Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, at its rising on Friday, this House do adjourn till Monday 24th October and that this House shall not adjourn on Friday until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
It would be reasonable to conclude from a number of indications that have appeared in the press that, before the House resumes in the latter part of October, a number of ministerial meetings will have taken place between members of the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Irish Republic and that even if those meetings do not include a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Irish Premier, arrangements of a less than tentative character for such a meeting subsequently may have been made and announced. The consequence of such events is so serious that it is desirable to bring it to the attention of the Government before the House adjourns for the recess in order that the reasons should be made clear.
The purported background to meetings of this kind has always been the desirability of friendly relations being established and maintained between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. Upon the face of it, that appears an intention with which there can be no possible cavil or quarrel. The difficulty is that the same expressions and aspirations sometimes mean different things to different people. Friendship or good relations between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom are dependent, and always have been made clear by that country to be dependent, upon the fulfilment of certain conditions, namely on visible progress being made towards the detachment of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and its embodiment in some kind of political arrangement that could colourably be represented as an all-Ireland state. From the point of view of the politics and the Government of the Irish Republic, that alone is the basis for any improvement of relations between that country and this.
When this matter is spoken of, there frequently occurs an expression — it sometimes falls from the lips of Ministers in this House—"political progress in Northern Ireland". I have never been quite clear of the connotation attached to that phrase in the minds of hon. Members in this House, imagining as I do that hon. Members regard our admirable constitution in church and state as something upon which little, if any, further improvement can be, or needs to be, made.
However, the term "political progress in Northern Ireland" is a term of art or code word well understood by those who deal with the relations between the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom. Translated, it means the establishment of arrangements in Northern Ireland that will facilitate or lead to the detachment of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and its entry into political arrangements that could colourably be represented as an all-Ireland state, federal or otherwise.
So when the term "political progress" is used in communiqués or falls from the lips of Secretariés of State for Northern Ireland, whatever hon. Members might suppose it means — if they give the matter a second thought—it means something quite specific in the ears 803 of those to whom it is addressed in the politics of the Irish Republic. It means arrangements designed to lead to the long term political end of establishing an all-Ireland state.
I apologise for that preliminary disquisition before coming to the consequences of conferences, at Cabinet Minister or higher level, between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, professedly designed to improve relations and promote a friendly relationship between this country and the Irish Republic. The significance of those professions to those whom it most concerns is quite unambiguous. It is that Her Majesty's Government intend to renew the attempt to make new arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland which will be regarded by the Government of the Irish Republic as likely to lead towards the accomplishment of their purpose. On their lips, that is what is meant by "political progress", and that is what they understand to be meant by seeking friendly or improved relations with the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
One recognises that the majority wish in the Six Counties is to retain the Union, hence the reason for six and not nine counties in traditional Ulster. The right hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged views on that before. What will be the position of the substantial minority in the Six Counties—which I am sure, like the majority, deplores terrorism—which never has and never will accept the permanent partition of its country and which has always believed that Ireland should be one? How does the right hon. Gentleman believe that should be dealt with?
§ Mr. Powell
Their position will be the same as that of those who vote for the Scottish National party, who have never accepted that Scotland ought to be part of the United Kingdom and who vote for a party whose policy is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman can confirm that with those members of the Scottish National party who sit in this House.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman may not like it, but I am giving him the answer for which he asked.
If he should be under the delusion that religion enters into the matter, I must tell him that those of the Roman Catholic religion in Northern Ireland will be in exactly the same position, have the same rights, conditions and treatment, as those of the Roman Catholic religion in the remainder of the United Kingdom. As for the little matter that has occasionally been discussed between us, I remind him of my observation that it is unnecessary to stick quite so pedantically to the administrative organisation of the island of Ireland by that distinguished Tudor monarch, Henry VIII. Even I, as a Welshman and a Conservative, do not think that it is necessary in all circumstances to adhere slavishly to the administrative divisions instituted by Henry Tudor.
§ Mr. Powell
I am in a difficult position. As there is now a limitation on the length of these debates I am anxious to restrict my remarks. However, I give way to the hon. Gentleman briefly.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I shall be brief. Should not the right hon. Gentleman say to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) that it is strange that he 804 should wish to include three more counties in Northern Ireland, thus including more nationalists in a state to which they do not wish to belong?
§ Mr. Powell
The protestations of the hon. Member who represents a black country constituency that I do not recollect, are further confirmation of his slavish acceptance, as valid for all time, of the administrative divisions imposed upon the island of Ireland by the Tudor monarchy.
I am anxious to return to the point that I desire to bring to the attention of Ministers. It is a matter for speculation how far they ever understand the meaning of these expressions in the minds of the other party to their conferences. What is certain is that even if the Ministers do not understand the end to which the conferences and discussions are intended to lead, it is well understood not only by the Government of the Irish Republic but by those other forces which, by other methods, desire to secure the transfer of a province of the United Kingdom to a state and to a political connection into which the majority of its inhabitants have no intention of entering.
That is what constitutes the urgency and importance of bringing this matter before the House on this occasion. If the impression is given, sustained and repeated, during the months that the House will not be sitting that the Government, knowingly or unknowingly, are contributing to make arrangements for the cession of Ulster into an all-Ireland State, that cannot but be a substantial encouragement to those whose object it is to further that end by violent means.
I fear it must be taken as certain that before the House resumes, a number of men and women now alive in Northern Ireland will have lost their lives by terrorist action. It does not lie, alas, at this moment within the power of the Government to reduce that tragic number to zero. What does lie within their power is to limit that number for the immediate future and to secure over the months and years to come that it falls towards zero. That they can do only by destroying the conception, or misconception — whichever it may be — that they are willing to enter into arrangements in Northern Ireland and with the Government of the Irish Republic of which the object is the same as that of those who by terror seek to impose their will upon Northern Ireland and whom others, by unlawful means, seek to resist. This is, therefore, for individuals whom we do not know, alive today in Northern Ireland, a matter of life or death.
The Leader of the House is entitled to put a question and a challenge to me. He is entitled to ask, "If that is the meaning, and is bound to be taken to be the meaning, of the well-meant attempt of the Government to maintain and improve good relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, what then is the right hon. Gentleman advocating? Presumably good relations with foreign powers are in the interests of any country and are the desire of any hon. Member of the House."
If the right hon. Gentleman should put that question to me, I would have to say that for the present it is necessary in the interests of all concerned, and it would be fair and honourable towards the Irish Republic as well as towards those for whom the House is responsible, that the course of action followed during the past four years—to go no further back—should be discontinued until it is plainly 805 seen and understood by the Irish Republic that it is neither in the power nor in the intention of Her Majesty's Government to promote the aim which the Irish Republic has sought to attach as a condition to good relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The sooner that is understood—the sooner that is made clear in actions and not in words—the better it will be for the people of Northern Ireland and for the people of the remainder of the island of Ireland. [Interruption.] That is the plea which, despite the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) I take this opportunity of bringing to the attention of Ministers this afternoon.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
This is one of the few debates in which hon. Members may say why the House should not adjourn before certain matters have been discussed. We are relieved of the opportunity or obligation to comment on the speeches of hon. Members who have preceded us. So I shall say no more than that I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—an Irish constituency—that the matter that he raised should be commented on by Ministers before the House rises.
I wish to raise three points, two of which are major and one minor. The House should not adjourn before the summer recess until we have heard something from Ministers about their attitude to a new, shady and squalid organisation called the Association of London Authorities. That body is being set up at the expense of London ratepayers to change the rules of the game. That is not unusual as the Labour party frequently changes the rules of the game as it goes along. The Liberal party and the SDP are trying to get in on the same act with electoral reform.
I remind the House that for a substantial number of years—more than I care to remember in certain cases—both the Association of Municipal Corporations and the old metropolitan boroughs standing joint committee were dominated by the Labour party. Yet those councils that were under Conservative control accepted that those two bodies existed, did not squeal and did not try to set up a counter organisation. There is much in local government that still needs to be done that is way beyond pure party politics. I hope that Ministers will understand that and not bow to some of the strange noises coming out of the proposed headquarters of that organisation at the little Kremlin opposite this building on the other side of Westminster bridge.
Ministers will be asked to treat the Association of London Authorities as a proper body that should have consultation rights. I want to urge Ministers not to fall into that trap. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a robust response to an oral question that I put to her recently which I hope has been communicated to her ministerial colleagues. I have reason to believe that all of them have not yet had that drawn to their attention by their civil servants, and that should happen.
We know that Ministers are considering this matter because on 21 July my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said:My right hon. Friend is considering the association's request for recognition and such a status."—[Official Report 21 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 232.]806 It should not require much time to give the sort of answer that that request demands.
I hope that Ministers will say before the recess that they will completely disregard the Association of London Authorities for all purposes and not recognise it as anything other than a front organisation of the Labour party. I hope that Ministers will continue, as all Ministers have done up to now, to consult genuine bodies such as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the London Boroughs Association. Ratepayers will then be protected. If my right hon. and hon. Friends give the right answer and say that they will not consult that body because they do not recognise it as legitimate for consultation purposes, ratepayers will have the opportunity to go to the district auditor and demand that those authorities that are wasting ratepayers' money on financing it should be surcharged.
The second subject that needs to be considered by Ministers before the House rises is that of rate capping. We have heard that there is a document in preparation and that we are to receive a White Paper at an early date on that subject. Domestic and commercial ratepayers alike need protection that they have not had previously. Legislation passed in the previous Parliament would, we thought, protect ratepayers by ensuring that those authorities that spent over a predetermined rate would have their rate support grant reduced. We thought that that would make authorities act as they had always acted in the past when Governments of any colour had asked for restraint in expenditure. Alas, it did not happen. Instead, authorities such as ILEA, Camden, Islington and many others merely passed that extra bill on to their ratepayers. Those ratepayers require help. It is precisely because those authorities are being run by councillors who treat ratepayers with complete contempt that Ministers must act quickly to stop such action.
I received today one of the many press releases from over the water at county hall headedRates Dictatorship Will Devastate Community ServicesThat document was meant to reach here on Thursday last week in time for the debate on the Scottish rating orders which, rightly, stopped spendthrift authorities in Scotland wasting their ratepayers' money. That document said:The practical effects will be just as disastrous. No service will be safe from the Whitehall axe. Education, social services, housing, transport, recreation will all be hit.None of those services need be hit if authorities such as the GLC stop wasting our money on, for example, police matters for which they have no statutory authority, women's committees for which they have no statutory need, nuclear officers for nuclear-free zones, and racialism committees for which they have no statutory need because there are superb organisations in most boroughs that are coping magnificently with the problems of community relations. We do not want a set of interfering busybodies over the road running such committees. The only reason that many do it is to claim additional attendance allowances because many of them have never worked in their lives and never intend to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful".] That is exactly what I have said. It is completely disgraceful that local councils should set themselves up as makeshift parliaments, which is what they believe they are.
That is why it is necessary for Ministers to give the House the opportunity of knowing as quickly as possible what they propose to do about rate capping. I also hope 807 that they will let us know what they propose to do to limit the powers of those authorities which spend up to a 2p rate in the interests of their ratepayers. Those authorities have no genuine interest in their ratepayers; they are interested only in their own political philosophies.
Those are two particularly important matters on which the House needs information before it rises for the summer recess. The third and final issue is a House of Commons matter. It is incredible that in the year 1983 we are at the mercy of some strange new impossible telephone answering system against which Members, their secretaries and constituents are battling. It is no good people telling me that it will be reviewed and that it will take a few months to settle down. We have just had a technology year and the sort of technology that we have here is impossible. Nothing I say on this subject is a reflection upon the dedicated and hard-working staff who help us in the House, but the first job of the Services Committee, which has been set up, is to meet before the recess to consider what can be done to make the telephone sytem in the House workable.
Last week my wife had an urgent call for me from a constituent. She thought she knew the system well but she made seven telephone calls before she got through to me. First she got through to an answering machine which was half way through its message. She was then told that my secretary was at the photocopying machine and that she should ring the attendant and so on. My secretary, and other secretaries in the room that she shares, have had the same experience. I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, if he cannot give me a full answer to my first two major points, at least, as Chairman of the Services Committee, to say that he has called it together before the recess and that it will take evidence not merely from officials but also from our secretaries, most of whom have to bear the brunt of this latest monster that has been created for us. For those reasons it is necessary for the House to have information on those subjects before its Members and Officers go for a well-deserved recess.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Like the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg) I rise to ask the Government to withdraw the motion for the adjournment of the House. My constituency of Stockton, North lies in the county of Cleveland which is afflicted by the highest unemployment rate of any county area in mainland Britain. It stood at over 23 per cent. at the time of the last statistical publication. In some areas of Cleveland adult male unemployment exceeds 60 per cent.
In my constituency there were more than 10,000 claimants at the last count. Heaven knows how many that would have been if the "Department of massage parlours" had not got to work on the figures with its mystical, manipulative techniques. That 10,000-plus represents an unemployment rate of about 20 per cent. For that 10,000 there are fewer than 150 recognised vacancies. Does that mean that 70 workers are chasing each vacancy? Not a bit of it. It means that 10,000 workers are chasing every vacancy. There is the difference. It is a difference that is very real to the unemployed element of the electorate.
Furthermore, of that 10,000-plus unemployed, 2,555 —more than 25 per cent.—are young people registered as unemployed. What are their prospects of procuring work? The number of vacancies notified can be counted on the fingers of two hands—the fingers, forget the 808 thumbs. The notified vacancies total a mere eight. That is before the termination of an academic year inevitably swells the youth sector's total even further.
The true dimension of this pathetic situation cannot be better described than by a former doyen of this House when he said:One of the most harrowing features connected with the problem of the unemployed is not the poverty or the hardship they have to endure, but the fearful moral degradation that follows in the train of enforced idleness, and there is no more pitiable spectacle in this world than the man willing to work, who, day after day, vainly 'begs a brother of the earth, to give him leave to toil.The same person, using as his base figures issued by the Government of the day, stated in the same address:Well, if that statement be true, it means that 4 million of the inhabitants of these islands are without visible means of subsistence, not because of any fault on their part, but because our present land and industrial system denies them the opportunity of working for a living.That speech referred to 4 million unemployed. That is a terrifying parallel to today's situation, save that the figures then were not massaged. When was that dreadful day? Who made such statements? The person was Keir Hardie, and the date 7 February 1893; and we have not turned back the clock.
It is little wonder that the Prime Minister chose to avoid the north-east in her recent campaign itinerary—a wise decision, if not a courageous one. Such a visit may have provoked the resurrection of generations of souls who willingly gave hearts and minds to changing such a pitiless society and strove to bequeath a better future to the young. The House must remember that the silence of the spirit scorned inevitably breeds the anger that is so hard to quench.
We are constantly reminded of the need for harder work, for greater efficiency, for higher productivity and for more effort. Yet we are asked today seriously to consider a 12 weeks recess when circumstances similar to those in Cleveland prevail throughout the country. A body that had the resilience, fortitude, dedication and commitment to society that it sat all night, till five of the morning's clock, simply to consider the level of its Members' salaries, is now asked by the Government to turn its back for three calendar months on the plight of more than 4 million of the nation's unemployed. Such a request is un-Christian; it is callous; it is heartless, but I am sad to say, it is to be expected.
I must ask respectfully that the House thinks again and reconsiders the motion in the light of the nation's circumstance. The House could do no better, when deliberating today, than to heed the words of Keir Hardie's amendment, on the same occasion, when he expressed regret that no reference had been madeto the industrial depression now prevailing, and the widespread misery, due to large numbers of the working class being unable to find employment, and direct Parliament to legislate promptly and effectively in the interests of the unemployed"—before the recess.
§ 5.6 pm
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) on his maiden speech and the confident way in which he made it. He was far more confident than I was when I first stood up in the House 18 years ago. I hope that he will enjoy the company of fellow Members and enjoy being in the House as much as I have in the last 18 years.
809 I feel strongly that we should not rise for the long recess without promises of action on several matters. I admit that I look forward to the long recess, but it is not a holiday, and our constituents do not think that it is. We take up many matters which we do not have time to attend to when the House is sitting. We spend much of the recess visiting our constituents and parts of our constituencies.
I have three reasons why we should have promises of action before we resume in the autumn. If we are honest, we will admit that we won the election so overwhelmingly—and we did, despite what some try to say—because the Labour party was out of touch with the average voter. I am determined that this Government will not be out of touch when we go to the electorate next time.
Already, the House of Commons has denied the electorate the weapon of capital punishment that it wanted in the fight against violent crime. I ask for definite assurances about other deterrents against violent crime. I do not like the thought of prisoners serving 15 to 20 years' imprisonment. When a person has been behind barbed wire for five years he begins to think that that is a much as any human being can stand, but if the public are to be protected it must be done. Few hon. Members who spoke against capital punishment could think of another deterrent.
I ask my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary, not only to reconsider deterrents, but to consider setting up Army-style camps for violent criminals. They must be less expensive. I cannot understand why it is said that they would be more expensive. They could provide more freedom of movement for the people inside. I see no reason why such camps should be luxurious. They could be spartan. Armed guards could be placed outside. Violent people who attack children, women and other people must be treated as though, if they broke out, they would commit violent crimes again. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to assure me that the whole organisation of the police force and the calibre of recruits is good enough to tackle the modern criminal. Will he promise me that, before we resume, this can be considered as a matter of urgency?
I should like reassurance on two other matters before we leave. They are matters of great importance to constituents, as I think we all learnt when we went canvassing a few weeks ago. First, on unemployment, it was mothers and grandmothers who could not accept—nor can I—that their children and grandchildren should regard unemployment as a way of life. I welcome the Government's moves and their latest plans for youth training, which come into effect this autumn, as well as the many other schemes that the Goverment have enacted which, I believe, will bear fruit. But more imaginative plans are needed. I want to be assured, before the recess, that the Government accept that people should not draw the dole all their lives. Despite the real difficulties of mechanisation, microchips, robots and the world depression, which I understand, I want to be assured that they accept that people should not go without work for large slices of their lives and that the Government are working all out to create employment.
Finally, everywhere I went, my constituents, including a great many former Labour voters, were certain that the Government's ideas on defence were right and that the Opposition's ideas were complete nonsense. But the 810 Government must make it clear to the public, beyond any possible doubt, that they are determined not only to defend the country, but to strive just as hard for peace.
I was greatly encouraged by the tone of the speech in the House last week of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He had new ideas and a fresh approach, but the speech received little publicity. I want to be told, before we resume in the autumn, that the Government recognise the importance of new approaches to the eastern bloc while keeping our defences strong and that they will ensure that the electorate fully understands what we are trying to do.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
As the first to intervene in the debate from the Opposition Benches since my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) spoke, I most warmly congratulate him on a notable maiden speech. It was a moving and powerful speech, both persuasive and sincere. I hope that we shall hear from him very frequently in the future and that he will always speak as felicitously as he has done today. My hon. Friend will, I am sure, entirely endorse the single point that I want briefly to make in the debate.
Over and over again in recent weeks, I have been approached about the very cruel way in which the new youth training scheme discriminates against disabled young people. The issue is deeply important in human terms and I am extremely concerned that the House should not adjourn for the summer recess before we have had a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment that will meet the strong and justified criticisms of the scheme from disabled youngsters, from their parents and from the organisations that exist to help them.
Sir Terence Beckett, the director general of the CBI, painted in The Times of 5 July a glowing picture of the YTS. The view taken of the scheme by disabled young people and their parents is not so approving.
From school to scrapheap for most disabled youngsters,is how one mother described the scheme to me. Nor is she alone in so strongly condemning the YTS for the way in which it discriminates against disabled young people.
Let me give an example. The case of a disabled 19-year-old, Judy, was brought to my attention by the National Bureau for Handicapped Students. Judy had special learning difficulties that she worked incredibly hard to overcome. On the day that a specialist careers officer was seeing Judy and her parents to discuss vocational training for her under the youth opportunities programme, the replacement of that scheme by YTS was announced by the Government.
Under the YOP, the maximum age of entry was 24. The maximum age at which disabled young people can enter the YTS is 18. Judy's career officer was "devastated" to have to tell her that the plans he had been making for her vocational training had now been scuttled. At 19, she as too old for the new scheme.
The age barrier is but one of many reasons for mounting criticism of the YTS from the organisations that speak for disabled people. The National Bureau for Handicapped Students, whose work rightly enjoys the respect of both sides of the House, protests that the special needs of disabled young people have been largely ignored. The scheme is attacked, among other reasons, for being inflexible and inadequately financed.
Young people such as Judy are additionally handicapped by interrupted schooling and often need an 811 extended period of education to compete on equal terms with other young people of the same abilities. They may also require more vocational training than other youngsters if they are to take full advantage of any employment opportunities open to them. There is thus justifiably very strong criticism of the Secretary of State's rejection of the Youth Training Board's recommendation to allow disabled youngsters to join the YTS up to the age of 21 and to remain on the scheme for up to two years.
The Minister's decision, clearly based solely on cost, is seen as a cut in the facilities available under the YOP that injures the most vulnerable young people in Britain. For many of them, the cut will probably mean a lifetime's dependence on supplementary benefit in place of the dignity they crave of becoming tax payers. It is an "economy" that is as self-defeating as it is inhumane and one for which the Secretary of State for Employment should be made to attempt some justification before we rise for the summer recess.
If anyone thinks that the Minister's critics exaggerate, let them reflect on the shocking statistics of unemployment among the disabled. Incredible as it may seem, unemployment is twice as high for them as for people generally and, in parts of Britain, the rate among disabled people registered for work now exceeds 80 per cent. With four out of five of their elders on the dole, the Minister can hardly deny that the prospect for disabled young people with no vocational training is extremely bleak.
On 2 February, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Mr. Walker), who is now the Chairman of Ways and Means, said:We are told the youth training scheme is a bridge between school and work, but if the work is not there at the other end of the bridge the bridge itself is turned into a pierhead going nowhere or, worse still, a gangplank into the dole queue." —[Official Report, 2 February 1983; Vol. 36, c. 322.]That was a reference to the problems facing non-disabled young people. How much more sombre and soul-destroying, then, are the prospects of youngsters who, being disabled, are denied by the YTS even the lifebelt of vocational training.
There is deep resentment among their organisations that disabled people were thrust into the argument over the size of the allowance to be paid to YTS trainees. Members of the Youth Training Board were encouraged to keep the allowance at £25 a week partly on the grounds that to do so would free resources that would benefit disabled young people. Yet now that the allowance has been fixed at £25, disabled youngsters are still waiting to benefit. At present, the best they can hope for is 18 months on the YTS.
Money is at the root of other complaints. The national bureau and other organisations would like to see some of the better YOP schemes continue for the benefit of disabled young people. Again, they want much clearer guidance to be given to area managers of the YTS about the special problems and training needs of disabled youngsters. Many crucial decisions are already being taken on the basis of inadequate advice which, together with the wide discretionary powers available to managers, will inevitably lead to regional disparities.
If disabled young people are to participate fully in employer-based training under the YTS, much more must be done to convince employers that they are youngsters with abilities as well as disabilities and with a positive contribution to make to industry and society. Employers are, after all, receiving taxpayers' money and the 812 Government must make it clear that no managing agents' contracts will be renewed in cases where little effort has been made to recruit disabled youngsters to the scheme.
Sadly for many disabled young people, the steps they have taken to make up for their interrupted schooling now disqualify them from the YTS. The scheme's inflexible criteria—not least its disqualification of young people who have been studying part-time—make many disabled youngsters the victims of their own virtue. That again underlines the need for a ministerial statement before the recess.
Even among disabled youngsters who can meet the scheme's criteria, there are daunting problems. Instead of a planned progression from school to further education, leading to an extended period of vocational training, many will be compelled, by the lack of adequate education grants and provision for their special needs, to participate in the YTS long before they are able fully to benefit from the scheme. Their predicament, like that of Judy and others who are excluded by its rules, merits a full review of all aspects of the scheme as it affects disabled young people. If they are not to be doubly handicapped, and suffer double despair, the need now is urgent.
I hope that the Leader of the House will, therefore, readily agree that there must be a statement from the Secretary of State before the recess. As I said at the outset, the issue is deeply important in human terms. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will win approval on both sides of the House if he responds positively to my plea.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I agreed entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg) about the deterioration in the telephone service and particularly the answering service in this House. We live in a technological age. I find it strange that the change which has been introduced is vastly inferior to the system that we had hitherto. Indeed, the answering service is now an inconvenience not only to hon. Members but to our constituents who try to contact us.
It is not many weeks since we were on the doorsteps of our constituents trying to persuade them to vote for us. I cannot help musing that, so soon after that event, Parliament has twice within two weeks shown itself to be completely out of touch with public opinion. On the doorsteps of my constituency there were several recurring themes.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say what is to happen about postal votes for people on holiday? I found real anger on the part of people who felt that they were being deprived of their democratic right to vote in a general election because of the lack of postal votes for people on holiday. How much longer will we have to wait for Government to grasp this nettle? It is a problem that should have been tackled years ago.
Although in America they know well in advance exactly when their elections will take place — for example, they know that their next presidential election will be on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November 1984—they are still easily able to obtain what they call an absentee ballot. That means that if they go on holiday during the presidential election campaign, or any election campaign, they have the right to vote by post.
People in this country have no idea when a general election will take place. They decide to book a holiday, 813 sometimes an expensive one, and then find that the general election is to take place while they are away. As a result, they lose their vote. This causes great dissatisfaction, even anger, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will say before the House rises this week when this wrong will be righted.
My main purpose in speaking is to ventilate a complaint which I have made time and again and which I encountered continually while canvassing. It is the vexed question of the reform of the rating system. I have raised this issue often before. I make no apology for raising it again today and I shall go on raising it until something is done to find a fairer system, and if that does not put the fear of God into my right hon. Friend I do not know what will.
My constituency lies in the area administered by Trafford borough council. Trafford council, since its inception, has been Conservative controlled and has always followed a policy of prudent housekeeping. Perhaps it has made cuts which have not always been popular, and we have had to defend those cuts to the people whom we represent, but the council has always prided itself on levying the lowest rate in Greater Manchester — until this year. We had a substantial increase in rates this year because Trafford did badly out of the rate support grant settlement. Because many protests were made we got a refund, but it came nowhere near the amount of grant we lost.
I hope that in next year's rate support grant settlement local authorities such as Trafford, which have conformed to all the expenditure guidelines issued by Secretaries of State for the Environment, will not be penalised in the way they have this year. Apparently—I have referred to this before—there are what are called low multipliers for high-resource authorities. These have been given to London boroughs. The amounts depend on whether the boroughs are in inner or outer London. Therefore, the largely Labour controlled inner London boroughs receive a great deal of help in this way, because the effect of a low multiplier is to reduce an authority's rateable value for the purposes of grant calculation and thus increase its grant entitlement.
I do not quarrel with the idea; it is understandable that some adjustment should be made for authorities with a high rateable value per head, as rateable values are an unreliable indicator of wealth. However, it angers me that this adjustment is confined to London.
When we in Trafford ask to be given similar treatment, we are told that because we stand alone and are not part of any particular grouping we cannot be given a low multiplier. Yet on 1 April 1981 there were 13 London boroughs with rateable values per head equal to or lower than Trafford's. We appear to be deprived of the benefits conferred on London for purely geographical reasons.
I cannot see why low multipliers cannot be used for all authorities above a prescribed rateable value per head. Under the existing system, high resource authorities outside London enjoy no benefit whatever from their rateable values and, in some cases, suffer the penalty of grant reduction, even at very low levels of expenditure. If something could be done along these lines it would be an enormous help to local authorities such as Trafford, which run a tight ship and then get clobbered for doing so.
It is important not to neglect our efforts to find a longterm solution to the rating system. I have always opposed the present system because it is manifestly unfair and takes 814 no account of a person's ability to pay. We are often confronted with the problem of two similar adjacent houses, one occupied by an elderly widow living on a small fixed income and the other by perhaps four wage earners. The rates bill for each house is identical. I can see nothing fair in such a situation.
Unfortunately, the unfairness does not end there. It is compounded by the water rates, which are based on hypothetical rental values rather than on consumption. Again, the person living alone is unfairly treated. I should be grateful also if somebody would explain why we have a system of rate rebates but no system of water rate rebates, because those rates are also a burden on people with very little money. I mention these issues because they give rise to a great deal of anger among many elderly people who live on their own.
I know all too well that there is no easy solution to rating reform. It is a subject that has been discussed for years, but nothing of value has ever emerged. In October 1974, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the then Conservative Opposition's environment spokesman, she made a pledge in the Conservative party manifesto that a Conservative Government would deal with the rating problem. Unfortunately, the Conservative party did not win that election. By the time we arrived at the May 1979 general election, the pledge had taken a much lower priority. There had been an enormous increase in direct taxation under Labour Governments from 1974 to 1979 and we had to say that top priority would be given to reducing the burden of direct taxation.
It should be clearly understood that the Labour party has never shown all that much sympathy for the ratepayer. It set up the Layfield committee in 1974, which reported in 1976, but the then Labour Government never provided the opportunity in the House for a debate on the report and never took any action on the report.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the findings of the Layfield committee. Does he agree that its findings supported the action taken by the Government whom he criticises?
§ Mr. Montgomery
Having set up the committee, and having received its report, it would have been an act of courtesy if the then Labour Government had arranged a debate on the issue, during which Members could have expressed their views.
There are basically three options to consider in place of the present rating system. The first is a sales tax, the second is a local income tax and the third is a poll tax. Poll taxes seem to work quite well in the United States, but there would be problems in Britain. The United States has a federal system of government, and in this smaller and crowded island any substantial variation in shopping patterns could be very difficult for traders. A local income tax would be fairer than the present rating system. It would at least take into account a person's ability to pay. However, it seems that the administrative costs of collection could be extremely high.
Having more or less eliminated those two options, we come to the option of a poll tax. I think that a poll tax could be the fairest method to introduce. It would spread the burden evenly on all those on the electoral register and it would be easy and inexpensive to collect.
§ Mr. Montgomery
They would then be deprived of the right to vote. I remind my hon. and learned Friend that it is stated in the Green Paper that a £30 poll tax would yield £1,200 million in revenue annually. A combination of a poll tax and a much reduced domestic rate is perhaps the solution.
There are certain areas which we should study if we are to achieve a reduced domestic rate. Anyone who bothers to read the back of his rate demand will find that education is far and away the greatest area of spending. In going into the subject more deeply, one finds that teachers' salaries represent the greatest proportion of education expenditure. I am sure that teachers do not want to be civil servants and want instead to be employed by their local education authorities. Therefore, it is essential that the authorities bear some financial responsibility.
It might be possible to devise a scheme whereby teachers' basic salaries were paid by central Government and any additional payments were shared between central Government and the local education authority. If that were done, an enormous burden would be lifted from ratepayers. Such a system would, of course, transfer a substantial burden to the taxpayer. This must not be taken as a signal by spendthrift councils that, having had the rate burden substantially eased, they have a green light to go ahead with massive spending schemes. If that were to happen, the poor ratepayer would be back to square one.
It is right to look more to privatisation. A greater use of private enterprise could lead to a substantial saving of ratepayers' money without any reduction in services.
I am aware of all the problems, but my hopes rose when earlier this year it was reported that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had taken over the committee studying possible reform of the rating system. No doubt the advent of the general election scuppered all that. However, we are now assured of another five years of Conservative Government and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will consider the problem again. I know that she is very much aware of the unfairness of the present rating system. I hope that before the House rises my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to say that the Government have not given up all hope of finding an alternative to the rating system, and thereby offer a ray of hope to the many hard-pressed ratepayers.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
In an excellent maiden speech my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) referred to Keir Hardie. I remind my hon. Friend and the House generally that for a long time Keir Hardie represented a Welsh constituency. It is possible that some of the problems in the coal mining industry were problems with which he, too, had to concern himself.
I wish to refer to the industry's problems in south Wales. They are such that they must not be ignored by the House or by the Government. The coal industry in south Wales is in a serious plight and I warn Ministers in the Welsh Office and the Department of Energy to take seriously the words of Mr. Emlyn Williams, the president of the south Wales miners.
The south Wales miners are saying that they are not hell bent on the destruction of the mining industry in south Wales. They are bent on its success and prosperity. They say that the Government should get off their backs and off the back of the National Coal Board and allow the miners 816 and the coal board to get on with the business of mining coal. Ministers should forget ideology. The coal industry will not be a candidate for the evil of privatisation.
§ Mr. Coleman
Ministers should accept that as a fact and not resist the call for investment, which is at the very heart of the case of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Of course, there are pits in south Wales that are becoming exhausted. No one, least of all the NUM leaders, will deny that. However, there are reserves of coal in south Wales richer than those in any other part of the world. It is sensible, therefore, to pursue developments such as Margam and Glyncastle in the Neath valley. These developments will create wealth for the nation, and that is what the miners of south Wales are calling for. Moves to obstruct pit closures are not taken merely for the sake of obstruction. The NUM leaders know that once a work force in the mining industry is dispersed, it disappears for ever and its expertise is no longer available. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) has spoken of the closure of the Brynlliw colliery in his constituency. I, too, could talk of closure. There was the closure of the Blaengwrach colliery in the Neath valley, for example. Instead, I want to talk of investment, and it is that that we wish to hear about from Ministers. If developed, Margam could be a means of maintaining gas supplies when natural gas runs out in 10 years' time. It is adjacent to Llandarcy which used to be in my constituency, but it now forms part of that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). At Llandarcy is a site which is now connected to the national gas grid. Moreover, there is a refinery there where the liquefaction of coal is a possibility. Such developments must take place in about 10 years' time—the time to make a start at Margam is now.
Anthracite is the most valuable coal in the world and my constituency stands on the stuff. That is the wealth that will come from development at Glyncastle. I urge the Leader of the House to make clear to his Cabinet colleagues the sense of investment in the coal mining industry of south Wales and the nonsense of the dogma expressed by his hon. Friends.
During the general election campaign, the Secretary of State for Wales told the Welsh people that investment in the new strip mill at Port Talbot was a mere formality. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when that mere formality will become a fact? Britain, and especially Wales, has the most efficient steel industry in the world. We demand that investment is made in it. I stress the need for the strip mill at Port Talbot to keep Britain's steel industry efficient so that we never again have to experience the events in the steel industry in the past few years.
As a Member sponsored by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation—
§ Mr. Coleman
I am proud to declare my interest. I do not often hear that from Conservative Members. The ISTC is part of the triple alliance of the coal, railway and steel unions. Therefore, I mention another matter that arouses anxiety—the Government's intentions about the Serpell report. Like many people, I hope that the Government intend to consign that report to the incinerator and forget all about it. However, if that is not their intention, the 817 Government should come clean and tell us what they intend to do about it. Many groups in Britain are worried by the madness in the report. As long as the Government allow the uncertainty to continue, the worse the plight of the railways will become.
I hope that British Rail will be given funds to increase efficiency and that crackpot ideas such as those contained in the Serpell report are not implemented. The Leader of the House should tell us what the Government's plans for the railways are.
A week ago last Thursday, the "TV Eye" programme dealt with the death of young people who had been engaged on Manpower Services Commission schemes in industry. The programme highlighted the fact that the factories which employed those young people left a great deal to be desired. It was noticeable that trade unions were not in evidence in those workplaces. The Secretary of State for Employment, who has a responsibility in this regard, should have made a statement to the House on this aspect of safety. I urge the Leader of the House to ensure his attendance here to account for such a serious matter before we start the long recess.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
I should like to bring to the House's attention one of those smaller matters which affect a large number of people and about which we could do something before the House rises. It is a practical matter—the payment of housing benefit.
The introduction of the housing benefit scheme had the full support of most hon. Members, although there were arguments about its format. However, local authorities are deeply worried about the way in which it is being administered and the difficulties that they face. The Minister concerned has extended the time limit for the introduction of the scheme and said, in answer to questions, that only some 15 authorities are having serious difficulties in administering the scheme. He said that most tenants are now catered for. However, some authorities, of which Manchester is one, face severe and continuing difficulties. I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to this matter because, if he would be kind enough to mention it to the relevant Ministers, I am sure that, with a little ingenuity, something could be done to help.
Many tenants are seriously worried about the way in which the scheme is being administered and about the fact that they cannot get their housing benefit sorted out. I am sure that all hon. Members have received letters on this subject. One such letter that I recently received said that a tenant had gone for 12 weeks without the matter being settled. Although it is in the landlord's interest to keep a good tenant in a property and it is in the local authority's interest to sort the problems out as quickly as possible, if payment of rent is uncertain for 12 weeks the tenant starts to worry about eviction. Elderly tenants in particular suffer strain and difficulty when the matter is not settled. People's anxieties are growing because they cannot get through to the town halls—the telephones are jammed and the mail is not answered, as large numbers of people are involved.
The problem does not arise simply for tenants. It is often forgotten that many of the people who are most 818 affected are small landlords who are often not well geared up for such problems. Tenants of local authorities are normally well catered for but tenants of small landlords frequently pay rent to landlords who have small numbers of tenancies but whose commitments are considerable. I received a letter today from a small landlord in my constituency. He wrote:For God's sake do let me know as to when they will get paid. This is driving me crazy and I can't sleep because of these non-payments. I have electric bills to pay and rates to pay. I will not be able to meet them.He also says that he cannot get through to the town hall by letter or by telephone.
No doubt I have criticised Manchester city council for inefficiencies in the past but this time many authorities face real difficulties. I understand that Birmingham and a few London boroughs face difficulties simply because of the sheer number of people involved.
A recent letter to me from the city treasurer of Manchester city council set out clearly the type of difficulty that some authorities face. He wrote:Under the old Rebates Scheme Manchester granted benefits to about 39,000 people. We are now paying 95,000; the number is still rising and is approaching 100,000 cases that the DHSS estimated we would have on completion of the full start.The scheme works well enough for Council tenants and for owner occupiers where we have our own records of rents or rates payable upon which to calculate entitlement to benefit. The difficulties are with private tenants where we do not have this basic information and have to depend on the applcant completing and returning a form which shows the details of his housing costs.Many small landlords say that tenants are going to them in despair asking for help in filling out their forms. The city treasurer's letter continued:Add to the clerical problems the uncertainties created by a new and complex system which gives a great many people less benefit than they had under the old arrangements and the result has been a flood of enquiries from the public. The Town Hall switchboard has been jammed by the numbers of calls and there have been continuous queues at the enquiry counters. Because of these enquiries the staff, half of whom are new and inexperienced, have only been able to make real progress in allowing benefit by weekend and overtime working.We are now nearing the completion of the full start and the problem now is the volume of turnover and the time being taken for certificates to arrive from the DHSS. Over 13,000 certificates have been cancelled as applicants' circumstances have changed in the first three months of the scheme".Simply because of the numbers, the turnover and the change of circumstances, the problem will not go away. I ask my right hon. Friend, before the recess, to ask the Department to give this matter serious consideration. The problem is not universal, and it will not cost vast sums of money to put right. For those caught in the nutcracker, however, the problem is considerable.
Furthermore, if we are not careful, the problem may lead to a growth of fraud. For the tenant who is entitled to have his rent paid for him, as the weeks go by the sum of money that eventually arrives at his place becomes very considerable. The less respectable tenant may succumb to temptation. The tenant has the right to cancel a direct payment to the landlord. In one case that was done without the landlord's knowledge and the money went to the tenant, who then disappeared. The number of such cases is tiny, but more and more difficulties will arise unless action is taken. I urge my right hon. Friend to ask the Department to give this matter urgent attention soon. A little trouble taken now will save a lot of trouble later on.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I do not believe that the House should adjourn before we have discussed the Government's attacks on the National Health Service and, in particular, their failure to deal with the scandalous conditions of the mentally handicapped. The Government are hoping to get away with this terrible situation by keeping it secret. Those conditions have been kept under wraps for a very long time, apart from some leaks to the newspapers— notably The Guardian. The Guardian has done a marvellous job in exposing the appalling conditions in some long-term institutions. Last Wednesday, The Guardian revealed that the development team had been exposing to a few local authorities the appalling situation of mentally handicapped people. Their sufferings are horrifying and should not be tolerated by the House.
The development team has produced 18 reports, 17 of which have been kept confidential. Those reports, which cover seven years, relate to 50 hospitals and 30 homes. Some of the experiences of mentally handicapped people are beyond belief. Some mentally handicapped people have been living in utter and absolute squalor, denied ordinary toilet facilities and privacy. Others have been grossly neglected.
That being so, we would expect the Government to do something immediately but—
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I appreciate the strength of feeling that he brings to this matter. However, will he acknowledge that the Government have introduced a mental handicap initiative in Wales which will lead to the expenditure of an extra £26 million a year and is acknowledged as leading the world in that regard?
§ Mr. Ashley
I shall be very happy to deal with that point—or I should be, if I could read the writing of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshaw (Mr. Morris). I do not have the help of Palantype today.
In Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, the situation is appalling. The distribution of bad conditions is patchy. There are varying conditions in different areas. However, the general picture is appalling, as is revealed by the development team's reports.
Many of those reports have not been shown to the public. The development team is allowed to report only on condition that its reports are not made public and that only the health authority concerned should see them. That is a ridiculous state of affairs. A highly skilled group of people judges the situation, but may not tell anyone, apart from members of the health authority, what it has found. That is absurd, especially as some of those living in institutions for the mentally handicapped suffer from fire risks and cruelty.
The health authorities should be anxious to have the facts made known, but they are not. They insist that only they should be informed. The development team is a shackled watchdog. It can neither make its findings public nor go to any region or hospital, except by the invitation of the health authority.
Those limitations rig the weights against the mentally handicapped. Hospitals will be put in order temporarily and the dirt will be swept under the carpet. In any institution—be it a school, the Army or any other body 820 —if people know that a person in authority is coming to investigate, they tend to hide things and to do some polishing. That is what is happening.
The development team has paid tribute to some of the nurses. I echo that tribute. However, there were also allegations of cruelty, and those allegations should be investigated. We should go much further than that, and I want to suggest a plan of action.
The mentally handicapped will not get proper resources and their situation will not change until the facts are known. My first proposal, therefore, is that there should be a public inquiry. We cannot sit back and allow scandal after scandal to occur. We must have an independent public inquiry, because of the patients' plight, the anxiety of their families and growing public concern.
Secondly, we should have a special ombudsman for the mentally handicapped. His presence would deter maladministration. He could certainly investigate possible instances of it and become an expert in his area.
Thirdly, the development team should be freed to go wherever it wants, at whatever time and without notice. Its reports should be made public. The Minister for Health may say—as he has said before—that publicising its reports would change the relationship between the development team and the authority. My response to that is—fine, let it be changed. However, any difficulty can be avoided by the issuing of two reports: one for the health authority and another for publication which does not name anyone. The thrust of the public report would be just the same as the other report, and the public would then know about these scandalous occurrences.
Fourthly, we should accelerate transfers from institutions. However—let us make no bones about it—transfers will not and should not be made without proper resources being available outside for the mentally handicapped. We need the cash, because it is the means of providing those resources to the mentally handicapped in the community.
The cuts that the Government have made damage not only a beleaguered minority—the mentally handicapped —but beleaguered minority areas and special districts which are short of funds. For example, according to the resource allocation working party, north Staffordshire is short of no less than £10 million per year. The cuts now being made mean a reduction of nearly £700,000 in north Staffordshire's budget. The West Midlands regional health authority has taken the easy option of slicing 1 per cent. from each district. That is quite wrong. It should inflict cuts only on those districts that are doing fairly well, and should leave alone those that are underfunded.
I have pointed briefly to the glaring injustices that exist. The first glaring injustice is the conditions that mentally handicapped people have to suffer in long-stay institutions. The second glaring injutice is the deprived districts. Much unnecessary suffering is being caused. This is not a party matter. Governments have never solved this problem but the present Government are exacerbating it. The conditions of the mentally handicapped are un-Christian and uncivilised and, therefore, unacceptable. I hope that the Government will do something radical as quickly as possible.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
Before the House rises for the long recess I should like to focus its attention on some matters relating to occupational 821 pensions. In particular, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the growing problem being experienced by those who change jobs and suffer substantial losses of pension benefit in the process.
At a time of high unemployment it is essential that there should be the maximum mobility of labour so that people can take advantage of a job opportunity, no matter where it is, subject to their personal circumstances. At present, mobility of labour is being penalised because, in nine cases out of 10, a person who changes his job experiences a reduction in his pension expectation. I detect a growing resentment on the part of a sizeable number of people, and a growing resistance to accepting the challenge of taking up an appointment in another part of the counry. However, it is not as easy to solve the problem as some would have us believe.
The cost of occupational pensions to employers and, indeed, employees, has been kept down largely as a result of a "subsidy" from those who leave the schemes, and thus boost the pensions of those who do not. It follows that there is no way of ensuring fairer treatment for those who choose to change their jobs without some cost. The Government have a responsibility to make it clear that employers, those employees who stay, sometimes for a lifetime in one company, and those who choose to change their employment, will have to pay more. Each party will have to pay more if we are to resolve the dilemma satisfactorily. At present, how much or how little a job changer gets in pension rights greatly depends on the decisions of the trustees of his scheme. People in those circumstances have few statutory rights.
There are two options. The first is that, with Government backing, the pensions interests — the insurance companies and pension funds—should seek to achieve greater balance between the leavers and the stayers, through a voluntary clearing house, through whose mechanism the pension entitlement could be easily and swiftly transferred. That would require the underpinning of minimum pension rights by legislation and, also, a campaign of awareness in which the Government would have a major part to play in pointing out that in this vale of tears nothing is for nothing. All the parties involved—the employers, leavers and stayers—must expect to make a contribution.
The alternative is for the Government to introduce legislation with the aim of creating a structure to achieve some transferability. I am aware of the Government's reluctance to do that and I share it. It would be bound to add to bureaucracy and thus, some would argue, would be in itself undesirable. However, the problem is not new. The pensions interests have been aware of it for a long time. The Government have urged them to solve it if they do not want legislation from the Government to solve it for them. Yet I see no sign that pensions interests have taken it upon themselves to do what is urgently needed. Therefore, if they are unable or unwilling to embark upon a solution which would revolve around a clearing house of all the pension schemes under their control, the Government must think again about their preparedness to undertake this difficult task.
I especially wished to draw the attention of the House to that matter today because in September there will be a conference about it, sponsored by the Government. As it will take place during the recess, I urge the Government 822 to give a lead to voluntary action and to spell out the financial consequences for the parties involved if justice and balance are to be achieved.
On the question of national retirement pensions, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will respond to the Select Committee report on flexible retirement age? From time to time, and for a variety of reasons, the Government are pressed to show their intentions in that important aspect of social policy, but no final decisions appear to have been taken in response to that report. It is time the Government showed whether they support a flexible retirement age. Although it is folly to assume that we can solve, or materially contribute to alleviating, the unemployment problem by requiring men between the ages of 60 and 65 to retire, there should be greater opportunity for them to do so if they wish.
Finally, I return to occupational pension schemes. I impress upon the Leader of the House and, through him, the Secretary of State for Social Services, the great need for those concerned with providing such schemes to be more prepared in future than they have been in the past to furnish information to members of those schemes and prospective pensioners about how their contributions are invested on their behalf. The best-run pension schemes do that. The Government should urge those organising pension schemes to ensure that the people who contribute to them week by week should know how their money is invested and how their prospective pensions are growing.
I stress those points and hope that the Government will make their intentions clear before the recess.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
Before the House adjourns for the summer recess, I wish to draw the attention of the Leader of the House and, indirectly, the Welsh Office, to the distress and inconvenience caused to many of my constituents by the noise and pollution from the M4 motorway, which divides the town of Newport in the north.
During the summer holiday season, traffic will build up considerably. The motorway is vital to the economy of south Wales, as it provides easy access to the area for tourists and brings industrial development, but the environment must be protected. I appreciate that some protests about that are frivolous. The motorway cuts through housing estates, especially in the St. Julian's area, where it runs at the bottom of many people's gardens. It was opened in 1967 and traffic has built up steadily since then.
The problem for those who live adjacent to it was made worse when sections were turned from a two-lane motorway into a three-lane motorway. From 5 o'clock in the morning the noise is shattering. It affects people's sleep, especially that of young children, and it is easy to imagine its effect on the nervous systems of nearby residents. There is much pollution and bad smells, and women have difficulty in keeping their washing clean. Even inside houses, with the doors and windows closed, the rumbling noise is always apparent.
I visited some of those families in their homes and I was made vividly aware of their genuine complaints. I have written to the Welsh Office many times outlining their complaints, but the replies always hide behind regulations. It is obvious that those houses must be properly insulated against noise, but the Welsh Office says that it has no 823 power or discretion to do that. The regulations state that protection can be provided only for houses affected by the construction or improvement of roadways carried out from 1969 onwards. However, the original M4 was opened in 1967. One would have thought that there would be some retrospective legislation on this matter.
Even when the road was changed from a two-lane to a three-lane motorway, the residents—especially those in the Harrogate road area—could not benefit, because the regulations specified that the properties affected must not be more than 300 metres from the road scheme. Although those residents suffer all the ill-effects of the new development — the added pollution and noise from a motorway at the bottom of their gardens—because the motorway was changed just up the road from them, they cannot obtain fencing or insulation to help to make their lives bearable. The Welsh Office has been too lackadaisical in providing trees and shrubs at the bottoms of the gardens.
I understand that a working party has been set up by the Department of Transport to review the regulations. I urge the Leader of the House to impress upon the Welsh Office the need to draw the attention of the working party to the difficulties facing people in Newport. If that is done, I am sure that the working party will see the logic of my remarks.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn, Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the summer recess I, too, believe that it should consider the rating system. I have long advocated the abolition of the vampire-like domestic rating system, which has outlived its usefulness and for which the death knell has already been tolled by the hard-pressed ratepayers, but to no avail. If action is not taken urgently in consequence of the Government's welcome Green Paper, this Dracula of an outmoded and unfair form of taxation will continue to creep round the towns and shires of the country, relentlessly sucking the financial lifeblood from those who are often forced to shoulder an unwarranted burden.
The rate support grant calculations might equally well be likened to Frankenstein's monster, for in its hideous complexity this aspect of the rating system also lumbers its way throughout the land. It was unquestionably right for the Government to base financial help upon needs rather than past spending patterns, but it is questionable whether experimentation with the factor ingredients has yet eliminated all the more grotesque features of this monster.
My own constituency can show clear evidence of the iniquities of the principle of domestic rates. The familiar scene of the two semi-detached houses—one the home of a pensioner and the other the home of a large family of wage earners—is surely etched on the minds of many hon. Members, as it is on mine. There can be little doubt about the difficulties experienced in finding a generally accepted alternative, and in no way do I and many of my colleagues wish to minimise these. However, with opportunities such as the poll tax and greater central funding, a solution surely can, and must, be arrived at urgently.
My county of Hertfordshire illustrates that other key area of concern — the method of calculation of rate support grant. The county has a 40 per cent. higher rateable value than average, yet only an 11 per cent. higher 824 income level that average. The discrepancy is clear and the possible threat to services, such as education, is apparent when one considers that the magic formula pays more attention to the former than to the latter.
It is undoubtedly right that local authorities should strictly control their expenditure and also look towards privatisation as a means for positive success in achieving better value for money. However, a fairer basis may well be created by the addition of a multiplier, as is already the case for London, to overcome any difficulties relating to high rateable value, or perhaps such problems could be alleviated by a method of capping, which also has a precedent. The Government deserve credit for starting to tackle the evils of domestic rates, but they need encouragement to lay to rest once and for all the horrors of the system.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I return to the matter that I raised a week ago under Standing Order No. 10—the announced formation by the British Steel Corporation, GKN and Lonrho of a joint company to acquire Hadfields and its operations at the East Hecla works in my constituency and then to shut it down. The closure of Hadfields, which has played a major role in the Sheffield steel industry for more than a century, will cost 750 jobs. More than 1,000 jobs at BSC will also be at risk, in addition to the 1,700 redundancies announced by BSC Special Steels only last November, and the 1,900 reundancies at Hadfields in 1981—the early casualties of this same rationalisation scheme.
The Government have admitted that the whole project is subject to there not being a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I do not see how there cannot be such a referral, on the following grounds: first, the impact on competition; secondly, the reduced flexibility to meet existing orders; thirdly, the influence on imports of a single supplier. Bill Sirs has warned:Hadfields' order book would disappear off to Europe.Fourthly, the scale of jobs lost consequential to this merger is not in the public interest.
This rationalisation arises from a Government strategy, code-named Phoenix 2. It is the result of three years of secret discussions — a process described by Mr. Ian MacGregor as horse trading—between the BSC and the private sector firms.
The next stage is expected to be a complex denationalisation of much of BSC Special Steels in south Yorkshire. As a result, the profitable parts of BSC will be sold to the private sector at knock-down prices. This is expected to be only the start of the programme of privatisation threatened by the Government, because on 9 March 1983 the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry is on record as saying:Ultimately there is no part of the BSC that cannot be privatised.BSC Light Products and BSC Stainless, which are also in my constituency, are expected to be at the top of the list for privatisation, especially the spring department of BSC Light Products, which shares the Tinsley park site.
The experience of privatisation so far, in the light of Phoenix 1 and Phoenix 3, has meant, first, larger job losses than originally announced; secondly, further rationalisation in capacity; and, thirdly, huge losses. Government strategy has been discussed only in secret, 825 offering little opportunity for a proper evaluation and no consultation with those most affected—the trade unions and workers whose jobs are threatened.
Sheffield city council deplores the way in which the future of the city's economy is decided without reference to it. The people of Sheffield have invested their lives in the steel industry and they have a right to be heard in a matter of such importance to them. The considerations that the Sheffield city council would have liked to have brought to the Minister's attention relate to alternative policies. For example, despite the arguments advanced that the markets for steel have collapsed, the city council would point to major capital projects which would meet the social and economic needs of the country and also create a major demand for steel. One of them—rail electrification—on which the city council has done much work, would involve a firm just across the road from Hadfields — GEC Traction—which is desperate for orders. There should be a ministerial statement on this matter before the recess.
The workers at GEC Traction, as well as those at Hadfields and BSC, believe that they deserve much better treatment, even from this Conservative Government. They have devoted their lives and skills, as did their fathers and grandfathers, to the development of an incomparable engineering steels industry in south Yorkshire. That industry has encountered great difficulties in recent years, as have many other industries, mostly for the same external reasons. The south Yorkshire steel industry is being devasted and laid waste by an unfeeling, doctrinaire Government, and I hope the Leader of the House will convey to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that it is likely to put a strain on some Conservative as well as Labour supporters in south Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
In the brief time available I wish to raise an issue of human rights. I want to question the Government's decision to agree a document at the conclusion of the Madrid conference which turns off the spotlight which has been upon the Soviet Union when its contempt for human rights has been most blatant and heartless. And I want to raise again the case of Yosef Begun, whose trial is scheduled to begin in Moscow today.
We should not adjourn for the summer recess until these matters have been voiced again. To do otherwise is to lose an opportunity to focus public attention upon an evil which could be easily be ended.
The increasing persecution of the Jewish minority in the Soviet Union is a disgrace for which that country should be continually shamed on the world stage until it stops.
First, Soviet Jews are denied the right of emigration and reunification with their families, which is a cornerstone of human rights. As many as 250,000 Jews have been allowed to leave the Soviet Union over the past 15 years, but they have left behind 500,000 relatives who wish to join them. Of those, 381,000 have made a formal request to do so. The others have not applied because to make the request is to lose one's job, one's income, one's standing in the community and places at university for one's children and to be prosecuted for being out of work and a parasite. Now, the gates have been more or less completely closed.
826 People are not being allowed to re-apply for visas once refused. There can be no stronger evidence of the complete failure of the great Communist dream than that it can hold itself together only by stopping those who wish to leave from doing so.
The act of refusal is wicked enough. To refuse emigration, having signed article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares thatEveryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his countryis to show contempt for international institutions which we should never tolerate without continual exposure.
Secondly, the Soviet Union denies Jews the right to teach or learn their languages, or to enjoy their culture. UNESCO, which ought to act, has done nothing. Virtually all Jewish institutional life has been stopped. There are no Jewish schools, the Hebrew language has no official status and those who teach it publicly or privately are categorised as unemployed parasites and are convicted and sent to prison. No Jewish publications are allowed, rabbinical training is non-existent and religious services are often prevented even in private homes.
However, principle seven of the Helsinki final act, citing the international covenant on civil and political rights, states in article 27:in those states in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.Article 18 says that each individual has the rightto adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.Along with this repression there is the most flagrant and virulent anti-semitism, encouraged actively by the Soviet authorities.
As the United States permanent representative to the United Nations put it recently at a world conference in Jerusalem:With the exit gates virtually closed to Jews, with their right to enjoy their culture and practice their religion denied, with their schools closed and their national language outlawed, with the propaganda of hatred being increasingly disseminated against them, is it any wonder that the Jews of Soviet Russia seek to exercise their fundamental right to emigrate?Who is Yosef Begun? Hon. Members will know who he is. He is "a prisoner of Zion", one of that brave, brave band of men and women, like Anatoly Shcharanshy, sentenced to 13 years in a labour camp in 1978 on a trumped-up charge of treason, like Dr. Victor Brailovsky, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak, Kim Fridman, Yuri Orlov and many others, all of whom have served prison sentences because they want the freedom to leave the Soviet Union which the constitution of the Soviet Union pretends to guarantee. Now, the re-sentencing of refuseniks is becoming more and more common.
Yosef Begun is the recipient of the award for 1983 of the all-party committee for the release of Soviet Jewry of this Parliament, which was given to a representative in Mr. Begun's absence by the Earl of Home last week. He is 51 years old and was 39 years old when, in April 1971, he first applied to emigrate to Israel. He was then an acting senior lecturer in higher mathematics at the Moscow institute of agricultural production. He was immediately dismissed. He was allowed to do only menial work and was usually dismissed whenever he was arrested because he was said to be truanting from work.
827 Yosef Begun asked the authorities for permission to teach Hebrew and was, with other refuseniks, refused permission to do so. He gave Hebrew lessons without permission privately and taught the Jewish culture. His fame spread. To stop this the Soviet authorities arrested him, charged him with being a parasite, imprisoned him for three months and sentenced him to two years' exile in Siberia. When he was released he was refused permission to live in Moscow. Ten weeks later he was re-arrested and sentenced to three years in exile for violating residence regulations. He has been arrested, harassed by the KGB, has had his property stolen, has been vilified in public, and yet his courage has not been broken. He has continued to appeal, to protest, to issue statements for the cause of all persecuted Soviet Jews. Since November he has been held incommunicado in Vladimir prison.
Today, Yosef Begun is facing charges under the notorious article 70 of the Soviet criminal code, which accuses him of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. The penalty that he risks is harsh. Most of the lawyers in Moscow are not allowed to defend him, and those few who are will do so only if he pleads guilty, so he is defending himself. The public and the press are unlikely to be admitted. Injustice is likely to be done once more under the Soviet system.
Who is Yosef Begun? He is the latest of a long line of courageous symbols of Soviet oppression. He is known throughout the world. The world is watching his trial.
No more noise from abroad",his second wife has been warned. That proves that the Soviet authorities are concerned about world opinion. Every refusenik who has ever left the Soviet Union says the same thing.
I raise the name of Yosef Begun again today. I raise it on the day of his trial. I raise it in the mother of Parliaments. I raise it so that he will know, as assuredly he will be told, that neither he nor his cause is forgotten. Whatever documents are signed in Madrid, those who care about human rights will fight the harder because of the suffering inflicted on such people as Yosef Begun by a tyrannical and cruel regime.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I rise to raise one matter that should be ventilated in the House before it goes into recess and to seek from the Leader of the House an assurance that there will be an oral statement in the House on the Government's intentions regarding the future of the fast breeder reactor system. This may ring a bell in the memory of the Leader of the House, because at the end of last year he said that this subject merited a statement on which questions could be put to the responsible Minister on matters of moment both for the industry and for my constituents who depend on the future of Dounreay.
Unfortunately, the Leader of the House's assurance on that occasion that a statement would be made was interpreted by him to mean that a written answer was sufficient fulfilment of that undertaking. Lest there be any doubt in his mind, I make it plain that I am asking for an oral statement on which supplementary questions can be asked in the House. It is unsatisfactory that the future of a great industry of this nature should be set out in a ministerial statement that is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny at the time that the statement is made.
828 This subject is of particular importance because Parliament is about to go into recess for three months. I have been informed by representatives of the press that an announcement is expected from the Department of Energy. I have also been informed by the Department of Energy that a statement will be made fairly soon. I submit that the Leader of the House should use his good offices to ensure that the statement is made before Parliament rises.
According to the responsible Minister, it is now not in his hands, but in the hands of his colleagues to decide whether a statement will be made. I understand the processes of government. There are conflicting claims on time for ministerial statements, but the appropriateness of an oral statement of this nature is beyond question.
Let me recall to the Leader of the House a short history of the subject. For some years the Department of Energy had been promising to respond to the recommendation of the Atomic Energy Authority that the next phase in the development of the fast reactor system should be the construction of a commercially developed fast reactor. After about three years, the Government's response was negative. The Secretary of State for Energy said that the programme for the development of a fast reactor must be greatly extended and that there would be no case for constructing fast commercial reactors in series before the next century. That statement, made in December last year, was obscure. It gave no indication whether the Government intended to authorise the construction of a commercially developed fast reactor at any time within the next decade, and created great uncertainty in the minds of my constituents as to what their future would be.
The national importance of this matter is clear to all who are interested in energy. It is important to my constituency because 2,300 people are directly employed by the Atomic Energy Authority at Dounreay, and many ancillary jobs are wholly dependent on the continuation of employment at about that level.
A statement by the Minister, in the form of a written answer last December, was followed by a submission to the Government from the generating boards and other representatives of the nuclear industry, headed by the AEA, but the Government have several times refused to make that submission public. Therefore, great uncertainty remains not only about the Government's intentions, but about what has been suggested to them as the appropriate next step in the development of the fast reactor system.
The time has come to unveil to Parliament the proposals and intentions for this important technological industry. It would be improper to announce any decision that deeply affects so many people not only in my constituency, but in Risley and other AEA establishments where design work on the fast reactor is done, in circumstances in which we cannot question Ministers on the implications of their statements. The extension of the programme into the next century, which the Minister revealed somewhat covertly in his December statement, will have serious consequences for employment. It is intolerable that the uncertainty should continue.
The Secretary of State for Energy requested a speedy report from the industry on how the programme should be adapted to the Government's new time scale. The industry complied and he received its recommendations in February. The Government, however, have not acted speedily, allowing five months to elapse before issuing the slightest hint of their response.
829 It is already clear that the AEA's budget is to be cut substantially, but it is not clear whether the cuts will affect this project, although the Secretary of State for Energy spoke of concentrating the attenuated programme on Dounreay. Furthermore, it is not clear what the employment consequences will be, there or at Risley.
In the light of the clear public interest in the matter, especially in Scotland which recognises that the economy of the north highlands depends crucially on this project, it is appropriate that the Leader of the House should seek to ensure that an oral statement is made before the House goes into recess.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
We should not be melodramatic, but solvent abuse could become a major problem among young people. It has already been identified as a cause for great concern. The House should not adjourn for the recess until the Government have answered certain questions.
On 20 April 1982, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), in his Adjournment debate, reported the chief constable of Northumbria as saying:Solvent abuse is not merely a cult, as some experts would have it—it causes death and misery to manyand as posing the question:Do we go ahead and do something or do we dither and hold back hoping that it will go away?The then Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg), was asked for national figures showing the size of the problem. The hon. Member for Jarrow said that if such figures did not exist the House should ask why. I now ask why. My hon. Friend replied on that occasion:More research is needed … Reliable information on the numbers of sniffers or the proportion whose misuse becomes prolonged is not available."—[Official Report, 20 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 240–43.]Why is the information not available, and what efforts are being made to obtain it?
My hon. Friend went on to explain how the Government were assisting the voluntary agencies —helping the helpers, as he described it. A training film has been produced by the Central Office of Information. A book has been published as an aid to professionals, and the Department has agreed to fund studies into solvent abuse.
The House wants to know what has happened to the film, what use has been made of the book, and what studies have been undertaken with funding from the Department of Health and Social Security. My hon. Friend said that his officials were consulting the voluntary services to learn what more the Government could do. The House is entitled to know the results of those consultations so that steps can be taken to solve this grave problem and thus reassure the public and help the victims of solvent abuse.
More than 40 young people died last year from solvent abuse. The number has quadrupled since 1975. On 12 March 1981, a parliamentary question elicited the following written answer from the then Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young): 830We are actively exploring a way of collecting statistics and what more can be done to educate parents and children and improve local co-operation." — [Official Report, 12 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 374.]What has happened as a result of those explorations? We must know.
On 25 October last, I tabled a parliamentary question as to the number of persons admitted to hospitals suffering from the effects of solvent misuse. I was told that figures were not available. The next day I initiated an Adjournment debate. I asked for an assurance that the Government would attempt to assemble more statistics from the police, health and social services, education authorities and other bodies dealing with young people. Information collected by the police is not available from a central point. It is a scandal that the House cannot ascertain the nature and extent of a problem which is causing grave anxiety to the public at large and is of particular concern to those who suffer from solvent misuse. Solvent abuse has been acknowledged as a problem since the 1950s.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Services informed me that his officials would report by the end of 1982 on investigations of ways in which the detection of solvent abuse might be enhanced. What is the result? In November 1982, a Crown court established for the first time that solvent abuse came within the road traffic offence of being unfit to drive through drugs. Earlier that year, the first British soldier was charged with the offence of glue sniffing and was convicted. With the existence now of a glue sniffing detector similar to alcohol detectors, the Government can introduce effective legislation making the habit illegal. When my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was Minister of State Home Office, he said in October 1982 that the possibility of changes in the law would be considered, so that has not been ruled out. The present offence of being drunk in a public place might be extended to include intoxication from solvents.
On 21 December 1982, a ten-minute Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Jarrow to try to restrict the sale of certain glues to children under 16 years old, but the Bill was not enacted. The law has, however, been changed in Scotland. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) had the good fortune to see his private Member's Bill become law. It adds solvent abuse to conditions which indicate the need for a compulsory care order under a procedure that is peculiar to Scotland —it is not available in England and Wales—whereby a child can be referred to a children's hearing if he or she is discovered to be involved in solvent abuse. That procedure would not be appropriate in England and Wales, but the House should have the answers to those questions so that the matter can proceed and we can successfully resolve it before the House rises for the recess.
§ Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)
I rise to speak on a subject that I believe should be discussed before the summer recess. I declare an interest as vice-president of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs. The topic relates to industrial relations in one particular company — the National Mutual Life Assurance Society—but it will have wider implications for industrial relations generally.
This breakdown in industrial relations results from the misguided repeal of section 11 of the Employment 831 Protection Act by section 19 of the Employment Act 1980. The National Mutual Life Assurance Society is a highly profitable organisation that has no shareholders; its profits are distributed by means of bonuses; and it has 400 employees, the majority of whom belong to ASTMS.
The history of this dispute with the company goes back quite some time. Initially, although the majority of employees wanted to belong to ASTMS and wanted the trade union to be recognised, the company repeatedly refused. Instead, it set up a staff consultative committee, a tabby cat of an organisation that could discuss virtually nothing. However, as a result of the wishes of ASTMS members, the union eventually made a reference under section 11 of the Employment Protection Act, and a survey of employees carried out by ACAS discovered that 60 per cent. of them wished ASTMS to be recognised. Despite that finding, it took 12 months to negotiate an agreement, which was eventually signed on 12 October 1978. It will, therefore, be seen that this company has a long history of anti-trade union activity.
In that agreement, the union committed itself to a common objective of ensuring maximum efficiency within the society for the benefit of policy-holders and employees. It also agreed to refrain from any stoppages or restrictions on production until the procedure had been exhausted. I am sure that would have the agreement of all hon. Members.
Paragraph 3.4 of the agreement stated:the Society undertakes to consult the Union and resolve any consequent issues through the negotiating procedure before implementing significant alterations in conditions of employment or major changes in established work practices, or any other major changes which would have a significant impact on the working environment.There has never been any industrial unrest or trouble, despite the fact that there was provocation by the company when the chairman of the ASTMS negotiating side was suddenly made redundant, although there were no other redundancies. However, off its own bat, the company decided to renege on the agreement, and on 24 May 1983 it gave notice to ASTMS of its intention to terminate the procedure and recognition agreement in August. No reasons or explanations were given to the employees, who were told that for negotiation purposes they would return to the old, discredited staff consultative committee which had been firmly rejected. Indeed, it was one of the reasons why the employees joined the union.
Had section 11 not been repealed, I doubt whether the company would have dared to do this, because ASTMS would again have appealed to ACAS for recognition and I am sure that it would have been granted. As a result, the union would then have had recourse to the central arbitration committee in the absence of an agreement, and I am sure that it would have asked for the restoration of the old agreement or the recognition of a new agreement. I am equally certain that that appeal would have been successful.
However, because there is no section 11, these employees have no recourse to any legislation that would make for good industrial relations. They can merely protest to the company. We have therefore seen the evil hand of a reactionary company crashing its weak employees.
One of the most important democratic freedoms is the right to belong to a trade union, as well as the right of that union to bargain collectively on behalf of its members, yet the repeal of section 11 has meant the withdrawal of that 832 right. Instead of devoting so much of his time to the relationship of trade unionists with their unions, the Secretary of State for Employment should devote that time to the relationship of trade unionists with their employers. This is particularly true of the finance sector where the unions are not strong and where this dispute could have wide repercussions.
I ask the Leader of the House to bring this matter to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The right hon. Gentleman should ask the Secretary of State to request the company to restore the recognition agreement that previously existed and to abide by it in both spirit and practice.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
I wish to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to two matters, one concerning the future and one relating to the past. The matter concerning the future is the Commonwealth conference which will take place in New Delhi in November and which will be attended by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In a written answer to me last week my right hon. Friend stated that she would not be surprised if the Gleneagles agreement was discussed at that conference. Therefore, I wish to pass on to her one or two messages, not only from the Conservative Benches but from the British people as well.
Let it never be forgotten that the Gleneagles agreement, known as the Commonwealth declaration of sport and signed in 1977 by a Labour Prime Minister, has never received the assent of this House, the assent of sportsmen or the consideration and assent of the British people. The most up-to-date public opinion poll on people's opinions of relations with South Africa shows that 91 per cent. of our people think that we should renew our sporting links with that country. It is remarkable that while the British Government continue to abide by and rubber-stamp the Gleneagles agreement, despite the many observations that have been made they refuse to accept the views of those who have been to South Africa.
The British Sports Council, under the leadership of its chairman, Mr. Dick Jeeps, went there in 1980 and came back after a comprehensive tour to explain that in its opinion, sports law had moved towards virtually total integration and that such sporting links should now be renewed. It is to the Government's shame that we continue to abide by this agreement and take absolutely no notice of the many observations of fact-finding missions that have gone to that country. I hope that when my right hon. Friend goes to New Delhi and that motion comes up on the agenda for discussion, as undoubtedly it will, she will remember that many people in the House and the country would like to see that agreement abandoned for ever.
The second important matter that I wish to raise has occurred in the last fortnight — the conduct of the Minister responsible for sport over his involvement, and perhaps unwittingly the involvement of the Prime Minister, in the recent resolution before Marylebone cricket club that a team should be sent to South Africa. To my own personal disappointment, the Minister felt it necessary to intervene in that dispute before a tour had been agreed. Had a tour been agreed, or had some decision been taken, I could have understood the position that he would have had to take under the agreement. The answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) originated from the 833 Minister's Department, and for the Minister to advise members of the MCC on how they should vote in a private ballot is to the shame of his Department and this House. I thought it unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also thought it necessary to intervene. I think that she was being guided by her head rather than her heart. Her intervention had some effect on the ballot. The Government have no business to interfere in the decisions of a private club.
A final message to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport is to go to South Africa and look at matters there for themselves. Despite the several exhortations that I have made to Ministers, only one actually set foot in South Africa during the last Parliament, and that was to change planes. We cannot continue to criticise the South Africans and to abide by that agreement without visiting South Africa. I hope that before the House returns on 24 October my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport, or even my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, will have made such a visit.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
This is the traditional occasion when the House debates a motion that the House should adjourn, and the Opposition try to give reasons why it should not do so. I shall relieve apprehension among colleagues by saying at the outset that I am the last person to deny hon. Members—especially Scottish Members whose children will be returning to school shortly — the opportunity to see something of their families.
That is not to say that there are not important issues that should be disposed of before the House rises. Many of those issues have been raised by hon. Members tonight. In addition, important events could occur that would require the House to return during the recess. What contingency plans has the Leader of the House made to deal with any untoward circumstances that may necessitate the recall of the House?
I was pleased to listen to the careful and moving maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). His reference to Keir Hardie in 1893 and the current unemployment figures in the north-east must strike a chord with many hon. Members. Indeed, the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins), whose remarks dealt generally with law and order, mentioned the disgraceful nature of unemployment and the degradation that it causes. I do not have a great deal of faith in the solutions being put forward by the Government to combat unemployment. I cannot hold out much hope to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West for any real alleviation of the problem by his party. However, I thank him for his support on that issue.
The debate has been interesting not only in the breadth of issues that it has covered but in the contrast that can be drawn. The moving speech by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on behalf of Yosef Begun must be applauded by all hon. Members. The House must condemn persecution wherever it occurs, whether on social, religious or racial grounds. Therefore, I have difficulty in commending the speech of the hon. 834 Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on anything other than its brevity and clarity. I fundamentally disagree with the points that he raised.
My hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Mr. Coleman) and Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) raised important points, especially the plea for industrial safety for youngsters in industries that are less than well organised. That point should be considered by the Government, and I hope that the Leader of the House will say something about it.
Another concern is the Hadfields merger and the need for a proper statement that the House can debate. We are not sure yet about the outcome of the steel negotiations with the European Community. We have fully honoured our commitment to reduce steel output, and we have no intention of reducing it further. If the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry does not make a statement before the recess, there will be trouble in the steel areas.
I well understand the problems being faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) in his dealings with the National Mutual Life Assurance Society. I hope that he is not looking to the Government to solve them. I wish to look at the proposals of the Secretary of State for Employment, but, from what I hear, I do not think that the employees of that firm have a hope.
The only point during the debate that tempted me to divide the House was that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about discrimination against disabled youngsters in the youth training scheme. No hon. Member, on either side of the House, would wish for such discrimination. We all want the Government to deal with the problem quickly, and we all want a statement from the responsible Minister before the end of the week. Frankly, I find the matter disgusting. It is a terrible indictment on what many people would claim to be a civilised society. We are talking not about the totally disabled, but about those who are disabled in some way but in many other ways have great abilities to offer Britain. If those abilities are wasted, it is to the shame of us all.
The most widely discussed issue tonight has been rates, ratepayers and rate reform. During the 1974 general election I was the unsuccessful candidate for Edinburgh, Pentlands. I remember the Prime Minister saying then that she wanted to sort out the rates and that there had to be a better system. I have read the Layfield report—I even gave evidence to the committee on behalf of the Scottish Counties of Cities Association. As the former treasurer of the city of Edinburgh, I applaud the idea of financial probity in local government. What I dislike is political meddling in local government by those who do not understand what is taking place locally, have no interest in the area and are merely using twisted formulae to determine what should happen in local government.
If hon. Members have problems with their ratepayers complaining that the rates are too high, they are probably in the same situation as I am, faced with increasing rates and declining services. That is not because local authority employees are lazy or because councillors are unimaginative; it is because since 1979 the Government have cut the rate support grant in general and in specific areas have cut it substantially. Therefore, it has become a lower proportion of the expenditure that local authorities have to bear.
It is no use Conservative Members saying how terrible some local authorities are because the ratepayers are 835 having to pay so much extra or saying that the councillors are disgusting. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg) said that local authorities are interested only in their own political philosophy, but I remind the House that councillors are elected to implement their political philosophy. If the majority of those who voted in Gateshead had voted Conservative, presumably the hon. Gentleman would not complain. However, if the council represents the majority of those who voted Labour, the hon. Gentleman should not complain if it tries to carry out not only its democratic duty but in many cases its statutory duties. Local authorities are in danger of not being able to do that.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman said that he was city treasurer in Edinburgh. I spent 25 in local government. In those days local government concentrated on the functions given to it by Parliament; it did not try to become a second independent country.
§ Mr. McWilliam
Local government can only concentrate on those functions for which it has statutory or other responsibility. It cannot spend money on functions for which it does not have responsibility, other than the 2p rate. If it is the 2p rate about which the hon. Gentleman complains, that is fine. However, let us look at all the parish councils in Britain which spend the 2p rate and see how objective they are in spending it in a way which benefits all the ratepayers. That is the other part of the rule that the hon. Gentleman forgets. If that were done he would find that the parish councils in Britain combined probably spend as much as the Greater London council.
I know that the GLC is thought of as the ogre—the terrible thing that happens when Labour takes control—and that it is marvellous when Conservatives are in control. But that is to forget the court cases which are now outstanding from the previous period during which the Conservatives were in control. There is the problem that London is a large area which has to be properly administered in some way. I look forward anxiously, but with apprenhension, to seeing the plans of the Secretary of State for the Environment on the governance of London without a GLC. I hope that we can at least keep a decent transport, education and planning system in London. If the Government can satisfy me about that, I do not care what they call the body that achieves it.
We are coming to the end of a short period at the beginning of a Parliament when we do not know what will happen to those great Departments of State, the services of which provide help, succour and sustenance to so many millions in our population. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was unforthcoming when he made a statement in the House recently. Therefore, when the Leader of the House replies, I hope that he will give us a firm commitment that the intentions of the Chancellor and of other spending Departments will be made clear before the House rises or that the House will be recalled if any large section of the population of the United Kingdom is to be substantially worse off as a result of decisions that are taken.
I am full of apprehension about the health and education services and about the future of many people in my constituency, in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North and in many other constituencies, where unemployment is more than 20 per cent. I hope that when 836 the Leader of the House replies, he will reassure not only those hon. Members who have spoken, but all those who rely on public services.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
Over many years the Adjournment debate which precedes the recess has acquired a character all of its own. I have learnt to sit through a litany of discontent and foreboding about the Government's policies and requests to give an undertaking that they will be reversed or abandoned, all within the week. I must say at the outset that I shall not live up to expectations on that score.
I assure the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Mc William) that there are provisions for the recall of the House in Standing Order No. 143. Should it be necessary for the House to be recalled, it would be as a result of Ministers making representations to Mr. Speaker.
About 20 speeches have been made and they have covered a wide range of detailed points. As I look at hon. Members, I realise that many of those speeches contained a number of specific questions and points and I want to say at the outset that they will all be referred to the relevant Minister. I say that to excuse the House the refrain that I would otherwise have to make repeatedly.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made a speech which had many engaging qualities, one of which was that he spoke to the motion. He said that he (lid not wish us to go away for our recess. He must have been influenced by what was said by Keir Hardie in 1893, about whom he spoke. I have quickly checked, and I find that in that year the House sat right through until the end of August. However, it did so substantially on account of the Irish legislation. This might be a useful point at which to begin answering the detailed speeches, starting with that of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would show great circumspection in any meetings that might be arranged between the United Kingdom Government and that of the Irish Republic. I think that his argument was that political progress was a code word which was likely to be only too well understood — or misunderstood, according to one's taste and temperament. Of course, in a situation where the constitution of the Irish Republic lays specific claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland such difficulties are likely to be there. It is a discipline required of all who take part in Irish debates to bear that in mind, while hoping that there can be perfectly amicable relationships with the Irish Republic based upon mutual interest and good will and nevertheless paying regard to the fact that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom.
If the House could not take constituency speeches, it would be denuded. I intend to discuss those which touched upon national issues and then those which related to international issues. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) must have spoken for many others when he talked about the pollution experienced by those who live close to motorways.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) spoke powerfully about the upheavals in the steel industry and the way in which they affect a city whose pride at being the cradle of the steel-making industry is that much more wounded by what is happening. I understand that.
837 My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Mr. Finsberg) took up the issue of the Association of London Authorities. Since the Prime Minister said as recently as 14 July that we should all pay due regard to his warning, I can do no better than underline what was said from such a distinguished quarter and add no more.
The hon. Member for Blaydon said that unemployment naturally concerned all Members of the House, not only the hon. Member for Stockton, North, but my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins), who argued that unemployment must never be permitted to drift into a way of life. He identified the difficulties experienced by young people. That was underlined by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Withenshawe (Mr. Morris), who talked about the connection between the youth training scheme and the disabled. I shall ensure that his anxieties are attended to instantly.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Is the Leader of the House saying that there will be a statement before the House rises? It is an important matter.
§ Mr. Biffen
I am trying to gallop through my reply. I cannot guarantee that there will be an oral statement. Let us see how we go with the undertaking that I have given.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) mentioned the importance of the fast nuclear reactor programme and the developments which he believes will come to fruition shortly. I shall examine the matter to see exactly what the position is. I unwittingly misled the hon. Gentleman on a previous occasion, so I hope he will excuse me if I do not say that there will be an oral statement. We all learn our lessons. I shall see what can be done.
The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), talked about the problems of ASTMS and union recognition. He asked me to mention that to the Secretary of State for Employment so that it becomes part of that wider debate which we are promised in the autumn. I shall certainly do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West talked of the need for adequate punishments for violent crimes. I am certain that we shall return to that issue and I shall ensure that the Home Secretary is made aware of my hon. Friend's speech. My hon. Friend will admit that his is but one of many speeches on the issue.
The campaign for a more equitable rating system is that much more welcome because it is all so familiar. The sharp and compelling nature of the speeches and the thin inadequacy of my answer remind me of previous debates on the summer Adjournment. My hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) made well-argued speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale developed the argument and gave an alternative. He suggested a poll tax, said that rates should be levied at a lower incidence and that there should be joint central and local financing of the teaching profession. Once the debate moves into that area it becomes less joyful and a more tedious consideration of how the furniture now sits in the living room and how it may be reorganised before Auntie Maud comes for the weekend. The debate has been useful 838 in that it has thrown up yet again that the fact on the question of rates it is a good deal easier to engage in analysis than to find a remedy.
The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) made a spirited defence of the coal industry. I accept his claim for a powerful level of investment in that industry, but surely it must be matched by the closure of high-cost pits which otherwise would be a drag on the coal board's ability to compete with other forms of energy. The hon. Gentleman also talked of the number of accidents investigated by the Manpower Services Commission. That is an important matter which should be given attention.
I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), in a tic-tac fashion during his speech, that his powerful request for a speedy determination on housing benefits would be attended to.
The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) argued the case for the mental health services within the National Health Service. As ever, he made a persuasive speech and I hope that he will give the House a second edition of it when my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) speaks about the financing of the social services. That debate is at the heart of current politics and the House benefited from the right hon. Gentleman's contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) demonstrated that he will be a formidable campaigner on the need for greater transferbility of pensions. He is riding with the times and the issue will be of great topicality and immediacy two or three years from now. Even today it is echoed in the Chamber and outside. I shall attend to what he said about Select Committees ad the recommendation on flexible retirement. I shall also examine what he said about no ministerial reply being given as yet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) explained that he would be absent from the Chamber for my reply. He spoke about glue-sniffing, a topic which creates interest on both sides of the House. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will be anxious to take account of his speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) spoke about the Gleneagles agreement. One must tread with delicacy, but from time to time the House of Commons becomes properly interested in the question of government by invitation. In a sense we must weigh the legitimate role of government by invitation within our system of law. My hon. Friend will not feel daunted by occasionally being unpopular in certain quarters, because he will crusade for his corner. It is imperative that the House faces the many implications that go beyond the soft, cosy, liberal headlines.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made a moving speech about the condition of Jews in the Soviet Union and the trial of Yosef Begun. As I reflected, I thought that in the Soviet Union we were witnessing the durability of nationalism. All the national minorities in Russia today are as proud of their identities as they ever were. Seventy years of Marxism has not obliterated that characteristic. There are messages for us all in the enduring strength of nationalism as a political and socially cohesive unit. My hon. and learned Friend made his point in that context effectively.
It is no paradox that I could enjoy the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West who 839 asked that, notwithstanding our military posture, we should try to develop peaceful relationships with the Warsaw pact countries. It is essential to remember at all times that there are no such things as eternal allies—only eternal interests. Historically there is no reason to suppose that this country is in conflict with the countries of eastern Europe which are captive members of the Warsaw pact. They have their individual characteristics. There is no monolithic unity about that organisation and I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention.
Finally, as I come to the conclusion of my speech and to the prospect of the recess, leaving this place of work and returning to it in October, I was asked to do something about the telephones. Many speeches have been delivered from the heart, but I suspect that speeches on the telephones were delivered from the heart, double square. At the end of the day this is where we come to argue, to be law makers, to reflect upon the nation's fortunes and misfortunes and the Government's performance within it all. We are but a microcosm of the wider nation that we serve. I think that we do it remarkably well. I think that we do it even with all the so-called shortcomings of pay, equipment and so on. I believe that we are a first-class Parliament: let us believe that ourselves and convey the belief to others.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, at its rising on Friday, this House do adjourn till Monday 24th October and that this House shall not adjourn on Friday until Mr. Speaker shall have repotted the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.