Health Service, the hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) used these words about the nurses in that winter of discontent, when we were discussing pay matters. He said: there is no doubt that the nurses are a special case and should be treated as such. He went on to say that the nurses came within the same category as the police, the firemen and the members of other services which look after our essential needs".—[Official Report, 15 March 1979, Vol. 964, c. 800.] I wish to consider how those people in the essential services have been treated by this Government and the previous Government. The answer is not unwholesome. They have been treated well. The Armed Forces, for example, received a percentage increase in their pay of 32.5 per cent. on 1 April 1979. That was the last increase under the Labour Government. On 1 April 1980, they received another 16.8 per cent. This year they have received about 10 per cent. In the past three years the Armed Forces have had wage increases of about 60 per cent. Good luck to them. No hon. Member would begrudge the Armed Forces those increases. As the Minister said, they perform an essential service.

What about the other essential services? How well have they fared? In March 1979 the Minister mentioned the firemen. In 1978–79 they received increases of 19 per cent. and in 1979–80 they received increases of 23.1 per cent. I suspect that the Government are trying to hold this year's wage increase to 6 per cent., because that is the incomes policy that is being applied in the public sector. Therefore, the firemen will have had increases of about 50 per cent. in the past three years.

Under this Government, in the period 1978–80 the police received increases of over 56 per cent. No doubt they will receive a substantial pay increase this year. Let us consider those doctors and dentists who work in hospitals. In those two years, a house officer on the minimum scale received an increase of 58.9 per cent. A senior registrar on the minimum scale has had increases in the past two years amounting to 60.6 per cent. Doctors and dentists are now awaiting this year's increase.

In reply to a question that I asked on 7 May, I was informed that in the past two years doctors and dentists in the Health Service had received an average pay increase of 57 per cent. As the Minister said, they perform essential services. How have the nurses fared? The Leader of the House would not deny, nor would anyone else, that the nurses are as essential—some would argue more essential—as the Armed Forces, the police and some of those whom I have mentioned. If there were a public opinion poll there is no doubt in my mind that on a popularity basis, the nurses would come out top of the pops.

Last week, in reply to questions in the House, the Minister said that the Government's record on nurses pay was "outstanding". He said that in the past two years they too had had increases of about 50 per cent. I have ascertained that that is true from a variety of quarters. However, one must consider the salaries on which percentages are based. A nurse might take home about £50. But 50 per cent of £50 is £25. However, 50 per cent. of £200 per week is £100. It is deliberately misguiding, therefore, to quote percentages.

The starting pay for an enrolled nurse is £3,104 per annum, rising to a maximum of £4,561. A ward sister, who is one of the key persons in a hospital, can attain, at the peak, £7,124. The nurses are negotiating this year's salary increase. They reckon that they need a 45 per cent. increase now merely to restore their level of pay to the level found in comparable jobs outside. They are claiming only 15 per cent., which will keep them abreast of inflation. The Government are sticking to 6 per cent.

Even the Royal College of Nursing, probably one of the most genteel associations—I shall not say trade union—in the country is threatening strike action if it does not get more than 6 per cent. Nevertheless, the Government are sticking rigidly to 6 per cent., on the principle that the weakest can be hit hardest. In effect, the Government are telling nurses something that has always been said. They are saying "Thank you, dear ladies. You are doing the most wonderful job in the world. The Government, from the Prime Minister down, are full of admiration for your dedication and unstinted devotion to the care of the sick. We, the Government, know you are too devoted to your patients and too loyal to your country to strike. We therefore confidently ask you—indeed from the Prime Minister down we confidently demand of you—that as an expression of your loyalty and devotion, you accept—as an expression of the Government's gratitude to you—a substantial cut in your standard of living, with the cheerfulness and charm for which you are so well known, by agreeing to only a 6 per cent. rise in your wages. Rémember, we are promising you a taste of jam tomorrow, or some time in the future".

The Government are saying that they will, some time, find a way of breaking what the Minister described as the four-year ratchet, whereby over a four year period, nurses' pay falls behind. In effect, the Government are saying "Meanwhile, take a clout over the ear as a token of our esteem". No wonder the Royal College of Nursing and others in the nursing profession are talking of strike action. No wonder the latest recruitment figures for student and pupil nurses in the statistical year 1980–81 show a substantial fall compared with the previous two years. Although girls find it difficult to get jobs now, they will not go into nursing, because over the years nurses have been treated scandalously.

It is no wonder that there is a dire and growing shortage of trained nursing staff, particularly for nursing the mentally handicapped and the geriatric. More detailed figures underlying these great scandals in our hospital service are recorded in the document "Manpower Availability", which stems from a working party that was established by the Royal College of Nursing Association of Nursing Management. The latest issue of "Health Services" which is published by my union, the Confederation of Health Service Employees, reports that the two-year old Freeman hospital in Newcastle, which was built at great expense, has 200 of its 800 beds lying empty because of cash shortages. The authorities simply cannot afford to pay the staff.

The same magazine states: Desperate staff shortages and wholesale cuts in services are putting patients at risk at Greenwich's three main hospitals … Nurses' conditions almost intolerable. Such things are happening up and down the country. I hope that the Government will take cognisance of the profession's great worth and of the need to treat nurses no less generously—as the Minister has said—than the Armed Forces, the police and the others who provide essential services and who are, for one reason or another, extremely reluctant to take strike action. They must be rewarded for the services that they render to the community. I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic reply and that he will forget all about his 6 per cent. upper limit.

6.9 pm

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I do not believe that the House should rise at this critical time in the fortunes of the Middle East without someone saying—it needs to be said, in the light of some of the more preposterous utterances by a persistent few in the Chamber recently—that the State of Israel has many more Friends in the House than sometimes appears to be the case.

I would guess that very few believe that Israel is conducting raids into southern Lebanon because it wants to extend its boundaries. Most would accept that unless Israel did something to stop the training and basing of terrorists in Lebanon by the PLO and Syria, its security would be seriously at risk and the State might well be destroyed. Again, I imagine that few Members of the House would believe that Israel's continued presence in the lands of the West Bank and Gasa, which it won in battle when it was attacked, is for imperialistic reasons. Most would accept that, until Israel obtains some convincing assurances from its dangerous and warlike neighbours that it will be allowed to continue to survive, it would be an act of national madness to allow an enemy that is sworn to destroy the State to have geographical control of its boundaries.

The absurdity of any argument based upon Israel being an imperialistic power is evidenced not by words but by its actions in relation to the land that it won in battle from Egypt. In return for Egyptian friendship, and little or nothing more, it has given back, or is giving back, all of the territories, including the rich oilfields, which will make Israel completely dependent upon imported oil.

Israel, therefore, has many more Friends than enemies in the House. That friendship is illustrated by the 150 or more members of the Conservative Friends of Israel and the large number of members of the Labour Friends of Israel, as well as by the support of Liberal hon. Members. It is a friendship—and not everyone who is a friend joins organisations to prove it—founded upon admiration for the courage of those who built and who have defended the new State, upon revulsion at the death of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany and upon an appreciation that Israel is a fiercely pro-Western democracy surrounded by Communist-controlled dictatorships, mad Ayatollahs and authoritarian and unpredictable Arab kingdoms.

However, friendship by itself is not enough. It was not enough for Israel in 1956, in 1967 or in 1973, and there are unfortunately doubts about the extent of the friendship to the State of Israel shown so far by the Government. Those doubts do not arise because the Government are also friendly to the neighbouring Arab States. We have a tradition of friendship with those States which is well understood. It is also understood that peace in the Middle East will come only through friendship with those States.

The doubts arise from the Government support for the Venice initiative, the rejection of Camp David and the apparent moves towards recognition of the PLO. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal yesterday repeated the Government's abhorrence of terrorism. Rightly, he would not dream of talking peace with the IRA. Why, then, talk peace with the PLO, until it forswears its determination to destroy our friend, the State of Israel? The PLO is certainly a terrorist organisation. In the period from 23 July 1968 to 28 February 1981, 281 acts of terror were perpetrated or attempted by the PLO outside Israel in which 316 people were killed and 543 wounded. The PLO operated or attempted to operate in 50 countries, including 40 attacks in West Germany, 32 in France, 22 in Britain, 21 in Italy, 20 in Turkey, 13 in Holland, 12 in Greece and eight in Belgium. Eighty-five per cent. of the casualties were non-Israelis; 44 Israeli citizens were killed and 68 were wounded. In the peak year of 1973 in international terrorist activities, 50 attacks were attempted or perpetrated.

In Israel itself or in the territories administered by Israel since the 1967 war, 745 people have been killed by the PLO and 3,817 have been wounded. In the Gaza district alone, 281 Arabs have been killed, including 59 women and 39 children, and a further 1,499 have been wounded, including 120 women and 245 children. The PLO terrorists almost always attack civilians who cannot defend themselves, or have not the means to defend themselves—a nursery at kibbutz Misgav Am, a busload of children at Avivim, high school youngsters on holiday at Ma'alot, a Gaza holy man, holiday shoppers in a market place or passengers waiting to board a bus. They kill discriminately or indiscriminately foreigners, Arabs, Jews and Israelis alike.

I ask my right hon. Friend to recognise the logic of those figures, that the PLO is indeed an organisation of terrorists. I ask him to give some assurance to all those who are friendly with the State of Israel that there will be no dealing with the PLO until it publicly renounces its national covenant commitment to eliminate the State of Israel and until it publicly renounces all acts of terrorism. I ask him to give an assurance that the Government, led by a Premier and a Foreign Secretary who command ever-increasing respect in the world, will do absolutely nothing to undermine the security of the State of Israel.

6.16 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I oppose the Adjournment of the House so as to give us an opportunity to discuss a matter of increasing concern, namely, the consequences of the Government's encouragement of the sale of council housing. I do so with reference to an issue which has arisen in my constituency, although I believe that the conclusions to be drawn from it have a bearing on the housing policies of local authorities throughout the country.

Last week, Wandsworth borough council, the local authority covering my constituency, decided to incur expenditure of £300,000 to make so-called improvements to two brand new council estates, namely, the East Hill estate in my constituency and the Althorpe Grove estate in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). The purpose of that expenditure was to put those brand new estates, which the local authority has designated for sale and not for the people on the waiting list, into a condition more suitable for sale.

The bulk of the money is to be spent on improving car parking facilities on the two estates and to convert the district heating system on East Hill estate to individual heating. Those decisions were made by the council on the basis of "marketability studies" by a firm of valuers.

I do not dispute that, theoretically, Wandsworth borough council has a legal right to sell those properties and to spend that sum of money, although I am bound to make it clear that I disagree totally with the whole basis of the policy.

Nevertheless, even in the context of the Government's own policies of encouraging the sale of council houses, I think that something has gone seriously amiss in those decisions. It is my contention that the Government, at least from what they have said, never intended that money should be spent by local authorities in the way that I have described. I sought evidence of Government agreement with such a policy in, for example, circular 20/80, headed Local Authority Improvement for Sale Scheme", issued by the Department of the Environment on 21 November 1980. Paragraph 4 of that circular states: The scheme provides that dwellings shall be eligible if they are in need of substantial repair or improvement. It will be for local authorities to satisfy themselves that this criterion will be met, and so on. There is no way in which it can be argued that two brand new council estates need to have extra money spent on them under that heading, for by no standards can it be suggested that they are in need of substantial repair or improvement.

Circular 21/80 from the Department of the Environment, issued on 8 December 1980, in dealing 'with heating schemes, says in paragraph 55: Grant towards the cost of central heating (up to Parker Morris standards) may reasonably be given when its installation forms part of the cost of a scheme for converting a property into flats or for the comprehensive improvement of a dwelling. I should not have thought that the scheme to which I referred would come under that circular.

The Minister for Housing and Construction spoke to an Institute of Housing seminar on the Housing Bill on 24 April 1980. He went through the Government's seven-point home ownership programme, including, specifically, the improvement of homes for sale. He said: This is an important new area of activity. It provides a means of simultaneously improving the older housing stock, bringing empty dwellings back into use, and helping first-time buyers"— and so on. The Minister went on to say: We do not propose to lay down rigid conditions of eligibility for the scheme … we should expect the properties themselves generally to be old, in need of significant improvement, and probably vacant. They are certainly vacant in the instance to which I referred, because the estates are becoming ready for occupation. Some of the houses on one of the estates are ready for occupation. No one can say that they are old or that they are in significant need of improvement.

I argue that, in the absence of any clear evidence to the contrary, it was never the Government's intention that local authorities should spend their money in this way. It is, additionally, an entirely mistaken assessment of housing priorities by Wandsworth borough council that it should allocate its scarce HIP money on such schemes when, for example, there is a scheme in Battersea, North where there is a council estate in urgent need of re-wiring because the electrical system there is no longer judged to be safe. In addition, in my own constituency, in the Henry Prince estate, there are properties desperately in need of improvement, with many flats falling apart, and with a general state of decay overcoming the estate that is making life extremely unpleasant for the people living there.

I do not know how many local authorities are following policies similar to those of Wandsworth borough council. I hope that the instances I have quoted are unique, although I am not confident that that is the case.

The Secretary of State for the Environment has given powers to local authorities to make decisions of the sort that I have described. I do not think that he has any way, formally or legally, of preventing the contracts for tender going forward. Perhaps he could use his influence to prevent local authorities spending their money in an entirely improper manner.

I ask the Minister to pass on to the Secretary of State for the Environment the view that, if legislation is not to be forthcoming, guidance should be issued as a matter of urgency to stop local authorities indulging in this form of expenditure, which is an abuse of their responsibilities, a neglect of the real and urgent housing needs of the people on whose behalf they ought to be providing a housing service, and which is wasting scarce money that could be used for better purposes.

6.24 pm
Mr. Eric Deakins (Waltham Forest)

I oppose the Adjournment motion on the ground that was put forward earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), namely, that the European Commission's attack on the Government and people of this country—and, indeed, on Parliament—in respect of the loans and grants to the British Steel Corporation, ought to be debated in this House before the Whitsun Recess.

I couple with this reason a speech made by the Leader of the House 10 days ago, in which he delivered an encomium on the Common Market and all its works. He said that it was untrue to say that in this House we are not in control of our own interests as members of the EEC. I should have thought that the recent action by the European Commission gives the lie to that assertion.

There are other matters in the speech of the Leader of the House that should also be debated here as soon as possible, as the right hon. Gentleman was obviously speaking with some passion for the Government, even though his speech was put out as a handout from the Conservative Party Central Office. In the course of that speech, he made no attempt to take seriously the arguments of the anti-Marketeers. In this connection, I ask him to study carefully the attitude of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence who, in the recent Defence White Paper, made—for the first time by any Government of this country—some attempt to deal with the arguments of those who believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament.

I do not believe that members of the Government can any longer dismiss arguments on major issues of policy by waving them to one side and saying that they are minority arguments which do not stand up to examination. Those arguments ought to be submitted to rational examination.

The right hon. Gentleman said, for example, that the EEC had ensured peace in Western Europe. There was only one brief mention of NATO in his speech. I remind the right hon. Gentleman—who knows his history as well as I know mine—that NATO existed long before the EEC was thought about, and will no doubt continue long after that organisation has collapsed under the weight of its own bureaucracy. It is NATO, not the EEC, that has been responsible for ensuring the peace of Western Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman, emboldened by those words, went on to say that the EEC constituted a barrier to international Communism. Those words would be worthy of John Foster Dulles at his best, in the days of the cold war. In any event, they are not correct.

What have been the policies of the EEC with regard to the Third world? It has had a very restrictive attitude to Third world imports. It aids one-tenth of the population of the Third world in the ACP countries and neglects the nine-tenths of the Third world population living in Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. Its policies surely are not in the interests of the Third world—nor, for that matter, are they in the interests of people in Western Europe. They are policies which are likely to promote an instability in the Third world which will encourage the advance of international Communism, which is what the right hon. Gentleman wants to prevent.

Further, it is not even correct to say of Western Europe that the EEC has been a barrier to international Communism. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman—who, I am sure, is as pro-American as many people in this House, myself included—would at least have paid some tribute to the Marshall plan after the war, which preceded the EEC by a number of years. That ought to have been taken into account in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the regional grants that we have had from the EEC, and about the grants for our declining industries from the social fund. That is all very good, but he did not explain that these grants come out of moneys that we have already paid into the EEC, and that, had we paid ourselves those moneys for the purposes for which the EEC chose to use them, we should have been better off, as we are a net contributor—as the right hon. Gentleman freely admitted—to the iniquitous EEC budget.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that when we are outside the EEC—if we withdraw, which is certainly the policy of the Labour Party, and one that I heartily endorse—no one will take any notice of us. That is a very nationalistic argument from the representative of a party which still claims to be internationalist. There is nothing more nationalist than wanting to throw one's weight around in the world. Britain will be respected in the world, not for its economic or military strength, but for the lead that it gives in resolving the problems of the arms race and the North-South divide, which are the major problems facing mankind.

The last matter on which I take issue with the Leader of the House, arising from the Commission's action on steel, concerns the fact that he asserted that withdrawal would not be in the interests of Britain and implied that we should have a very raw deal if a Labour Government came to power. However, not all the cards are on the other side of the Channel. If the EEC took a tough line with us and a future Labour Government over a withdrawal, we should have at least one major card on our side, namely, North Sea oil—something that is of great value to Western Europe. I hope that we shall not have to play that card, but we may have to play it if the EEC acts tough.

I hope that the Leader of the House will not make such speeches in future or, if he does, I hope that he will make them in the House where they can be challenged and their contents pulled to pieces. I hope, too, that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the Commission's action on steel and the whole issue of Britain's relationship with the rest of the Common Market.

6.32 pm
Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

I apologise, first, for my absence during the later part of the debate, although I was here earlier. I shall be extremely brief, but I want to raise a matter that I believe is of general importance, and one that has rightly commanded a good deal of attention during the past few days.

The causes of the tragic fire at Deptford are not for the House to go into, but it would be wrong if we did not discuss what happened at the inquest and what can be done to avoid what most observers regard as a thoroughly unsatisfactory inquest. To some extent its failures were due to what I can only call human error, and were avoidable.

It was probably wrong to hold the inquest in the chamber of the Greater London Council, which has more the atmosphere of a theatre than the sober atmosphere of a court room. Secondly it was unfortunate that a number of those who came to watch the inquest as a spectacle seemed more interested in it as a political event than as a serious inquiry into a great national tragedy.

It was also unfortunate, to say the least, that a number of witnesses treated the court with studied contempt. It was unfortunate that some of the lawyers in the case seemed predisposed to cry foul, even before the game had properly begun. It was extremely unfortunate that the coroner seemed unable to exercise proper control over the proceedings. It was little short of lamentable that throughout the proceedings he did not take a note. To seek to sum up the case properly for the jury without notes can only cause trouble.

This inquest is the last in a series of inquests on matters of major public importance that have not gone as well as they should. It shows that there is a need for reform, and I believe that a small reform would fit the bill. The Chief Justice of England is by virtue of his office, the Chief Coroner. All the judges of the High Court are, by virtue of their offices, also coroners, although in living memory they have never sat as such.

We all know what constitutes an important inquest. I do not say that any death is unimportant, but we all know the cases that raise issues of major public importance. It would be possible to adopt a procedure whereby, perhaps on application to a judge in chambers, any interested party could ask that the case be dealt with under special procedures. Instead of it going to an ordinary coroner, it could go to a High Court judge.

Keeping control and being fair and balanced in a court room is as much a skill as any other professional skill, It is wrong to expect a coroner, who may not be legally qualified, or, even if he is legally qualified, may not be used to conducting a trial which has all the panoply of a great State trial, to shoulder that burden. The whole of society suffers, because the implications run wide and deep if matters do not go well.

I do not expect my right hon. Friend to respond fully to the matter tonight because it is not his responsibility. However, I hope that he will note that a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about this matter. Whatever we may think about other issues, we are united in saying that the time has come for something to be done about the coroner system.

In considering coroners' jurisdiction—not, as it were, the exceptional cases, but the broad mass of cases—it may be time to take down from the shelf and dust off the 1971 Brodrick report. That report took six and a half years to prepare, and it repays careful study. Coroners' jurisdiction has evolved over eight or nine centuries, although it is true that even as recently as last year, it was looked at and, to a small extent, revised.

It is a matter that should be considered with great care. Anyone who cares for the reputation of justice and who wants to think that we in Britain are capable of conducting an inquiry that is seen to be fair and is conducted in a proper and calm atmosphere that is conducive to discovering the truth, will not want to see another circus like the Deptford inquest. I hope that we shall take steps to avoid it.

6.37 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

It may seem a strange request that the House should not go into recess without discussing the question of the Royal ordnance factories in a week when we have had a two-day debate on defence. However, the Government's attitude to the Royal ordnance factories worries many people in my constituency.

In the Defence Estimates a section is devoted to the Royal ordnance factories. It praises the loyalty and efficiency of the industrial civil servants who work there. I have considerable reservations about the manufacture of weapons of war, whatever type of weapon they are, but we must be consistent. If we advocate, as I do, that this country should seriously consider whether it is either morally or politically sensible to continue to manufacture nuclear weapons, we must also take the responsibility of saying that we should, nevertheless, have conventional arms with which to defend ourselves if we are attacked.

The whole history of the Royal ordnance factories is one of devotion to national defence. It was decided in the time of Charles I that we were not able to leave the creation of munitions to private enterprise. Successive Governments, both Socialist and Conservative, have understood that, in the interests of the realm, this was not a sector in which we could allow profits to be the deciding factor. Yet some months ago the Conservative Government announced—as far as I can gather, not for any factual reason, but because it was a matter of political importance to them—that they intended to look at the possibility of what they called privatisation in the Royal ordnance factories.

We were told that a report was to be made, and that evidence would be taken from all the interested parties. In fact, the Royal ordnance factories have been investigated not once, but many times. Changes have come about so that today there are only 14 factories, each concerned with the manufacture of a specific part of our arms and in no way overlapping with any other factory. The process of rationalisation has been carried out in such a way that we now have the exact number of Royal ordnance factories that we need to deal with specific aspects of the manufacture of arms.

The problem is that the Royal ordnance factories have developed a great deal of expertise and skill in certain manufacturing processes that are of interest to private enterprise. That seems to be more important to the Government than do the overall interests of Great Britain. Discussion of the report appeared to be proceeding quite calmly, and 12 Labour Members of Parliament went to see the previous Minister of State to talk about its implications. They gained the impression that nothing would be done with untoward haste and the fears of the industrial civil servants who worked in Royal ordnance factories were unreasonable.

Since the report was prepared, there has been a change of Minister. The present Secretary of State for Defence, if I may say so without being unkind to him, is wholly doctrinaire in his attitude towards private enterprise and State assets. He takes the simplistic view that the State should disembarrass itself of involvement right across the board. That attitude was also shown by him in his previous office.

Industrial civil servants by their nature are loyal and stable workers. They do not go in for industrial action. Their record is extremely good. They have a right to be consulted before any radical decisions are taken. Yet it almost seems that the Government are prepared to go ahead with selling off Royal ordnance factories and removing the work force from the realm of the Civil Service into the realm of private enterprise without proper consultation. Even when the Minister was asked from the Opposition Front Bench what were his plans, he was not prepared to discuss them in the defence debate. Although he said yesterday that he intended to talk about what was to happen in the Royal ordnance factories, he did not mention them.

Certain aspects are extremely worrying. It is obvious that the report will be considered and decisions taken before the Summer Recess. The Minister said that he intended to announce his decision soon. It is also obvious that because the Secretary of State has extraordinarily bigoted ideas about privatisation, the process of selling off Royal ordnance factories is likely to go ahead without any notice being taken of the work force and of Britain as a whole.

It is ironic that the Conservative Government, who are eternally telling us how much they are concerned with the safety of the realm, and are eternally lecturing Opposition Members on their inability to consider the safety of Great Britain, should be prepared to think only in terms of earning a fast buck when it comes to the manufacture of arms. Their attitude is not just mistaken, it is highly dangerous.

At the beginning of the 1939–1945 war, an enormous amount of money and effort had to be put in to organising the manufacture of arms, because previous Conservative Governments had allowed the Royal ordnance factories to run down until they were incapable of meeting the demands of a country at war. I pray that we shall never again have to consider the manufacture of arms on that scale, but the House should at least be prepared to consider the implications of what the Government appear to be proposing. If the Conservative Government sell off Royal ordnance factories to the private sector, irrespective of their responsibilities to the country, they will be behaving in a frighteningly irresponsible manner, and I hope that the House will have an early opportunity to discuss this matter in considerable detail before any such decisions are taken.

6.45 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I had thought of delivering tonight the speech that I was hoping to make over the past two days in the defence debate, which was not a million miles from the speech I was hoping to make in the debate on Trident a few months ago. But I shall refrain from doing so in this interesting, though anachronistic, procedure for airing grievances.

I doubt whether many hon. Members—apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—would be prepared to forgo their holidays for the sake of the future of my constituency. I do not suppose that they will have the chance to do so. Among the subjects I should have liked to raise at length are the establishment of human rights in South Korea, and the need to license the private security industry. The Government, like the Labour Government, are obdurate on the subject. Another subject I should have liked to raise in detail is the need to establish control over telephone tapping and bugging, on which the Government are as obdurate as were previous Governments. I shall spare the House a discussion on my attitude to the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. We may or may not have a debate on that subject in the near future.

We are all rushing off on our holidays, philosophising on the future of the country, our respective parties and our constituencies. But before we go, I shall unashamedly raise again, albeit not at length, the considerable problems facing me and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, of the rapid decline in industry in our respective constituencies.

The unemployment figures will be coming out in a few days' time when Parliament is not sitting. I shall follow the advice of a Welsh coach who, when his team went out to play a tough New Zealand side, advised it to get in the retaliation first. In anticipation of the unemployment figures going up inexorably again, I should like to comment briefly on that subject. Only two years ago, unemployment in my area was just over 6 per cent., and it has been a devastating experience for the figure to rise to 14.1 per cent. Hon. Members from Scotland, Wales, the North-West or the North-East may be used to such a figure, but my area hitherto has been a most prosperous part of the country, and unemployment of 14.1 per cent. indicates the decline of British manufacturing industry, a great deal of the blame for which can be placed on the Government.

Even 14.1 per cent. is bogus. There are in addition 12,641 people on the temporary short-time working scheme who do one-day, two-day, three-day or four-day weeks. One company in my constituency, F. H. Lloyd, is pulling a fast one on the work force, by not applying for renewal of the temporary short-time working subsidy, so as to put pressure on the work force. I do not like to see a Government scheme manipulated as part of management-union negotiations.

The job release scheme assists a few hundred people, and 2,500 youngsters are taking part in the youth opportunities programme. I do not quibble that the Government are subsidising 2,500 youngsters who would otherwise be unemployed, but that is an indication of the devastation that is being wrought in my area. I have spoken to many groups in my political and academic career, but I have had few experiences as unhappy as speaking to 45 unemployed youngsters on a job creation scheme recently. Most were polite; some others were sullen, bitter, resentful and angry. They sought to blame someone. As a Member of Parliament, albeit in the Opposition, I was a good enough target at which to aim their antagonism and hostility. I could see in those youngsters—some were black and some were white—bitterness and resentment. We shall pay a heavy price for the failure of Governments over the last 10 years to provide job opportunities for young people of this kind.

My experience was by no means unique and the more Members of Parliament talk to the unemployed in their areas, the greater perception they have of life on the dole. As Members of Parliament we are in a precarious job, but to witness youngsters who see themselves as having no prospects is tragic. They ask why they should go to college and get qualifications when there are no jobs and there will be none. Some asked what was the good of going on a job creation scheme. Was it just a form of digging holes, a slightly more sophisticated variation on the 1930s ploy?

We have to make sure that the job creation schemes are not seen just as an alternative to unemployment and merely financially slightly better than unemployment. We must try to make these schemes viable, teach skills, and try to create a sense of industry in young people who are losing that sense. We must try to create among young people a sort of work ethic—although that may be a rather outmoded expression. Young people who leave employment or who are never in employment will find it very difficult when, as we hope, jobs are created to develop the mood and the desire for work.

The number of unemployed in my constituency is probably double 14.1 per cent. By the time the Darlaston area is added—which is not even in the Walsall travel-to-work area—and the people who do not bother to register as unemployed and the housewives are included, the figure is even more desperate than the appalling 14.1 per cent.

Last week, with a great deal of pride, I walked with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, with the Bishop of Lichfield, with nuns, with trade unionists and with people who wanted nothing to do with the trade union movement or the Labour Party. They just wanted to express themselves. These were not political activists, but ordinary people, marching, maybe tilting at windmills, but at least doing something to express their hostility to the current economic environment. It was a six-mile walk, which did not do me a great deal of harm, although the Bishop of Lichfield was far fitter than I.

The saddest part was walking through The Green in Darlaston because almost the entire work force of that town was there to greet us. They were not marching because they were the lucky minority that have jobs. At one time the town of Darlaston had about 22,000 people in employment. Now it has about 9,000. Seeing them was like seeing the remnants of an army after a lost battle. When I went through Darlaston five years ago the sound of machinery was deafening. Walking through that same area now, the silence is equally deafening. Without attributing blame to one group or another, it was sad to see a town that used to be industrial and suffered because of its industry. It is now ugly and, in many ways, dirty, with rundown housing. Some of the ills of the past have been improved. When I went to the town eight years ago as a Member of Parliament I saw factories but there was no decent shopping centre. As a result of campaigning there is now a marvellous shopping centre, but hardly anyone can afford to use it, such has been the run down of industry in that area.

I would have hoped that Darlaston would have been scheduled for some form of Government assistance. I have been on deputations in the past, with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North. In a recent visit to the Department of Industry we sought to put the case for Darlaston, and Walsall as a whole, being given special status under the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978. Most of the surrounding towns—Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton—have such status, but Walsall and Solihull do not receive special assistance. Now that Leyland is in deep trouble in Solihull maybe even that affluent town will need some form of assistance. Because of the problems of the area, could we not now be designated under the Inner Urban Areas Act, we asked. Unfortunately the reply was an unqualified "No". That is very sad for people living in an area that desperately needs greater Government assistance.

I do not see myself as a dogmatic Socialist. In fairness I concede that the Government have sought to take some action. Only today I received information in a Parliamentary answer that the Government are to cough up money to help fill in the extensive limestone caverns under the town centre. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the industrialists and business community sought to exploit the minerals without regard for the way in which the population would suffer 200 years later.

The alleged desire to create a Jerusalem of economic growth in England's green and pleasant land has so far resulted in a conspicuous lack of greenness and pleasantness in my constituency. Now, however, with a survey being commissioned jointly by the Department of the Environment, the West Midlands county council and the councils of neighbouring areas, we will identify the degree of undermining in the town—and I refer not to the Government's undermining of the town's economy but to the physical undermining that has blighted a large area. We hope that when that report is finalised the Government will be able to offer some financial assistance for the infilling so that the land can be developed for shops, housing, and, maybe, factories.

I had hoped that, since Walsall is a town which specialised at one time in the leather goods industry, now decimated by imports from Taiwan and Korea, the Government would not set themselves so firmly against some form of import control. I share the view of the CBI that surely the time has come to call a halt to the virtually unrestricted import of foreign cars. Walsall does not make cars but it does make components for the British motor vehicle industry, and that sector is suffering desperately. The government's only policy to motor vehicles is to encourage the begging of crumbs from Japanese tables. I very much hope that we can curb the import of cars, especially from Japan. That would help the motor vehicle industry directly and the components industry in my constituency indirectly.

What we get from this Government, unfortunately, is dogmatism. Only today I had a letter in which the Secretary of State for the Environment said: I am contemplating the use of my powers of intervention under Section 23 of the Housing Act 1980 to take over the sale of council houses to tenants And in a letter to the local authority he said: I am therefore writing to give formal warning". We talk about democracy in this country. Surely one precondition of democracy is that local authorities be permitted at least some powers. Now, by taking away this right, the Government are emasculating local democracy. When they go back into Opposition the Conservatives will start screaming again about local democracy. A commitment to democracy should not depend upon whether one is in Government or in Opposition. It should be consistent. Speeches by Conservative Members in the past about democracy have a very hollow ring.

Last week, when I spoke to the participants in the people's march I mentioned that I had been along to the local library and had been looking at some words which have fallen into disuse and abeyance because they are no longer felt to be necessary: belswagger, dundigrion, flayflint, to turdefy, widdershins, wimble and palaimolops—which sounds vulgar but refers to one who cannot be taught new tricks, a veteran in roguery. Will the words "factory" and "work" be as redundant as "palaimolops" in the near future? I do not wish to interrupt the conversations that the Leader of the House is having and I do not apply the word to him.

The House is listening to the president of the Walsall and district Gilbert and Sullivan society. I accepted that great honour after watching a musical last year, "The Pirates of Penzance" with two characters in it who attracted my attention. How could I refuse the offer when one was called "Mad Margaret" and the other was described as "confidential adviser to the greatest villain unhung". I am not referring to the Leader of the House.

Not all hon. Members will be heading for sunnier climes as we depart for the recess. Many work hard during the recess, which is often not understood. Our constituents' problems will carry on. Problems will remain in my constituency as in the other 634. They will preoccupy the thoughts of hon. Members of both sides of the House in the next few months. I hope that after the recess the debate will be resumed not only between the two sides of the House but, I suppose, within the parties. I hope that the legislature will not be seen as superfluous, simply cheering or booing the Government's words, but will play its part in resuscitating the economy and creating the viable and vibrant economy, which we all, regardless of party affiliation, seek.

7.1 pm

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

I rarely participate in these debates. After life in this pressure cooker, like most hon. Members I look forward to relief and to conversing with my wife and family. Hon. Members participate in the debate only because they see no other way to draw a vitally important issue to the Government's attention. When we return, the pressure of business in our normal programme will make it unlikely that we shall find time to discuss a specific subject.

There is a crisis in general practice in London, which has occurred only recently but which is growing. No one is paying attention to it. I drew attention to the problem in the House on 28 April, but, unfortunately, neither Front Bench took it up. As is the case with nursing, not enough importance is attached to general practice.

Before dealing with the problem of primary care, may I say how much I appreciated the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). When he is making representations to the Minister about the other Cinderella of the hospital service—nursing—will he draw special attention to the report on teaching nurses prepared recently by the Royal College of Nursing? There is a shortfall of 1,327 nursing teachers. There is no point in recruiting nurses unless there is someone to teach them. When the Leader of the House is reporting my hon. Friend's pertinent remarks, will he include that point, so that we may both have a reply from the Minister for Health?

Since the inception of the Health Service, all Governments have said that the first line of defence is the family doctor. We pay lip service to family doctors, but we do not co-ordinate the system. Neither the disastrous reorganisation by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in 1973 nor the attempt to patch it up last year dealt with the service as an integral part of preventive medicine. We should be keeping people out of hospital instead of regarding general practice as a conveyer belt to get them there. My remarks on 28 April were given more point by two reports published only this week, which the Minister will be considering and doubtless making a statement on. I should like more time for debate than that.

The report by the London planning consortium reveals that the area worst off for doctors is London. About 75 per cent. of general practice premises do not have adequate waiting rooms, lavatories or heating, so part of the Health Service is more like a slum, which is a disgrace in a civilised community. The problem does not apply in all areas of London. Mayfair and Kensington are one thing, but I represent the inner city area of Willesden in the London borough of Brent, which has all the problems of such an area.

We cannot attract general practitioners because of the tremendous cost of housing and the difficulty of access using the commuters arteries such as the North Circular, the M1 and the A4. Recruitment of doctors is insufficient to replace those who move on or retire. One out of eight general practitioners in the area is over 65. I am pleased that they are still working. I do not know what would happen if they all suddenly decided to retire, but, unfortunately, they cannot live for ever. If the service is not to break down we must have more general practitioners coming to inner city areas. If it broke down, the already overcrowded waiting list for referral to hospitals would increase. More people would become ill because they did not have treatment early enough. For example, more people are cured of cancer than die from it. The answer is early diagnosis, and that is where a good general practitioner comes in. People should not have to wait until a lump or bump develops before being referred to an outpatients department. It would probably then be too late.

The Government must take the problem seriously. General practice should not be looked on as a minor area, although, more people seem concerned about hospitals. We do not think of the NHS as a health service but as an illness service. We send people to hospital to be patched up after they are ill. We shall make an inroad into the problem of health care this decade only if we take action on the first line of defence—the general practitioner.

We also need to organise more ancillary services. In the next few weeks, the Minister for Health will be making a judgment on another report that came out only this week on the areas to be covered by the new district health authorities. In most areas, and mine in particular, coterminosity has been achieved by the social services department. We cannot divide the care of a person over 60 into two sectors—the DHSS and the NHS. Equally, it must be an overall consideration whether to accommodate elderly people in a geriatric ward, a part III home or warden assisted accommodation. Those problems are indivisible.

I know that the Leader of the House will not call us back on Bank Holiday Monday but if he wishes to call us back on any other day I shall be happy to join the Secretary of State for Social Services in discussing the problems. I ask him to take me seriously, to ask for a statement at an early opportunity, to meet the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council and to consider what is happening in the family practitioner committees, which have remained moribund for about 30 years, so that we begin to work towards preventing illness rather than curing it.

7.10 pm
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

If all the debates on all the important subjects that have been called for this afternoon by hon. Members on both sides of the House were miraculously granted by a stingy Government, so far from our adjourning or postponing the recess, we would not have a Whitsun Recess and probably the long recess in the summer would also be in jeopardy. Fortunately, very few hon. Members have suggested that we should go that far. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), if I heard him correctly, threatened to oppose, as I suspected from his speech, by voting against the motion, but as he departed after his speech I do not know whether that was accurate.

So many topics have been raised that I can briefly touch on only some of them. I reserve my fire and the main purport of my speech for two main subjects. My hon. Friends the Members for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) and Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) came together in what I thought was an admirable disclosure of what is happening in the National Health Service—one speaking about nurses and the lack of recruitment due to shortage of pay, and the other speaking about the lack of teachers and the crisis in the general practitioner service in London.

It is interesting to note that the Government are not cutting public expenditure. That has been admitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ministers and the Prime Minister herself. They are switching public expenditure. For example, in the National Health Service there is enough money to reinstate private beds, more even than when Barbara Castle abolished them. There are more private beds now than there were then. There is more money for that but not money to improve the Health Service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) mentioned the money available to tart up council houses for sale in his constituency. But apparently there is no money available for the necessary house building and repair that is required in his constituency, in mine and in everyone else's. Those are points that we must bear in mind, even if we decide, as we will, to allow the motion to go through unopposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) raised the matter of the sale of the Royal ordnance factories. That is part of a process of destruction of important and vital parts of our industry and economy. It is expenditure on the wrong basis because we shall sell instruments that could be used to create work, industry and competitiveness. Naturally, we sell them at knock-out prices, or at least the Government will. That is equally to be deplored.

Of all the bad luck, the one speech that I was, unfortunately, not able to hear, as I was called out at the time, was that of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). He referred to the tragic fire in my constituency two doors away from my party headquarters. Not only have I an interest in the subject but a deep interest in what he described. I agree with everything he said, as it was reported to me. The chamber of the GLC is not the proper place for conducting an inquiry into the deaths of 13 young people, whatever may have caused those deaths and whatever people may think. People jump to conclusions. The chamber of the GLC does not have the right atmosphere and is not the place for such inquiries. The inquiry should have been held in a court which has an atmosphere conducive to a proper survey and inquiry. I know that the Leader of the House is always obliging and that when he says that he will tell his right hon. Friends, I am sure that he does. On this occasion I hope that he will not just tell his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but will buttonhole him, as I shall do. We must do something about the conduct of inquests.

The crowner, of whom we read in Shakespeare—I assume that it started in Elizabethan times, although it may have started earlier—conducted inquiries into local deaths, which everyone probably knew about. That has continued right through to our time. A doctor or even a solicitor—that is my profession so I am entitled to say that I do not think it is the most suitable basis for holding an inquiry—is not the person to deal with sensitive inquiries. Some may be dealt with in that way.

This case and many other cases where death is being investigated and where there is an important and sensitive issue is not the sort of case that should be given to a doctor to conduct. I do not attach blame to him but with the best will in the world the coroner in this case was out of his league. A man who can hear day after day witness after witness and, as the hon. Gentleman said, not take a note is not dealing with a subject with which he should be dealing. The Leader of the House must talk with the Home Secretary to see whether both sides of the House can reach a better basis for dealing with inquiries of that sort in the future.

I said that there were two problems with which I wanted to deal rather more extensively than I have dealt with the others because they are immediate and topical. In one instance a number of hon. Gentleman on both sides of the House are involved. The first is that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who spoke about having a debate on Northern Ireland. Approaching the subject for all of us is an extremely sensitive, delicate and difficult thing to do. It is difficult because it is tragic. We are not involved. The Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and must know a good deal more about it than most of us. Most hon. Members, myself included, look at what we believe to be the appalling tragic, needless loss of life on both sides of the religious divide. It horrifies us. Obviously we want to see it come to an end. It is easy to want to see it come to an end.

If a debate could solve Northern Ireland's problems, let us have a debate straight away. But it would not. A great deal of study will. I hope that much study is being done by the Government. It is being done in my party. I say this seriously and not in a party spirit. Somehow we have to solve the problem, and solve it as quickly as possible. If I am accused, as I shall be, of not being definite and fudging the issue, that is because it is a problem that so easily lends itself to that treatment. I wish I knew the answer to it. I only know that perhaps between us we do not have much time left in which to answer it. I want it to be answered quickly.

My hon. Friend said that it was necessary for the people of Ulster, of the United Kingdom and of the Rupublic of Ireland to agree. I accept that, and that is why I reject the rather ingenuous suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Devonport that we should throw the problem into the lap of the Commission in Brussels to solve it. If it can be solved north and south of the border, what is the point of bringing in the Commission or the EEC generally?

The right hon. Gentleman, who is a former Foreign Secretary, prayed in aid that the EEC had had policies on Cyprus and the Middle East. I do not regard its results so far as being so dynamic that we should throw the problem in Ireland to the Community. In addition, if we are talking about divided areas, I have not noticed that the EEC has been so remarkably astute in solving the problem in Belgium where the Flemish and the Walloon people are dwelling in some degree of hostility. I accept that the way forward must be by agreement between us and the Republic of Ireland. I think that in our hearts we all accept that and that, at least, is a hopeful sign.

I mention the EEC because the right hon. Member for Devonport referred to it. But so did a number of my hon. Friends, and rather strikingly. I shall miss the cheerful face of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) when I visit the Leader of the House for the discussions that do not take place, but the hon. Gentleman referred to the problems of the decline of the motor industry in the West Midlands and that relates strangely, but directly, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), who spoke about the EEC and steel.

Whether our joining the EEC was a major contributory factor to the decline of British industry, as my hon. Friends and I claim—though I make no strong point of it at this hour—there is no doubt that our membership prevents us from solving the problem. The Government are doing their damndest, if rather late in the day, to put money into the steel industry so that we retain that industry and are saying, as we have been saying for a couple of years, "Perhaps the steel industry will recover. Let us have the resources to deal with that", but the Commission says "You cannot have the money. We are against subsidies to industry, even when they may mean saving an industry in your country".

That is the first penalty of membership of the EEC. The second was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in his interesting and moving speech. With his athletic background, he is more capable than I, or even the Bishop of Lichfield, for all I know, of walking that six miles. My hon. Friend referred to the decline of industry in the West Midlands and the need for import controls. But we cannot impose such controls against EEC countries. We can impose them against Japan, but sometimes we think that Japan and Japanese exports are the whole problem. They are not. The real difficulties in cars, tyres, steel and coal arise from the buccaneering free trade basis of the EEC.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) made an interesting speech in which there was an interesting intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). My right hon. Friend spoke of what I and most other hon. Members regard as a scandalous disregard of the code of industrial relations. We are always told during Prime Minister's Question Time that one of the great achievements of the Government is how markedly industrial relations have improved.

Mr Lawrence

They have.

Mr Silkin

Not, apparently, in Openshaw or Norwich. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) should get together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South after the debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) made, as always, an important and moving speech and brought in not only the former Minister for the disabled, but the right hon. Member for Devonport, who is a former Minister of State at the DHSS. My right hon. Friend referred to the World Health Assembly and the new marketing code for baby foods. Anyone who has read anything about that subject knows that it looks like exploitation of underdeveloped countries by those seeking to sell baby food without a code. That has been a scandal. I hope that the Leader of the House will reassure my right hon. Friend and the House that the Government hold that matter dear to their heart and will do something about it.

On that universal note of agreement, I give the Leader of the House the satisfaction of knowing that we shall not oppose the motion.

7.27 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

There has been slightly more reluctance than I had expected to come to a conclusion about next week's recess, but important issues have been raised in the debate and I shall refer briefly to most of them.

I start with Northern Ireland, which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), whose comments I appreciate. It is difficult to arrange debates on Northern Ireland. Much time is spent on Northern Ireland business, but general debates are not easy to fit in at the appropriate time.

The right hon. Member for Devonport criticised us for not taking a fresh political initiative. He said that there had not been such an initiative since 1974, though he praised the dramatic initiative taken by the Conservative Government in 1973, when I was Secretary of State, at the time of Sunningdale and the power-sharing executive.

There were no initiatives during the lifetime of the previous Labour Government, but this Government took a positive political initiative in 1979. It lasted for a year and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland had countless conversations with the political parties in the Province. In the end, it came to nothing, but it was a political initiative. We regretted that politicians in Northern Ireland did not feel able to reach a greater degree of accord.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has taken an initiative with the Republic of Ireland and has had conversations with the Taoiseach. Relationships have been greatly improved in regard to security matters and trying to reach new proposals and ideas to help solve the problem. It should be noted that 1980 was a year of progress. We have had a difficult time in recent weeks and months, but 1980 was a year of improvement.

The right hon. Member for Devonport (Dr. Owen)—I am sorry he is not present—passed strictures on the Government for not taking an initiative. I do not believe that these strictures are justified. It is easy to throw out ideas. One was proposed only a day or two ago involving the United Nations. All hon. Members who have commented on that proposal see real difficulties in it. The right hon. Gentleman's own proposal was to bring in the European Economic Community. I am doubtful whether that suggestion could make any significant contribution to the solution of a problem which is very specialised. I shall not spend more time upon it this evening.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) for the kind remarks that he addressed to me. It is really, however, for me to thank him for what he has done during the past two years. What he decided to do last week is undoubtedly my loss. I thank him for all the support that he gave me.

My hon. Friend raised an important matter about which he is very knowledgable, namely, the car and engineering industries in the West Midlands. He expressed fears about the Japanese spinning out their talks and sought reassurance for component makers and assemblers. That was a reasonable request. As he knows, Nissan is currently engaged in a feasibility study in either a development area or a special development area. That feasibility study should be complete within the next month. Nissan is then expected to formulate its detailed plans which it will discuss with the Government. I am afraid that this means that there cannot be an early statement. However, I assure My hon. Friend that the proposal is not being allowed to stagnate, as he suggested might be the case. We are watching the situation carefully.

My hon. Friend also referred to recent moves within the European Community on trade relations. He is aware, I am sure, that the Council of Ministers has called for an undertaking by the Japanese that there should be no diversion of Japanese cars to the Community following the United States-Japanese arrangements. The Government support this statement and the reference to the problem of imports concentrated in sensitive sectors. I understand that the Commission has been instructed to commence discussions with the Japanese. This is, therefore, a very live issue.

I also assure my hon. Friend that the Government are very conscious of the need for inward investment as well as investment from our own resources. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom has many assets and that it is a country well suited in many ways to inward investment. We shall exploit this situation as hard as possible. Nissan is a good example. We shall keep the matter very closely in mind.

The issue of rates was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) who described the unfairness of the system. I do not think that what he says is a matter of controversy. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) raised the matter of the industrial burden with the adverse consequences for the business world and the contribution to unemployment. My hon. Friend put forward a number of constructive ideas that will be studied carefully by the Government. There are also worries about rates among domestic ratepayers not least concerning the special levies that are likely to be raised in certain local authority areas, especially those won by the Labour Party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) asked for an assurance that alternatives were being examined. I can give that assurance. Work started some time ago and is continuing. I cannot say at this stage whether we shall publish a consultative document. 'We are, however, considering the idea in view of the fact that it is likely to be useful.

It is because the Government are so concerned about the unfairness of the rates and the effect on various arts of the community and various interests that we are studying the matter actively with the determination, in the end, to change it. This has long been a commitment of our party and work is in hand.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooky) raised the matter of the British Steel Corporation and the attitude of the European Community to our plans to assist that industry. The Commission has not rejected our proposals for providing finance for the British Steel Corporation. It has agreed to Government financing of redundancy and closure payments. It has decided, however, to make an investigation of other aspects of the corporate plan and the provision of Government finance. Similar action has been taken in relation to other countries, for example, Luxembourg and Belgium. We supported fully the decision that the Commission took and welcome the fact that it seeks to apply firmly the decision on State aids for steel adopted in February 1980.

We are confident that the Commission will agree eventually but we are sure it is right that the proposal, like proposals of a similar kind in other countries, should be properly scrutinised.

I cannot say much about the factory closure to which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) referred. The right hon. Gentleman asked if I would convey the substance of his remarks to the appropriate Minister. I give an undertaking to do so.

The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) was good enough to send me a note explaining that he would not be able to stay for the conclusion of the debate. The position is that the World Health Organisation's proposed code on marketing has been a matter of close interest to the Government. This was stated clearly by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in an Adjournment debate on 26 February. The United Kingdom delegation to the World Health Assembly was briefed to support the code's adoption as a recommendation to member States. I very much appreciate the warm tribute that the right hon. Gentleman paid to my hon. Friend.

On the issue of the pay of hon. Members raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, I remind him of the remarks of the Prime Minister at Question Time today. The House will be considering motions relating to pay on the Friday of the week we return after the recess, as I announced this afternoon. There are strong arguments why, I believe, the decision that the Government took was right. I shall be presenting those arguments on that occasion.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) raised the important matter of nurses' pay. The hon. Gentleman drew a comparison with what has been done for the Armed Forces and the police. He referred rightly to the great worth of the nursing profession. That is not disputed. I remind him that my party entered into a specific commitment in the case of the Armed Forces and the police. We believed that such a commitment was in the national interest. That commitment was given in the last Parliament. We have adhered to it. To single out the Armed Forces and the police in no way implies that the nurses or any other group of people are unimportant. The negotiations for pay have to go through the normal procedure. I understand that the nurses and midwives Whitley Council has engaged in some preliminary discussions but that detailed negotiations have not yet begun. The next meeting, I believe, will take place on 2 June when the process will begin. I shall, however, convey the views of the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) referred to the family doctor service, especially in London. This is obviously an important matter. It is known that there are problems in the Health Service. I will only say tonight that I shall refer the matter, that he has raised to the Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) referred to law and order, terrorism, mugging, vandalism and the rest. My hon. Friend was good enough to applaud the Home Secretary's efforts to ease the load on prisons. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gives a great deal of time to consideration of all aspects of upholding the law and how this can be done more effectively. The Government, under his guidance, have given both material and moral support to the police. The police today are 6,000 more numerous than two years ago. That does not exactly solve the problem but it makes a substantial contribution to it.

My hon. Friend referred to stopping or reducing violence. That is not a matter for the police alone. The responsibility belongs to the whole community. Everybody has a part to play. Unless and until that is better understood and we recognise that we cannot rely on the police alone, we shall not get on top of the problem. We know that there are reasons why some people are reluctant to play their part—but play their part they must.

I appreciate that there is a policy difference between myself and the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) on the general question of selling council houses. The local authorities must decide their own policies in the context of legislation. If the council referred to by the hon. Gentleman succeeds in disposing of the houses when they are improved it will be able to augment its housing investment programme by the full amount of the capital receipts from the sales. It will be able to use the resources, if it so decides, to meet what it judges to be the most urgent housing needs in the borough.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to the important problem of the Middle East. I do not wish to make a long comment on that. I can assure him that the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary are doing nothing to undermine the security of Israel. They are bending their efforts, with other allies and partners, to work for peace and to make a positive contribution to establishing peace in the Middle East.

I agree with what the right hon. Member for Deptford said about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). His remarks were constructive. There is concern about the way in which the inquest was conducted—perhaps not about the individual circumstances but of the general circumstances surrounding it. I assure my hon. Friend that what he said, and other aspects will be considered.

The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred to Royal ordnance factories. For over 18 months an examination has been made of policy options, one of which is the privatisation of the ordnance factories. I know something about them because I was once Secretary of State for Defence. They are extremely well-run and efficient. They are extremely useful to us. Nobody is criticising them in any sense. They are probably the most efficient factories and shops for producing weapons anywhere in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, in 1979 we embarked on an examination of other possibilities and other ways of running them. The Secretary of State for Defence will, in due course, make a statement to the House announcing his conclusions. No decisions have been taken.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) raised a number of important points about industry and job opportunities. One of the most worrying features of today's circumstances is the number of young people out of work. We have given high priority to the youth opportunities programme. It is public knowledge that we are looking at that again to see how we can improve and extend it. It is, perhaps, more important than anything else to try to find work or work opportunities for young people. We regard that as being of the greatest importance, as we do the resuscitation of the economy. The whole world is in deep recession. We want to revive the economy as soon as circumstances permit.


I apologise in that I was not in the Chamber when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned my speech. I tried to make arrangements to be here but I was outside the House. I meant no discourtesy.

Mr Pym

I began with the subject of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remark.

The happiest note on which to conclude is that made by the hon. Member for Brent, South who said that he was looking forward to the adjournment so that he could spend some time with his wife and family. That might apply to many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and I hope that the House will agree to the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising to-morrow do adjourn till Monday 1 June.

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