Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Monday 17th January.—[Mr. Goodlad.]
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stocke-on-Trent, South)
I believe that this House should not adjourn until we have discussed the major cutback announced by the Michelin company at the weekend. The loss of 4,000 jobs—one third of the total work force—is a significant event, not only for Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire, but for the country as a whole.
I want to make an angry protest about the current economic malaise of North Staffordshire. This once prosperous area is being blighted, through no fault of its own, because Government policies have irtensified the damaging effects of the world recession. There are already 32,000 people in the dole queues in North Staffordshire, largely because the pottery industry has been badly hit. Some of us, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant), Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) and Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) have pressed the Government to do something about it. We have hoped against hope that something could be done to alleviate the distress and misery in the area.
Instead of being helped, we sustained a terrible body blow at the weekend, when the Michelin company announced that it was cutting no fewer than 4,000 jobs in the next two years, and that about 1,000 of those jobs would be in Stoke-on-Trent. The announcement turned the gloom of many people into despair, and caused deep anxiety among some people who have jobs, because it shows that conditions in the area are deteriorating, not improving.
The Government should learn a lesson from this major blow to the economy of North Staffordshire. When a fine firm like Michelin, which is well organised and highly competitive, with a first-class labour force, is forced to cut its capacity by one third, it shows that there is something grotesquely wrong with the Government's policy. It is one thing to try to make some sections of industry leaner and fitter. It is quite another thing to push theory to such impractical limits that our best firms are mutilated and a skilled labour force is devastated. The Government will destroy some of the most efficient sections of our economy if they persist in their restrictive policies, which are increasing unemployment. Of course the world recession has had an impact. It would be unfair and unrealistic to deny that. However, the Government should act, and act urgently, to help rather than hinder workers and industries. I want to put forward some proposals.
First, the most decisive change that the Government can make is to pursue policies that will ensure a more realistic exchange rate, because the present rate has crippled industry. The Michelin company suffered a big fall in its export and domestic markets, due in large part to the high exchange rate. In my view, there is something schizophrenic about a Government who call for greater efficiency in industry, while shackling it in the straitjacket of an unrealistic exchange rate. The recent fall in the rate has been inadequate to ensure the future of Britain's manufacturing industry.
697 Secondly, the Government should adopt a reflationary policy, but that policy must be designed to help our workers and industries, rather than those of our competitors.
Thirdly, the Government should reassess the whole question of imports. The principle of minimum restrictions on the entry of imports is fine in theory, but it is now destructive in practice. The workers of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and the Michelin company are being badly damaged by imports in two ways. New foreign cars, complete with five tyres, are now taking over the British market and pushing out home products which relied on British tyres. In addition, the replacement tyre market is being flooded with cheap Far Eastern tyres. We want a tough, hard-headed and practical programme of import controls, as the severity of the cuts at the Michelin factory underlines.
Finally, I suggest that the Government should anticipate and respond to the long-term implications of the disastrouss developments in British industry. At present, they are failing to do so. It is recognised in the West Midlands that even when the recession ends, industrial capacity is unlikely to be made up, because of technological developments. Unless, in the long term, we develop a new approach to the organisation of work, the awful gap between the employed and the unemployed will become wider and more divisive. Enlightened politicians in the West Midlands, such as Arthur Cholerton, the chairman of the West Midlands forum of county councils, are pressing for comprehensive discussion of the implications, to find new ways of coping with these complex economic problems. If those problems are not solved, we shall face serious social as well as economic consequences. It is time that the Government gave a strong push to such discussions, so that the whole nation may benefit from the scientific genius of man.
Without those measures, we shall sink into an industrial abyss from which we may never emerge. Already human skills and industrial machinery are rotting. If the Government fail to act, they will get and deserve the epitaph from the people that they were elected in hope and ejected in despair.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Having long ago contested a West Midlands seat, I am tempted to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), but I shall stick to the subject of which I have given notice both to the Chair and to the Leader of the House. That subject is the goings-on in the Northern Ireland Assembly. They require the attention of the House, which gave it birth, and enlightenment from Ministers before we agree to rise. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Northern Ireland Act 1982 carried less than wholehearted consent in the House. However, when the Northern Ireland Assembly becomes the scene and occasion of a constitutional impasse, and its Presiding Officer, of all people, appears to be acting ultra vires, those who claimed and hoped most from the Assembly should be the most concerned that it should be conducted lawfully.
The House is aware that the Presiding Officer is the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)——
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I shall come to what he is doing all in due time. I hope, if I am not interrupted, to confine my remarks to four minutes.
The hon. Member for Down, North, the Presiding Officer of the Assembly, has now appointed Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen to six Committees of the Assembly under section 4(2) of the Northern Ireland Act. That section states:appointments.…shall be such as to secure, so far as practicable, that the balance of parties in the Assembly is reflected in.…the chairmen taken as a whole".How has the Presiding Officer fulfilled his statutory duty? He has appointed three Chairmen from the Official Unionist Party, two Chairmen from the Democratic Unionist Party, and one Chairman from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. That does not reflect the balance of parties in the Assembly, unless one takes the view that the words "so far as practicable" mean that he has acted in accordance with the statute. However, the words "so far as practicable" are surely to be construed as they are when Standing and Select Committees are formed in this House of Commons.
The Northern Ireland Assembly models itself closely on this House. Indeed, the Presiding Officer, Mr. Deputy Speaker, calls himself "Mr. Speaker". Both parliamentary practice and a common sense reading of the wordsthe balance of parties in the Assemblysuggest to me at any rate that the intention is to meet the difficulty of not being able to put to useful use a fraction of a chairman. The words in the Act are surely not meant to cover the abstention of elected members of the Assembly and the absenteeism or abstentionism of Northern Ireland political parties. Surely the phrasethe balance of parties in the Assemblymust mean the parties elected to the Assembly rather than the members of those parties who may from time to time take their seat or attend.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
It might be.
If one took the contrary view, the words "members of the Assembly" in section (4)(1)(a) of the Act would have to be interpreted as excluding elected Assemblymen who have not taken their seats or who do not attend. What then becomes of the famous 70 per cent. rule in section 1(4)(a) for the submission of proposals for devolution? Seventy per cent. of members attending, as opposed to 70 per cent. of all members elected, would not satisfy the important cross-community criterion.
Those few who are enthusiasts for the Assembly should be the first to require an answer to the charge that the Presiding Officer, in his appointment of Chairmen, is acting ultra vires of the Northern Ireland Act 1982. It follows that any appointment of deputy chairmen and members of Committees made in the same manner is likewise invalid and that no such appointees may lawfully be paid salaries. The Northern Ireland Assembly is a creature of Parliament and must conform to the statute. The House should be satisfied that it will be rising for Christmas with conscience clear. I hope that I am not unduly prejudiced if I say that if the matters can be resolved in no other way, the prorogation of the Assembly might be to the advantage of the Province, the public interest and the public purse.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), because the argument that he has been advancing puts the case concisely. It might be useful for him if I quote the Speaker of the Assembly, who said:The legal requirement is that the distribution must be in accordance with the number of seats of each political party in the Assembly. A straightforward allocation on the basis of election results would produce the following situation".That would appear to support what the hon. Gentleman has so validly brought to the attention of the House.
It gives me great pleasure to refer to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), first, because of his record of genuine concern for people who find themselves in difficulties through no fault of their own, and, secondly, because both our constituencies have suffered from the same cause over the past weekend, since the House met last Friday.
Like the other matters brought to your attention today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the one to which I seek to refer is of extreme urgency. It is the closure and, in my case, the consequences of the closure, of the Michelin tyre factory at Mallusk in County Antrim. I accept that multinational companies have a habit of making cold-blooded decisions without any regard for the interests of the work force that has served them loyally and faithfully for many years. Nor do they have any great sense of obligation to the United Kingdom's taxpayers, whose money they have been prepared to accept and expend over the years. However, I think that hon. Members will agree that Parliament has a right and a duty to protect the work force and the taxpayer. It is for that reason that I wish to stress the urgency of the action which, I hope, can be taken by the Government and the importance of a close and continuous watch on the matter during the recess.
The decision to close the Michelin factory was announced without any warning on Friday. It had been said that the Northern Ireland Office had the first sign of that only seven days before and that would seem to show that the company was not really interested in any further Government assistance, since it would obviously have been impossible for the Department of Economic Development or the Northern Ireland Office to investigate, assess the need and put together a package of aid within a week. Therefore, the House will wish to ask whether Michelin asked for any assistance. Was an offer of assistance made? Can we be told how much was offered? Did the company reject such an offer or was it just not interested? We need answers to those questions if we are to judge whether a stay of execution would be valuable in giving the Government and the company opportunity for second thoughts, particularly over the Christmas Recess. If the answer to that question is "No", we shall be in a position to examine other lines of action.
Can any arrangement be made between the Government and the other Michelin factory in Ballymena to extend job opportunities there? That company produces a different type of product and, with the guarantee that it will remain in production, there should be a strong possibility of expansion when world trading conditions, I hope, improve. Will it not be possible in the immediate future to transfer back to the factories in Great Britain, many of which have escaped the axe, those whose posts could be filled by Ulster workers and specialist staff?
700 I assure the House that I am not motivated by any notion of an industrial "Brits out" policy. However, surely it would make economic sense to withdraw those who come from outside Northern Ireland and who are in receipt of what is called the "white man's allowance" and to replace them with indigenous workers, who would not insist on danger money for the privilege of working in their own country.
It the Mallusk factory is closed on the ground of unprofitability, it must surely make sense to reduce labour costs in Ballymena along the lines that I have suggested. I hope that the Government will consider measures to prevent the Ballymena plant from being scrapped in a few years' time, when its initial grant conditions have expired. That has been the all too common pattern for multinational companies. We must also consider the other casualties among the companies that supplied and serviced Michelin. Admittedly, they are mostly in a different category from those that suffered severely as a result of the De Lorean collapse, although some of the companies are the same. The Michelin company is a going concern and will no doubt discharge its outstanding liabilities. However, many of its back-up companies incurred heavy capital costs in re-equipping themselves to meet Michelin's specific needs.
Friday's announcement will have led to great nervousness in banking circles. If credit facilities and other backings are withdrawn, those companies may find themselves in great difficulty, and I fear that many will perish before Parliament returns on 17 January. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Government to find ways of restoring confidence and of providing credit backing to keep from ruination the many companies whose disappearance would leave a gaping, and perhaps this time fatal, wound in the ailing body of the Northern Ireland economy.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
On 29 July we debated the Summer Adjournment and I raised two issues. The first was the restoration of capital punishment for terrorist murders, which I raised in the aftermath of the tragic murder of guardsmen and horses in London just prior to that debate, when public feelings were running high. The second issue concerned the citizens of the Republic of Eire having the right to vote in general elections in Britain. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House replied to my first point and added, rightly, that not long ago we had had a free vote on capital punishment. However, he completely ignored my second point.
I raise that second point again because tonight the Labour group on Trafford council is to move the following motion:This Council deplores the idea being advanced by some Members of Parliament and certain sections of the Press that Irish citizens resident in Britain should lose their right to vote in British elections; it condemns the proposal as discriminatory, racist and vindictive and hopes that other Local Authorities will follow Trafford's example by passing motions similar to this one, thus demonstrating the strength of public opposition.I cannot see anything discriminatory, racist or vindictive about my attitude. I am of Irish descent, but I cannot understand why citizens of the Republic of Eire should be accorded preferential treatment in Britain. Since we are being accused of being racist and discriminatory, perhaps we should extend the law to allow EC nationals to vote in our elections. If I had been living in Eire during the recent 701 general election, I would not have been allowed to vote. On reflection, I should have liked to vote and hon. Members need not guess which party I would have voted against. However, we have no reciprocal arrangement with the Dublin Government.
If citizens of Eire can vote in Britain it makes nonsense of our electoral system. After all, citizens of Eire can come and go as freely as they please. They are free from any immigration controls. This country has been let down by successive Governments, because they have failed to tackle the problem. I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us the Government's thinking on that point.
My main reason for taking part in the debate is to raise the issue of fuel standing charges. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) initiated an Adjournment debate on this issue not long ago. However, we are still awaiting a solution. Almost every hon. Member will have met constituents, particularly among the elderly who live on their own, who can produce fuel bills showing that the standing charge is far greater than the amount of energy consumed. The problem has been with us for some time. The Labour Government set up an interdepartmental inquiry in 1976. During the Adjournment debate on 13 December, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy replied:The overall document, which is an impressive and cogently argued one, won the full-hearted commendation of the then Secretary of State for Energy, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) who said in his signed foreword to the document:'After considering the group's report, the Government have concluded that none of these possibilities offers a satisfactory way of helping poor consumers with their fuel bills.'Thus, standing charges survived the 1976 review."—[Official Report, 13 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 100.]Under this Government, an independent review of standing charges has been commissioned and, as a further measure, the Secretary of State for Energy has proposed that standing charges should represent no more than 50 per cent. of a domestic consumer's bill. That is a speedy and effective way of helping some of the poorest people of this country.
It is tragic that elderly people should have to watch carefully the amount of energy that they consume and that they should then find that their efforts to save money have been sabotaged by an excessive standing charge. At this time of year, when pensioners need so much warmth, I wonder why we have to wait so long for a decision from the powers that be. It would have been a happy thought to make the announcement before Christmas—but then, we realise that the soulless nationalised industries are not very good at playing the role of Santa Claus. Apparently, the gas and electricity boards have said that they would like to await the results of the independent inquiry. I have a feeling that they may be dragging their feet and if someone in authority were to spur them along, we might get a speedy decision.
Pensioners who live on their own have special problems. For example, I should be interested to know what the Government intend to do about rates. The rating system takes no account of someone's ability to pay. However, at least under the rating system the neediest people can be helped through a rate rebate. The amount of water rate claimed is based on the rateable value of the property in question. No account is taken of the amount 702 of water consumed. Therefore, the pensioner who lives on his own pays the same in rates and water rates as a family living in an identical house next door, in which there may be three or four wage earners. That gives rise to a great sense of injustice among many of our elderly people. There are rate rebates, and I am curious to know why there is no rebate for water rates.
We must do more to help the elderly, particularly those who live on their own. Hon. Members will admit that at this time of year warmth is essential for the elderly. Therefore, it is essential that the Government should do something about standing charges.
§ Mr. Montgomery
If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a speech, he should do so. The hon. Gentleman is very clever now. He is always telling us what we should do, but the Labour Party had a chance to do it during almost six years of office. In 1976, the then Secretary of State for Energy said that nothing would be done about standing charges. It is easy, in Opposition, to promise things but it is much more difficult to implement them when in Government.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the past few months the Government have introduced a Housing and Building Control Bill—which the hon. Gentleman voted for—which will abolish the sort of rebates that the hon. Gentleman would like to see applied to water? A few months ago, when we debated getting rid of standing charges for pensioners, the hon. Gentleman would not join the Opposition in the Lobby to vote for that.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman is making an entirely different point, and he well knows it. If he wishes to make a speech he can do so. It is very easy now that he and his party are in Opposition to come forward with quick solutions to the problems faced by the country. During the long period when his party was in Government very little was done and the electors took their revenge at the 1979 election.
I hope that my right hon. Friend as Leader of the House can do something to ensure that good news to help those people faced with heavy standing charges can be announced before we rise for the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have much sympathy with what was said by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) about standing charges. I do not find that the wads of literature that some of the nationalised industries now send out with their bills are any compensation for the size of the bills. We require lower prices and not exhortations to use more of their products or to be told of different ways of paying the bills.
I wish to address my remarks particularly to fishing. I am disappointed that we are to have no debate on fishing before the House rises for the recess. The Leader of the House has promised that we shall have one early in the new year, and that no doubt is better than nothing, but in the meantime important meetings will take place this week about the EC arrangements on the common fisheries policy. Will we have a statement as a result of those meetings, because various matters must be cleared up, such as how Denmark is to be treated?
703 The Government's original announcement on the EC proposals was greeted with some apprehension by certain sections of the fishing industry. Since it was made I have had many conversations and communications with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I should like to thank them for the trouble that they have taken, and to put on record what they said to me.
In a letter of 14 December, the Secretary of State for Scotland said:I shall certainly be watching closely for any signs that Shetland waters are being over-fished: the proposed arrangements for the North of Scotland box give us a valuable means of controlling fishing effort in that area, and monitoring the situation so that I can react appropriately if the need arises. I share your concern for the long-term future of the fishing stocks around the United Kingdom, and for the long-term viability of the fishing industry. I am convinced that the CFP as proposed, with its full range of access, conservation, restructuring and control measures, offers excellent prospects to secure that future.In another letter dated the same day, he said:Accordingly it may reasonably be expected that foreign activity in the area"—that is, the box—will decline, while the traditional fishing pattern for local vessels will not be affected, and indeed their opportunities should be enhanced.That is encouraging as far as it goes, but there is also the issue of future conservation in the North Sea in the light of the enormous catching power that is now being developed by various nations. At present it may well be said that the position is not too bad. In the third quarter of 1982 Shetland vessels landed fish to the value of £2,725,000, compared with a catch valued at £6,891,000 for the whole of 1981. In 1981 Shetland vessels landed 75,000 tonnes of edible fish, while in the third quarter of 1982 they landed 33,000 tonnes. Despite those figures, there is concern among fishermen about the long-term viability of the North Sea. As his letters show, that view is shared by the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is urgent that he explains in full detail either in a statement or in some other way how he will deal with industrial fishing. What are the ultimate arrangements? How will Denmark be handled? What resources are available for enforcing the CFP and how does he visualise future conservation?
Another important occurrence of the past week or so is that several fishermen's associations have resigned from the Scottish Fishermen's Association. Until now the Secretary of State has had a great many consultations with, and has principally been guided by, the Scottish Fishermen's Association. He has told me that in discussing management schemes he would of course consult the fishermen, but he indicated that he could not introduce management schemes, even though they were locally desired, if the Scottish Fishermen's Association was opposed to them. Now that that association has lost several of its members, it is time that the Secretary of State made a statement about how he regards future consultation with the industry.
In various parts of the North of Scotland and particularly in Orkney and Shetland there is a strong demand for local management schemes. The Secretary of State made it clear that he is not opposed to them, nor do they conflict with anything that has been said in Brussels. We are worried not only by the over-fishing by foreign vessels, but by the number of British vessels that may fish around Orkney and Shetland. Therefore we consider that 704 a management scheme, even though it may not be absolutely necessary at present, is essential for the future of the industry. I very much hope that, as he promised, the Secretary of State will very soon get together representatives from the various associations to discuss the proposed management schemes around Orkney and Shetland and around certain other parts of the coast of Scotland.
I regret that that now will presumably have to wait until the new year and upon the decision of the House on the CFP. It is becoming an urgent matter, and uncertainty in the industry will continue so long as we do not have a clear statement about how the CFP is to be worked out if Denmark stands out of it, and how we are to protect stocks in our own waters, not only from foreign vessels but from over-fishing by British vessels.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I do not believe it is right that we should leave the House for three or four weeks without a promise by the Government that they will help those who wish to farm on their own. At present, hundreds and even thousands of young farmers and people who have qualified as farmers seek land on which to carry on their profession. With land prices as they are today, there must be land for hire but little is available. If a farm becomes available for letting, hundreds of people apply—almost as many as come forward for a good safe Tory seat. It is distressing to have to choose one person from many well-trained young men and women. More often than not, the son of someone who already has a good farm is chosen because he can more easily raise the capital by using his father's farm as backing.
In passing, may I say that I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is listening, because I wish to get my remarks across not only to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Who could be better to pass on my remarks than my right hon. Friend, who has deep knowledge of the countryside and is—although he will admit that he does not look the part—bred from good farming stock? Not only that, but he is known as a financial wizard. I hope that he likes those remarks.
Very belatedly, and after the Minister's deadline, the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association came to a certain agreement which they believed would persuade landowners, private and institutional, to let rather than farm or sell land. I do not believe that the agreement will do all that is claimed for it, so I am not particularly upset by the Minister's decision not to legislate during this Parliament. The agreement needs to be improved and expanded. For instance, it must surely include fixed-term tenancies from 10 years to 30 or 40 years, during which someone could build a good pension and retire, so that the land would change hands.
The Council of Europe, to which I have been sent on a delegation from this Parliament, debated a detailed report on this matter about 12 months ago, and passed it unanimously to the Council of Ministers. It urged that active help be given to new entrants to farming and stated that probably one of the best ways to do this was to reshape taxation policies to encourage landowners to let. I shall quote one part of one paragraph which urges member States of the Council of Europe to 705shape taxation and other policies so as to favour efficient family farming either on owner-occupied or tenanted land".We should be aiming for family fanning to rejuvenate rural areas. If the Minister does not legislate by altering the Agricultural Holding Acts, what can be done? The greatest help that the Government could give to solving the problem would be by making fiscal changes in the next Budget. That would tilt taxation in favour of let land as opposed to land in hand or land being farmed by the owner. This proposal is not meant as a gift to large private or institutionalised landowners. The help could well be directed to medium or smaller sized holdings on a sliding scale. Detailed proposals have been made by a prominent land agent to the Treasury and I hope that these are being considered.
There has been a growth in the ownership of agricultural land by institutions such as pension funds. This applies to let land and land in hand. A report in the Eastern Daily Press of 10 December shows that these bodies—there are 30 of them involved, including pension funds and insurance companies—buy 50,000 acres a year, which is 8 to 12 per cent. of all land sold. They own about 500,000 acres which are let and farm another 115,000 acres.
My calculations are that the 115,000 acres would give between 250 and 300 young farmers an opportunity to farm on their own account. This could be multiplied many times if private landowners were similarly encouraged to let rather than take in hand.
In the eastern counties, the great arable lands of Norfolk, Suffolk, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, there is certainly a need for a rural policy. Damage is being done to rural life in a way which I would never have believed 20 or 30 years ago. It must be a policy that is aimed at helping people to stay on the land and similar to the policies that have been introduced by the French and the Germans. A rural policy of the sort that I am urging would give young men and women the opportunity to farm on their own account. It would create lively communities thriving on agriculture and also create opportunities for small businesses and crafts to start in, perhaps, out-of-date farm buildings, which can remain a delight to the eye in the countryside compared with the large, modern concrete and asbestos buildings that are being erected.
On 11 June I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I shall quote two sentences from my letter. I am glad to say that he later arranged an appointment and I was able to speak to him. I wrote:I am also concerned about the depopulation of the countryside by those whose living comes from the land. Their replacements in this part of the world to a considerable extent are farming enterprises run from London etc. by managers frequently changed and having responsibility for farming up to 10,000 hectares.The House will be aware that that is about 25,000 acres. The paragraph continues:Thus the enterprises are run extensively, with no livestock, a minimum of employees and not producing anything like the food that could be produced"—that is per acre—if there were … individual family farmers.In the area that I represent, village life suffers from having no leaders in the villagers.
706 We must have a real rural policy that is based on getting more people working on the land and in small village industries that are connected with agriculture. Our population is far too urban-orientated. I think that fewer than 2 per cent. earn their living from the land, which is a dangerously low percentage. I am convinced that it is bad for the health of the nation, and certainly its political health.
I hope that during the recess my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look at the good countryside of Great Britain, reflect a little and examine the structure of farming, especially in my area. I hope that they will return for the last year of so of the Government with a rural policy.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The House is being asked to adjourn for a month when our relations with the EC are in an even worse state of confusion than is normal nowadays. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) rightly mentioned fishing. I understand that tomorrow there is to be a Fishing Council of the EC, which will attempt for about the twentieth time to reach a settlement over the proposed common fisheries policy. Incidentally, there are only about 10 days left before the deadline threatened for 1 January, when no one knows what will happen.
Is it a fact that there is to be a Fishing Council tomorrow? Are we to have later this week at least a statement—presumably it will be made on Wednesday or Thursday—from the Minister telling us the result of the meeting, which is bound to be crucial for the residue of the British fishing industry after all the damage that it has suffered through our membership of the EC over the past 10 years? The House should not adjourn until it has been told what has been agreed at the meeting and what is to happen after 1 January. If there is not time for a debate, I hope that we shall have reasonable time to question the Minister.
There are several questions that should be answered, before the House adjourns, about the prospects for the fishing industry. We all know that if Britain had not joined the EEC the fishing industry would enjoy a 200-mile exclusive zone like Iceland and Norway. At present, it is merely hoping for a six-mile zone or a partial 12-mile zone. We know that responsibility for this rests on the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who in their hurry to get the Treaty of Accession settled and signed in December 1979 rushed ahead without any safeguards for the British industry after 31 December 1981. We know all those things. What we do not know, and should know before we adjourn, is what the position will be on and after 1 January, less than a fortnight away.
If no formal agreement is reached this week, could Denmark invade our fishing waters up to the shores of the United Kingdom? Will even the six-mile limit be protected? If the Government believe that the six-mile zone can be protected, what will be the legal basis for enforcing an exclusive zone in our waters and are we ready and able to protect the zone in the weeks ahead?
What will the position be under the so-called EC law, if no agreement is reached and the Danes appeal to the EC 707 Council, if we try to enforce our protection? Nobody knows at present. The House and the industry should be given an answer to those questions.
Unhappily, such is the lamentable story of our relations with the EC that damage done to our fishing industry is not the only threat that faces us. We have not received information yet this week about the United Kingdom contribution to the EC budget. Will the Leader of the House confirm the rumour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement tomorrow? So far, the Chancellor has told us nothing about what he did and what happened at the EC Council of Finance Ministers last week. The only information that we have received is from the press. In this budget story, the Prime Minister's supposedly triumphant deal over the budget contribution was thrown into confusion by the reckless behaviour of that strange body that calls itself the European Parliament, although it is neither European nor a parliament. That happened 10 days ago when the European Parliament refused to approve the settlement that had been reached by the Council of Ministers. Our budget prospects have been disrupted to the tune of at least £500 million by this development, although we do not know how far it has affected our budget, when or by how much. It is another, equally lamentable, story.
Before we joined the EC we were told that our budget contribution would be trivial and that we need not worry. When, after joining, it proved to be about £500 million and, not long afterwards, £1,000 million, we were then told—I skip part of the story—that by a brilliant stroke the present Prime Minister had solved the problem in Dublin in May 1980. Far from being a lasting agreement, it transpired that it would continue only for two years. Last October, the story was that we could be sure that the agreement had been settled for one year. Even that has been upset on the spur of the moment by that curious body, the Assembly in Strasbourg.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will also refer to the fact that this itinerant, insolent and polyglot Assembly has said that if the refund is agreed, it wishes to supervise the spending of the money. Does he not agree that that would be a disgraceful intrusion into the sovereignty of this Parliament, which hitherto has been the only body able and willing—it is part of our job—to supervise the spending of the Executive?
§ Mr. Jay
That is quite true and I shall come to that point later. The Chancellor must enlighten us about that matter. He must also make it clear whether it is now true that we shall get back none of the contribution, as was promised, made in the European Community's calendar year that ended on 31 December 1981. All that we are now promised—it is only a promise and none of the previous promises have been kept—is that we may receive it not later than 31 March. That is not good enough. I do not know why we should believe such promises from Brussels or Strasbourg when they have never been kept in the past.
Does the EC own the £460 million that is owed to Britain and that is alleged in the newspapers to be on deposit in the Bank of England, to remain there until 31 March? Will interest be charged on it, as we were told at one stage, between 31 December and 31 March? To whom will the interest accrue—the EC Commission or the British Exchequer?
§ Mr. Jay
I hope that we shall at least have a clear statement of the details of the present position not later than tomorrow. If this lamentable story is not to go from bad to worse, it is time that the Chancellor said plainly that unless the agreement reached last October is carried out, the United Kingdom will no longer continue to pay its contribution to the EEC budget.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
I shall not follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). Although he may be wrong about the European Community, he has been absolutely consistent about it and I pay tribute to him for that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House a matter that has not been debated in this Session but I believe requires ventilation before we adjourn. There is public interest in the personal ownership of heritage assets such as buildings, works of art and other assets that are of such outstanding quality as to be properly considered part of the nation's heritage.
I shall mention one or two ways in which we are neglecting the national heritage, put forward some suggestions about what we should do and say something about the National Trust. To defend my principle, may I say that I see nothing intrinsically wrong with assets being in the hands of individuals. That is a widely held view about ordinary assets, such as a house, but an asset can be part of the national heritage even if it is personally owned and is less likely to be seen by many members of the public. Few, if any, owners of such assets are reluctant to show their stately homes or paintings, if they are lucky enough to own them, to those who are genuinely interested in seeing them.
However, personal ownership benefits the public much more than that. Most assets come alive and are at their best when they are cared for. If that is true of a piece of furniture, it is even more true of an estate upon which an entire community is dependent. The large landowner is more likely to look after the interests of many of those who are concerned with the land, whether as tenant farmers, employees, tourists or neighbours, than those who are not. I would add one other factor about land holding in rural areas. The landlord should be resident. Absentee landlords have done more damage to the landlord-tenant system in rural areas as well as in cities than any other single factor.
The typical resident private owner of heritage assets is a dedicated person for whom the protection and maintenance of those assets is a vocation, especially if the assets have been inherited. They endure discomfort, work long hours and have their lives dominated by the assets to an extent that few of us appreciate. Society generally gets a good deal from them.
To those who are opposed to assets being in private hands because of their possible misuse, I would say that it is much easier to curtail abuses of property or position by private individuals by means of penalties, taxation and Acts of Parliament than it is to control a public monopoly or Government Department. To those who are opposed to assets being in private hands because they do not like the idea of some people owning more than others, I say that where assets and responsibility go hand in hand, there is little resentment by members of the public. It is envy, not ownership, that is one of the seven deadly sins.
How should we promote the private ownership of heritage assets, especially where those assets axe in 709 danger, as I believe they are today? We should do so principally by reducing the capital tax burden, which is the continuing means of the State's attack on the individual who owns important assets. I pay tribute to the previous Labour Government for introducing measures to alleviate the crippling burden of taxation on grade 1 houses and estates. The right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) led that initiative. Such measures were directly in the public interest.
Nevertheless, estates and their assets are being eaten away fast by capital gains and capital transfer taxes. Never as economically productive as ordinary investments, they are quickly rendered less so by the process of capital taxation. Owners are being squeezed out and their assets are under threat. I hope that my right hon. Friend will draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The National Trust has done wonderful work and performs a unique function in maintaining and conserving some of our heritage assets. I am a life member and regular visitor of some of its properties. After the State and the Crown, it is now the third largest landowner in the United Kingdom. It owns 450,000 acres and has covenants over another 75,000 acres. I do not wish to detract from its achievements in conserving houses which would otherwise have disappeared, in preserving rural coastlines and in its continuing advisory work, in which it excels.
Nevertheless, as one might expect of an organisation with a council of 52 members, the National Trust is cumbersome, committee-ridden and slow to take decisions. It took exactly one year to make up its mind to accept the bequest of Kingston Lacey, which is in my constituency. It is a house with an estate of more than 15,000 acres. It is undoubtedly valuable and self-supporting.
National Trust houses are beginning to suffer from uniformity of treatment. That is to be expected from any national organisation that tends to reduce the individual characteristics of a property. It is uncertain how far its organisation and, therefore, approach should be national or regional. To increase income from its houses, shops are now regularly installed. Neither the shops nor their merchandise have anything to do with the intrinsic attributes of an historic house, the people whose home it once was or the people who worked there.
It is time for a radical change of direction for the National Trust. I should like it to pursue a vigorous policy of sale, disposal, leasing or other alienation of property, where possible, and within the limits imposed on it. If necessary, it should have the help of the House to that end. I should like it to do more, subject to safeguards, to put heritage assets into private hands. The leasing of property by the National Trust should be extended. As a last resort, I would favour the acquisition by the National Trust of historic houses, such as Kingston Lacey, but how much better would that and other houses fare in private hands.
Britain's heritage assets lie under continuing threat. The best way to meet that threat is to encourage the most effective means of conserving our priceless heritage through private ownership. The House should not adjourn before addressing itself to this important topic.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, East)
During our debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 29 July, my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) and for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I raised with the Government the anxieties that were beginning to be felt in London about the non-application of the Acheson report. Since then, that anxiety has increased not only among Labour Members of Parliament but among others, including the Greater London Council. The House should not adjourn without the Government, before the Christmas Recess, making a much clearer statement about their attitude to the report.
I do not wish to detain the House by describing the Acheson report, but I shall recapitulate a little. The Acheson study group was set up in January 1980 and it reported in May 1981. By the standards of such organisations, that is pretty brisk work. The report is vital to London, as it deals with health care, especially primary health care, in inner city areas. That is important in London because the inner city problems in London are larger and more difficult than in any other part of the country.
There are more poor people, more elderly people, more people who live on their own, more foreigners, more recent immigrants, more single parent families and a greater lack of amenities in inner city London than elsewhere. Moreover, there is a tradition in London of relying for much health treatment on out-patient departments at the large teaching hospitals. Those factors do not make for the organisation of good general practice and primary health care in inner city London.
The result is an excessive number of elderly general practitioners, many single-handed GPs and grossly inadequate surgeries, some of which I have seen, and which are appalling. GPs often concentrate not on providing a national health service for their patients but on lucrative private practice in the adjacent areas of the West End and central London.
For housing reasons and because people are not keen to live in inner city areas, there is difficulty in recruiting health visitors, district nurses, midwives and social workers. I do not wish to elaborate further. The speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, South and Crewe and of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) on 29 July provide all the elaboration that is necessary. There was some unease about the Government's attitude to the Acheson report last summer. That unease has increased since then.
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security replied to the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. He was not clear. He would not say whether the Government accepted the report in principle, but he said that it would not be possible for the Government to act on all 150 recommendations in the Acheson report and on the related Harding report. Nevertheless, he said thatthe Government accept the broad thrust of the Acheson report and the need to examine in detail its recommendations".As the group was set up under the auspices of the Government, we should expect no less and I give the Government no marks for that undertaking.
The Under-Secretary issued a deathless clarion call to action:I hope that it will be possible for my hon. Friend to be in a position before much longer, on the basis of the continuing 711 consultations with professional interests … to make positive and specific proposals".—[Official Report, 29 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 1370–71.]No doubt those consultations will be lengthy if the Under-Secretary has his way.
Five months have elapsed since we were given that promise and all that we have had from the other Under-Secretary of State is a reiteration of an undertaking given in the Queen's Speech debate:Among other areas likely to benefit from the additional moneyfor the National Health Serviceis primary health care in inner cities … I shall make statements in due course."—[official Report, 8 November 1982; Vol 31, c. 331.]The course is becoming increasingly due with every month that passes. That answer is not a reference to the implementation of the Acheson report. We want to know what inner city money, if any, is to be spent on the application of the Acheson report and its recommendations. Will it be spent on primary health care and the purposes and policies recommended by the Acheson report? Money spent on health services in inner city areas may be wasted unless it is spent in accordance with a carefully thought out plan.
The vague, general remarks of the Under-Secretary of State lead us to fear that, by delay and evasion, the Government are signalling their intention to dodge the application of the Acheson report and to shelve its recommendations. If that suspicion is substantiated in this debate, London Labour Members and the GLC will have to step up pressure on the Government to make sure that the report is applied.
I do not like issuing threats, but there has been a delay of well over 18 months since the Acheson report was published and there is still no sign of action by the Secretary of State for Social Services and his Ministers. I hope that we shall have a clear statement of the Government's policy before we rise for the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
We should not adjourn until the House has had an opportunity to consider the consequences of its rejection on Wednesday of the Government's draft immigration rules.
As one of the hon. Members responsible for the rejection of those rules, I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the Government Front Bench, because he has voted against the party line as often as anyone.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I start with an advantage, because my record as an independent Back Bencher is not nearly as good as that of my right hon. Friend.
I do not want to go over the arguments that were set out in Wednesday's debate, but it is time for us to consider what should be the appropriate response to the decision by the House.
In many ways, the Government are the authors of their own misfortune. The House passed the British Nationality Act 1981 which established in letter and in spirit provisions concerning equality of the sexes and the rights of different classes of British citizens. The Government at that time faced the prospect that the existing immigration 712 rules might fall foul of the European Commission of Human Rights under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government made two mistakes. First, they repeated the previous error of regarding immigration as a branch of the law which is fit for the establishment of absolute rights. I believe that it ought to be considered against the background of the public interest and, therefore, be more susceptible to discretion rather than absolute rights secured by statute.
The Government's second mistake was to underrate the importance of a manifesto obligation. Not all of us regard individual commitments in a manifesto as sacrosanct and many of us have seen Governments not living up to such commitments. For example, Labour Governments have been condemned for not carrying out policies passed by the Labour Party conference.
A manifesto is in the nature of a prospectus—a series of expressions of intent or promises to the electorate about what will be done if the party is returned to power. There is an obligation on a Government to carry out such promises or at least to give an explanation if they are unable to do so. A promise was made in the Conservative manifesto to reverse a concession allowed to foreign husbands and fiancés by the Labour Government in 1974. That promise was honoured a year after the 1979 general election by the passage of immigration rules that ended the concession.
However, two years later, with the minimum of explanation or even discussion of the difficulties in the light of the approaching decision by the European Commission and the British Nationality Act, the Government sought to reverse that decision.
We ought to look for a treatment of immigration that meets the criteria of equality of rights between the sexes and between British citizens. We can do that by providing that all decisions on the admission of foreign spouses—not only husbands—and fiancés and fiancées should be by ministerial discretion only. In other words, we should remove the absolute right of a foreign wife to enter this country for settlement and place it, along with matters affecting the entry rights of husbands, into the realm of ministerial discretion.
It may seem shocking that an absolute right should be replaced by ministerial discretion, but there would be many advantages in such a course. There would be equality and the opportunity to consider every case on its merits. Reservations about the admission of a husband or wife could be taken into account. It has been suggested that there should be a quota for the admission of spouses, and that, too, could be taken into consideration.
A replacement of the existing provisions of the immigration rules by one which subjected all applications from spouses and fiancés to ministerial discretion, governed by appropriate rules for the guidance of immigration officers and those who issue certificates of entry, would satisfy not only the spirit of the British Nationality Act 1981 in its desire that we should treat both sexes equally but the requirements of the European convention.
There would be one disadvantage. What is now supposed to be an absolute right for foreign wives to enter for settlement would be taken away. To those who are attached to the notion of legislating for abstract ideals, however, that would be a small loss compared with the establishment of equality between the sexes.
713 Foreign wives have no statutory right in any event. On this subject, Ministers usually quote section 1(5) of the Immigration Act 1971, which merely states that nothing in the Act shall affect the existing position of such people. We have not legislated for an absolute right of foreign wives to enter Britain for settlement. Therefore, it would be perfectly feasible—and, I believe, politically possible—to make the case of every foreigner wishing to enter this country a matter for discretion, judgment being made upon the merits of each case. That would also reconcile all those who believe that the existing state of the immigration rules is wrong and unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
I want to refer to two matters, both of which ought to be discussed by the House. First, I have often spoken in the House about the problem of prostitution in my area. Unfortunately, far from improving, the problem has worsened over the years. The latest figures clearly show this. Last year there were 320 convictions for prostitution. Before the end of November this year, there had been 470 convictions. Last year there were 14 convictions for either keeping brothels or living on immoral earnings, but by the end of November this year there had been 22 convictions.
However, these figures give no idea of the conditions and the atmosphere that prostitution cause in an area. Prostitutes come in from many different parts of London or the United Kingdom, and then the kerb-crawlers come into the area and are a real menace. They will accost any woman they see, irrespective of age. Any woman seen walking the streets is regarded by them as a possible pick-up. The offence that kerb-crawlers cause to women means nothing to them.
Last Wednesday I attended a meeting at which the problem was discussed at great length with two police officers. A woman of well over 70 told us that she is regularly accosted and she regards it as a great offence. When she speaks to the motorists, they take no notice and are more than likely to abuse her further. The things that happen to women in my area because motorists come in seeking the services of prostitutes are unbelievable.
Every Minister in the Home Office is aware of the problem in my area. The Ministers have all been told of it on countless occasions. I have been told by them repeatedly that they are very concerned and realise the problem, but they say that they cannot do anything about it. They say that legislation would be difficult. I have to tell the Leader of the House that that is used as an excuse to do absolutely nothing. How would he feel if in the area where he lives his wife was accosted and abused day in and day out, as many women who live in my area are by kerb-crawlers? When shall we start to see some meaningful action from the Government to control the problem? Apart from my area, it is a problem in many other parts of Britain.
Great concern exists—and it is shared by the police—at the lack of appropriate action by magistrates when people charged with prostitution, or with living on immoral earnings, appear before the local courts. After such people have been found guilty, often the penalty that is imposed is meaningless. The Home Secretary should make it known to magistrates that they must use their powers in an attempt to stop the problem becoming even worse than 714 it has been in recent years. I ask the Leader of the House to tell us when we shall see some action from the Government by the introduction of legislation that will get to grips with this problem.
I should now like to speak briefly about the Cyprus problem. It is eight years since Turkey invaded Cyprus. Despite all the talk over the years, and the fact that the British Government are one of the guarantor powers for the island of Cyprus, very little progress has been made towards a united Cyprus. We are told repeatedly of the inter-communal talks. Undoubtedly, there was a time when people looked to the inter-communal talks to give some hope of a united Cyprus. Unfortunately, very few people now see any chance of a united Cyprus emerging from the talks.
One of the great problems is that of the missing people. Despite the fact that the names, addresses and ages of those concerned have been supplied, and despite repeated representations to the Turkish Administration, no answers have been given as to the whereabouts of the missing people. In February next year there will be presidential elections in Cyprus. I hope that very shortly after those elections we shall have a statement from the Government as to their future policy towards Cyprus. As I have said, eight years have now passed, and great patience has been shown by the Cypriot people, but that patience is now fast running out.
When I speak on Cyprus, I always say that I am concerned just as much for Greek Cypriots as for Turkish Cypriots, because there will be a future for them only if we adopt that sort of approach to their problems. For many years many young people came here from Cyprus to study. The Leader of the House will be aware of the very close links, going back many years, which exist between Cyprus and the United Kingdom.
There is no university in Cyprus. Its young people have to depend on the United Kingdom for their university and higher education studies. Many services in Cyprus—professional, scientific, technical and legal—are based on the English system.
The enormous increase in student fees in recent years has done enormous damage to Cyprus. In 1975, there were 1,069 first-year students from Cyprus in this country. In 1982, the number had dropped to 269. There can be no doubt about the long-term loss suffered by the young people of Cyprus and also the loss of good will that will be suffered by this country. I ask the Leader of the House to make this point forcefully to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
Many hon. Members make full use of the limited time available to discuss Cyprus. It is not a party issue. It is, however, a considerable time since our last debate. Only a few months ago, this country was concerned about the freedom of the people of the Falkland Islands to choose the system under which they want to live. The same applies to the Cypriots, Greek or Turkish, who live on the island. Freedom is of great concern to them. I hope that, following the presidential elections, the British Government will say where they stand on the freedom of Cyprus and how those who live in Cyprus wish to lead their lives in the years to come.
§ Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)
I associate myself completely with the remarks of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I have been deeply concerned about 715 the damage done by the issue of overseas' students fees. I also look forward, once the presidential elections are out of the way, to an initiative by the United Kingdom Government on the Cyprus split.
Like many hon. Members, I was concerned to read in the newspapers about the apparently racist attitude portrayed in the essays written by police cadets at the Hendon cadet training school. Last Friday, a lecturer at the college came to my advice centre. Mr. Martin Bholan describes himself as Left-wing. He is West Indian and is also the NATFHE representative at Hendon college. He has been abused personally and over the telephone by people who have resented strongly his refusal to support Mr. John Fernandez, the lecturer who chose to reveal the contents of the essays written by the cadet trainees. What Mr. Bholan told me on Friday and what I have since learned from a number of telephone calls shows up, I believe, Mr. Fernandez, the Brent education committee and the media in an extremely bad light.
I should like to give the House some background to the case. It is complicated. Hendon cadet training college, in addition to its police staff, has about 30 academic staff. The job of the academic staff is primarily to teach O and A-level subjects. The academic staff is recruited directly to work at Hendon, although technically, mainly for historical reasons, its members are part of Kilburn polytechnic, which is effectively controlled by Brent council.
About a year ago, Brent, under newly elected councillors, refused to continue funding Hendon college. Now it gives virtually no money towards running the academic side of Hendon. Barnet council is the only council that has a direct funding obligation. Before the incident to which I have referred, discussions were taking place between Brent and Barnet about responsibility for control of the academic staff at Hendon.
At the end of last year and in the light of the Scarman report, the police decided that they wished to introduce as a matter of urgency multi-cultural studies. The course was designed to be specifically anti-racist. The urgency of the introduction of the course is shown by the fact that it was started in January rather than September, normally the beginning of the academic year. A special in-service training course was laid on for the academic and police staffs in order to equip them to teach the new multi-cultural course.
It was agreed when the course was started in January that it would be a pilot scheme. The police went out of their way to try to assist the academic staff, which was short on the number of hours that it should have been teaching, by involving its members in teaching phase 3 cadets. These cadets are effectively undergoing on-the-job training, some based at Hendon. Historically and contractually, the academic staff have never had any teaching obligation towards them.
During July 1982, six months after the course had started, discussions took place between the police and the academic staff. The police made it clear that in future they would have sole charge of the phase 3 part of the course, although phases 1 and 2 for cadets in the early part of their training would continue to be taught as previously with some amendments made in the light of experience.
It is against this general background that the remarks that I now intend to make have to be seen. In mid-November, a Channel 4 programme called "Eastern Eye" featured Mr. John Fernandez, a lecturer at the college, 716 giving extracts from various essays which had been written by 17-year-old police cadets. Some of the essays were clearly racist in tone. Since then, there appears to have been some dispute about the context in which the essays were written. It has been suggested that some cadets wrote them as a joke. It has also been suggested that the cadets deliberately set out to annoy lecturers whom they believed had been giving them a biased view.
Whatever the context in which the remarks were made, the whole House, I believe, will deplore the fact that the cadets were making known racist views within their course. No hon. Member, I believe, would seek to condone what those essays stated. However, just as the views of the cadets cannot be condoned, nor can Mr. Fernandez's action be condoned. Mr. Fernandez was, after all, a lecturer in charge of a multi-cultural studies course designed deliberately to try to increase racial awareness and to reduce racial tensions and any racial attitudes that might be held by police cadets. He deliberately kept those essays for about nine months before releasing them to the press and to television.
Mr. Fernandez released the essays in a clear breach of the trust that exists between the cadets and the lecturers concerned, knowing perfectly well that the course had been designed to try to encourage the cadets to be open in their views on racism, and that the whole purpose of the course was to try to reduce their racist views if they had them. He released them in the full knowledge that it would damage the trust between cadets and academic staff, and in the full knowledge—I believe deliberately —that it would increase the tension between ethnic minorities and the police.
Mr. Fernandez had two lines of defence to this charge. His first and main defence was that he tried to discuss the contents of the essays with other staff, and in particular with other senior staff at the college. I am assured that at no time did Mr. Fernandez seek to make representations to the academic director—in other words, his direct boss—and at no time did he seek to make representations to the commandant of the Hendon college or to the police commander in charge of training in the Metropolitan area. While this defence cannot be completely denied because there are five or 10 staff who have not said whether Mr. Fernandez discussed the matter with them, the chances are, to say the least, that it is suspect.
Mr. Fernandez's second and subsidiary defence was that he did this in defence of "academic freedom." That is an extraordinary defence to render when the person who renders it has himself betrayed the essential trust that must exist between the taught and the teacher.
The House will agree that, in the light of all this, it is not surprising that Mr. Fernandez was asked to cease teaching at the Hendon cadet school and that he was refused access to the site. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. The college was immediately picketed by lecturers from the Kilburn polytechnic, none of whom had ever taught at Hendon. The picket was ignored by virtually all NATFHE staff at Hendon, who completely deplored the action taken by Mr. Frenandez.
The matter was taken a bit further when Brent council threatened to withdraw all NATFHE employees at Hendon unless two conditions were met: first, that Mr. Fernandez should be reinstated immediately without any preconditions; and, second, that the academic staff should retain control of the phase 3 multi-cultural studies course. The second condition is obviously absurd as the staff never had 717 any historical or contractual obligation to teach the course. On the first condition—the reinstatement of Mr. Fernandez without preconditions—I am informed by the union representative that, even if he were reinstated, two-thirds of the staff at Hendon have said that in no circumstances would they work with him.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I plead with you to remind the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) that this is a debate with a time limit and there are several hon. Members who have sat in the Chamber for a long time waiting to speak. I remind the hon. Member, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that his speech has already exceeded the longest speech so far by three minutes.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I proposed to remind the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) that the debate lasts for only three hours and that I understand that the Opposition Front-Bench speaker wishes to speak at 7.40 pm. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind when framing their speeches as in this important debate the Chair would like to call as many hon. Members as possible.
§ Mr. Eggar
I understand the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, because of the deliberate misrepresentation of this case that has occurred, I felt that the full facts should be put before the House and on record and I did not feel able to abbreviate my remarks any more than I have.
It is now just before Christmas, and about 30 people are not sure whether they will be able to return to their jobs when the academic term starts again in the middle of January. Some of them have been employed for 20 years at Hendon. They are in this position because of the unprofessional conduct of one lecturer, this conduct having been supported and condoned by a Left-wing Labour council.
My constituent, Mr. Martin Bholan, and the other lecturers at Hendon have asked me to take up the matter directly with the Home Secretary because they do not believe that they will receive any justice from Brent council. Their only wish is to continue to teach at Hendon. I therefore have some specific requests to make of the Home Secretary before the House adjourns. I have already written to my right hon. Friend asking for a meeting.
I hope that before Christmas the Home Secretary will be able to state clearly that there can be no question of Mr. Fernandez being reinstated, that the Home Office will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the jobs and career prospects of lecturers at Hendon and that he will assure them that they can return to teach at the beginning of the new academic terms. Lastly, and by no means least importantly, I hope that the Home Secretary and the commandant of the police college, despite the serious setback that has taken place due to Mr. Fernandez's action with regard to the multi-cultural studies, will reinforce their commitment to courses of this kind that are designed to encourage racial awareness among cadets at the college.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
I hope to keep within the guidelines on time to which you have drawn our attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
718 The subject that I wish to raise is the current dispute about manning levels in the Department of Health and Social Security. [Interruption.] I think that there is some other meeting going on here, but I know that it is the fashion nowadays not to listen to the speech of any hon. Member unless it is essential. One has to put up with these things. This is a matter of great concern which needs to have some comment from a Minister before we go into recess.
This is my maiden speech in a Christmas Adjournment debate. I have never felt that these debates served any great purpose, so perhaps I should explain why I think that this one will. I do not have the advantage of a weekly local paper. That is one reason why I have never felt there was an overwhelming need for me to make a speech.
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I am sure that will do him no harm, because I doubt whether the Prime Minister will read what I say in this debate. I know that the Leader of the House has a sense of humour and is knowledgeable, but I doubt whether any man is knowledgeable enough to reply satisfactorily to the range of subjects that has been raised so far.
I hope that the importance of the subject that I raise will warrant some kind of reply from the Leader of the House. I am sure that he has knowledge of the current dispute which originated in Birmingham and Oxford. The matter is far removed from Scotland, but it has become more serious because the two major unions involved decided two weeks ago to escalate the dispute unless it was resolved in the near future. They had conferences on 7 and 9 December. I am speculating, because I have no inside knowledge, but my guess is that their soundings of their members' views will produce a strong body of support for their colleagues in the Birmingham and Oxford areas.
One very disturbing feature is the turmoil in the Department as a whole. The numbers of local offices have been reduced from 1,200 to about 500. There have been reductions in staff. At the same time, there have been enormous increases in claims to benefit, especially supplementary benefit. In August 1979, there were just over 3 million supplementary benefit claimants. The figure is now more than 4 million. That increase, coupled with administrative changes and the reduction in staff numbers resulting from Rayner and other aspects of Government policy, has created general discontent in the Department.
What appears to be a local dispute is so significant that the Government must pay attention to it. If they do not, they may have real trouble on their hands. I make no threat. I merely suggest that the Government must be aware of the general discontent among the Department's staff, linked with the enormous changes that there have been in the past two or three years in the range of benefits available. In addition, there has been an enormous increase in the number of pressure groups outside. This is a fascinating subject, which I have not time to develop, but obviously the number of pressure groups creates added tension among the staff who have to deal with the public in this extremely sensitive area.
There is also genuine concern among many staff of the Department about the need to preserve jobs at a time when we have more than 4 million people unemployed. For all those reasons, there is a mixture of motives associated with what, on the face of it, started as a purely local dispute.
719 I represent an area which recent census figures suggest has the third highest level of male unemployment in the country. What is more, in that respect, of the 10 worst constituencies in the country, five are in Glasgow. There is nothing of which to be proud or ashamed about that. However, I can tell the Leader of the House that 93 per cent. of my constituents are council tenants and that 33 per cent. of households have some overcrowding. It may give the right hon. Gentleman an idea of the so-called deprivation there when I say that 80 per cent. of households have no car. In addition, a staggering 10 per cent. of young people under the age of 16 are members of one-parent families—more than anywhere else in the country—and they are only one disadvantaged group in a community which will be hit hard if the dispute escalates.
There is a good office in my constituency. Like most hon. Members, I find that the service from its management and staff is first-class when I raise individual cases with them. I make no complaint about the pressure that I should experience if there were a nation-wide strike in the Department.
The possibility is that there could be a serious strike starting on 17 January—the very day that this Christmas Recess is to end. I beg the Leader of the House to treat this matter seriously. I know that when he says that he will draw it to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he will do that. I am not being cynical when I say that. However, I beg him to read some of the warning signs, which are not confined to Birmingham and Oxford but have wide-ranging repercussions. I hope that the Government machine will take some action during the recess to give me cause to believe that my constituents will not be further disadvantaged in addition to the serious disadvantages that they experience already.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since there are only 35 minutes remaining before the Leader of the House is due to reply, if hon. Members confine themselves each to five minutes, presumably all those wishing to intervene will be able to do so.
§ 7.6 pm Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) and I are the only remaining Government supporters who wish to contribute to the debate, my mathematics is not good enough to work out how we should divide the time to avoid being out-talked by Opposition Members.
Unlike the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), this is not my maiden speech in a Christmas Adjournment debate, although I have not spoken in such a debate for some time. However, when one returns to a debate of this kind after a few years, one is struck by the regularity with which hon. Members on both sides of the House make their individual points. Our friends would say that we were persistent. Our critics would say that we were obsessive. On that basis, I hope that the House will allow me to spend a few minutes discussing a subject in which I have some interest. I refer to the future of the railways.
In my view it would be quite wrong for the House to rise until hon. Members knew a little more about the 720 Serpell report. Twice in the past three weeks during questions on the Business Statement, I have drawn the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the urgency of the report being produced and made available not just to the Department of Transport and to the Secretary of State but to the general public. I urge again that, when the report is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he publishes it immediately regardless of its contents. No good will come to the Government or anyone else if the report is hidden away in the Department and massaged before it is produced for us all to scrutinise.
I make the point again—out of persistence and not obsession—that British Railways, unlike other nationalised industries such as British Leyland or British Steel, will be run by no one else if we in this House do not fund it. Others can make cars and steel, but no other nation will run our railways. I am still not entirely satisfied that every member of the Cabinet appreciates the difference between a nationalised manufacturing industry and a nationalised industry which is part of the nation's transport infrastructure. For 150 years we in the House have made and continue to make substantial demands upon the railways. If the same demands were made of road transport, they would be considered intolerable, especially our demands in respect of safety. It really is about time that we compared our railways on an equal basis with other forms of transport and gave them a fair crack of the whip. I hope that the Serpell report will do just that.
The second matter to which I refer is rather more contentious. It concerns the Government's reaction to the current CND campaign. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends—I am probably as guilty as any of them—sometimes feel that it is rude to raise their voices and impolite to repeat themselves. In the era of modern communications if one does not constantly repeat oneself there is a danger of finding that one's case has gone by default. The CND cannot be accused of lack of adequate propaganda. It has managed to equate the word "peace" with its activities and give the impression, which it constantly seeks to do, that those who are not with it are somehow in favour of war. This is clever, but ridiculous.
I should like the Government to recognise that a more apt and accurate description of the people who wander around the countryside demonstrating would be, not "peace campaigners" but "appeasement campaigners". If the type of marches that we have seen recently at Greenham Common were attempted in Poland, Afghanistan or the Soviet Union we know well that they would not get far. One has only to ask whether such demonstrations could take place in those countries to know the answer.
One cannot help but wonder whether, had the Afghans possessed a nuclear deterrent, the Soviet Union would have invaded in the way that it did. CND propaganda is clever, insidious and persistent. It has to be matched in every way by those who do not share its view. The policy of a nuclear-free zone is about as sensible as advocating a rabies-free zone. It should be laughed out of court. I am glad that both the Dorset county council and the Christchurch council have rejected the proposal out of hand.
§ Mr. Adley
They have seen it as nothing more than a propaganda ploy. Words like "peace" and "freedom" look different from the comfort of Berkshire, Hampshire or Dorset than they do to those poor souls in Moscow or Warsaw who must look at countries such as ours and wonder what sort of lunatics we are breeding who fail to appreciate the real and supreme advantages in the freedom of the human spirit and the individual, which we take for granted and which they do not enjoy.
Peace is not a gift; it is a prize, for which many of my constituents fought between 1939 and 1945. They believe, as do I, that peace is not achieved by marches and chanting but by a willingness to defend ourselves against ruthless dictatorships.
I urge the Government to do everything they can to combat the insidious propaganda campaign that is being promoted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That campaign, with its Aldermaston marches, achieved absolutely nothing. I understand that unilateral disarmament is now the policy of the Labour Party. Therefore, unilateral disarmament is now a party political issue. I hope that the Conservative Party will take note of that, and that the BBC will look carefully at its charter so that when it gives willing publicity to the constant propaganda churned out by CND it will recognise that it is also promoting Labour Party policy.
The "ban party" and the "Benn party" are now one and the same. It is the duty of all Conservative Members to ensure that people fully understand the implications of that.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I wish that I could follow the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) down that railway track. It was Einstein, not a member of the Labour Party, who once said that if there were a third world war fought with nuclear weapons, the fourth world war would be fought with bows and arrows. I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of the implications of nuclear war and arrange a debate so that the House may take a decision about the deployment of cruise missiles and think again about the Trident strategy. I hope that he will consider also the leading article in The Guardian this morning which talked about the need for a nuclear freeze.
I want to discuss the future of the city of Liverpool, because the Secretary of State for the Environment, who was created Minister for Merseyside in the wake of the riots that took place, is reported as being in line for promotion to Secretary of State for Defence. One year later the House should consider whether the initiatives that he took in Liverpool have been the success that he claims. It beats me how he has the nerve to pronounce his year in Liverpool a success. His initiatives seem to have been a monumental irrelevance and a grand illusion.
The city of Liverpool has seen 10 thousand trees planted in the past 12 months. During the same period a further 10,000 jobs have been lost and over the past 10 years more than 89,000 jobs have gone. In the past 12 months, while the Secretary of State has presided from his fancy new offices in the centre of Liverpool, factories in my constituency—Barker and Dobson, which makes Everton toffees, and Lyons Maid—have closed.
The Secretary of State earmarked about £20 million for a garden centre on the edge of Toxteth. That project has been using labour mainly from Manchester and parts of 722 Lancashire. Those areas have unemployment problems, but, while that labour has been imported, we have seen people sacked and vacancies remain unfilled in local authority employment because of the massive reductions in the rate support grant.
Anyone would think that it was someone other than the Secretary of State who, during the past three and a half years, has reduced the Liverpool rate support grant settlement by more than £63 million. Last week's announcement means that there will be further reductions in the rate support grant to the city. That will result in either further reductions in employment and services or rate increases of about 20 per cent. The implications for small businesses, many of which are on the brink of bankruptcy, will be all too clear to those hon. Members who have studied such matters. While the Government have been spending money on garden centres and trees, we have seen not just reductions in our rate support grant settlements, but this year a massive £7 million reduction in our housing investment programme.
I should like to bring to the attention of the House the case of a constituent of mine, Mr. John Carroll, who is 76 years old. Since 30 June this year he and his wife have been living in a property which has been condemned as unfit for human habitation by the council's health inspectors. Despite that, Mr. Carroll has been sleeping on the floor and his wife has been sleeping on the couch since last June because the bedroom cannot be used. The council says that it cannot rehouse them because it has no suitable accommodation.
There is a dearth of sheltered accommodation, granny flats and properties for the elderly in the city of Liverpool. There is inadequate housing all over the city. Money is still allocated for garden centres and trees, but not for the alleviation of basic problems. Many people say, "If one cannot afford blankets on the bed, one does not have the piano French polished". The Secretary of State and the Leader of the House should consider those common-sense views.
The English house conditions survey, which was published last week, points out that there are major housing problems in the city of Liverpool as in other parts of the country. Although 400,000 building workers languish on the dole and nearly 500,000 homes have no inside sanitation, hot water or bathrooms, we spend money on irrelevancies such as garden centres, trees and tatting up the environment. Those matters should be on a list of priorities, but not necessarily at the top.
One crime is now committed in the city of Liverpool every four minutes. One home is broken into every 20 minutes. Yet the Government have the audacity to say that there is no clear link between unemployment and crime. In 1979, 40 per cent. of people appearing before the courts were unemployed. The greater the proportion of an age group which is unemployed, the more likely such people are to turn to crime. For every additional thousand people unemployed, there are 14 extra people taken into prison, and the average daily prison population rises by three. There are about 4,500 additional people in prison than when the Government came to power. A recent study shows that for every thousand additional young people who are unemployed, 23 additional young males are sent to prison.
723 A recent report shows that Liverpool prison, built in 1854 to accommodate 900 inmates, now has a population of 1,433. I need not elaborate on the conditions that those people must endure.
The area health authority has been told to reduce its budget by £5.5 million. The polytechnic has been told to reduce the number of courses, and it is believed that it will axe 38. Because of the new Transport Bill, there is a danger that 2,000 metropolitan passenger transport executive employees will be made redundant. In addition, there could be a 40 per cent. fares increase and a reduction in services.
These are important issues for the people of Liverpool. I hope that, before we adjourn for Christmas, the House will have a chance to consider them further.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) about the wrong-headedness of CND and the irrelevance of a nuclear-free zone. He was right to ask the Government for a full response to the claims of those two campaigns.
I also urge the Government, before the House rises for the Christmas Recess, to announce their intentions on immigration. As someone who, regrettably, found it impossible to support the Government both in the White Paper debate and in the debate on the new rules, I believe it is essential for recognition to be given to the need to keep to the manifesto commitment, which the public understandably supported, to end the Labour Government's concessions.
My abstention over the White Paper was necessary, because, although supporting controls, I believed that the new proposals did not go far enough. My abstention in the debate on the rules was necessary, because I could not condone joining the Labour Party and the SDP-Liberal alliance in their opposition, as their stance was in complete contrast to my own stance and that of many of my hon. Friends. Those parties seem prepared to condone an increase in immigration. We wish to echo the manifesto commitment:Firm immigration control for the future is essential".I cannot regard the Government's proposed immigration rules as being in the best interests of my constituency. A relaxation of the immigration restrictions would mean more people coming into the country and, therefore, even more competition for jobs. Welwyn and Hatfield is fortunate in having relatively low unemployment, but, even so, 6 per cent. of the working population in the constituency is out of work.
During the general election, I, too, was committed to firm controls on immigration. Such controls were introduced by the Government with my support. Those controls would now be weakened. Increased immigration will also increase the burden on taxpayers to provide even more benefits for additional jobless people.
Since I became a Member of Parliament, my contacts with local immigrant leaders have led me to believe that they fully understand the need for strict controls that help both local people and immigrants already settled here. It cannot be right now to move towards new controls that will not be firm enough. However, it must be right to recognise the anxieties of British people about continuing levels of immigration.
724 I also urge the Government to announce a return to the controls, originally agreed by the House, which the country wants to see.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I shall be as brief as I can, but I know that many hon. Members are highly inconvenienced by the new Standing Order which, contrary to previous practice, curtails this debate. The previous practice was far superior and allowed flexibility. I therefore hope that an alteration will be introduced in the near future.
Before the House adjourns for the recess, I ask for a statement and a debate on cruise missiles. Statements have appeared in the newspapers this weekend that cruise will be introduced earlier than expected to thwart the massive and rising peace campaign that is opposed to cruise and other nuclear weapons.
The presence of United States nuclear bases in the United Kingdom has never been authorised in this House. It is claimed that the number of such bases is about 50, but, in fact, there are more than 100. In answer to a parliamentary question, I was toldNo central record of such material"—that is, the documents authorising these bases—is held, and the research which would have to be undertaken to assemble one would entail disproportionate effort and costs."—[Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 680.]That cannot be true. The expenditure of the Ministry of Defence is about £13 billion, and it spends £6 million alone on PR material. I simply cannot accept that it does not maintain a central record of authorisation for American bases in the United Kingdom.
Such authorisation is vague to say the least, and is certainly unsatisfactory. It stems from an agreement in 1951 between Attlee and Truman. The House was not sitting because of a general election, and consequently that agreement was never scrutinised. It was claimed that the use by United States forces of bases in the United Kingdom would depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time. That is totally meaningless, but it was accepted by Churchill. It does not mean a thing and, what is more, does not give this or any other Government the right of veto over the use of cruise missiles.
Incredible though it may seem, the list of treaties included anExchange of Notes … relating to the Sale of Tobacco by the United States Government and the Construction of Housing and/or Community Facilities by the United Kingdom Government.That treaty is dated June 1956. In other words, the Government invoke an agreement to buy tobacco as part of the authorisation to the American Government to use nuclear weapons on our soil.
I emphasise my support, and that of my hon. Friends, for the courageous women of Greenham Common who have established the vanguard of opposition to the installation of cruise missiles in the United Kingdom. They stand for a majority of our people—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Rubbish".]—who no longer believe those who say "We stand for multilateral disarmament", especially Conservative Members. While such people wring their hands and shed crocodile tears, the number or nuclear weapons has increased year after year. If the theory of the deterrent is so credible, why—as both sides have a capacity to knock out major cities—has that sword of 725 Damocles not remained stationary? Why has the nuclear fire power of each side increased year after year, led by America on each occasion?
If we allow cruise missiles into the United Kingdom, there will be another escalation in the nuclear arms race. Even the Daily Mail—a paper that is competing for the title of Pravda to the Conservative Party—admitted last week that there are no dual keys and that it is concerned about the lack of an effective right of veto by the British Government over the use of cruise missiles.
§ Mr. Cryer
I have very little time, and the hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber.
In recent months we have seen how other decisions of the United States Government have been unacceptable to the United Kingdom Government. From recent experience, it is clear that in some circumstances the United States Government could threaten or invoke the use of nuclear weapons without the consent and support of the United Kingdom Government. The United Kingdom Government would have no right of veto over the use of such weapons, and we could be sucked into a nuclear confrontation without our consent.
There are other dangers in respect of cruise missiles. For example, they are cheap. That means there is an even greater possibility of proliferation. Moreover, verification is not possible at present, and even the Prime Minister talks about the need for verification in reducing the number of nuclear weapons.
In my view, therefore, the women of Greenham Common are taking the correct action in drawing attention massively to this potential escalation. They have my support, and I believe that they have the support of millions of people in this country in wishing to halt the nuclear arms race and in supporting the United Nations in its efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We should certainly debate this matter before the House rises.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I shall speak for only a few minutes of the time that I could take, because, like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has been waiting patiently to speak.
The issue that I want to raise concerns the new town of Skelmersdale. It has, I think, the highest male unemployment on the mainland of Great Britain—over 38 per cent. Just a few weeks ago, a company in Skelmersdale new town called Polythene Drums applied for regional aid to expand further in a town which has terrible unemployment. One can imagine how disappointed it was when it was told that the scheme that it had put forward did not qualify for grant aid.
The company took the opportunity to go to the Welsh Development Agency. That agency has a few more pounds available in North Wales from the steel fund of the EC, and it grant-aided the company, within about six weeks of its applying. This is the absurdity that I want to bring to the attention of the House, and I hope that the Leader of the House will pass it on to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
I am discussing the situation in a town where, as I said, male unemployment is over 38 per cent. The company was 726 bankrupt, and two men took it over in January 1976. In April, 1976, they started the company again from scratch with 40 workers. They have more than quadrupled that number, and now employ nearly 170. They have increased the unit of production tenfold, from under 1 million units to over 10 million units. Naturally, they have increased the cash value more than 10 times. The company has demonstrated that it is a good company and one that needs help. The area receives the highest grant aid in the United Kingdom, because it is a special development area. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) talked about Liverpool, where Merseyside, like Skelmersdale, has the highest grant aid. However, the company was refused aid because the Ministry said that it was not a profitable company—a company which had quadrupled employment and increased production tenfold. So it went to North Wales, and it was snapped up immediately. That is the absurdity of the Government's regional aid programme.
I do not want to be partisan. After all, many of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues have been talking about the manifesto and its relationship to immigration, saying how the Tory Government have broken the promises that they made when they were in Opposition. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of something that in my opinion is far more important, and that is the promise to rejuvenate the economy. My people in Skelmersdale remember the posters that said that the Labour Government were not working, when about 1½ million people were on the dole. My people live in a town where there is terrible male unemployment. They see the contradictions in the Government's policy. They see that the Government's regional aid programme cannot help them. This is the issue that I want to bring to the attention of the House.
Before I close—I have promised my hon. Friend five minutes of my allocation of 10 minutes—I want to tell the Government how they can help. In Skelmersdale, we very much need a new hospital. The grand design of the new town will not be complete until the hospital is built. The Government can also assist by helping a company called Hughes International, which wants to bring 1,000 jobs to the new town, and by relaxing the export credits guarantee scheme. If the Government will relax the scheme so that this company, which has orders with the State Governments of Nigeria, can be helped through the ECGD, 1,000 jobs will come to Skelmersdale, and people who are facing the bleakest Christmas of their lives will at least have some hope that the Government recognise their responsibilities to a new town where there is crippling unemployment. The new year may then appear a little brighter.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who shortened his remarks so that I might intervene as the last Back-Bench speaker.
§ Mr. Winnick
I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is complaining about. I trust that I have as much right to speak as he has. I hope that he will bear that in mind. I am the last person to be intimidated by him or anyone else.
§ Mr. Skinner
All I am saying is that while this debate was in progress my hon. Friend was at the Tribune meeting, at which my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was discussing how to handle the proxy votes, while I was sitting here listening to the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).
§ Mr. Winnick
I was at a Tribune meeting attacking the position taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), so I do not know what my hon. Friend is complaining about.
I had wanted to raise one or two matters, but in view of the time, I shall mention only one, which I believe is most important. I hope that we shall have a statement before the House rises on the illegal activities being carried out by the South African embassy in London. An official, Joseph Klue, who was working in the military section of that embassy left Britain after the Foreign Office complained about his activities. Last week there was a court case in which a person who was described as a South African agent was sent to prison for four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to burgle the offices of three black nationalist organisations in London. The South African embassy seems to be heavily involved in what can only be described as a "dirty tricks" operation. There can be little doubt that such activities have been going on for some time.
Clearly the House must be concerned, because no embassy should carry on such activities in this country. The fact that this has come to light is all the more reason why I believe that we should have a statement from the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary as quickly as possible.
Abroad, of course, the South African intelligence agencies are undoubtedly involved in various intelligence and terrorist work. Earlier this year, an outstanding person opposed to apartheid, Ruth First, was murdered. It is understandable that there should be much anxiety among opponents of the South African regime living in this country that they may be the subject of attacks of various kinds as described in court last week, and carried out directly or indirectly by the South African embassy.
It is bad enough to have an apartheid regime which bases itself on racial discrimination, and which has been condemned by the overwhelming majority of countries. However, it is totally intolerable that that country's embassy in London should carry out activities which are clearly against the law. The South African ambassador should be called to the Foreign Office and told clearly that Britain will not continue to tolerate such activities. For too long the South African embassy in London has been virtually a law unto itself. The court case and sending Mr. Klue out of the country, should be only the first steps in ensuring that the South African embassy understands that, unlike the country that it represents, this is a quite different country where law and order exist and where the process of law is well established. The South African ambassador should be notified of that as soon as possible and in the clearest terms. In the meantime, I trust that there will be a statement from a Minister at the Dispatch Box on this subject.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
This has been the first Adjournment debate initiated under the new, revised parliamentary procedures. Despite the criticisms, the new procedures have got off to an encouraging start. I have listened to virtually every speech that has been made, and, with one notable exception, they have been commendably brief.
It is right that as the nation looks forward to Christmas—the season of good will and hope—hon. Members should seek to reflect the anxieties and despair of their constituents. I was moved, and shared the anxiety expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) about the impending closure of the Michelin factory in his constituency. Quite rightly, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) gave us the Northern Ireland dimension of that closure. Four thousand jobs are likely to go in Stoke-on-Trent and Northern Ireland as a result of the impending closures of factories owned by that major international company—one third of its work force.
I am mindful of the fact that the debate is taking place a comparatively short time after the House resumed in October. During that period of a little over two months unemployment in Britain has increased by another 36,000, according to the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for the period from the end of September to the beginning of December. The Government's standing in the Gallup and MORI polls has collapsed by a half. There is a relationship between those two statistics because there is a growing lack of confidence in the Government's ability to deal with the major problem of unemployment, which is now touching the lives of so many people in Britain. Even in the city of Manchester which I represent I was staggered to find that there are 870 unemployed for every unskilled vacancy on the register at the local jobcentres. That is a measure of the human problem which is affecting and afflicting so many communities, not only in Britain but in Northern Ireland as well. All that the Government do is sit back, Micawber-like, waiting for something to turn up. The nation expects the Government to address their mind to the problem.
I have touched on the despair that exists among so many people in Britain. I could understand the anxiety expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) about the Community fishing policy. He was joined by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in demanding a statement to clear up Denmark's position. What a ludicrous position the House is in. It is now 20 December and the Community's fishing policy will be put into effect on 1 January yet we do not know the final position.
I was intrigued to listen to the hon. Member of Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) who, unfortunately, is not now present in the Chamber. He brought an almost philosophical dimension to our discussions. He analysed the Government's defeat on the draft immigration rules and was at great pains to explain how the Government got it wrong. He declared that the Government had not lived up to their manifesto commitments in that regard. That is not the only manifesto commitment that the Government have not lived up to.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) was right to focus attention on the problem 729 that was dealt with in the Acheson report, which deals with primary health care in inner city areas. That should command the time and attention of the House.
The major constitutional point was made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) when he raised a fascinating point about the Presiding Officer in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I share his view that that Assembly was created by this Parliament and I hope that his point will not be shuffled off, but will receive a considered response.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) drew attention to two problems that afflict his constituency—prostitution and his Cypriot constituents' anxiety about Britain's attitude to the Cyprus question. It is interesting that Britain—a signatory Power in the Cyprus issue—has never honoured its obligations in that regard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) exhibited what I would describe as a healthy scepticism towards debates such as this. As one listens to the many contributions one's sympathy occasionally goes out to the Leader of the House who is obliged to answer the multiplicity of issues that are raised. However, I hope that we shall not be given off-the-cuff replies. If they cannot be avoided I hope that he will draw the attention of his ministerial colleagues to the important points that have been made. In particular, I hope that either he or his ministerial colleagues will pay serious attention to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) about the deployment of cruise missiles in Britain and his formidable questioning of the authorisation of United States sites in Britain.
Finally, I have only one minute left to touch on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) about the awful problem of unemployment in Skelmersdale, which he said had a male unemployment rate of 38 per cent. and which he thought to be the highest on the mainland. While I do not want to involve myself in a competition in misery, I can tell him where there is an even higher level of unemployment. The unemployment rate in Moss Side, Manchester, is 44 per cent., yet Manchester is not even an assisted area. It has no attractions for incoming industries.
I hope that I have said sufficient to show my concern about some of the valid and lucid points made by my hon. Friend.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) for giving me a few moments of his time. There have been several generous observations about the new form of debate. The fact that 20 hon. Members have spoken during the allotted time shows that, on the whole, there is still room for a wide canvass of views. Nevertheless, the task of replying to the debate becomes that much more difficult if one is operating against a fixed deadline. I shall try to deal with the points that have been raised and plough through my notes to that end. However, if I am obliged to hit the buffers before I have touched on all 20 contributions, I hope that the Serpell report will put me right.
730 I shall begin with those hon. Members who raised essentially local matters, which are, nevertheless, of great significance. The debate was opened by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who kindly told me that he would be unable to await the concluding speeches. He commented on the problems in north Staffordshire, particularly in manufacturing industry. He illustrated those difficulties by the recently announced closure of the Michelin Tyre Company. Of course the House instantly sympathises with anyone in that situation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) explained that his constituents faced similar problems. However, their reaction to the problem was slightly different, and I suspect that that reflects the different political circumstances.
The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South went through the reasons for the closure of the factory. Indeed, I would expect him to include the Government's policies. However, the House would not do justice to those difficulties if it failed to consider that major technological changes are taking place in the tyre industry, with the advance of radial tyres. Those changes are having a considerable impact on the capacity needed to supply the market. The right hon. Gentleman's reaction was to call for import controls and a realistic exchange rate, which meant one significantly lower than the present rate. I imagine that it would be established by Government authorities, because, if it was left to the market, it would simply stand at its present rate.
For all that remedy's immediate attractions—I must admit that I am one of the last to be attracted by it—many of our manufacturing industries are importers. They import components to enable them to compete round the world as manufacturers of finished products. If we manipulate the exchange rate and impose import controls we shall do considerable damage to our industrial base. I accept that the difficulties facing the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South are very real, but his remedies would not necessarily be to the lasting advantage of manufacturing industry.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South inquired whether any help had been sought in connection with the recently announced closure. I am told that no help was sought by Michelin. I was asked whether the Government could persuade Michelin to extend its activities at Ballymena. I understand that Michelin has affirmed its commitment to the present factory at Ballymena and that any further discussions involving the Government would go through the industry development board.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the serious social issue of prostitution in his constituency and asked whether there was any likelihood of early legislation. I am sure that he would be the first to admit that it would be a contentious and significant Bill. There was no provision for it in the Gracious Speech and, given the present state of our parliamentary programme, it is extremely unlikely that a Bill will be introduced in this Session. However, I note his anxiety and his wish that I should draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to his concern that magistrates have been remarkably relaxed in their sentencing policy in his area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) put a most complex situation to the House, concerning the Hendon cadet training college. I naturally sympathise with my hon. Friend, because he was concerned to put his case in the most balanced and fair 731 way. In a timed debate such as this, that can give rise to anxiety. However, the House is indebted to him for the way in which he put his case, and I shall ensure that it is referred to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) gave a litany of the serious problems affecting Liverpool. I have noted them and will draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment since he is, in a sense, the lead Minister on that whole range of difficulties. If one does not live in Liverpool, it may be easy to take a more relaxed view of such problems. After all, we all think that we have major social and economic difficulties in our constituencies. Nevertheless, one of Liverpool's problems in commending itself to outside investors is that it must persuade prospective employers that it does not have quite such a forbidding roll-call of problems as that read out this afternoon. But the day that hon. Members cease to be able to read out such roll-calls will be the day that this House, as we know it, will cease to exist.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) mentioned the difficulties in Skelmersdale. I was immediately struck by the story of overbidding between the Welsh Development Agency and bodies in England. In attracting overseas investment, there has been some overlap between various public agencies. That makes it difficult to persuade other countries that we have adopted a serious and coordinated approach to the problem. However, I have taken note of those points and will ensure that they are communicated to the relevant Ministers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) kindly gave me notice that he would raise issues connected with the Northern Ireland Act 1982. Even more generously, he sent me a copy of the Act. Perhaps it was because I was so well equipped that I studied his points, and particularly his concern that the Presiding Officer—the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder)—has been acting ultra vires. I shall at once convey that view to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will be most anxious to attend to that problem. I hope that my hon. Friend will think it not a discourtesy, but the very reverse, that I have not sought to deal with such a delicate issue myself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) referred to the fact that citizens of the Irish Republic can vote in United Kingdom elections. He will know that a Select Committee is currently taking evidence on that issue. I am sure that it will be happy to receive his evidence. In the meantime, I would monstrously mislead him if I suggested that there was a likelihood of legislation on this matter during the balance of this Session of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman also inquired about standing charges. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy attaches great importance to this matter. I shall convey to him the anxiety which is felt on both sides of the House that there should be an early determination of what can be done about standing charges.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) kindly gave a re-run, as it were, of his previous speech on the Adjournment motion. He drew attention to the importance of the farming ladder and the need to achieve a much better balance in the countryside. Farmers' sons who are not likely to inherit a tenancy 732 should be able to obtain tenancies and those outside agriculture who wish to make a career in farming should have the opportunity to break into the profession.
I have tremendous sympathy with that general aspiration. It would be wholly to the detriment of agriculture if it became atrophied so that it reflected merely those who are lucky enough to be in farming at present and their heirs and successors. My hon. Fiend is right to say that, with regard to let land, probably the most important thing is to obtain early and sympathetic reaction from the Treasury. I shall pass on that message to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) also had a message for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about heritage assets. I have a feeling that his message is rather less expensive in Treasury terms than that which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West wished to have conveyed. I shall convey both messages with an equal sense of commitment.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) drew attention to the Acheson report. I am sure that he did so in the light of the debate on 6 December when some announcements were made about further spending of about £3 million on primary health care in inner cities. The right hon. Gentleman clearly wishes to have a statement on the Acheson report and for the House to be informed in the near future. I had a speaking note prepared by the Department of Health and Social Security, but I think it fell a little short of the clarion call for which the right hon. Gentleman called. I will, if I may, refer his speech to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I realise that there is much concern on both sides of the House about health care in inner cities.
My hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) referred to the immigration rules which are a matter of topicality and some delicacy just now. I think I had better say that I was extremely interested in the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington. He felt that the basis for the immigration of spouses would be better if it were founded on ministerial discretion rather than what has more recently been proposed. As the conciliatory services of the 1922 Committee and the Whips' Office will be working on these matters over the next few days, 1 feel that any comments of mine should be at best neutral.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) wisely alerted us to the dangers inherent in the present dispute in the Department of Health and Social Security. He fears that it may escalate into a strike that will be called on 17 January. We would quickly realise that a strike of that character goes much wider than merely those employed and working within the Department of Health and Social Security. It would have serious consequences for the community generally. I shall, of course, pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Meanwhile, I am sure the House is anxious that every action should be taken to avoid the dispute developing in the way that the hon. Gentleman fears.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris
When the Leader of the House is discussing this issue with his ministerial colleagues, will he emphasise that this potential industrial dispute will touch the lives of those in greatest need?
§ Mr. Biffen
I put in a rather more convoluted form what the right hon. Gentleman now puts very simply.
I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) in which he asked for further comments upon the Serpell report. He may recollect that he asked me about it during business questions last week, when I promised to write to him. That letter will be in the post tomorrow morning. I hope that that will meet the issues that he has raised.
I now take up some of the wider issues raised that touch upon more or less international affairs, within which I include the European Community. The hon. Member for Tooting again made a powerful and eloquent plea on behalf of the Cypriot community and of policies designed to secure reunification of the island. As the hon. Gentleman said, he has been making more or less the same speech for some years and I have the feeling that it has been confronted by a series of emollient but unsatisfactory answers. I do not think that I can go much beyond what I said when he raised the issue with me previously. Of course, I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The House and the nation must have a clear idea of what are the limitations of Britain's effective power. Our ability to influence these affairs may be rather less than sometimes we hope.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to the South African embassy. He raised a serious issue and I shall ensure that details of it are passed to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall not give way. I do not wish to block the hon. Gentleman but I can see the end in sight.
The right hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) directed their remarks to the European Community. My mind goes back to the early 1960s. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was a dedicated, dignified and enthusiastic supporter of Community membership while the right hon. Member for Battersea, North was an inveterate opponent of membership. They now seem to be crowding on to the common ground of being bad Europeans, which means being stout nationalists. I understand the concern over the fisheries dispute. The Council of Ministers will be meeting on 21 December. As I said during business questions last week, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has always been punctilious in reporting to the House.
§ Mr. Biffen
No. I am being quite forthcoming. I can assure the right hon. Member for Battersea, North that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to make a statement on the budget rebate tomorrow. I suspect that that drama will continue to unfold for some time yet. It is one on which the House will be brought up to date.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) talked about cruise bases and the entire defence issue that is therein contained.
§ Mr. Biffen
No. I shall not give way.
This involves the issues of whether Britain should belong to an Alliance that has a nuclear component, what 734 part we should play in it if we are prepared so to belong and all the other issues that are drawn inevitably into such a debate. We had a debate on 15 December on the NATO Council. Of course, I do not believe for one moment that that can resolve the cruise issue and all the other issues, such as our nuclear stance and our relationship with other members of NATO. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the debates that take place in the Chamber are never short of opportunities for raising such matters. There is plenty of well-structured time for defence debates, during which these matters can be argued, as they must be, as we proceed through the Session to the final choices that lie with a general election.
§ Question put:
§ The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 24.735
|Division No. 37]||[8.09 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||MacGregor, John|
|Atkins, Robert(Preston N)||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Marlow, Antony|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Marten, Rt Hon Neil|
|Blackburn, John||Mather, Carol|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Mawby, Ray|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Brinton, Tim||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Morgan, Geraint|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.||Murphy, Christopher|
|Buck, Antony||Myles, David|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Neubert, Michael|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Osborn, John|
|Colvin, Michael||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Cope, John||Pawsey, James|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Renton, Tim|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Eggar, Tim||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Eyre, Reginald||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Fairgrieve, Sir Russell||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Speed, Keith|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles||Speller, Tony|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Stainton, Keith|
|Fox, Marcus||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Goodhew, Sir Victor||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Greenway, Harry||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Thompson, Donald|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Trippier, David|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Waddington, David|
|Hawksley, Warren||Waller, Gary|
|Heddle, John||Wells, Bowen|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Wheeler, John|
|Howells, Geraint||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Lang, Ian||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and|
|Lee, John||Mr. John Selwyn-Gummer.|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Allaun, Frank||Dalyell, Tam|
|Alton, David||Dixon, Donald|
|Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)||George, Bruce|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Hardy, Peter|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)||Kerr, Russell|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Molyneaux, James||Winnick, David|
|Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Mr. Dennis Skinner and|
|Wainwright, R. (Colne V)||Mr. Bob Cryer.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Monday 17th January.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The widespread dissatisfaction about the operation of the new Standing Order for the recess Adjournment debate should be placed on record. It curtails our debate unnecessarily. I hope that at the earliest opportunity we shall revert to the previous method whereby the debate was opened by——