Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday 8th April do adjourn till Monday 19th April and at its rising on Friday 30th April do adjourn till Tuesday 4th May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 8th April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
There has been some complacency by Ministers recently over the slight reduction in unemployment. They have dwelt on the decrease in unemployment during the last month. In the travel-to-work area which I partly represent, Walsall, registered unemployment is 17 per cent., which amounts to 28,738 on the jobless register. In the West Midlands registered unemployment is more than 15 per cent. with 344,400 registered as jobless. Unemployment in the West Midlands is now higher than the national average. That is unique and has understandably caused great hardship and suffering.
I am raising this matter as well because of the numbers who have been unemployed for a long time. In the area covered by West Midlands county council, 61 per cent. of those registered have been unemployed for more than six months and of these 36 per cent. have been unemployed for more than a year. It is also appropriate to point out that 29 per cent. of all the unemployed in the county area of the West Midlands are over 45 years of age. In the Walsall travel-to-work area the number registered jobless for over a year exceeds 10,000. That figure was given in reply to a parliamentary question recently.
What about the figure when the Government took office? In April 1979 the figure was just under 2,500, so there has been a threefold increase in the number registered as jobless for longer than 12 months in my travel-to-work area. Therefore, it is not surprising that, whereas in May 1979, 6,300 non-pensioners were drawing supplementary benefit from the two Department of Health and Social Security offices in Walsall, the figure now is 14,300. These are people of working age who are forced to draw supplementary benefit because in most cases they are unable to find employment.
We should not overlook what this means for the standard of living of those people and their families who have to live on the minumum prescribed by the State. They are unable to earn their living. If they are over 45 or 50 there is the nightmare fear that perhaps they will not be able to get jobs again.
When the Government went to the hustings in May 1979 they did not promise such a future for the people in the West Midlands. The figures which I have quoted show only too well what has been happening in the region during the past two or three years. What is required is action by the Government to reverse some of their economic policies and to reverse the tide of mass unemployment.
Previous Governments have accepted the objective of full employment. The accusation against this Government is that they do not accept that objective. In the Budget this year it was more or less accepted that unemployment would rise substantially during the next financial year. Are Conservative Members proud to belong to a party which in office has caused such misery, which has caused the living standards of so many people to fall and which makes those in the age group to which many of us belong feel that 493 they will probably not be able to get jobs again? As I have said, that was hardly promised in the election manifesto of Conservative right hon. and hon. Members when they last went to the country. It has been a disgraceful performance in Government. Undoubtedly people up and down the country understand that they have been betrayed.
Yesterday the Secretary of State for Employment made a speech in which he said that young people had been priced out of jobs by other people's greed. That was a silly remark, even from the right hon. Gentleman. He seems to overlook the policies of his own Government, the recession, the slump, high interest rates and the rest, and simply talks about greed. Does he really believe that young people who go from school to the dole queue accept that as a reason why they cannot get jobs? Do their parents believe it? It is understandable that the right hon. Gentleman made those remarks, because he is so full of anti-trade union prejudice that he cannot think straight when it comes to any matter relating to unions.
On the first of the two topics that I wish to raise, when he replies to the debate the Leader of the House should tell us what the Government intend to do about unemployment in the West Midlands. In some places it is far worse than it was in the 1930s.
My second topic concerns an overseas matter—the recent elections, if they can be described as such, in E1 Salvador. Some ask why we should bother about E1 Salvador—what concern is it of ours? By sending observers, Britain has accepted some responsibility for those elections. It is extremely difficult to understand why we as a country have been associated with some others. Chile, for example, sent observers to those elections. That is a fine Government with which to be associated. Honduras, Haiti and Taiwan also sent observers. One can hardly describe such countries as outstanding examples of parliamentary democracy. The list of countries that sent observers to the so-called elections in E1 Salvador does not include one other European country.
We have been isolated by the attitude of the Prime Minister, who wishes to associate Britain with the regime in E1 Salvador. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, Britain's reputation has been harmed by being involved in and sending observers to those farcical elections. We all know how impossible it is to have genuine and meaningful elections in the middle of a civil war. The Opposition made that point recently in a debate but the Government refused to listen.
The person who has emerged as most likely to be asked to form a Government in E1 Salvador is the leader of an ultra-Right-wing group, who was described by a recent United States ambassador there as a pathological killer. That is the man who, in the next few days, may be asked to form a Government in E1 Salvador. It is he who has been behind the death squads—he has never denied it—that have been responsible for killing about 30,000 people in the past two or three years.
There have been many other occasions when the Opposition have protested against injustice abroad. There are many tyrannies. E1 Salvador is by no means the only one. Labour Members cannot understand why we as a parliamentary democracy should allow ourselves to be involved with such a regime. Surely it would do far more good if the British Government took a more detached view.
494 There is growing opposition in the United States to the American Government's policies towards Central America. The British Government may not want to associate themselves with such internal protests in the United States, but I am complaining that in many ways the British Government seem to be no more than an echo of the American State Department and Secretary of State Haig. We seem to be playing the same role as we played during the Vietnam war, and I doubt whether we helped the United States at the time by agreeing with their policies in South-East Asia.
There is a growing crisis in Central America, and in E1 Salvador in particular. If we are to intervene at all, we should ensure that negotiations take place between those who are fighting the civil war. We should try to bring peace, stability and genuine reform to that country, which has been poverty-stricken and oppressed for so many years.
It seems that the Government are once again making a grave mistake on an important foreign policy matter. That problem has preoccupied the United States a great deal. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, we hope that the Government will change their line and recognise that what is happening in E1 Salvador is civil war and that if the Government have any role to play, they should try their utmost to bring the parties together, for the reasons that I have stated.
Those, then, are the two points that I wanted to raise before the Easter Recess,
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
Before the House rises for the recess, I wish to make a few brief points relating to essential requirements for the tourist industry. I have been asked by a number of my colleagues to do so.
The few hon. Members with a peculiar and close interest in tourism must be intensely critical of all previous Governments and, I am sorry to say, of the present Government.
In Hotel Catering and Institutional Management, Anne Voss-Bark, regional chairman of an area to which these matters relate, wrote as follows:It is clear that the Government does not give a damn about the hotel industry at the present time. All that Westminster is doing at the moment is making it more difficult for us to live, to give good service and to attract more customers, many of whom are from abroad and who could help to put our balance of payments right. You would think that the Government realises this, but they act as if they don't. The Government have done nothing to help the hotel industry—nothing—only the reverse.Owing directly to Government policy, a number of hotels which are well liked and efficiently run have closed for lack of customers. One can go to coastal towns and count the "For Sale" notices as one walks along the front. Those signs are there not necessarily because the hotels are bad but because the owners have been forced to pay wages that they cannot afford and too much tax.
One hears of people coming back from France and saying how cheap it is over there, but French hotel owners pay 7 per cent. in VAT whereas English hotel owners pay 15 per cent. The Dutch pay 4 per cent. in VAT and—imagine it—even in Italy VAT is a mere 9 per cent.
I am not advocating that we change our structure of VAT, but I do advocate the urgent application of one or two matters. There is a serious malaise throughout the tourist industry. Whether it be the British Tourist Board, 495 the regions, Devon, the South-East regional tourist board, the hoteliers or the caterers, all are deeply concerned at the lack of an effective tourist policy for many years past, particularly under the present Government from whom they expected a lead.
I shall give three examples. First is the abolition of the fatuous rule that Government grants—I am talking only of Government grants—provided under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, are permitted in only five areas of the country, all of which are manufacturing areas. None of them could conceivably be designated for tourism. There are one or two towns, to which I shall refer, in those areas.
None of the other tourist areas in the country is entitled to a tourist grant. No one in the tourist industry can understand it and no one in the country can believe it. The tourist industry is the most labour-intensive of all. It costs only £4,000 to create a job in the tourist industry. It has been proved that 80,000 to 100,000 such jobs could be created, at less cost than keeping people unemployed.
It is therefore essential—we await an early answer—that the Cabinet should consider redesignating such areas so that they may receive for tourists what tourism really needs. I refer not to the opening of the Manchester canal or something of that sort, but to direct needs of tourism. The Government have been considering the problem for more than two years now and no answer has been forthcoming.
It is the universal view of the industry that the grants, meagre though they are, should be on a nationwide basis specifically to assist black spots and the essential requirements of tourism. A satisfactory answer on that would make a very nice Easter egg for the tourist industry, which has waited a long time.
Secondly, I was asked to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I did so, to back up representations from the industry generally about industrial allowances. The present situation is intolerable. Tourism has been defined and accepted by the Treasury as an industry. Industrial allowances are 75 per cent. for industry, but only 25 per cent. for the hotel sector and the amusement centres, by which I mean caravan centres and so on. To restore the balance at least to the position of two years ago would mean raising the grant from 25 per cent. to 37½ per cent—still only half of the allowance to industry. That has been proposed as the first priority of the tourist industry.
The hotel trade took a tremendous pummelling when it had to make substantial and perfectly proper improvements to meet fire regulations. As a result, hoteliers found themselves without the resources or the borrowing ability to carry out necessary modernisation to a standard comparable with that of our overseas competitors. Nevertheless, in some areas this was achieved by means of industrial and other allowances, and particularly through section 4 allowances. The example of Scarborough shines out like a beacon. Because it is in an industrial manufacturing area, Scarborough received £1¼ million in section 4 grant. It was thus able to modernise its hotels. As the chief executive has pointed out, the value of that is now up to £7 million. The town has completely picked up through the expenditure of such a small amount.
Having considered the matter carefully, the subcommittee of the Conservative Party tourist committee has pressed this as a matter of the greatest importance. I beg the Chancellor to make the necessary amendment to the Finance Bill to bring the industrial allowances fairly into 496 line for this great industry, especially at the present time when so many more jobs could be created but when so many jobs could also be lost if hotels and guest houses continue to close all over the country. That is no exaggeration. If this were done, they could modernise at very little expense.
Thirdly, the structure of the industry requires urgent consideration by the Cabinet, for this would be a Cabinet decision. To be quite blunt, the only good Minister concerned with tourism in the past few years was my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), who recently gave up that responsibility. She was first-class.
§ Mr. Winnick
In dealing with the tourist industry and related matters, has the hon. and learned Gentleman any interest of his own to declare?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
None at all. I am chairman of the Conservative Party committee on tourism, but l have absolutely no interests of any kind in this country.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I have none in Spain, either. I do not intend to argue any further about that. If I had any interest, I should certainly declare it.
In the judgment of many of us and of most of the trade there should at least be a Minister of State for tourism who would be concerned solely with the multitudinous problems of what is probably the most successful industry. It can certainly provide the greatest number of jobs for the unemployed, due to its labour-intensive nature. I believe that the present structure is wrong. Many of those who serve the industry believe that it would be better with the Department of Industry than with the Department of Trade. Whether or not that change is made, the industry certainly needs a voice that can be more comprehensively heard than is now the case.
If a mere £20 million instead of the present £4 million could be found, many of the problems would be solved, leading to a great expansion of the industry. If we had a Minister to correlate tourist issues with our European colleagues, we could ensure that the present EEC aid criteria were met and the European Investment Bank and the European social fund could provide the necessary tourist grants for hotels and for the infrastructure and the centres that this country requires but which, without assistance, will fail and will thus lose rather than create.
In France, substantial funds have been injected into the Camargue in the south. Those funds have come in part from Europe. If the criteria of the European social fund and regional fund were looked into, assistance could be provided for black spots in this country. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to unemployment rates of 16 and 17 per cent. The rate in Margate is higher than that and is consistently one of the highest in the country. In all of the tourist resorts to which I refer, unemployment rates are 15 per cent. or more and generally higher than elsewhere. Let us give them the chance to assist this country. Let us support a successful industry and assist those who can make it more successful. That is certainly a better policy than following the path of trying to help those who have been less successful.
497 I hope that these considerations will be passed on to those who have to make the decision and that the Cabinet will pay due regard to them. I assure the House that there is a feeling throughout the hotel and catering industry that it is the Cinderella and has been left out although it has contributed much to the success story of the development of tourism in this country.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
At Prime Minister's Question Time today, I raised the problem of the murders in Northern Ireland in the past week. It is particularly important that I raise this matter before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess, because in my city of Londonderry two soldiers were butchered in cold blood today, and a policeman was shot dead as he left church on Sunday and a week ago today three soldiers were murdered in Belfast. All those murders were the work of the IRA. That is six lives in seven days. Moreover, there have been other attempts, one of which, on Tuesday, left a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary grievously wounded. It would therefore be wrong indeed for the House to shut up shop for 10 days without giving attention to this very serious matter.
I asked the Prime Minister today for a stronger security force presence on the ground. That means more Army personnel on the ground. In the past we have found that when the manpower is present the ability of the IRA to strike diminishes, and that when the shield is lowered or removed the ability of the IRA to strike through the weakened defences quickly becomes apparent.
The opportunity is not the only thing that matters in a situation such as this. There are wider ramifications. There are always other matters embodied in IRA strategy that are not immediately apparent to those who live in Ulster, and less so to those who live on this side of the Irish sea. Those who sit in the House, unless they are in positions of authority, and those in the streets of London and other British cities, do not have the feel and touch of grass root opinion in the Province and cannot be expected to reach the same conclusions as those of us who live there.
It is reasonable to ask for a stronger security and Army presence during the coming weeks in the light of our experience during the past decade. There is always some trouble at Easter. Above all, there is trouble every time we have another so-called initiative. We are now in the throes of a further initiative, which is nothing more than a rehash of what has gone before. A similar upsurge occurs when there are conversations between the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the right hon. Lady. It happened under her predecessors, and possibly it will happen under her successors if we are so foolish as to continue such contact. On the last such occasion, in November, seven people were killed in about a week, one of whom was the late Mr. Robert Bradford who so often addressed the House from this Bench.
My feeling is that we are seeing the same sort of upsurge, because today's murders were set up in such a way that they could have trapped anyone leaving the police station at which the soldiers were working and caught them on their way back to the city centre. Today the IRA displayed a willingness to kill any member of the security forces, whether local or national, who came within its reach. It was a carefully planned operation and part of an 498 emergent pattern during the past few days, which demonstrates to me that there is a definite build-up in IRA activity. I should be surprised if many more days passed without further victims of the IRA's murderous activities.
Before the recess we must have a reassurance about the security force level in Northern Ireland. I must ask that the assurance given here in words is seen in uniform on the ground and that proper precautions are taken. Despite the warnings that should have been evident to any politician and to the security forces in Northern Ireland, no precautions appear to have been taken during the past few weeks. The security forces should have known that they had to take the necessary measures to prevent the six murders and attempted murders.
There is no point in turning round and saying that the chief constable or the commanding officer did not ask for men. That is as much a matter of political judgment as of military and security force judgment on the ground. We have had long experience about what happens at this time of the year and whenever such alleged political movements are attempted.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Although I accept and completely agree with the condemnation of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) of the atrocious murders in his city and throughout Northern Ireland in the past few days and weeks, is he saying that there should be no political initiative and that no one should try to erase the terrible divisions of the past and try to bring people together in the belief that the IRA or the Loyalist paramilitary organisations will not succeed? Is he saying that we should do nothing? If so, the IRA or the Protestant military organisations have won the war.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is too hasty. He should perhaps have waited and all would have been made clear as I expanded my arguments. The hon. Gentleman knows the policy of my party towards devolution in Northern Ireland. I object to the fact that the murders and criminal activity of the IRA are basically the direct result of the speculation, confusion and turmoil caused by the proposed initiative. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I said earlier that this was a rehash of what had gone before. We who have sat through many conversations with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office are well aware that what has been offered to us is that which was cast out—the Sunningdale agreement. All the people in Northern Ireland know that that sort of system did not work then and will not work now.
The Secretary of State, as well as rehashing that proposal, is guilty of gross negligence in not understanding the effect on the people of Northern Ireland of putting forward proposals such as these in the way that he has put them forward. It is a question of what effect his words, actions, and speculations in the press, and other news media, have on the people and the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.
I was present at some of the meetings with the Secretary of State and, like my hon. Friends, I put questions to him, which he kindly answered. However, throughout all these meetings there have been different understandings in the minds of every group, every party and, in many cases, every individual. That differing understanding has not only been among the Members of the parties who visited him, but in the minds of the people and of the media. At 499 best, that is a sign of poor communication by someone. As the communication all comes from the same source, the House will gather in whose lap I lay the blame.
Let us consider the 70 per cent. majority proposal that the Secretary of State will lay before the House next week, and let us examine the attitude that has been taken towards it and the understandings and misunderstandings in the minds of those involved. For instance, last Thursday during Northern Ireland Question Time, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked whether the Secretary of State could assure the House that in his proposalsthere are no suggestions of an institutionalised Irish dimension or enforced power sharing? Does he know that if he goes along that path he is bound to fail?We would agree with that statement, but the Secretary of State replied:We are now presuming on what may happen in the future. I should rather wait for these points to be discussed when and if the Government proceed with the proposals."—[Official Report, 25 March 1982; Vol. 20, c. 1073.]In other words, it was a put-off, flannel answer, which we can all recognize
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip, Northwood)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to be cantankerous, and I have listened with great respect to the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), especially about the appalling butchery of his constituents and the security forces in Northern Ireland, about which we are all concerned, but surely we are debating a motion that we should not adjourn for the Easter Recess or the May Day Recess until we have had time to debate certain matters. We shall have a statement on Monday on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland, so I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's remarks are in order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I am listening carefully to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I judged that the hon. Gentleman was arguing that we should not adjourn until this matter had been resolved.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have given the hon. Gentleman the answer that I should have given. This is a serious matter, which cannot be lightly glossed over. If I tend to go wide, I hope that the House will realise that I am seeking to avoid bloodshed and death by warning those whom I believe should be warned.
In an effort to clear up the confusion, on 29 March I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I asked himwhether, in his meetings with party representatives concerned with his initiative on devolution, he made clear to each delegation (a) the requirement for a 70 per cent. majority embodying cross-community support for any devolution of powers to a Northern Ireland elected assembly and (b) the method of involvement of Northern Ireland parties in the proposed assembly as a cross-border body of elected representatives; and by what means."—[Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 44.]The right hon. Gentleman replied that he would answer as soon as possible. He did so the next day, having given the matter careful consideration for a further 24 hours:In my talks on constitutional development with the political parties in Northern Ireland I have made it clear that any proposals for devolution must be acceptable to both sides of the community. I have also discussed with the parties the case for a weighted majority in the assembly for any devolution proposals.No cross-border body of elected representatives is contemplated, but as for participation of members of the 500 Northern Ireland assembly in an Anglo-Irish inter parliamentary body, the first step is for the Parliaments in London and. Dublin to decide whether to establish such a body."—[Official Report, 30 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 72.]Again, there was some concealment in some of the things that were said to me and to other members of my delegation when we visited the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is saying, although not clearly, that there must be cross-community support, even up to the 70 per cent. level. I shall return to that in more detail shortly.
In the eyes of the ordinary individual in Northern Ireland who reads these questions and answers, there is but one reaction—that there is not a straight answer among them. There must be straight talking and straight answers, so that people have clearly in their minds what is happening. It is an important subject on the streets of Northern Ireland.
When there are no straight answers, there is speculation. Speculation is dangerous and leads to confusion. Confusion leads to destabilisation. The result is turmoil and incitement for the killers to capitalise on the position. Inevitably, that happens.
Some weeks ago one of my hon. Friends overheard a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office saying that the tactic was to keep the situation fluid. That objective has been achieved beyond the wildest dreams of those who proposed it. The people of Northern Ireland are already bewildered by what is happening and bewildered by the speculation, the leaks and the differing reports. The position is causing me great anxiety.
In our meetings with the Secretary of State, Members of my party put forward simple, straightforward views, but we had the impression that we were talking to the deaf and that we were talking to people who had long since made up their minds to go down the Sunningdale road again. That road led to disaster, and it will do so again.
I must tell the hon. Member for Belfast, West that only by having sensible proposals for workable institutions will people in Northern Ireland feel secure. Although the terrorists may attempt murders, they will fail to cause confusion, because people will know where they are going. At present they do not.
§ Mr. Fitt
I take to heart what the hon. Gentleman says. The Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during a fortuitous five months from January to May 1974. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Official Unionists, the Democratic Unionists, the Vanguard movement and all the other extreme organisations, including those on the other side of the fence—the Official and Provisional IRA—will coalesce again to prevent any political move in the forthcoming White Paper if it is not acceptable to the Official' Unionists?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman were to answer the question he would go wide of the debate. As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, the debate is about whether the House should adjourn.
§ Mr. Ross
Until now I was not aware that even in the mind of the hon. Member for Belfast, West my party was considered an extremist organisation. I resent the implication. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot accept it. He was rather hasty again.
When we met the Minister in early March, one of the first things that we asked was what he was reading to us. 501 I say this to illustrate the confusion and the different understandings that can arise. We listened with care to what the right hon. Gentleman read and said. He told us that he was reading the draft White Paper. He was asked three times whether he had read it to all the other parties. He said that he had. Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to tell the House on which dates he read the draft to each of the other parties? Did he tell them what he was reading? He did not tell us until we asked him. Straightforward answers to those questions may help to clear up the confusion. We were astonished by the import of the right hon. Gentleman's words. We could not understand why other dogs did not bark. Did they realise what was being read to them and what it meant?
Three of the major parties in Northern Ireland came to the conclusion that they were being told that 70 per cent., even if it was all Protestants, would be sufficient to bring a recommendation to the House for a transfer of powers to the proposed Assembly. That is not what we and one other minor party understood. Our understanding is that even if we have 70 per cent., that would not be sufficient unless it includes members of the Roman Catholic faith. If there are Roman Catholic members in it, much less than 70 per cent. would suffice. I do not know what is the understanding of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. Perhaps he can tell us.
With that confusion, how on earth can we expect the people of Northern Ireland to understand what has been said? The people who sat down with the Secretary of State and listened to the same things have come out with different understandings of what was said and what was meant.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing my tolerance. The Leader of the House can answer only for his responsibilities. He cannot say what was meant in conversations to which he was not a party.
§ Mr. Ross
I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt the Leader of the House will bring my remarks to his right hon. Friend's attention before the end of next week, when the House rises.
We in the Official Unionist Party want the Secretary of State to be clear in his mind, and the House to be clear, about what the Ulster Unionist Party wants. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, West is interrupting from a sedentary position. Perhaps he will speak later.
We do not want a rehash of the Sunningdale agreement. We want a Stormont-type devolution. We make no apology to anyone for saying that, least of all to the hon. Member for Belfast, West. We do not want a talking shop. We do not want jobs for the boys, as was set forth in the committee structure. The House will be surprised to hear that when the committee structure was discussed, we were told that a committee consisting of a chairman, a vice-chairman and rapporteurs would be set up. We took that to mean jobs for the boys. The press was not told of that term, which is not one that is commonly used in British politics.
We believe that if there is to be any progression in Ulster, we shall have to be given the plain truth and the full truth next week. There must be no more fluid situations and no more smoke-screens.
502 It is essential that in the coming week or two effective steps are taken to increase the Army and the number of people on full-time alert until the turmoil that has been created by this initiative has died away.
When all that is done, and when the White Paper is published, we want the Secretary of State to be assured that when the election is called, we intend to fight it and win it, and we will win it. We will use the moral right that that majority gives us to demand the right to control that territory and to govern, because that is what that election will be about. There is no shilly shallying or whitewash that will cover that up. We want the Secretary of State to know that we are determined to get what we demand.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), although I sympathise with him because of what has happened in Northern Ireland. As an ex-Northern Ireland Minister, I know of the anguish, the problems and the difficulties.
I am unhappy, in view of the problems in my constituency and in other rural areas, that the House is to adjourn next week. One problem is petrol supplies to rural garages. I wish to address my remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy via my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Obviously, I shall not expct a reply from him tonight, but I hope that he will make a statement in the near future on this important matter.
The problem is that the big suppliers are charging rural garages much more for their petrol than garages in urban areas. The difference is great. We need some help with that problem. I am talking not about subsidies, but about discussions with the petrol companies so that the problem is sorted out.
I have some criticism of the Government in this matter. They need to show more concern about the effect of high petrol prices in the rural areas and on the people who live there. My constituency is full of small villages, all with their own petrol stations. Regrettably, many of them have closed down because they cannot compete with the lower price at which petrol is selling in the cities and the towns.
The village petrol and repair station is of immense importance to the area and to village life. It does not just have to sell petrol. Perhaps such sales are the bread and butter, but those stations carry out repairs on cars, minor repairs in homes, and repairs on agricultural implements. The two things go together. If the station ceases to sell petrol because it is uneconomic for it to continue to do so, the rest follows. The petrol and repair station may pack up altogether. Such stations are slowly being squeezed out. That is sad. That started with the withdrawal of supplies from the major companies. Therefore, the garages have to look around for alternative supplies from smaller companies. They have to supply at higher prices, sometimes at up to 10p a gallon more than the price charged by large companies.
The Government have accepted that assistance must be given to counter that problem. They have given assistance to sub-post offices. I congratulate the Government on what they have done. There is no doubt that they have helped to channel more money to the sub-post offices in various ways. Good progress has been made. The petrol station and repair garage is equally important to the life of the village and the rural community. Good progress has also 503 been made in the maintenance of village schools, which is another area in which the Government have given assistance so that the village and village life can keep going in rural areas.
I have five p's that I have mentioned before in the House—the pub, the parson, the primary school, the petrol station and the phone box, which are all essential to our remote areas and rural life. The demise of our small garages and petrol stations would have a devastating effect on rural life. It would cause further depopulation, which we do not want.
Therefore, I should like the Government to give me some more information on that subject before the House rises. Perhaps a statement could be made. At least a letter should be written because we need to have further discussion with the major petrol companies. That is urgent. There is the problem of price of petrol supplied to the small garages. There is also the delivery size—that is, the number of gallons that can be delivered. Many of those garages have smaller tanks, which makes it difficult for them to take a full load. In the past, they would have part loads. There is also the problem of subsidisation of urban garages, which the big petrol companies are doing, to the detriment of the rural areas.
Therefore, the effect is serious. I cannot emphasise too strongly that, while I am not asking for a reply tonight, I am asking the Secretary of State for Energy to consider those matters urgently before the Easter Recess because if the trend continues, rural life will be seriously affected.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
There are two matters that I should like to bring to the attention of the House, both of which the Government have responsibilities for, and which I believe should be discussed before the Easter Recess.
First, I shall refer to a local matter, about which I am deeply concerned, and which affects many of my constituents who live in the Bedford ward of my constituency. It is the problem of prostitution in that part of my constituency. The problem is not new. It has existed in the area for many years. However, in recent years it has grown a great deal for local residents because of the activities of motorists—the kerb crawlers who drive round and round that part of my constituency day after day from early afternoon until the early hours of the morning seeking to pick up women. That problem exists not solely in my area. On the Order Paper is early-day motion No. 338, which was sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), and which has been signed by 41 hon. Members. That motion states that that problem exists in many other parts of the country.
Over the years I have sought on many occasions to bring this matter to the attention of the House. I have sought a change in the law. Unfortunately, nothing has been done, yet it could have been done long before now.
My constituents are fed up with the abuse, the noise and the effect of this problem on the area in which they live. Can the Leader of the House fully understand what it is like to be repeatedly accosted, as local women are, by these individuals who drive around for hours on end in my constituency? I know of cases where respectable women, out in the front of their houses cleaning their windows or brushing the front steps have had motorists stopping, getting our of their cars, going up to them and asking "Are you out for business?" When comments have been made 504 to these individuals the ladies in question are forced to listen to a storm of abuse from these people who have been insinuating that these respectable women are prostitutes.
What an insult, and my constituents have had to put up with it year after year. It is not only women but sadly it is also young girls leaving local schools and going home—and sometimes going to school—who are repeatedly accosted by motorists. I could give a list to the House of the ways that women are accosted by these kerb crawlers, that I am sure would both amaze and appal many hon. Members.
The local women are thus affected by the kerb crawlers, but in addition the whole area suffers. These men drive around and turn the area into a race track for hours on end, day or night. Something has to be done. I reject the oft-made comments to me by Ministers. I have had Adjournment debates and have asked questions only to be told by Ministers that, although they are sorry for me and my constituents, there is nothing that they can do about the problem.
I reject that point of view. We believe that very quickly these problems could be reduced, if not stopped. What we are seeking and what we have sought for many years, but on which we have had no help, is for the police to be given powers whereby they could stop motorists whom they see driving around the area and from time to time stopping and talking to women. Can there be any doubt in anyone's mind what these individuals are doing in my constituency ? If the police were given these powers the publicity that would follow from court appearances would quickly see an end to the problem, and an end not only in my constituency but to the problem that exists in other areas of this country.
I ask the Leader of the House, when will the Government consider the Brennan report, which was published as long ago as 1976 and made recommendations as to possible action against kerb crawlers? When will the Government start to examine that report and present to the House the suggestions in it, suggestions that we believe would go a long way, if not all the way, to stopping this continuous problem that, sadly, my constituents have to face?
The other issue that I wish to raise is the question of Cyprus. I do so because this is also an issue that the Government have firm responsibilities for. It is now nearly eight years since the invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish Army. After those eight years it is still a divided island. Over those years there have been many tragic happenings. Many people have been forced out of their homes in the northern part of Cyprus and those homes have been taken over by turkish settlers taken to the island by the Turkish Administration. Hundreds of people have been missing since the invasion. All the evidence and the information about them, such as their names and their villages, has been documented, but despite repeated efforts nothing has been done by the Turkish Administration to try to explain where these people are.
We have, over the years, had a series of intercommunal talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots but, sadly, little progress has been made. It is worth recalling to the House that Cyprus is a Commonwealth country. It is deplorable that a Commonwealth country should be occupied by troops of a foreign army, as Cyprus is. The Government often tend to forget that with Greece and Turkey we are one of the three guarantor powers for Cyprus.
505 Along with other hon. Members I was able to go to Cyprus at the end of last year, and I met both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There is a willingness by the Greek Cypriots to work for a united Cyprus. They see a Cyprus where both Greek and Turkish Cypriots can live together. What are we, as one of the guarantor powers, doing to see that the present round of intercommunal talks will be successful and not, as in the past, a failure because of the lack of willingness on the part of the Turkish Administration?
What discussions are we having with the Turkish Government? No one can be in any doubt that, although Mr. Denktash is the leader of the Turkish community in Cyprus, the real authority rests in Ankara with the Turkish military junta. What discussions are we having with the Turkish Government specifically on the issue of withdrawal of the many thousands of Turkish troops now based in Cyprus? If the Turkish authorities would withdraw some of those troops it would be seen as a token of good will on their part, and a show of willingness, so that talks could progress to an acceptable and honourable settlement.
Furthermore, what guarantee will the British Government give the Greek Cypriots? Many of them feel that at some stage and under whatever guise, the Turkish authority might seek to take control of the whole island. These are crucial issues for Cyprus, a Commonwealth country. Time is not on our side. Eight years have gone by and I remind the Leader of the House—although I know that because of a previous appointment of his in the Government he will undoubtedly be aware of this point—that we have military bases in Cyprus. There could be, at some future stage, and if there is not a satisfactory and honourable conclusion to the tragedy of Cyprus, action against the British bases there. I do not think that the Greek Cypriots want to do this. They may be forced to do it if they do not see, after the long years of torment that they have had to endure, some action that will bring an honourable settlement to the issue.
I realise that I have put to the Leader of the House points that he may not be able fully to answer this evening. I ask him, because of the importance of the issue, with his usual courtesy, to make sure that his right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is made aware of these points. If the Leader of the House is not in a position this evening to answer my points I hope that in the near future his right hon. Friend will do so.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
Before the House rises for the Easter Recess it is important that a statement is made, and preferably some action taken, on an issue that is a source of increasing concern and irritation for the people of Devon and Cornwall, which is the designation of the boundary of the existing South-West region.
The standard administrative and economic regions within the United Kingdom are determined by Whitehall, by the Department of the Environment. Ministers do not have to obtain the prior approval of the House. Consequently, some of our designated standard regions take little or no account of the regions' characteristics or needs. That is especially so for the South-West region. Under existing arrangements the regional unit is important in our administrative structure. It is used as the basis of 506 functions such as regional economic planning and the collection and dissemination of a range of statistics such as housing, employment and income levels.
In many parts of the United Kingdom there exists a distinct expression of regional consciousness. Nowhere is that more keenly felt than in the far South-West of England, especially in Devon and Cornwall. Where this desire exists it should be encouraged by the Government, but at present Devon and Cornwall are lumped together in a so-called South-West region that extends eastwards to include Bristol and Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
The two far south-western counties have little in common with the areas with which they are linked. The basis of their economies differs significantly. Cornwall and Devon are far more dependent upon agriculture, fishing, tourism and the service sector. Apart from Plymouth there are no major concentrations of economic activity and poulation. Furthermore, under the existing arrangements Bristol, the so-called regional capital of the South-West, is nearer to London than to Bodmin.
The problem goes deeper than that because the artificial South-West region that we now have is dominated by Bristol and Severnside, Gloucester, Swindon and the like. In consequence regional statistics such as income levels and unemployment levels often make a nonsense of the true position that exists in the far South-West. As a result, distortions abound, much to the detriment of Devon and Cornwall.
The situation was recently highlighted by the European Economic Community's proposal to modify the parameters of the Community regional development fund. It is being suggested that in future the South-West assisted area, which comprises the whole of Cornwall and much of Devon, should no longer be eligible for assistance under the quota section of the Community regional fund. This sector represents 90 per cent. of Community regional aid, of which the United Kingdom received £153 million last year. The South-West assisted area has benefited by receipts of £20 million over the past three years.
It is understandable that the Commission's proposal created widespread concern in the far South-West. A number of my hon. Friends and myself raised the issue on appropriate occasions. It was raised also by our Euro Members in the European Parliament. As a result of our examination it became abundantly clear that the principal reason for the Commission proposing the deletion of the area was that it had used statistics that were based on the standard United Kingdom regional classification. In other words, the officials in Brussels had considered the figures for the standard South-West region. Consequently a completely misleading picture was given for Devon and Cornwall.
I shall briefly illustrate the result by referring to unemployment and average earning figures in the official South-West region. In April 1981 average earnings were 94.4 per cent. of the average figure for the United Kingdom. Average earnings in Cornwall were 84 per cent. of the United Kingdom figure. In other words, they were 16 per cent. below the national average and significantly below those for the South-West region.
Secondly, I shall quote the November 1981 unemployment figures, seasonally adjusted, for all employees but excluding school leavers. United Kingdom unemployment was 11.3 per cent. The figure for the South-West standard region was 10 per cent., which was less than the United Kingdom figure. However, when 507 Cornwall and the parts of Devon that are within the South-West assisted area are considered, the figure rises to almost 17 per cent., which is well above the national figure and 68 per cent. above that of the South-West region.
I hope that the two sets of figures illustrate clearly the predicament of the far South-West. I hope also that I have been able to make it clear to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and through him to Ministers in the Department of the Environment, that the present regional boundaries are totally unsatisfactory for the far South-West and that there is an urgent need to recognise the case for the creation of a genuine South-West region comprising Devon and Cornwall. This could easily be done without the fabric of a vast and costly new bureaucracy. There is a strong case on the ground of regional identity and regional consciousness. There is a strong case also in respect of the collection and dissemination of statistics on which policies emanating from Whitehall and Brussels are based.
Until a genuine South-West is created, the real and urgent problems facing the far South-West will not be tackled with the vigour and determination that they merit. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to relay to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the need for urgent consideration of this matter.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I raise what is for me the hardy annual of the problems of Hackney. I do so again today because the Easter Recess will mean that I shall have to spend time in my constituency listening to my constituents' problems. I know that I shall face considerable complaint about housing conditions.
The complaint arises principally because today—opportunely April Fools' Day—the Secretary of State for the Environment decided that he would force Hackney borough council to receive 17,000 properties from the Greater London Council. Those properties, the majority of which are in my constituency, are in an appalling condition and have been so for years. Every week my surgery is full of tenants who complain bitterly about the condition of those GLC properties. I know that those tenants will be round to see me tomorrow and every Friday thereafter demanding that Hackney borough council do something about the condition of the properties.
There is an argument that the local authority—the primary unit of local government—should manage the properties in its area. That is true only if the local authority is taking over properties in a fit and proper state. However, as I have pointed out to the Secretary of State for the Environment many times over the past months—since his proposal to transfer the properties—the GLC does not know whether it is responsible for the property. The GLC does not even know the tenants. It is also totally unaware of the conditions.
The House will recall that I raised this matter a year ago, when the Secretary of State proposed to transfer the properties. I pointed out to him that the GLC had no detailed knowledge of its property. The Secretary of State was so impressed by the argument that he insisted on having a sample taken by his officials to test whether I was right.
That first sample of about 2,000 properties proved without a shadow of a doubt that I was correct. The Secretary of State then decided—I believe rightly—to 508 extend the sample from 2,000 properties to 5,000. When he received the 5,000 the survey he found that what I had been telling him was correct—that the properties were in an appalling state. We then had a long argument about how he would reflect that, because he was content to transfer the properties. He said that he would try to reflect the condition of the properties in the money available to do something about them. Together with officials, the Secretary of State finally determined that, over 10 years £1,250 might be spent on each of the properties to bring them up to a reasonable standard. That point must be stressed—the properties were not to be brought up to an extraordinary standard, but up to a reasonable standard.
I argued that it was nonsense to suggest that. I produced evidence to show that to put the GLC properties in my constituency into good repair would require a fortune I sent him typical examples. But today, 1 April, Hackney is responsible for all those properties. However, it is unable to provide money for repairs. The House will recall that Hackney is one of London's local authorities that has continually been kicked into touch by the Secretary of State. Hackney has lost millions of pounds and is therefore in no position to take up the slack to provide the resources to take care of these GLC properties.
Some of the properties are in an appalling condition. One can go in and see a bucket on a table. On asking what it is doing there, one is told that it is to catch water from a hole in the ceiling. On inquiring how the hole in the ceiling came to be there, one is told that workmen came and knocked a hole in the ceiling. If one asks "Why did they do that?", one is told that water came through the roof and caused a bulge in the ceiling and that the workmen told the tenant to use a bucket to catch the water and to empty it when it had filled up. When one asks "How long ago was that?", one is told "Two months ago."
The tragedy is that when one tries to get the housing department to do something about the problem, the department tells the director of technical services, who then gives the order, but as he does not have the necessary workmen or the money, the problem stays like that for months. That is the sort of problem that faces Hackney borough council.
It would not be so bad if Hackney borough council had the resources, but it has its own properties to look after, which are also in a bad state. I am continually pressing Hackney borough council to carry out proper maintenance and repairs, but it cannot do those either. In Hackney, or e sees damp walls and ceilings, leaky roofs and rotten frameworks. The problem in my constituency is that about 90 per cent. of it is municipalised. It was owned either by Hackney borough council or by the GLC. Now, it is all owned by Hackney borough council.
In preparation for the changeover the GLC unilaterally decided that it would cancel all movements of tenants. That has greatly aggravated tenants who want to move from their bad flats into something a little better. They have been prevented from doing so and Hackney borough council now has the responsibility for trying to do something about that.
Hackney is in such a state with its property that it has had to stop transfers. The council will transfer tenants only if they are in a high medical category or if it is in its interests to transfer them. That would apply, for example, to those in under-occupied premises who can be moved to more suitably sized flats. From today, it will take months before Hackney borough council is geared up to manage 509 the properties properly. Therefore, I hope that the Leader of the House will draw the situation to the Secretary of State's attention. I have desperately tried to do so. The property is in a bad condition and my people wish to transfer. They all live in flats and high rise blocks and want to move into houses. However, the Secretary of State has permitted all the GLC houses in the outer areas of London to be handed back to the borough councils and, as a result, my constituents do not have an opportunity to transfer.
There is a continuing argument between the Secretary of State and myself. The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a national mobility scheme. I try to point out that it is not working. It has never worked, and it is not working now. He then says that I must try. I tell him that I do try. I send him cases. He began by not understanding them and now sends them back to me saying that I will understand that it is the local authority's responsibility. I point out that he said that there was a mobility scheme. He then replies that he will get in touch with Basildon, for example, but writes back saying that he is terribly sorry but Basildon cannot help and adds that I will have to turn to the mobility scheme. Thus, we return to square one. We just go round and round.
§ Mr. Brown
That is right. I do not know whether the Secretary of State does that deliberately, whether his officials do not tell him or whether he does not read my letters. However, some of my constituents are virtually in a housing Colditz. People cannot get out of my area, but they can come in. There are so many awful properties that cannot be let that desperate people from other parts of the country will accept them. However, after six weeks they come to my constituency advice centre and demand to be taken out of the properties because of the appalling conditions. The roofs leak. I am talking about council properties, not privately-owned properties and landlords. Therefore, I seek some help.
When the Secretary of State decided to make Hackney take those properties, he did not give sufficiently serious consideration to the resources needed. He allowed himself to be misled into thinking that anyone can move from an inner city area, such as Hackney, to any other area, through the national mobility scheme that he set up. Today, I received a booklet from him describing how a council tenant can move. I have never heard such rubbish in my life. In theory it is marvellous. However, I have many cases to show him which prove that the scheme does not work. He has handed out the booklet as if it were useful advice. My constituents know from experience that things do not work like that. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will have another look at the mobility issue. Perhaps something should be done in the outer areas, where they have such desirable properties, to ensure that allowances will be made for areas such as mine so that my constituents can go to those areas.
I deal now with the problem of funds for Hackney. There must be a special relationship between the Government and an area such as mine. We have had the partnership scheme. There has been a political issue and a row between the Government and Hackney borough council. I do not quite understand what Hackney borough council is doing.
510 On Friday 19 March I tabled an amendment to a motion, pointing out that the domestic rate in Hackney went up in 1980–81 by 48.9 per cent., and in 1981–82 by 55.1 per cent. This year it has gone up only about 10 per cent. That interested me, especially as the Secretary of State had withdrawn millions of pounds over those years from Hackney. In fact, he was responsible for increasing the rate from 69p to 196p in that time.
I did a little homework. I wondered whether that was the lowest rate that Hackney had ever had. It was not. The last year that it had a low rate was four years ago, in 1978. I thought to myself that that was rather odd, and then the penny dropped. It was election year in 1978 and it is election year in 1982. They are playing their party politics in doing that.
That would be all right if Hackney had no other problem; if it was able to manipulate its own affairs and get away with it. However, as from today, Hackney has another 17,000 properties from the GLC in bad condition to put in good repair. If it does not now raise sufficient rates—and under the new Government scheme an incoming council will not be able to raise a supplementary rate—my constituents will have to live in appalling conditions for a long time. Those people who now come under Hackney borough council, living in GLC properties, will live in misery for a long time. I suspect that no repairs will be carried out within the next year.
I shall have to advise my constituents to take legal action against the council in order to have the repairs carried out. Litigation under those circumstances is expensive. The majority of my constituents are at the lower end of the earnings group. They will have to go to the law centres, and in order to get legal aid the law centres will have to get approval from the Law Society before they can undertake any litigation. That will take weeks and the problems will be mounting up all the time.
I hope that I have been able to draw attention, first, to the foolishness of the Secretary of State in transferring these properties and, secondly, to his failure to carry out his responsibilities to ensure, in enforcing this transfer, that there were sufficient funds and resources available to carry out the work. Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to comprehend the fact that, far from being able to manage these properties, Hackney borough council is unable to manage its own. Therefore, the problem in the area is only being compounded.
It will be my constituents in Hackney, South and Shoreditch who will have to suffer more and more from the failure of both the Government and the council to do what they are statutorily bound to do, which is to carry out full repairs and maintenance to these properties to ensure that my constituents live to the standard which other people in Britain accept as a normal standard.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I do not think that we should adjourn for the Easter Recess until we have debated the subject of immigration. As hon. Members know, this topic is rarely discussed in the House, despite its prime importance to the nation.
The time has now come, after about 25 years of mass immigration, when the Home Office and the Government should look at the whole matter afresh. Of all the countries within the United Kingdom it affects only England, 511 because the number of immigrants who have settled in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is tiny compared with those who have come to England.
England has absorbed small numbers of foreigners over the last 1,000 years, but it was only in the 1950s that enormous numbers started to come here, mainly from the Indian Sub-Continent and from the West Indies.
§ Mr. Stokes
Perhaps I can continue. Many other hon. Members wish to speak, and, like my hon. Friend, I have been waiting to be called. However, I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest stemming from the constituency which he formerly represented.
These people were not Europeans and were quite different in character, religion, habits and customs from our own people. It is a tribute to the kindness and tolerance of English people that so vast a number of strange newcomers should have come and settled in our midst with so little turmoil and confusion. As we know, the immigrants settled in London and in the large provincial cities and, naturally, tended to live together. As I know all too well, in many places the native English were gradually eased out of the houses, streets and neighbourhoods that they had known all their lives.
The so-called intellectuals and progressives who heralded this new invasion seldom lived in these immigrant areas, but the burden and upset fell on ordinary English working people, many of them elderly. The lives of some of them were turned upside down and their appeals for help were not generally heard, here by politicians, by social workers or even by Lord Scarman, who in his report on last year's disturbances studiously avoided seeing any of them.
A most interesting report was issued earlier this month on the old people of Lambeth after the rioting. It repays reading. The people struck the writer as being modest and gentle, even with a sense of humour. They remembered their history and were proud of the achievements of the English people. They sometimes wondered whether the West Indians really wanted to adopt our culture. The newcomers believed in the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". There was little anger—no hatred at all—but there was sorrow and fear that rioting might become justified. An old man said simply "It is our country and our Queen. Why should we be afraid to go out?"
We must ask ourselves how this dreadfully tragic state of affairs has come about. How is it that we in this House have so neglected elderly English people in the immigrant areas, many of whom fought in the last war, some in both wars, and why have we allowed it to happen? I believe that there are two reasons. First, there is what I call the race relations industry and all its hangers-on, together with the effect that the anti-discrimination laws have had on the media, making many English people in high places—indeed, even some people here—frightened of speaking out on this subject.
Secondly, the immigrants who came here, mainly for economic reasons, have sometimes been slow to adapt to our patriotism and our ways. Indeed, many of them still have dual nationality. The merits of the case for immigration or otherwise are never discussed. Instead, abuse is heaped on those who try to raise the subject, and they are straight away accused of being unkind or unfair 512 to the immigrants. This induces a feeling of guilt, particularly in the media and in the bosoms of some progressive people, but not, I believe, in the vast bulk of the people of this country who were never consulted about immigration and never really wanted it in the first place.
The fault lies not with the English, who are an amazingly kind and tolerant nation, but with those who would force changes upon us and invent a new crime called discrimination. Some years ago one used to speak with respect of a person "with taste and discrimination", but now the word "discrimination" is equated with "racialism", as a term of abuse.
I believe that immigrants themselves, or at least those who make a success of their lives here, prefer in the main to do without the host of anti-discrimination laws. Many of those who have come from the Indian Sub-Continent have become rich and successful as landowners, traders and capitalists. On the other hand, many West Indians—perhaps because of our climate—are returning in increasingly large numbers to their homeland. In my view, there would be a better and healthier social climate if all the discrimination laws were abolished, and I hope that the Home Office, which already has much to think about, including law and order, will not forget this important issue.
The exaggerations and absurdities of discrimination grow worse daily. An extraordinary case in Lambeth was mentioned by Ronald Butt in The Times today. The complaints of English people who objected to a noisy West Indian party in public premises which went on until 4 am were considered racialist. Last week there was the case, to which I referred the Prime Minister, of the doctor who advertised for a partner who was a Christian like himself. Some Christians are immigrants anyway, and one would hope that more would become so in this Christian country. In this respect, I welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury's firm stand on the primacy of Christianity above other religions here in the teaching in our schools.
If we can only quieten down the pro-immigrant lobby—I distinguish those people from immigrants—the other improvements must surely lie with immigrants themselves. They should be proud to be in England, proud to have joined one of the oldest and most civilised nations in the world. They should respect our ways and habits. In the end, to prove themselves true patriots, they should be prepared, as we all are, to fight and die for their new adopted country. We have had too much carping from some immigrant quarters. Let them get on with becoming as near to ordinary people as they can. That is the only way that they will ever be accepted here.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I welcome this opportunity to mention an issue that has affected many of us during the past few weeks. The opportunity that is afforded by these recess Adjournment debates is something that Back Benchers greatly cherish. I should be grateful if someone could tell me if the announcement in today's Order Paper that the House rises on 8 April till Monday 19 April, and then rises on Friday 30 April till Tuesday 4 May, means that we shall not have a recess Adjournment debate for the second short recess? [Interruption.] I gather that today's debate covers both. So we are done out of another Back-Bench opportunity to raise issues on the recess Adjournment.
513 We have an opportunity to move away from the weightier issues with which we have rightly been concerned during the past weeks and months, and concentrate on some of the issues, perhaps not as big, but just as important to many millions of our constituents. Therefore, the House should not adjourn until we have given further consideration to the statement made last week by the Minister for Social Security on the death grant. We ought to be asking a few questions about that statement. The Minister was not as open, when making that statement, as we have come to expect. There were many gaps in the statement and they ought to be filled because the consultative process has already started and will certainly continue during the recess.
The reaction from pensioners, pensioners' organisations and childrens' organisations throughout the country was immediate. The effect on them was dramatic. Incidentally, the consultative document was so popular and there was such demand for it, that it is no longer available in the House. It is unusual that supplies of a document, of any description, do not last more than a couple of days in the Vote Office before all available copies are taken. That shows the amount of interest in the matter.
The Dignity in Death Alliance has campaigned for many years on this issue and reacted to the statement immediately. The Guardian quoted its reaction on 31 March:The figures have been pitched so low that they will not help people who have real hardship in meeting bills.That gives the lie to some of the introductory remarks in the statement. On the same day, The Daily Telegraph stated in a leader:We wanted the grant to be for everyone and are shocked that the Government is proposing to restrict it to a maximum of 125,000 people.We know that about 660,000 people would qualify now for such a death grant. To restrict the number to 125,000 will deny 505,000, and probably more, the opportunity of it. That article continues:The proposals are very disappointing because the average cost of a funeral is about £400 and a grant restricted to such a small number is going to leave thousands worried about how they will pay the cost.From constituency experience—I have a bill in my pocket sent to me by a constituent—I know that the most up to date cost of a funeral, with only one extra car, totals £644. The present death grant is £30. The new arrangement means that over 500,000 people will not even be eligible for any grant, let alone for the £30. Many people find themselves in difficulty when the bill is £644.When my constituent visited his local social security office and asked for a special payment for assistance with that £644, he was told, when his bank account had been investigated and so on, that, because he had over £300 in savings, he would not be entitled to any assistance. He told them that he had saved that £300 towards the funeral, but was told it was too bad and that nothing could be done because of the regulations. That is an awful situation and we must consider it more closely, following the Minister's statement.
The Dignity in Death Alliance made its views known, not just to this but to previous Governments. This problem has existed for many years. I told the Minister that there was no need for further consultation or for the consultative 514 document because the position was clear. The position is certainly clear to all those organisations who have been in almost constant consultation with their constituents, previous Governments and the Government. We could have had an immediate start towards solving the problem.
We must consider the basis of the options, as they are set out in the consultative document. As I understand it, they were drawn up purely on a fiscal basis, and not, as we or the country were led to believe from the glamorous reports, on the basis of real need. It is no such thing. The Government are saying that they have only so much money and that they will therefore fit the need into that amount. The proposal has not been drawn up on the basis of need. It has been done on a fiscal basis. It is an arbitrary position to adopt. The document points out that not all people on low incomes will necessarily be entitled to one of the qualifying passport benefits. There is mention only of supplementary benefit and family income supplement as falling within the criteria under which people will qualify for the grant. The document also says that there may be other cases of hardship that cannot be met. The situation will become worse rather than better.
I learnt for the first time from the Minister that the portion of the national insurance contribution that goes towards the £30 funeral grant amounts to 2p. I would have thought, like many of my constituents, that if 2p qualified one for a £30 grant, it would be reasonable to argue that multiples of 2p qualified one for a grant in multiples of £30. Should this not have been another option? If the 2p were multiplied by five or 10, and the £30 by a similar factor, the scheme would be self-financing. Is that not another option that should have been put to the people? There has been an omission. It was not honest to leave out this self-financing option.
There are many thousands—probably millions—who, like me, have always believed that the death grant is a national insurance benefit—a contributory benefit. The Minister, by saying that 2p is the portion that goes towards it, is saying that it is a contributory benefit. The Government will be made aware in coming weeks of the belief of people that they have paid towards the benefit and that they are entitled to it. It will be an awful job to persuade them otherwise especially in view of what the Minister has confessed.
I was horrified to hear spokesmen for the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party welcome the approach that has been adopted. These are the same people who have claimed credit over many years for the Beveridge report. Beveridge would not have denied the contributory aspect of the benefit. Paragraph 350, on page 135 of the 1942 edition, of the report, dealing with social insurance and allied services, laid down the principle:Persons retired on pension will always be on full benefit for a funeral grant.It is therefore strange that fellows who have recently taken up the positions that they now occupy in the House should deny what Beveridge seems to have been saying in his total approach.
Another aspect that bothers me about the new procedure is the complicated post-payment vetting system. There is no means, I hope, of refusing the payment for a funeral. The approach is to pay and check later. The claimant will sign a declaration not to violate the conditions laid down by the Government in their favoured options. This raises 515 a number of questions. There must be greater administrative costs than are involved in the present scheme.
The administrative cost of the £30 grant amounts to £8 million. We ought to have been told by how much that cost will be increased and how many more staff will be involved in the new vetting system. Is it the Government's intention to increase the fraud squad who will check on how many people have fraudently signed the declaration to claim the death benefit and then perhaps sold the deceased's house? One of the conditions is that the property must not be sold within 12 months. Are the Government going to keep tabs on this? If so, it will be an expensive and staff—consuming exercise.
The report in The Guardian of 31 March makes it clear that inspectors will check on families—not just the one claimant but other members of the deceased's family—after the grant has been awarded. It is alleged that that information came from the DHSS. That must mean the employment of more staff and therefore more expense. We were not told about that when the statement was introduced. We will not be able to discuss that in the consultative process because we do not know about it. We ought to be informed about that.
The estate limit has been fixed at £1,500. If the estate is less than that and the claimant satisfies other conditions he will qualify for the grant. The qualification limit for supplementary benefit is £2,500. The Government have not even gone as far as that cut-off. The estate must be £1,000 below that before the claimant can qualify for the funeral grant, even if all the other conditions are satisfied.
The rates outlined in the option will not be sufficient to pay for a full funeral. Those in real hardship will get some assistance but not the full payment, and thousands will get nothing. The Government cannot claim that they are improving the situation. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people apply for special help from the supplementary benefits department to pay high funeral bills. Since so many benefits remain unclaimed, that figure will probable get higher and the position will be much worse.
The Minister who introduced the consultative document made no proposals to solve the problems which will still exist. According to the document, grants will be paid in respect of elderly people who were previously excluded on the ground of age. No one appears to have noted that because we are talking of men aged 98 and women aged 93—not a huge number—their next of kin will themselves be retirement pensioners and probably will not qualify for any grant because of their circumstances. None of us would like to go away before Easter without illumination on that point.
The elderly pensioners who have spent many years caring for their aged parents, and who may have made sacrifices to do so, will benefit only if they are in receipt of family income supplement. It is doubtful whether pensioners receive family income supplement, or even, in many cases, supplementary benefit. So they will not qualify for the new grant. No doubt thousands will fall into that category.
It is worth repeating that the consultative document, which is not necessary—there has been enough consultation—has not been fully explained by the Minister. Many questions that could have been answered have been left unanswered. They are not questions for 516 which replies had to be awaited. Such answers should have been included in the document if the consultative process is to be considered adequate.
Since 1979, the Government have promised a statement on the future of the death grant. The first promise was in reply to a parliamentary question on 20 July 1979, when we were told that there would be a statement as soon as possible. In May 1981, the Secretary of State said that a statement would be made shortly. In July of the same year, in a debate on uprating, the Minister said that a statement would be made in the first few weeks of the new session—in November. No statement materialised. Nothing was done. We were then told that the Government intended to make a statement before the Summer Recess last year. More recently, we were told that a statement would be made after the Christmas Recess, but it never materialised. Only a few weeks ago, I asked the Secretary of State in the Budget debate and he said that the consultative document would arrive the next week, but it did not arrive until a week later.
The statement should have been perfect after so much consultation and so many promises, but it turned out to be fairly inadequate. It has shocked all the pensioners and their organisations. The House is entitled to a further statement and to answers to the questions that I have raised before we adjourn for the Easter Recess.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the Easter Recess, it should examine the value for money that many of our citizens receive in consequence of the activities of local government. At a time when rate demands are being received, it is appropriate to ask whether the finance raised is necessarily being spent satisfactorily or, indeed, whether it should be spent at all. It is essential that we consider privatisation. That is a dreadful sounding word, but it conveys accurately the essence of its meaning.
Privatisation can be examined in terms of Government activity through various Departments, as well as denationalisation, but I shall concentrate on the local government aspect.
The absence of competition in the provision of local services and therefore the absence of the advantages of private enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit, creates exactly the same weaknesses and failings as are found in State-owned monopolies. When there is no overt need to consider profit, there is no clear requirement adequately to reflect the wishes of the customer. Bureaucracy and restrictive practices easily become the order of the day.
People look to the county or district council to provide essential services. They should also be able to look for efficiency and good housekeeping. To involve the private sector, if it can undertake the services economically, must surely be only common sense, as long as sufficient public accountability is present in tandem.
Parliament should give the right to compete to firms wishing to tender for local authority contracts. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 introduced for the first time such statutory competition into construction contracts of more than a prescribed value. That right to compete should be extended to all services.
Privatisation has established itself slowly, due to the attitude of local authorities. Apart from a few well-trumpeted and excellent examples, relatively little has so far been achieved. Yet those same local authorities are 517 entrusted by the inhabitants of their district or county with the responsibility to early out statutory obligations while at the same time they are charged with the task of raising rates responsibly.
The establishment of the right to compete would give fresh impetus to the concept of privatisation and would ensure that there was a duty upon local authorities to investigate possible savings and to implement them where appropriate. Such a system could be carried out by allowing potential contractors to serve notice on the district auditor obliging him to investigate their case for providing a particular service by contract.
It is wrong to think in limited terms about what areas might be appropriate for privatisation. The publicity given to refuse collection and street cleaning masks an enormous range of possibilities. Pest control, catering, architects' departments, office maintenance, security and grass cutting are just a few examples of privatisation already in practice among forward-looking Conservative-controlled authorities.
A further aspect of the need for value for money is much closer attention being paid to the role of voluntary effort. Our nation has long benefited from the dedication of volunteers giving assistance to the community in many different ways. The necessity of further reducing the public sector may provide additional opportunities for such good will to be given greater and freer range.
The proof of the success of privatisation has already been twofold—money saved and service improved. The Government have given a historic benefit by introducing the right to buy for council tenants. Let them now give another to all families by instigating the right to compete for council services.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I wish to draw the attention of the House, and particularly the attention of the Leader of the House, to a written answer given to question 99 in yesterday's Hansard. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) asked the Secretary of State for Transportif he will make a statement on the requirement for Government support to British Railways passenger services for the current year.The reply was, of necessity, fairly lengthy and controversial.
Before dealing with the reply, however, I wish to protest to the House and particularly to the Leader of the House about the increasing practice these days for Ministers to slip controversial matters through in written answers rather than coming to the Dispatch Box and being questioned by the House about the attitude and thinking behind Government decisions. I do not accuse only the present Government. The Labour Government, of which I was a very junior member, were equally guilty in some ways. More and more frequently matters have tended to be slipped through in written answers, thus depriving Members on both sides of the House of the opportunity to question the thinking and reasoning behind the decisions.
Having registered that protest, I turn to the details of the lengthy reply given yesterday. In the second paragraph, the Secretary of State said:The board originally submitted to me a claim for grant for 1982 of £885.2 million, which, allowing for inflation, would 518 have been some £60 million above the total grant provided in 1981. Most of this results from increases in cost rather than a fall in revenue."—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 139–40. ]The last sentence illustrates the mistakes made within the Department and the fatal flaw in the Government's thinking on subsidies to public transport in general and to British Rail in particular.
Costs are likely to increase year by year. The costs of operating certain railway services tend to increase every year, not as a result of enormous wage increases or, as the Conservatives continually suggest, as a result of restrictive practices, but due to the necessity of operating what is, by and large, a clapped-out railway system. In rural areas and on branch lines especially, costs are rising year by year because British Rail does not have the money to modernise and upgrade the lines.
Recently the British Railways Board published a proposal to re-signal a branch line in East Anglia. It proposed the abolition of the existing manned signal boxes and wished to modernise about six level crossings on the line. The total outlay for those improvements, which were fully supported by my union, the National Union of Railwaymen, was about £2 million. The British Railways Board could not proceed because of financial problems. It could not find £2 million out of its investment allowances.
That branch line is still operating with signals constructed at the turn of the century and with level crossings that cost on average about £15,000 a year to run in staffing costs alone. That £15,000 a year could readily be saved by the operation of modern Continental lifting barriers. However, because of the recent reduction in available investment money the board could not carry out those improvements. Money is still being wasted and costs are as high as ever. Yet the Conservative Party believes—the Secretary of State for Transport has said it publicly—that the increase in railway operating costs is due either to increased wages or to restrictive practices inherited, as it likes to say, from our Victorian predecessors.
In the same written reply, the Government announced the appointment of a firm of City accountants to consider the financing of British Rail. The Secretary of State said before Christmas that he would be interested to appoint a commission. That is nothing new and neither the railway management not the unions objected. We have been investigated, reorganised and sorted out generally by commissions appointed by successive Governments. When the Government last conducted a similar examination they appointed the Monopolies Commission to consider the operation of railway services in London and the South-East—a part of Britain which, for some reason, normally returns Conservative Members of Parliament. I understand that there is a possibility that that will change at the next general election. However, the Monopolies Commission report cleared British Rail of the wild accusations made against it, and gave Southern Region almost a clean bill of health.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. P. J. Butler, a senior partner of Peat Marwick Mitchell and Company, proposes something that might blacken the character of the railway management or whether he produces a diatribe, much loved by the Conservative Party, about inefficiency, incompetence and restrictive practices, which it says—although no one has found it—bedevil railway operations in the 1980s. Mr. Butler's appointment has not been greeted with universal approval. In The Standard, not 519 a newspaper that normally supports the trade union movement or the Labour Party, under the heading "Wrong target" the editorial this evening waxes strongly about the Secretary of State's decision. It states:Mr. David Howell, the Transport Secretary, ought to know full well by now that BR already gets less subsidy mile for mile and train for train than almost any other railway in Europe.I can confidently tell the House that there is only one word wrong in that editorial—"almost". Mile for mile and train for train, British Rail receives less subsidy per mile than any other railway in Europe. The editorial goes on to say:If Mr. Howell meant yesterday's announcement as a warning shot, it was both badly timed and badly aimed: warning shots are supposed to cross the bows, not hit the target amidships.The leader continues:The damage—" the damage caused by this reduction in real terms in PSO support—will be, at worst, more cuts in services on top of the 10 per cent. already planned for June, more fare rises on top of those threatened this Autumn; at best it will mean more cheeseparing (dirtier trains with fewer carriages) of the kind that only adds to passenger misery.The article concludes:And that will be the clearest evidence of a decision doubtful in principle and in practice plainly wrong.That is an emphatic condemnation of the Government's attitude towards railway investment and of their decision to set in motion this gentleman's inquiries into the future of the railway business.
The key to the Government's intentions and attitude lies in the last sentence of the last paragraph in the written reply. It states:The board's commitment to accelerated disposals of assets will make an important contribution to achieving the 1982–83 external financing limit."—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 140.]The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) expressed the desire to see privatisation in various aspects of council services. I do not know what experience the hon. Gentleman has in these matters—whether he has been a member of a local authority or had experience in the private provision of services generally. If he has, no doubt he and some of his hon. Friends who are enthusiastic in their desire for privatisation will be making bids if the British Railways Board is forced to flog its assets because of the reduction in PSO grant.
In the recent debate on a Ten-Minute Bill I listed for the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) some of the assets of British Rail which some people in the City would no doubt find attractive, even given the depressed state of the British economy. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the diligence and attention of my hon. Friends, we succeeded in defeating that Bill. However, the written reply shows that the Government are far from giving up and intend to pursue this matter. The available assets for privatisation are fairly well known and it will do no harm if I mention a few of them in passing.
The British Rail property board would be regarded by many Government Members, and by various people in the City, as a prime target for privatisation. It regularly contributes millions of pounds to the British Railway Board's coffers through the sale of assets—hundreds of millions of pounds over the past decade. Some sites were railway stations and goods yards in city centres, now, alas, no longer needed. Some sites were in the country.
If further sites are sold over a period with the proper business acumen that the Conservative Party always 520 demands but rarely allows nationalised industries, a satisfactory source of income will be provided for the British Railways Board. In the past that income has been used to subsidise unprofitable services, which presumably we all wish to see continued. If the Government carry out their intentions, all that will be lost, because the British Rail property board will be sold lock, stock and barrel at a cut price to the City friends of the Conservative Party, thereby providing a profit for someone else instead of the British Railways Board and, through it, the nation. That is Conservative patriotism in the 1980s. Conservative Members are always quick to sing "Land of Hope and Glory" and wave a Union Jack. Their patriotism will give profits to their City friends instead of to nationalised industries and the country. I do not wish to be associated with such patriotism.
It often seems that the Government, and particularly their Back Benchers, would flog our publicly owned assets for the price of a good dinner or a trip to the United States. The railway unions are not prepared to stand by and watch such piracy. I refer not only to the British Rail property board. The Department of Transport and the Secretary of State say that railwaymen have no business running the other subsidiaries and that the public sector has no business owning them. Hotels have been sold. We expect to see others sold in the near future. So far they have all been cut-price sales, partly because of the depressed state of the economy and partly because everyone knows that the board is being forced by the Government to sell. It is being starved of funds to bring about the sales. That is not a businesslike approach. It is not patriotic to flog our assets in that way.
The PSO grant for 1982 represents a £15 million cut in real terms from last year. I could give a long list of branch lines that may be in danger because of the drastic reduction in finance. I mention two in my region. I forecast that within about 18 months proposals will be advanced to withdraw the Stourbridge junction-Stourbridge town service and Leamington-Stratford service as a direct result of the cuts. Both are seen as big loss makers in the West Midlands region.
In the past couple of years time-keeping on the main line between Birmingham and Euston has suffered because of the slow-down in track maintenance due to previous reductions in funds. I forecast that the Government will bring about something that has not happened for over 100 years. The journey between Birmingham and London will take longer, so the two cities will effectively be moved further apart, again as a direct result of the cuts.
The Government and the Secretary of State talk of the need to cut manpower and services. British Rail's original grant submission for 1982 took into account the manpower cuts that had taken place. By agreement with the unions, over the past two years 12,000 jobs have been lost. We saw no newspaper headlines or pious editorials about that. Since last June there has been a 6 per cent. reduction in loaded train miles on inter-city services as a direct result of the reduced grants for British Rail's investment to run existing services. A further 4 per cent. cut was scheduled up to October.
Yesterday's announcement will accelerate and worsen the cuts. Numerous late night services have been cut, particularly in London and the South-East, over the past few months. Conservative Members are always ready to attack railwaymen, allegedly for lack of productivity. They should have the honesty to tell their constituents that 521 the reduction in services and the fall in standards are a direct result of the Government's attitude to the nationalised industries, particularly the railways.
Fares are bound to be forced up further because of what is said in the written reply. British Rail's fares increased last November by an average of 9½ per cent., which was considerably below the rate of inflation at that time. Fares since January 1980 have increased by 42.8 per cent.
The Secretary of State's answer should have been verbal and made at the Despatch Box. His written answer makes explicit his determination that there should be an accelerated disposal of assets in order to bring down the losses of British Rail in the next year. That is a short-term and short-sighted measure.
None of us is under any illusions about the Secretary of State's attitude towards his job. We all know, without reading newspaper editorials, that his appointment as Secretary of State for Transport was a demotion. He was fired from his position as Secretary of State for Energy because he showed precious little of that commodity. I have never made a practice of attacking any Minister or any hon. Member in his absence, but I must say on behalf of Britain's railwaymen that the Secretary of State has been little short of an unmitigated disaster.
Not only have British Rail's inter-city services suffered because of the Secretary of State's indifference, incompetence and desire to avoid probing questions at the Dispatch Box, but public transport in every major city has deteriorated drastically since the Secretary of State was appointed.
London's case is well known and needs to be rehearsed no further. In the West Midlands county area, the controlling Labour group was elected on a pledge of reducing public transport fares. The Secretary of State has stood by with his customary indifference and the majority Labour group has been forced to raise fares higher than they were before the group was elected in May last year.
Public transport is declining throughout the country. That applies not only to rural services and branch lines, which in many instances are the sole lifeline for many people who during the day have no access to a private car, but to the services in our major cities. Public transport and the railway industry have been strangled because of the mixture of malice and indifference on the part of the Secretary of State.
I trust that the Leader of the House, when he brings my remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, will remember, in his guise as protector of the rights of all hon. Members, my strictures, which are justified. I could tell that the Leader of the House did not agree with me when I began my speech. It is the duty of Ministers, regardless of political party or the popularity of the measures and policies that they wish to introduce to the House, to reply from the Dispatch Box and not to hide behind the device of the written reply. Opposition Members intend to return on each and every possible occasion to the subject of transport until we convince the Government of the error and magnitude—
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be cross at my strictures. If he thinks that the time of my speech should be limited or that my remarks are out 522 of order, no doubt he will make a direct appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At least I confine my remarks to matters about which I have a little knowledge, unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is never off his feet, normally propounding the most preposterous Right-wing views on each and every subject that comes before the House. I have no need for lectures from him about restricting or restraining my remarks. I am here to defend the future of British Rail and British railwaymen, and I make no apology to a jumped-up lawyer like the hon. and learned Gentleman for doing so.
Public transport is suffering grievously under the Government. We intend to fight, and fight very hard, to reverse the policies that have proved to be such a disaster over the past three years.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I believe that the House should not rise for the recess until a statement has been made by the Home Secretary on what I believe to be an aspect of the administrative rules approved by the House which explicitly contravenes the rights of women, which in all respects in this country should be equal to those of men.
I am referring to the immigration rules laid before Parliament on 20 February 1980 under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 which came into force on 1 March 1980. There is on the order paper early-day motion 370 on the immigration rules and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is signed by 12 hon. Members. The first six signatories were all supporters of Her Majesty's Government, including myself. It is worth reading the early-day motion. It says:That this House, recalling that the immigration rules were amended on 1st March 1980, noting that since that date there have been two categories of women in the United Kingdom, namely, those entitled to marry men from other countries and live with them in the United Kingdom and those to whom this basic right is denied; and believing that the present immigration rules are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, welcomes the Secretary of State for the Home Department's review of these rules following the passing of the British Nationality Act and calls for an early statement on the Government's intentions.As I said at the outset, I believe that the Government's statement should be made before the recess. I shall rehearse to the House the very good reason why this should be so. The British Nationality Act 1981, whereby for the first time British nationality can be transmitted either through the male or the female line, makes necessary a review of the immigration rules. These are, in a number of aspects, directly consequent upon citizenship provisions.
If, on matters of citizenship, we are agreed that there should be equality of rights for the transfer of citizenship between men and women, surely for immigration rules the sexes should not be accorded different treatment over the immigration of spouses for settlement in the United Kingdom. There is one particular reason why a statement from the Home Office is urgent and necessary. The lawfulness of the Government's action is about to be tested.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and the National Council for Civil Liberties have launched complaints to the European Commission of Human Rights. These will be the subject of a hearing as to the admissability of the case presented by the JCWI and the NCCL before May 1982. If the commission rules that there 523 is a prima facie case the European Court of Human Rights will have to decide upon it. Therefore, it is urgent that before the matter goes to the commission in Strasbourg the Home Office should make its position clear.
My hon. Friends and I put down the early-day motion that was tabled at the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), to whom I pay tribute. The Home Office ought to make its position clear, or, as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Her Majesty's Government might find themselves in some embarrassment.
At this stage we should remind ourselves of what the immigration rules provide and the issue that is in question. The wife of any man, regardless of citizenship, who is settled in the United Kingdom and who has the right of abode, is entitled to enter the United Kingdom and to remain here with him. A woman does not enjoy similar rights.
Under the immigration rules—I refer to paragraphs 50 and 52, but especially 50—a husband who wishes to enter the United Kingdom with his wife must satisfy a number of preconditions. Three are listed, but the most important one and the material one is:an entry clearance will be issued provided that the wife is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who was born in the United Kingdom or one of whose parents was born there.In other words, the wife must be either a British citizen born here or have a parent born in the United Kingdom. Entry clearance is stipulated for the entry of her husband to join her here and it is significant that entry clearance is not stipulated for the wife of a man, regardless of whether he is British, to join him for settlement in Britain. This is a prima facie injustice, and it is on that basis that I bring the matter before the House.
There are anomalies. For example, a woman who is an EEC national who is admitted to the United Kingdom to take employment has a right under EEC law to have her husband admitted to join her in the United Kingdom for settlement, but other women from non-EEC countries have no such right. The relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights are as follows: article 8, the right of respect for private and family life; article 12, the right to marry and found a family; and article 14, enjoyment of rights and freedoms set forth in the convention without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour and national origins.
In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Mr. Anthony Lestor, QC, said that he believed that the immigration rules prima facie contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. He said:The first question which would arise is whether a difference of treatment has been made, in an area covered by the Convention, between persons in similar circumstances. The answer is plainly in the affirmative.In March 1981 the European Parliament adopted a resolution, formulated by the Legal Affairs Committee which declared that it wasof the opinion that the United Kingdom Government's new immigration rules may contravene the European Convention on Human Rights—is further of the opinion that they may also contravene the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in community law.Women who were not born here, even if they are British, may have to choose between their husbands and their home countries. This is an intolerable decision for a woman to have to make.
The immigration rules have the ludicrous consequence that women of EEC nationality have more rights in the 524 United Kingdom than some British citizens. Surely that cannot be right. For example, a woman who is a United Kingdom citizen but who was not born here and is without a parent who was born here can go to Ireland or to any other EEC country to take employment under the freedom of movement of labour provisions of the Treaty of Rome. Under EEC law, her husband then qualifies as her spouse and can join her in that country. Yet the same woman cannot have her husband join her in her home country, which is also an EEC member State.
I am pleased that the Home Office is reviewing this matter. I brought it to the attention of the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), on 24 March 1981, during the Committee stage of the British Nationality Bill. Although I do not like to quote what I have said before, it is worth quoting:If the Bill is enacted"—it is now an Act. —the husbands of women resident in this country will, if they are to acquire British citizenship by naturalisation, have to reside here for three years. Would that not be sufficient control—to ensure, for example, that there are no bogus marriages; that is an important point—to make it reasonable and proper for us to re-examine the current discrimination in our immigration rules between the rights of women resident in Britain who were born here and those of women resident in Britain but not born here?"—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 24 March 1981; c. 735.]A year has passed, and it is high time that a Home Office Minister came to the Dispatch Box to explain what has happened. That should be done before the May Day Recess. If it is not, we may find ourselves facing a case in the European Commission of Human Rights which could possibly lead to a case in the European Court of Human Rights.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
It is on rare occasions such as this that right hon. and hon. Members have an opportunity to bring their cases before the House. I was delighted to be able to remain in the House this evening to hear some of the important issues that have been brought before the House, particularly that raised by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are of primary importance and should be given every consideration by the Government.
I am always mindful of the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House can advance a case, use all their political intelligence to try to have a problem resolved, and, at the end of the day go home to their constituencies and to their beds and not be afraid that they might be killed before the next morning. Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are in a special category. Whatever the many differences that I may have with Unionist Members on the Opposition side of the House and with Democratic Unionist Members on the Government side, I would accord to them the same feelings as I have. We all live under a great cloud of terrorism in Northern Ireland.
I should like to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Even the mention of that constituency and its political designation is enough to cause disarray and trouble in Northern Ireland, and many people would not wish to refer to that city as Londonderry. They would refer to it as Derry, and that is 525 an indication of the great divide that exists in Northern Ireland, and has existed for many years. Indeed, it existed in the island of Ireland long before the State of Northern Ireland was created in 1920.
The hon. Member for Londonderry tried to tell the House that we should not adjourn because of what was happening in Northern Ireland. I intervened and said that it was fortunate that the Leader of the House was on the Front Bench, because he has great experience of Northern Ireland. We can now look back to 1974 and to the five tumultuous months from January to May 1974 and see that the things that happened then were disastrous.
From the press and the media we know that there is to be a statement in the House on Monday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the proposals that he may have for setting up a Government or Assembly in Northern Ireland. Some people thought that the Government might try to pull a fast one and make the announcement tomorrow morning. However, I am glad that they did not choose to do so. Northern Ireland is one of the most dangerous and compelling issues facing the British Government—far more compelling than the Trident problem. That is why the Government were right to decide not to make the statement tomorrow.
However, it is probably not right to make the announcement on Monday either. The Government should make it on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when most hon. Members will be in the House and be able to express an opinion on the proposals. There will not be many hon. Members in the Chamber on Monday and there will be even fewer here tomorrow. However, if the choice is between Friday and Monday, Monday is the best day.
Without pre-empting the statement on Monday—again, it will be only a statement—the hon. Member for Londonderry tried to tell the Leader of the House what the Government should say and do about the political situation in Northern Ireland. His whole approach was, to say the least, rather negative. However, one could not do anything but sympathise with the hon. Gentleman when he drew the attention of the House to the terrible atrocity that took place this afternoon in his constituency.
I refer to the brutal and senseless slaying and murder this afternoon in Deny. Similarly, three young British soldiers were killed last Friday in my constituency. Such killings are senseless and will not in any way lead to a resolution of the terrible problems in Ireland. I do not need to tell the Leader of the House, but that is why I have taken my stand without fear of contradiction. The murders, atrocities and killings by the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and all the other paramilitary associations in Northern Ireland will not lead to a resolution of the conflict.
What the hon. Member for Londonderry was saying tonight—if I might try to interpret it—was that the Government should pour in whatever military aid is necessary to defeat the IRA. After they have done that, they should accede to the demands of the majority—he mentioned the majority two or three times in his speech—for a restoration of Stormont as we knew it before it was abolished in 1972.
That would be a total and absolute disaster. I lived in that State from 1926 until 1972, and I well remember that the one-party State that we then had in Northern Ireland—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.