Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday 31st March do adjourn till Monday 11 th April and at its rising on Friday 29th April do adjourn till Tuesday 3rd May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 31st March until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Cope.]
§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
As we debate the advisability of our adjourning for Easter, I wish to draw attention to a quotation in yesterday's Belfast News Letter, which recorded that the Prime Minister said in the aftermath of the meeting with Dr. Fitzgerald in Brussels:There were no initiatives of any kind agreed at this meeting.If that report is correct, and if the quotation is accurate, it is good news for Ulster, for initiatives have been the curse of our Province and the cause of so much death and injury.
Yesterday the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in announcing his economic measures, exhorted the people of Northern Ireland to demonstrate to the industrialists of the world that Northern Ireland was worthy of their confidence. The people of Northern Ireland are eager to demonstrate their ability and capacity to project confidence. However, they have been prevented from achieving stability and peace because of endless speculation about endless initiatives and still more initiatives and speculation about the outcome of initiatives—a state of turmoil that has been perpetuated over the past four years of the present Parliament.
Therefore, we trust that the Prime Minister's statement yesterday about no initiative of any kind will be the guidelines for the remainder of the life of this Parliament. It is the intention of the motion that we are debating that Parliament should adjourn for about 10 days at Easter. Perhaps during that period parties in the House will turn their thoughts towards an election and a new Parliament. I am sure that they will reflect on the effect of their policies on Northern Ireland. I respectfully suggest that they pay particular attention to the real meaning of phrases such as, "Irish unity by consent" and "unity by non-violent means". If they look carefully, they will discover that such phrases are not alternatives to unity by murder but are concomitants of murder. Non-violent means are understood to be an alternative route to a shared objective.
While parties and individuals are entitled to voice their aspirations for a united Ireland, they become accomplices in murder once they depart from the principle of self-determination, which is synonymous with consent. Acceptance of self-determination and consent can only mean that unity of Ireland must await the day when the greater number—I use the term "greater number" as opposed to "majority", which might be misunderstood as meaning the Protestant majority—of people in Northern Ireland decide of their own free will to change their citizenship. If Parliament and the parties in Parliament accept, as I am sure they do, that democratic position, "initiatives" can only mean the application of force, political or economic, to compel the greater number of British citizens to take a course that they would not embark upon of their own free will.
That is why force, disguised as economic or political initiatives, is the tap that opens or shuts off violence. That explains why violence always accompanies initiatives. It 1028 is a message from terrorists that the signal has been received and understood. Each such outburst of violence in turn produces a more deadly signal, which usually reads, "there must be a solution to end the violence." That is the violence that was generated by the earlier signal.
Therefore, political initiatives and political murder feed each other, and neither can survive without the other. The inventors of initiatives could never sell their preposterous products were it not for the blackmail provided by the terrorists. They exploit terror to gain acceptance and support for initiatives that would be regarded w ith derision if the shadow of the gunman were removed.
Perhaps the most blatant example of co-ordinated thrusts towards a common objective was provided last week by Senator Kennedy. He believed that he could not be seen to join the IRA's St. Patrick Day parade, presumably because he would not wish to be seen in public with those who have a habit of terminating human life prematurely. However, that same evening, by way of an apology for his absence, he compensated tabling a motion asking President Reagan to force Her Majesty's Government to concede the IRA's objectives. Not only is the Senator saying to terrorists, "We march by separate routes towards the same objectives" but he is persuading them that the use of two parallel routes will achieve the shared objective with greater certainty.
Yesterday in the House there was a certain hankering after the period of stability achieved by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) when he was in charge of our affairs in Northern Ireland. I must say candidly that there is an even greater longing in Northern Ireland for such a period of stability. I hope that during the recess there will be no further deterioration of the situation in Northern Ireland and I trust that when we return we can all address our minds to the task of building confidence and peace that can come only when all initiatives have been disavowed.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I hope that before we rise for the Easter recess the Leader of the House will be able to say something about the vexed question of rates. I am particularly concerned because Trafford council, which covers my constituency, did very badly out of the rate support grant settlement. My constituents find this very difficult to understand because Trafford, as a Conservative-controlled council, has conformed to all the expenditure guidelines issued by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
In Trafford we have always prided ourselves on having the lowest rate in the whole of Greater Manchester. Because of this year's rate support settlement there are four authorities in Greater Manchester that are now levying a lower rate than Trafford. If this had been caused because of extravagance by Trafford councillors I would have said that they had no one to blame but themselves, but they have been prudent and have tried desperately hard to look after the ratepayers' money. They have resisted all demands from the Labour, Liberal and SDP opposition councillors for more and more expenditure. Now, of course, those councillors are making great play of the fact that we have done badly out of the rate support grant. I can only suggest that, had the council followed the policies put forward by the opposition parties, the rates bills going through the doors in Trafford at the moment would he horrendous.
1029 Certain changes should, however, be made in the way that the rate support grant is calculated. I understand that there is something called low multipliers for high resource authorities. Apparently, these have been given to London boroughs and 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. 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 of these low multipliers. It is understandable that some adjustment be made for authorities that have a high rateable value per head, since rateable values are an unreliable indicator of wealth. What concerns me is that the adjustment is confined to London. When we ask for Trafford to be given similar treatment, we are told that because we stand alone and are not part of a convenient group we cannot be given a low multiplier. Yet at 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 present system high resource authorities outside London enjoy no benefit whatsoever from their rateable value and in some cases suffer the penalty of grant reduction, even at very low levels of expenditure. If something could be done along those lines it would be a great help to authorities such as Trafford.
We must also look for a long-term solution to the problem of rates. I have always felt that our present system is unfair because it takes no account at all of a person's ability to pay. We all know the argument of the two adjacent houses, one occupied by an elderly widow with a small fixed income and the other by perhaps four wage earners, where the same amount of rates is paid. There is no equity at all in that.
That is not the end of the inequality, however, because water rates are based on hypothetical rental values rather than on consumption, so again the person who lives on his own is unfairly treated. I hope that there will be some move to encourage water authorities to install water meters so that people would at least be paying for the water they consume rather than on the rateable value of their house.
I realise that there is no easy solution to this problem. Rating reform has been discussed for many years. The Conservative party, before the election of October 1974, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, made a pledge that we would deal with this problem. We failed to win that election and in May 1979 that pledge took a lower priority because of the enormous increase in direct taxation that had taken place during the period of office of the Labour Government. The Conservative party said that the greatest priority must be given to reducing the burden of direct taxation.
I do not think that the Labour party has shown too much sympathy towards rating reform. Although in 1974 it set up the Layfield committee which reported in 1976, the then Labour Government neither gave the opportunity for a debate nor took any action on the report.
1030 There are three alternatives to the present system: a sales tax, local income tax and poll tax. A sales tax seems to work quite well in the United States but there is a federal system of government in that country. In a small, crowded island such as ours, any substantial variation in shopping patterns could be unfair to traders. Local income tax would be fairer because it would take into account a person's ability to pay but it would incur the administrative costs of collection, which could be high.
Perhaps the poll tax would be the fairest method to adopt. It would be simple, easy and probably inexpensive to collect. In the Green Paper "Alternatives to Domestic Rates" the point is made that a £30 per head poll tax would yield £1,200 million in revenue annually. It could well be that a combination of a poll tax and a much reduced domestic rate is the solution.
To get a reduced domestic rate, there are certain areas that we should study. The first is education. If anyone examines his rate demand to find out how the money is spent, he will see that education takes far and away the greatest amount of money. If he delves even further, he will find that of that education budget much the largest percentage goes on teachers' salaries. I recognise that teachers are employed by local education authorities and that the latter must, therefore, bear some financial responsibility, but education is also a national responsibility. Perhaps we could devise some scheme whereby the basic salary of all teachers was paid by central Government and the salary above the basic scale shared between central Government and the local education authority. An enormous burden could be removed from the shoulders of the ratepayers by that one act.
More investigation could be made of privatisation of local authority services. We have not experimented nearly enough along these lines. A greater use of private enterprise could lead to substantial savings of ratepayers' money without any reduction in service.
The purpose of this speech is to discover what the Government think about reform and how far their plans have developed. I have acknowledged the enormous difficulties that exist and I realise that no solution is foolproof. Whichever is put forward, there will always be people ready to shoot it down. Rumour has it that the Prime Minister herself has taken over the committee studying this reform. If this is so, it is good news for the ratepayers of this country because I know that she is all too aware of the unfairness of the present rating system. Before we rise for the Easter recess, therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend can give some indication when we can expect a progress report from the Government on rate reform.
§ Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a problem that is causing grave concern to my constituents—the difficulties associated with illegal itinerant caravan dwellers and the lack of effective legislation to deal with them. I hope that, before May day, the Leader of the House will promise to bring forward legislation to help local authorities to deal with the problem.
It is an acute problem in north Staffordshire, and I have not the slightest doubt that it is repeated in other areas. Stoke-on-Trent provided a site for caravan dwellers in 1972, and became a designated area shortly after that. For some time there was an improvement in the problem. 1031 Many people, even the itinerants, thought that being a designated area meant that it was a caravan-free zone. We have all learnt that that is not the position. There has been a steady increase in the number of illegal caravan dwellers. My constituents wonder why that should be, and what the Government intend to do about it.
Hon. Members are aware of the problems associated with itinerants—rubbish, insanitary habits, the nuisance to nearby residents, intimidation, fire hazards and the trouble that they create in nearby towns and villages. The itinerants are bitterly resented, if only because the residents feel that they evade rates and taxes and are often not arrested and prosecuted for misdemeanours for which the residents would be prosecuted.
We are told that the itinerants are not Romany gipsies. There is certainly nothing romantic about the scrap metal merchants and other self-employed individuals who tell us they must live in or near large towns to obtain a living. They cannot for ever be allowed to avoid their responsibility to society. They cannot live off society for nothing.
Last year I was told by the Department of the Environment that there were about 8,000 gipsy families in England. I assumed that that meant families living in caravans, rather than genuine gipsies. There are 3,100 public authorised pitches with some 3,500 caravans on them. There are 200 local authority sites. At the present rate of building new sites, it will take 12 years to solve the problem. That is an unacceptable time. We need a crash programme.
I appreciate that the Government give 100 per cent. grants for the building of caravan sites, which is highly commendable, but there is ony one way to solve the problem—to build more sites. The difficulty is that no one wants a site in his area. Those authorities with sites will not build more sites until neighbouring authorities without sites fulfil their obligations. Newcastle-under-Lyme, a neighbour of Stoke-on-Trent, has examined 60 sites during the past 10 years, but has not yet found one that was acceptable. That can be repeated nationwide. All authorities are in that position.
The Government should set a deadline for the finding of sites. If local authorities cannot agree among themselves, the Government should ask them for a list of possible sites in their areas. They should set up an independent inquiry to decide which sites should be used. Unless something drastic is done, people will never live in peace. Every caravan dweller must have a site on which to live, with no excuse for parking illegally.
A proposal put forward by Newcastle-under-Lyme, together with the build-up of illegal caravan parking in my constituency, has incensed the residents. They talk about revolution, being at boiling point, and setting up vigilante groups to take direct action. They believe that the local authority is inactive and the law stupid. It is not that local authorities are inactive; it is that the Department of the Environment is too complacent about the problem. It rests its case on the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. It claims that further legislation would be premature. That shows that the Department does not fully understand the problem. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that further legislation is long overdue.
Local authorities believe that to become a designated area is nothing but a con trick. It is a meaningless acknowledgement that a local authority has a site. When 1032 neighbouring local authorities see that a designated area still has problems and is almost powerless to act, there is no incentive for them to provide sites and spend money—albeit Government money. There is a need for urgent legislation.
Authorities which are designated areas should be able to move illegal caravan parkers from local authority or private land within 24 or 48 hours of occupation, and without having to apply to the courts. Currently, an authority must apply to the magistrates courts, and it can take up to a month to obtain an order.
The modern itinerant—like so many of our population—knows the law and is prepared to stretch it to its limits. Stoke-on-Trent is now applying to the county court, which allows it to employ the services of a bailiff. That makes the process a little quicker, but not as quick as we would like. When a court order is obtained, the authority can move the itinerants only on to the highways. They then move to another site within that authority, and sometimes simply move across the road. The whole cumbersome legal process must then begin again.
The fines are wholly inadequate to discourage repeated illegal parking. Stoke-on-Trent has tried persuasion, which has been effective in the past, but is becoming less so as time goes on. The itinerants cost local authorities money that they do not wish to spend in these difficult economic times. Stoke-on-Trent employs a full-time caravan officer. It must spend money on erecting fences and bollards and making unsightly mounds of earth to prevent illegal parking. There is also the problem of clearing the rubbish. Officers have to spend time on the problems created, as do the magistrates courts. All that adds up to a burden that the community could live without.
If an authority is a designated area, it should have the power to ban illegal itinerants, perhaps with the permission of the courts, from the whole of its area for 12 months. That is the only way to solve the problem for authorities that have already provided sites. I appreciate that that may put pressure on surrounding local authorities to provide sites, but that would be all to the good, because it might solve the whole national problem more quickly.
Current legislation is wholly inadequate to deal with the problem. Its ineffectiveness encourages evasion of the law. It is expensive for local authorities. It is an unnecessary burden on those who live in the areas that attract illegal itinerants. I hope that the Government will consider urgent additional legislation—at least before May day, if it cannot be done before the House rises next week.
Finally, I refer to unfair trading practices by some countries. This matter has been brought up many times. We appear to be applying the rules in trading while others change the rules in the middle of the game, not once but many times. We all know about the intolerable tariff being put on our cars exported to Spain and the over-generous reception that Spanish goods get in this country. This is totally indefensible. There is more than a suspicion that some of our Common Market partners are dumping things in this country—for instance, ceramic tiles from Italy and Spain for the DIY market and the building trade. That cannot be defended by anyone. I hope that the rumour is not true that we may have some imported foreign tiles from either Italy or Spain in this building. Perhaps we shall get an assurance that that is not the case.
I am now told that Portugal has increased a 10 per cent. import surcharge to 30 per cent. on transfers used in the ceramic, enamel, steel and glass industries.
1033 I suggest to the Leader of the House that, before the Easter recess, we make urgent representations to Spain and Portugal, pointing out that if they are keen to join the European Community they should be aware that such practices and discrimination against fellow Community members are unacceptable, and that we may not be enthusiastic about accepting them into the Community if they do not mend their ways.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Devon, West)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) but I think that he made an excellent speech, particularly on the difficult subject of gipsies. I hope that the Government will take careful notice of what he said. Certainly we in the south-west of England experience problems very similar to the ones that he has put so eloquently to the House this afternoon. It is a growing problem and something has to be done. Boiling point has been reached many times. At a meeting recently I heard that although gipsies had only been in the area a week local residents were saying that the rats were as big as cats. It is extraordinary how emotional people get over these things. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter and I support him fully.
I am not really very happy at the House going into recess until I can obtain one or two things from the Government. There are one or two subjects that are of particular importance to us in the south-west and in my own constituency and I hope that before the recess begins we can at least have some answers from the Government on the three points which I shall make.
There is a fourth point that I should have liked to make, on the very thorny and difficult problem of pigs. I hope, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), who is an expert on pigs, will be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to reiterate my views as well as his own on this important subject.
The first reason for delay is the need for a statement from the Government on the whole problem of water supplies in the south-west of England and the Roadford reservoir. I ask the Government, and specifically the Minister, how much longer we must wait before we get a decision. Democracy is important in this country, but it is slow, frustrating and terribly expensive. We in my constituency have been extremely patient for a very long time. The patience of Job is just not in it. We need and answer on this difficult problem. We need more water.
We think that the Minister has come to the wrong decision about where the reservoir should go—that is, at Roadford. We believe that it should be on the moor. At least we should be told pretty quickly the size and whether the South-West water authority can go ahead with the building of the new dam and reservoir at Roadford. Surely, before we rise, we can have an answer from the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have a feeling that a decision is very near. I hope that, because of what I say this afternoon, he may be persuaded to make it before Easter.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I am not clear what my hon. Friend was referring to. Was it a reservoir or some extension of water supplies?
§ Sir Peter Mills
I am very sorry. I thought everybody would know about Roadford. Roadford is the proposed site of a new reservoir in my constituency. It was originally intended that this reservoir should be built on Dartmoor, where it ought to be, so that the water could flow down cheaply and would not involve the use of good agricultural land. The Secretary of State for the Environment, in his wisdom—I disagree with him—has said it must go on agricultural land. It is grade 3 and some grade 4 land, but it is agricultural land. That is to be flooded for a new reservoir at Roadford, and I disapprove of that very much. In principle, the Secretary of State has said it is to go there but he has not given the decision to go ahead because of its size, and other matters.
The second reason why I think we should delay the Easter recess is that we need a statement on the future of Dartmoor. I believe that I would carry many hon. Members on both sides of the House with me on this. The problem of Dartmoor is particularly one of stock management and we need legislation quickly to deal with this problem. I have tried, and failed, through the ballot to introduce a private Member's Bill. Devon county council has tried to introduce a private Member's Bill and has failed.
This matter is urgent. We feel that assistance should be given to meet the desires of the farmers—and not only the farmers but many other people interested in animal welfare on Dartmoor. We need clear-cut legislation on management rules because at the present moment some farmers are spoiling things for the others through bad management. We need to be more concerned about the welfare of livestock on Dartmoor, the numbers there and the type of livestock. We need a commoners' council. It is, after all, only the commoners who can administer and carry out the management rules. It is very important that these get under way quickly. We need to control the improvement of land, because none of us wants to spoil the beauty of Dartmoor. We need regulations about the removal of stock at certain times for dipping, and so on. There is need also, of course, for proper consultation with the people in the area and understanding of the problems of Dartmoor.
I shall continue to press these matters. I believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a very real role to play in these matters. I have been hoping for some time that we might have some clear-cut statement on these matters.
Lastly, I turn to a subject which I have raised many times in the House and on which I have never got very far. It is a very wearying situation to have spent 19 years struggling to obtain a by-pass at Okehampton. Whether under the previous Administration or this Administration, as we say in Devon, I have not got "very furr". It is about time we had a decision from the Department of Transport on the Okehampton by-pass and, of course, the dual carriageway between Tongue End and Whiddon Down. It is one of the most dreadful bottlenecks in the country. Lives have been lost and accidents occur frequently. Now that the inspector has given his report to the Department, we need that evaluation quickly so that the contracts can go out and a start can be made on building the by-pass and the continuation of the dual carriageway.
We have waited nearly three years for the inspector to make his report. That it should take so long to make a decision does not say much for the speed at which the Department works. The matter is urgent and there are 1035 many anxious people in the village of Sticklepate and the town of Okehampton. I ask only that we should proceed quickly. If, after 19 years, the House could go into the Easter recess with some decision on this, I should celebrate Easter much more happily.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
In the few minutes at my disposal I want to refer to a long-standing issue that is well known to certain Members of the House who have been involved in the affair. I refer to what some would say is the celebrated case of Alan Grimshaw. For many years, until his death a few days ago, Alan Grimshaw tried to obtain justice in respect of his employment with the National Coal Board and his investigation into the NCB's acquisition of roof supports in the 1960s and 1970s, which culminated in his appearance before the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in 1973 and 1974.
Alan Grimshaw was an NCB executive who decided that there was something wrong with the way in which the NCB's accounting system was being carried out, especially in respect of the purchase of spares and roof supports. During his investigations he, along with another employee of the NCB who was making independent inquiries, discovered that money was being spent that should not have been spent. Not long after that he was sacked from the NCB. Such was the nature of the evidence that Alan Grimshaw supplied that the Dowty Group paid back £1.3 million, so he saved the taxpayer that amount. Some would argue that a lot more money should have been paid back, but Alan Grimshaw was given the sack for his pains.
Around the time that Alan Grimshaw was trying to make representations to all and sundry he tried to get the NCB and the British Association of Colliery Management, his trade union, to take up the investigation into the scandalous use of money for the purchase of supports, but he did not get far. All that emerged was that Dr. David Leigh, a member of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, said that between 1969 and 1972 as much as £74 million was spent by the NCB that could not be accounted for by inflation.
Finally, a Select Committee was set up in 1973 by the Tory Government, who were then in power. It had almost concluded its findings just before the general election of February 1974. As a result of a split vote, the Committee decided to investigate the NCB's purchase of roof supports and spares and the excess money that had been paid for them. In its investigations it heard evidence from Alan Grimshaw, Dr. David Leigh and, I believe, Fred Evett. In the report the most important references to the financial losses were replaced by asterisks because it was said that they were state secrets.
I should explain my position in this matter. After the general election in February 1974 I was asked whether I wanted to sit on the Committee that was investigating the NCB's supplies. I joined the Committee merely to take part in that investigation. When I went into the Committee on the Wednesday afternoon I found that the loose-leafed reports were all ready for reading and for subsequent publication. We were asked to take them away with us to read during the following fortnight and then to return to go through them. Having read the report, I returned to continue the investigation. It should be borne in mind that at that time there had been substantial changes in the composition of the Committee because of the general 1036 election that had just taken place. Some hon. Members had been made Ministers, others had left, and so on. There is no doubt that that was the only reason why I managed to get on to the Committee.
Because the investigation had not been thorough enough, because the evidence of Alan Grimshaw and Dr. David Leigh had not been properly recorded in the minutes, and because the findings were not sufficient in view of the serious allegations that had been made, I suggested that Lord Robens, who was the chainnan of the NCB when the allegations were made between 1961 and 1971, should be brought before the Committee and interviewed. What in fact happened was that Sir Derek Ezra—now Lord Ezra, a Liberal peer—was asked to appear before the Committee to give evidence. At the time that these allegations were made in the middle and late 1960s Derek Ezra was at the other end of the NCB. He was at the sales end, selling coal; he had never been involved in mining and the purchasing of equipment in the NCB. So the Committee had the wrong man before it.
I suspect that it did not call Lord Robens because one of the firms involved in what could be described as a squalid deal was Bonsor Engineering Ltd., in which Lord Robens' son was involved. Bonsor Engineering Ltd., a relatively small Nottinghamshire engineering firm that was supplying roof supports to the NCB, was taken over by Dowty in 1969. Dowty had also supplied roof supports to the NCB. It was suggested that, with its goodwill, the company was worth about £1.4 million, which Dowry paid over. Some people raised eyebrows at that and said that it was a lot of money for Dowty to spend on Bonsor Engineering Ltd.
A fellow called William Sheppard was brought in as an independent arbitrator to look into the matter. He just happened to be an NCB executive who later moved up the ladder at the NCB and became number two. There were additional goodwill payments every year between 1971 and 1975, totalling £1,261,339. More than £2 million was paid for the engineering firm, yet almost 50 per cent. of the supports that it supplied could not carry the yield load, according to an NCB man in 1967, and in 1968 the NCB withdrew its approval of Bonsor supports.
Dowty had taken over Bonsor Engineering Ltd. in 1969, when it was almost a worthless organisation. It did not have even one order with the National Coal Board at the time of the takeover, but these payments and further goodwill payments were made until 1975.
When, some time after the 1974 general election I requested that Lord Robens be brought before the Committee, as hon. Members will probably guess, I did not get a seconder. That is a problem that sometimes occurs at the national executive committee. I understand the difficulties, but that was the end of it for me on that committee. I had managed to be on the Committee for one hour and 10 minutes altogether, and I do not wish to be on any more after that experience. My problem does not worry me, because it is long gone. It was easy for the Labour Government to find somebody to take my place on the Committee, and they did so two or three days later.
Alan Grimshaw, having given evidence, was sacked towards the end of 1974. The report was issued in the spring of 1974, and in December he was moved. In June 1974, so that the National Coal Board could let Mr. Grimshaw know that it had got it in for him, he was moved, despite the fact that he was earning about £5,000 a year. That was not small fry. That was what his 1037 important job yielded him then, but he was moved to counting mops and buckets, and he was given the push at the end of the year.
The House had a chance to restore Alan Grimshaw to his position. He had appeared before a Select Committee, had given evidence and had got the sack as a result. That is the opinion of most people who have read the case over and over again throughout the years. The issue went to the Committee of Privileges in 1976. This wonderful Mother of Parliaments, with all its talk about freedom for individuals, examined the Grimshaw case and decided that, despite the fact that he had given evidence as a free man, it could not assist him in ensuring that he received some reparation or compensation for his dismissal. As a bitter man he left Doncaster and went to Morpeth.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Grant), who is very ill, and has been for some considerable time, tried to help him as best he could. In July last year, I brought a petition before the House so that Parliament could, in what turned out to be the last few months of Alan Grimshaw's life, straighten the matter out, but it has not done so. The petition went to the Leader of the House and finished up in the same place as many other petitions.
I am talking about somebody who came to the House and gave evidence in good faith. It is a great recommendation, is it not, when somebody gives evidence before a Select Committee and then finds that he is on the rack, counting mops and buckets for six months, and is finally sacked? Now he is dead. A few months ago he passed away after a heart attack. His wife, Isabelle, intends to carry on the fight, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth is very ill, I said that I would continue to raise this matter.
I appeal to the Leader of the House. We have corresponded on this issue, and it has been raised during business questions and in various other ways. The Leader of the House will recall that he was on the ground floor when this matter began way back in 1973. Even though Alan Grimshaw has passed away, surely Parliament can provide some recompense for events and for his testimony before that Select Committee. That is why I thought it necessary that the matter should be dealt with before hon. Members rise for the Easter recess. I call upon the Leader of the House to try, even at this late stage, to find some way of ensuring that Alan Grimshaw's memory is not tarnished in the way that his life was after he appeared before the Select Committee. For all his efforts, he finished up on the dole.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
The Leader of the House will be pleased to know that I do not intend to move or speak on the same matter as I did on two previous occasions, about which he reminded me, because the Budget has helped my case for taxation relief on tenanted land. I am very grateful for that.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a moving speech and I trust that the Leader of the House will give close attention to it. One does not like to hear that type of story if the facts are as stated.
The same problems with gipsies and caravans are current in the east of England. That is one of the most frequent subjects of letters in my postbag. The problem is 1038 difficult to solve because no village wishes to have a caravan site in its boundaries. That is one of the major difficulties to be overcome.
Before the House goes into recess, I wish to have a proper explanation about the young Romanian who was not treated as a genuine refugee and not allowed to remain in this country. I trust the House will be given an explanation or the promise of a full inquiry. When I was coming to London on the train on Monday, in my local daily paper, the Eastern Daily Press, I read, under the heading "Lost Refuge", a story which made me more and more hot under the collar, even taking into account the fact that not every story in the press is the gospel truth. When I got to London, I went to the Home Affairs Committee, where I raised the matter. Since then, I have had correspondence and telephone calls from several of my constituents about this matter.
The Minister of State, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Waddington), as a result of my raising this matter, courteously sent me a note about the case. He was put in at the deep end because he has been the Minister of State with that responsibility for only a short time. I have read and re-read the note that he sent to me and remain totally unconvinced that it was right to return this man to the harsh and repressive regime in Romania. I am even more convinced that the House should not go into recess without a full explanation.
We allow "overstayers", as they are called—I call them illegal immigrants—to stay in this country unmolested for many years, yet when a man, after spending ten years in prison for trying to leave a police state, succeeds in getting here we play with him as a cat will play with a mouse for about nine months and then suddenly pounce on him and send him away. The Minister wrote to me that the British Romanian Society wasinvited to take an interestbut he did not say whether it did take an interest. Nothing in the statement says whether it did take an interest or whether the society asked for him to be allowed to stay. That question ought to be answered.
It is said that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was told of the case, but the statement that I was sent does not say whether he made any remarks. I do not feel like going away for the Easter recess until I know the answer to that. It seems quite wrong that the man was kept at a remand centre from—if I have the story right—April to November before being released on bail. Either the matter should have been settled, or he should have been released on bail long beforehand. How long was it before a Minister knew that he was being detained at Ashford remand centre?
I should also like to be given the answers to the following questions before I go home to Norfolk.
Is it true that one reason for not allowing the young man to stay—as the leading article in my newspaper says—is that he failed to prove that Romania was "turbulent" rather than "stable"? The regime is, of course, stable because of massive repression. The article that I have says that he spent a decade in gaol trying to leave the country. In his note, the Minister cast doubt on that, saying that that was not mentioned when he was first interviewed. I spent about five years in a foreign country against my will. I had my first interview soon after having the horse clippers run over my head of hair—which was probably good for me—and that first interview did not encourage me in trying to make my case.
1039 Surely this man's case could have been checked. We must have some representatives in Romania who could have checked whether the man's story was right. It is strange that he was here for nine months, yet doubt is still cast on his story.
Is it true, as my newspaper suggests, that the reason given for refusing the man asylum was that he wanted to better himself? Surely that is not a crime. Surely more weight should have been given to the decade that he spent in gaol and that should have decided the point. The whole affair is extremely worrying. Many Polish citizens have been in Britain for a year or more on some form of licence—I have many Polish citizens in my constituency—and they are fearful that the same fate may overtake them. I feel sure that it will not, but those living in a country other than their own have such fears.
I am upset that this affair should land in the lap of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, who has only been in his post for such a short time, and I am sure is doing an exceptionally good job. Yesterday, the Home Secretary said that he was fully involved, yet, through the inept questioning of the Leader of the Opposition, who went off on the wrong scent about the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, the Home Secretary did not give any detailed answers.
I am convinced that, sadly, this incident arose because of typical bureaucratic stupidity. The man was treated not as a human being, but as a piece of illegally imported furniture. I repeat that I am loth to leave for the Easter recess until a full explanation has been given and until my questions have been answered, or a promise is given that a full inquiry will be undertaken to ensure that there is no repetition of such a case.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give due consideration to the important and sensitive issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins). We, and the nation as a whole, have followed the case carefully, and it is both distressing and worrying.
I wish to discuss the sorry state of affairs currently facing the United Kingdom's pig industry. Before the Easter recess a statement should be made on the current situation. I appreciate that the economic fortunes of this form of farming vary. It is a very cyclical sector of agriculture. Indeed, I see the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) on the Opposition Front Bench. When he was Minister I think that I was a member of two delegations who saw him when the pig industry was in difficulties four or five years ago.
I notice that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, is smiling, but I remind him of his original west country connections. I hope, therefore, that he will make a sympathetic response at the end of the debate.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins
May I remind my hon. Friend that there are many pigs in East Anglia as well as in the west country?
§ Mr. Hicks
I did not know that a Cornish Member of Parliament could get so much support. It is a good job that we are not talking about predominantly economic issues.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the existing position is most disturbing. Hon. Members will know from their constituency postbags the many pig farmers who have no doubt quoted each and every one of us financial figures on their own positions. Last week the House was lobbied by about 500 pig producers. There is now factual evidence to support the proposition that their fears are justified. The statistics contained in the report from the department of agricultural economics at Cambridge university show that pig producers are losing money irrespective of the sector of pig production involved.
In essence the report shows that the loss on each pig that goes for pork is in excess of £5. The individual loss on a pig going for bacon is about £3.50 and the loss on those used as cutter pigs is in excess of £8 per animal. I emphasise that those calculations take no account of the interest on borrowed capital. Nor is any allowance made for the cost of herd management. Indeed, pig producers in my area have shown me their accounts, and sometimes the loss per pig is as much as £10.
Several factors have contributed to the crisis, the most basic being that there are just too many pigs. At the beginning of last year, pig production was quite profitable after three years of mediocre returns. In consequence, there was a response from producers. The number of breeding sows increased by about 4 per cent., and the number of gilts by 6 per cent. It should be borne in mind that each of those additional pigs produces, on average, 16 to 18 pigs per year and that demonstrates the extent of the problem.
The profits derived from the industry during the spring of 1982 did not last. Since May 1982, profitability has declined, culminating in the present crisis.
The lack of promotion by those involved in selling the pig industry and its products causes anxiety. A more fundamental problem is the high price of cereals upon which pig feeds are based, which, in practice, account for 85 per cent. of pig production costs. At present, barley costs the producer £125 per tonne. When it is put into compound, the compound costs about £170 per tonne. The immediate outlook is even more depressing. The cereal year finishes at the end of July. Between now and then, it is estimated that the cost of barley will rise by £2 per tonne per month, so that by July the barley input cost will be about £133 per tonne. In addition, because of the downward fluctuation in sterling, the price of soya, which is an important ingredient in the compound price, is increasing.
Our producers face increasing costs over which they have no control. They are particularly aggravated by the fact that at present some barley, which costs them about £125 per tonne, is sold to third countries with an export refund of £55 per tonne. Spain, for example, at present purchases some barley at £70 per tonne. If that is not enough, to add to the problem, it is estimated that there are 1 million tonnes of barley currently in intervention.
I appreciate that pig producers have some assistance available already. There are incentives for marketing. "Food from Britain" is being established. We have the "Charter Bacon" drive at present. There is private storage to take surplus pig products off the market.
I should like to make two proposals that I hope my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Minister can 1041 make a statement about before the House rises. I believe that consideration should be given to increasing the rate of export refunds paid in the United Kingdom to encourage further the export of pigmeat from the Community to third countries.
My second proposal concerns the cost of feed, which constitutes 85 per cent. of pig producers' costs. It has been suggested in some quarters, that there should be some form of support system right across the board. I do not subscribe to that view. I do not believe either that the cost of feed should be subsidised by intervention because there would be no control over its ultimate use. It would be logical to assist with the pig product. I suggest that the producer should receive a rebate when the pig goes for slaughter, whether for bacon or pork.
Such action, which might cost about £2 per pig, would show pig producers that the Government understand the problems, which we hope are temporary, that the pig producers are currently facing.
Underlying everything I have said, is the fact that the Community, through its current price negotiations, must make positive headway in restoring the balance between the livestock sector and the cereal producer. That difference is inherent in the problems facing the pig producer. It is why I believe that the House should support my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his efforts to see that there is no increase in the price paid to the cereal producer this year.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I want to raise one major matter and one minor matter arising from the remarks by the Leader of the House earlier when I mentioned an item from The Daily Telegraph about the Laker affair. The Leader of the House suggested that the only way that I could pursue the subject was to repeat the remarks outside the House.
Members of Parliament have privilege to enable us to raise matters in the House without threat of legal action, and to give us the right to raise matters freely in an elected Parliament so that they can be investigated properly and fully. It is wrong for the Leader of the House to suggest that if hon. Members make critical remarks here they should, in some way, invite legal action outside to justify their remarks.
The issue I raise is contentious, but it has been the subject of a great many critical comments from many reputable as well as disreputable newspapers, by many commentators and many people, especially those who were booking holidays and anticipated being provided with travel. Those people feel cheated. There is no other word for it, particularly when they see that the much publicised and heralded managing director of the company can obtain lavish sums from the sale of his property which are not affected by the company's collapse. Many of the creditors who were seriously affected by the way the airline collapsed feel the same.
I resent the suggestion that this subject is not a matter of public interest and should not be subject to critical comment in the House and outside in the public press. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have pressed repeatedly for a Department of Trade inquiry into the affair. If everything should be so free of criticism, a Department of Trade inquiry would clear up the matter. 1042 The report would be published and we could then debate it in the House. I see nothing wrong with that procedure and I believe that the Secretary of State for Trade should follow it. It is a procedure that has been followed with many other companies, some of which have been subject to much less criticism that the Laker Airways Ltd fiasco.
The main point that I want to raise, which has not been discussed by the House, and which I think should be discussed, is the Press Council report into the conduct of the press in the Sutcliffe case. People in west Yorkshire, of course, were relieved when the police made the announcement of an arrest in what became known as the Yorkshire Ripper case. It was an oppressive period and women felt vulnerable. In some cases they were open to tragic, physical attacks. Nonetheless, the Press Council has made a report that is severely condemnatory of the conduct of the press once an arrest had been made.
I wish to confine my remarks to the Press Council report. It has to be acknowledged that the press were given a new lease to engage in their disreputable activities by an injudicious police press conference called on Sunday, 4 January 1981 when the police announced, in everything but the actual words, that they had obtained the arrest of the Yorkshire Ripper and that he was behind bars.
No matter how jubilant the police are over an arrest, they have to control carefully the announcement that they make. We have the precious tradition that a person is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. Because the police arrest someone, it does not automatically follow that the person is guilty. If the sort of press bonanza that followed this incautious and badly handled press conference happens in other cases, it will become virtually impossible for a person to have a fair trial. That is why we have a sub judice rule which hon. Members follow carefully in the House although we are not legally bound by it. We follow it in order not to prejudice a fair trail.
Following the police press conference, there appeared a series of massive press headlines in the daily newspapers and local evening newspapers. For example, the Telegraph and Argus had the headline, "Joy of the Ripper hunters." It was not surprising, therefore, that, outside the magistrates' court, there gathered a large and menacing crowd chanting at the onset of the prisoner who, it has to be remembered, is innocent until proven guilty. One person carried a noose, showing the attitude that had been whipped up by the massive headlines and comments initiated by the police press conference.
Because the press felt that the rules had now been bent by the police and that they could leap in and bend them even further, there followed a nauseating procession of journalists to visit the relatives of the arrested person, Sutcliffe, and the relatives of the victims with large cheques inducing those people to give their exclusive stories to whatever paper they represented. At the back of the Press Council report are some examples of those offers. One newspaper said:Whatever another newspaper offers, we will top that offer.Sums of £50,000, £60,000, £70,000 and £80,000 were being bandied about. Those offers were deeply offensive to the relatives of the victims of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper. It is offensive that people should profit from the actions of a person who has brought such grief and tragedy to so many homes. The exploitation of a macabre story still continues to this day. The car that Sutcliffe used is now apparently up for sale to the highest bidder. The fact that it was used in this context is being promoted in order to 1043 increase the profit. In their evidence, the Daily Star and the Daily Mail were less than open with the Press Council. One of those papers admitted that it was conducting negotiations with the relatives of Sutcliffe. It did not reveal that the negotiations were conducted at two luxury hotels at a cost amounting to several thousand pounds and that the person who was being lured, and his friends, spent a very nice five or six days at the expense of the newspaper.
Bearing in mind that the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror have been very critical of the Press Council report, the House must consider seriously legislation making cheque book journalism illegal. It does not widen the freedom of the press, as David English, recently knighted, claims. It actually narrows the freedom of public comment. As soon as a newspaper, seeking only to increase its circulation and not acting in the public interest, pays for the services of an individual, that individual is not available to give comments to the other newspapers and other parts of the media. Those comments are bought by the newspaper for its exclusive use. Freedom is narrowed, not enlarged.
There is another consequence. If a trial is to take place and witnesses know that there are cheques floating around for stories about the background and about their relations with the accused person—friends of Sutcliffe, his relatives and those who had known him in his younger days, were all approached with the lure of lucrative offers—it becomes an attraction for a witness to ginger up his evidence, to make it more dramatic, and to prolong the trial. All of these become possible alternatives because the witness knows that, at the end of the day, they mean the possibility of more, not less, money. The actual conduct of the trial can be affected by the inducement of sums of money.
In view of the conduct of the press, the House must examine cheque book journalism. The issue has been raised time after time in the House over a number of years when some dramatic set of circumstances has arisen, such as the Sutcliffe case, only to die down again until the next time money is offered. One sees on television people who have been mercenaries, who have been arrested in some far-flung part of the world and who, when brought home, are ushered by representatives of a daily newspaper into a waiting car before the television and radio commentators can get near.
We know that it happens. We have seen it. It is cheque book journalism at work. We should be prepared to consider legislation to ensure that it is curbed and ended. This would be a recognition of the real grief that relatives of the victims have suffered and the deep and burning resentment that they feel when people profit out of the death of their relatives. The report stated:The Press Council has concluded that in this case the relatives of those at the centre of the story—victim and accused—were subjected to wholly unacceptable and unjustifiable pressures by journalists and other media representatives anxious either to interview or photograph them or to bid for the right to publish their stories. The conduct of journalists who laid siege to their homes in the circumstances described above can best be characterised in the old phrase—watching and besetting. The targets of this attention were people in deep personal grief or grave anxiety and they were harassed by the media ferociously and callously.Those words, "ferociously and callously" are not my words. They are the words of the Press Council, which is not a radical body. Its criticisms in the past have tended to be well modulated, moderate and, indeed, mild. Yet, such were the circumstances in this case, that it felt the need to use the words 1044harassed by the media ferociously and callously.The abolition by law of cheque book journalism would widen the freedom of the press, not diminish it. It would ensure the greater certainty of a fair trial and give a decent quietness to the relatives of those people who have to face such awful circumstances.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. It might be for the convenience of hon Members who wish to speak if I say that the debate must end at 7.3 pm. The House will obviously wish to leave time for the winding-up speeches. Perhaps hon. Members will bear the time in mind.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I shall endeavour to be brief. I am not sure how relevant to the motion was the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), but we have heard some valuable speeches, not least from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester). He is a near neighbour of mine and he raised the important subject of unfair competition. I hope that the Minister will deal with the additional import surcharge from Portugal which has been put on all manufactured goods.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned gipsies—I call them tat merchants—who blight many of our rural areas. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's solutions are right. The Government should try to reduce their number and the number of them who come here, as many of them come from the Republic of Ireland.
I should like to deal with a problem that relates both to the Republic of Ireland and to unfair competition. I have been approached by a company called Herbert Lomas Ltd., which is just outside my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton). Many of its directors and work force live in my constituency. The company has approached me because it has encountered unfair competition at the hands of a company called N. Hanlon in the Republic of Ireland in the supply of ambulances to the United Kingdom market.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) is also involved, because another affected company, called Wadham Stringer, is in his constituency. Sadly, that company has already had to declare some redundancies as a result of the unfair competition from the ambulance manufacturer in the Republic of Ireland, who is clearly being subsidised in one form or another by the Government of the Republic. Moreover, the Irish company indulges in the most blatant form of open hospitality to ambulance officers and others from Britain who are responsible for the purchasing of ambulances. If I say that it is likely that, in 1983–84 contract year, the Irish company will have obtained between 80 and 90 per cent. of all ambulance orders that are placed by United Kingdom regional health authorities, the House will understand the seriousness of the problem that faces Herbert Lomas, Wadham Stringer and British Leyland, which is indirectly involved in the supply of the chassis.
I should like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to examine the issue, because those companies are relatively small and find it difficult to know whether companies that operate in a country that is a member of 1045 the EC are being subsidised by their Government in some way, thus enabling them to provide ambulances for the British ambulance service at a ridiculously low cost.
I remind the House that the National Healh Service has recently set up a department called the National Health Service council, the offices of which, I understand, are in Bristol. Its function is to look into better ways of purchasing all items that the NHS buys and to ensure that a monopoly does not arise. In this case, it appears that a monopoly is arising. A company outside the United Kingdom, which is clearly indulging in unfair competition, is creating a monopoly to the detriment not only of the manufacturing base in Britain but of our employment. I look for an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the subject will be looked into urgently.
I shall now deal with an education matter. In my constituency, quite a few changes are being considered by the Cheshire education authority, not least of which is the closure of the Ryles Park county high school. That is causing considerable aggravation, disquiet and anxiety among teachers, parents and the pupils who attend the school. The school is in the centre of the town. The county intends to close it gradually and to redirect the pupils who would normally go there to other secondary schools in the borough of Macclesfield.
My main anxiety is that my constituency is one of the fastest growing areas in Cheshire. On ground of cost, the county may be attempting to make a premature decision about the closure of that school. It may find in due course that the remaining schools are inadequate to cope with the increasing number of children in the secondary school sector.
I ask for an assurance that, if the issue is contested, the Secretary of State for Education and Science will call it in for his consideration. If the county council succeeds with the proposal that is open for consultation, it intends that the secondary school be turned into an extension of the college of further education. As I am meeting the headmaster, members of staff and the action committee this weekend, I look forward to an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will intervene if necessary.
Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has agreed to the closure of three junior schools that are also in the centre of Macclesfield, because of falling rolls. They are the St. Peter's school, the St. George's school and the Byron street county junior school. Their pupils are to be directed into what was called the Central school, which is an old Victorian building and utterly unsuitable for an infant and primary school.
I accept my right hon. Friend's decision and I understand the reasons for the county making the proposal to him, but I hope that my right hon. Friend appreciates the valuable part that is played by small infant and primary schools. It is not always the quality of the building that counts, but the quality of teaching and the atmosphere in those schools. Much better work can often be done in a smaller school. It is a sore and unpleasant experience for a young child to come straight from a rural area into a massive infant and junior school. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.
I shall try to deal quickly with war widows, pensions. As I was at school with James Nicholson, I have reacted with deep anxiety to the representations that he has made 1046 to me, the Prime Minister and many other hon. Members. He is a charming man whose father was killed in the second world war and awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. If we can treat the widows of those who fall in subsequent wars, such as that in the south Atlantic only last year, so generously, it is only right that the widows of those who fell while preserving our freedom and democracy in the first and second world wars should be treated with equal generosity. The state should not simply award them what I would describe as the extremely moderate war widow's pension—I give credit to the Government for freeing it of all tax—because they deserve the old age pension as well for the service that their husbands gave to the country.
Finally, and on a controversial note, I shall ask my right hon. Friend several questions which I suspect he will find it difficult to answer. He may know that I was involved in revealing to the Government certain matters that related to the De Lorean motor company at Dunmurry in Northern Ireland, as a result of which I received a writ for £133 million. That writ has now been struck out. I now ask the Government why, when I gave them that evidence in the autumn of 1981, the police inquiries that were initiated by Downing street were prematurely terminated. They were terminated in such a way that the police officers, who were then in the United States of America, were recalled before they had the opportunity to interview a vital witness.
Even if there were no criminal implications then, why were not inquiries into the abuse of taxpayers' money instigated by the Prime Minister or by the Northern Ireland Office? What evidence came to light between the time when I provided massive evidence to the Government and December 1982 to cause the Government to institute further police inquiries on this occasion, this time through the fraud squad of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, because of financial irregularities in the affairs of the De Lorean companies in Northern Ireland and in America?
Those inquiries are continuing. When will the Government make a statement to the House about why a British Government entered into an arrangement with a man such as Mr. De Lorean, who had a history that would lead any sensible Government to believe that he should not be trusted? Even the Irish Government were not prepared to enter into a financial arrangement with him in the setting up of this company. Why did the Government compound their folly by providing him with taxpayers' money totalling between £80 million and £90 million in loans and grants? The country, the taxpayer and the House deserve answers to those questions from either the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, or the Attorney-General, who terminated police inquiries in the autumn of 1981. I shall not let this matter drop, and I hope that either before the Easter recess or shortly thereafter the Government will make a statement to the House about what happened, where the money went and what action they intend to take.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
I am not so sanguine as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) as to squeeze in so many subjects for reply between now and the Easter recess. I shall concentrate on one matter, although it concerns several relevant decisions.
I have discussed with a Minister the Government's approach to money spent in the regions. We discussed the 1047 argument that one way to deal with a region's problems was to assess its key features and to emphasise its strength. I said that a major factor in the north-west would be to reestablish the city of Manchester as a regional centre and one which would act as a dynamo for the entire region. He agreed with that, but said, "It is too late to do anything about it now."
It is, of course, not too late to do something about it. If that were ever believed to be true, it would be a depressing prospect. Whenever one considers the region, one reaches the conclusion time and again that if the city could be re-established as the major force in commerce, industry and services that it used to be, the benefit to the surrounding areas would be manifest. Some current decisions will be of great importance in establishing the city in that role, and there is a glimmer of realisation and hope within the city. The improvement can be made not by outsiders, but by those who live in the area. They now realise that in the core of the greater Manchester area there is a vacuum that must be filled. New projects are afoot for the development of the arts, museums and hotel accommodation. Recently, the city made a successful attempt to regain the attractiveness of the shopping area in the city centre. The city council, for which I have no great love, has at last begun to understand the relevance of car parks, which for many years it had overlooked.
However, such decisions cannot always be made locally. We are in the midst of a continuing argument about the location of the European trade marks office. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who will have heard about this matter in a previous incarnation, will be surprised to hear that the argument is continuing. Although every Minister who comes to this portfolio gives us the same answer, we do not propose to let the matter go. We are not being obstinate and stupid, and we do not accept the reason for the Government's refusal to support Manchester's bid for that office. The Government say that because London has become an established centre for a special skill, it must always be so, even though the European trade marks office will be a new venture, and a new centre of activity can be established. We must challenge that reasoning because otherwise London, having been established as a trade, skill or business centre, will always be so and there will be ever more concentration in the south-east.
Although the Government continue to refuse to submit Manchester's application for this office—it must be submitted by the Government—we shall press on. We shall not sit still and accept the Government's answer. There are splendid people called Members of the European Parliament and others who can investigate the matter in Brussels. The European Commission's attitude towards Britain having this office would not be damaged by submitting Manchester's bid, so we ask the Government to reconsider the matter.
The Government have added insult to injury by their proposal to close the Manchester Patent Office. When Rayner studied the patent office he suggested the closure of the London office. He did not say that it should be transferred to Manchester, but he said that it should no longer be in London. We are now told that that proposal is inconceivable and, furthermore, that one could not expand the Manchester office without increasing the staff, because it would be unthinkable to reduce the staff in London. This circular argument, which we have heard many times, is debilitating to those who are trying to 1048 restore Manchester as a regional centre, and it also affects the surrounding areas. I am sorry to have to raise the matter again, but despite the fact that we spend £2 billion or more on regional aid, the difficulties remain.
There are also many problems with boundaries. Greater Manchester is being damaged by the move to Warrington of about 40 firms because of the local benefits. There are bound to be problems with the constant battles for incentives between one geographical area and another. We have to look for alternatives. One of the alternatives is to generate the centres where we can concentrate on the best skills available in that area. I ask the Government, in considering these individual applications, to do so in the light of the necessity of maintaining those centres. If this country is ever to have a sane regional policy, it will do so only by generating specific important, large and dominating regional centres outside London.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I should like to raise, as my hon Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) has, the matter of the deportation of Mr. Stancu Papusoiu, the Romanian gentleman, because the House should not go into recess before the Government have taken this opportunity to set the record straight. I have read in the Sunday Express what I take to be an inaccurate and unusually unjust vilification of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. I have sat in the Chamber while my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have been attacked by both sides of the House, in my view wrongly. I invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to lay this bogy of the Government's inhumanity in this matter once and for all, and to confirm that the facts of the matter are as follows.
In April of last year Mr. Papusoiu turned up at Limehouse police station, where he was in due course interviewed in the presence of a Romanian interpreter. When he was asked why he had left Romania he said that he did not like life in Romania because he had had to work 10 hours a day and queue for food. He said that he had twice left the country illegally and suffered two months imprisonment. He said nothing about being persecuted for religious and political views, and nothing about serving nine years out of 10 in prison, as was subsequently alleged.
Is it right that the Home Office invited the British-Romanian Society to see Mr. Papusoiu and to take an interest in his case? In addition, was he not seen by the Free Romanian Press? Did the Government not follow the normal procedure of telling Mr. Landau, the representative in London of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees about the case, and was not every effort made to find another country for Mr. Papusoiu to go to? is not the fact of the matter that no other country would take him?
Is it not a fact that in September Mr. Papusoiu was interviewed again and that it was on that occasion that he changed his story? He then said that he had made five unsuccessful attempts to leave Romania, and that as a result he had served three separate sentences of three years imprisonment. He was asked why he had not mentioned that matter before and his reply was that he had not got around to doing so. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that?
1049 In November of last year, was it not the position that he was told that his claim for refugee status was being rejected and that on hearing that he began to refuse food, threw the food when he was offered it at the prison officers who brought it and then was necessarily taken into a room without furniture? Is it not true that he was never forcibly fed and no allegations of maltreatment were ever recorded in the files at Ashford remand centre? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, because it is a matter of great importance?
Did the United Kingdom immigrants advisory service then arrange temporary accommodation for Mr. Papusoiu while representations were made on his behalf, and because of that was he released from custody? Did all that happen, incidentally, while my hon. and learned Friend the Minister was a Minister in another Department? Did my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) then take up the matter on Mr. Papusoiu's behalf, and did a solicitor then make representations? In the course of these, were medical examination reports produced, and was it then alleged that Mr. Papusoiu had been in prison for five to six years, and did he say that for two of those years he had had chains round his ankles, chaining him to the floor of his cell?
Did Mr. Papusoiu allege that he had been assaulted in Ashford remand centre by 10 prison officers, no less, and hit repeatedly on his lower back and had his arms and legs trodden on? Did the medical report then show some minor injuries to his left arm only and no other injuries to his mouth, his back or his throat? Were there some marks of a kind on his legs, but no evidence that would reasonably have supported the allegations that he had been chained for years in any prison? Is it not true that at no time prior to Mr. Papusoiu's removal did anyone suggest to either my hon. and learned Friend the Minister or my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East that violence had been used against Mr. Papusoiu while he was in Ashford remand centre, other than appears in the account he gave to the doctor?
When, on Monday 14 March, it was reported to Mr. Papusoiu that he would be removed, did he not become hysterical, threaten to commit suicide and not to turn up? Was he asked to go away and come back again, which he duly did? Would my right hon. Friend clear up this matter? Is it not a complete travesty to suggest that Mr. Papusoiu was frogmarched to the aircraft by prison officers, and handcuffed? Are not the facts as follows? Was he not in the hands of Securicor staff, who have no handcuffs and no authority to hold anyone against his will, and that if Mr. Papusoiu had refused to board the plane, all that the Securicor staff could have done was to let him go and report the matter back to the immigration service?
If my right hon. Friend can confirm that all those are the facts, I submit that no fair-minded person in the country could suppose that the Government have behaved in this matter other than perfectly honourably and justly. It would be madness if all those who left an iron curtain or a totalitarian country felt that they had an automatic right to be treated as a refugee in Britain. The United Nations Commission for Refugees does not think that any automatic right should be bestowed on someone who leaves such a country. It would be crazy and monumentally unjust for us to allow ourselves in Britain to become known as the one nation on earth that has open 1050 house for anyone who chooses to leave an iron curtain or totalitarian country. It would be crazy, because we should soon fill up all the available space in the land, and unjust, because it would mean the exclusion of many who have a prior right to settle here and who are patiently and in a law-abiding fashion awaiting their turn.
As the Prime Minister told the House today, and the Home Secretary told the House on Tuesday, this country has a proud tradition of dealing humanely and justly with those who genuinely seek refuge and asylum in our shores. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will confirm that the greatest sympathy and attention was clearly paid to this case but that this man, for all his protestations and his different accounts, did not qualify for the category of those to whom we feel necessarily obliged to give prior right to settle over all those who are lawfully waiting in the queue.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will reassure us all about the correctness of the facts as I have stated them and lay this particular bogy of this alleged governmental inhumanity thoroughly, utterly, and completely to rest before the House goes into recess.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
After the issues of great moment involving human rights and individual freedom that have been raised in what has been one of the most interesting debates that I have listened to for a long time, I confess that the matter that I want to raise is of a perhaps more restricted interest. None the less it is a matter of great importance to a section of my constituents, who are concerned lest this House go away for its Easter holiday leaving a great cloud of uncertainty over their heads.
The matter that I want to raise refers to the treatment by the Inland Revenue of the income derived from the letting of self-service holiday apartments. Up to now, it has been generally accepted that as long as the person letting the accommodation provided some basic services, the income should be treated under case I as income from carrying on a trade or profession, and therefore eligible for the allowances that are available in such cases.
However, recent developments have thrown all that into doubt. There has been a most disturbing change in policy by the Inland Revenue involving the classification of income from self-catering holiday accommodation businesses. Whereas in the past the Inland Revenue readily accepted that income derived from the letting of self-catering holiday accommodation may be classified under schedule D, case I—that is, earned income—it appears that the district offices, to start with in Cumbria and now in north Wales, recently received instructions to review all previous classification decisions and, wherever possible, to re-classify them under case VI—that is, as unearned income.
Of course, this affects eligibility for capital gains tax rollover relief, age relief, grants under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act and relief on interest payments on purchase loans, and in certain circumstances it will affect the point at which each proprietor becomes liable to investment income surcharge, although of course the position in that respect has been greatly alleviated by raising the threshold for investment income surcharge. All that could have a damaging effect on the availability of reliable self-catering holiday accommodation in areas such 1051 as north Wales. It is a current major growth activity in an area which depends very largely on tourism, and on this particular kind of tourism.
Not long ago, the Inland Revenue sent out a directive to reclassify the income from the letting of self-catering accommodation from case I to case VI. The Inland Revenue has verbally admitted the existence of a directive to this effect. This policy began in the spring, it is being carried through systematically when each annual assessment comes up, and it is being extended throughout the country. In my opinion, it is directly counterproductive to the efforts of all who want to improve the contribution of tourism to the national economy.
Some of my hon. Friends have been to see Treasury Ministers about the matter. They were told that the Treasury is looking into the matter most carefully, but that it is not yet in a position to give a ruling. Certainly, the position is very uncertain. There has been a recent court decision, Griffiths v. Jackson, as a result of which it appears that it is no longer possible for Ministers by interpretation to provide any ruling which could possibly be satisfactory to the tourist industry. If that is so, it may be necessary to amend the Finance Bill, when it comes along.
I think that this is the first occasion on which this matter has been raised in the House. I take this opportunity to bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, if only to put on record the grave anxiety felt among tourist operators, particularly in my constituency. They believe that, little by little, the Inland Revenue may push forward its frontiers until it becomes extremely difficult for anyone to earn a reasonable living out of providing this type of holiday accommodation. Such accommodation, at any rate in my part of the world, is in greatest demand and is most suitable for the modest holidays that people in the north-west normally enjoy.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
First, I should like to comment on the interesting speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who raised the case of Mr. Stancu Papusoiu, the Romanian about whom so much has been heard in the House this week. While on the matter, may I draw attention to the extreme care with which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Waddington) handled the case of a constituent of mine, whose mother was forced to live in Prague in Czechoslovakia, another iron curtain country, against her will for a considerable time. I want to express my gratitude to my hon. and learned Friend both for the care that he took with the case, and for the fact that he has allowed this lady to come to spend her declining years in this country. It is proof of a very humane approach to those problems by the Home Office, and I am most grateful for it. I think that that should be said in the context of what has been said in the House this week.
Gipsies have been mentioned in this debate. I have a problem with gipsies in my constituency of Ealing. The West End ward in Ealing, North has enough pressures to live with, and cannot absorb a gipsy encampment, as has been suggested. Over the years, the Ealing council—admittedly, most of the time under Socialist control—has allowed many council houses to be built without improving the life of the people in the West End ward. They have been given no leisure centres. There is no local swimming pool, or even decent shops or large 1052 stores, such as Marks and Spencers, although there are admirable small shops in the area. In approximately one square mile of the West End ward, there are no fewer than nine council estates. It is now suggested that a gipsy site should be set up in that area. It is a disgraceful and nonsensical suggestion.
In addition, the West End ward has a lorry park. It has to accept a fun fair three or four times a year. It has also been asked to take the proposed Hayes bypass. No other ward in Ealing has such high density living. I support the complaints of my constituents, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure us that the Government will not allow a gipsy encampment in such a highly built-up area.
Tomorrow morning I shall present a petition, arranged by the West End Conservatives and other community groups in the West End ward and Northolt. It has been arranged by Graham Hope and Mrs. Eileen Crofton, among others, as well as Councillor Dunkley. They have petitioned very strongly, and have collected 3,000 signatures in only a few days, against this development. I strongly support what they say, and I hope that the Government will support my constituents in this important matter.
As my central issue, I want to raise an important matter which should be raised in the House before we rise for the Easter recess. That is the serious failure of the Greater London council to maintain roads in London and the effect that that is having upon the capital and its trade. Traffic is moving more and more slowly, and that is seriously damaging industry. In my constituency and in the London borough of Ealing, there are more manufacturing jobs than in any other London borough. The people there are finding it more and more difficult to carry on their trade and move their goods about London, get goods to the airports, ports and railway stations, because of the bad maintenance of London roads by the GLC. Potholes damage vehicles and make life impossible for cyclists, who are having a terrible time. They have to ride at the side of the road where the potholes are at their worst. I do it regularly and get bumped and thrown about. Potholes are an additional hazard on London roads.
Perhaps the piece de resistance of the GLC's failure to ensure that the traffic is organised properly is the fiasco at Hyde park corner. It has spent no less than £75,000 on setting up lights and it cannot possibly have researched what the effect will be. There are miles and miles of traffic jams in every direction—down to Buckingham palace, around the wedding cake and beyond, belching out fumes over that beautiful edifice, down to Victoria station, right up to Picadilly and back down into Kensington.
The situation is intolerable. Before all this happened, the traffic was moving reasonably well. Now there is appalling chaos, hell and misery. For the sake of the people, commerce and visitors to London, will the GLC get rid of the traffic lights and let the traffic move? The cost to industry and the effect on the temper of drivers and everyone else affected by the traffic lights is very high.
There is another central wickedness and nonsense of the GLC in regard to traffic, which affects my constituency seriously. During the last GLC election the Labour party fought a duplicitous campaign in my constituency and in Hayes and Harlington. It promised the people of Hayes and Harlington that if they voted Labour they would get a by-pass to take the traffic away; at the same time it promised the people of Ealing, North that if they voted 1053 Labour there would never be a by-pass terminating at the White Hart roundabout. On that false prospectus two Labour Members were narrowly elected. Those two gentlemen are now quarrelling artificially with each other, to try to justify their existence to their respective communities. As a result, the people of Northolt face the prospect of having a by-pass driven through to the White Hart roundabout.
The area is already besieged by traffic which causes danger to people, many of them children, trying to cross the road. The by-pass would bring into that area 22,000 more vehicles a day. Some people say that there would be 60,000 more vehicles per day; that may be true and I shall have to look into it. Certainly, at least 22,000 more vehicles a day will be coming into an area where there is already far too much traffic.
Drillings for the by-pass have already been started, although the GLC promised a community deputation from Northolt, led by me, that there would be no bypass until there had been a full public inquiry. Therefore, I am justified in using such terms as "duplicity" and "malpractice". I seek reassurance from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Government will call in those plans if any further attempt is made to construct the road with the intention of terminating it at the White Hart roundabout in Northolt before there has been a full and fair public inquiry. Nothing less will do. The people of Northolt are entitled to that assurance.
Then there is the fares fiasco of the Greater London council. It should be noted that the GLC doubled its rates last year and is putting them up this year by no less than 14 per cent., although inflation is running at about 4 per cent. Substantial sums of this money were earmarked to keep London fares low.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He must relate his speech to the question why the House should not adjourn. The Leader of the House is not responsible for the GLC.
§ Mr. Greenway
The important point is that the GLC has to be halted in its mismanagement of transport; otherwise the House would not be justified in rising. Also, the imposition of this enormous rate on the people of London is too serious to be allowed to pass without being brought to the attention of the House before it rises for the Easter recess.
When Labour took control of the GLC in May 1981, fares were at a level of, say, 100. By the ill-fated and so-called "Fairs Fair" scheme they were reduced to 68 in October. They jumped to 133 in March 1982 following the Law Lords' ruling. There have since been further court cases. Despite a 100 per cent. increase in rates last year and a 14 per cent. increase this year, the GLC has only got London fares back to where they were when the Conservatives lost control of the council. The whole of London is much worse off, more aggravated and more distressed by this appalling mismanagement.
When we learn, as I read yesterday morning, that London Transport achieved a surplus of £1 million last year, which is to be set against a projected deficit by the Labour GLC of £15 million—projected for its own purpose of misleading Londoners into thinking that they 1054 have to pay higher and higher fares—I take a serious view of the way the GLC is misleading Londoners on this important matter. It will not do.
It is typical of the way the GLC is spending the rates. Londoners are getting through their doors streams of politically motivated literature; the cost to the ratepayers of a magazine called The Londoner is nearly £1 million. It does nothing but attack the Conservative Government which the country so enjoys. It is a disgrace.
I ask my right hon. Friend to do all he can to bring home to the GLC its need to pay proper respect to the spending of the money of ratepayers and to see that under no circumstances is it used for political purposes and for the projection of extreme Left-wing policies at County Hall in such a dubious way. If my right hon. Friend could do something about it, he would do a great service to the people of London.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I associate myself with the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) about the need to find an alternative to the manifestly unfair rates system. The public want to see it replaced urgently. I sincerely hope that decisions will not be long delayed.
I would also follow earlier comments by expressing my fears about the law relating to gipsies. My constituents have been suffering very much from this problem; the scales of justice seem often to be out of balance for law-abiding residents.
Before the House rises for the Easter recess, it should consider the important subject of small businesses and their valuable contribution to the United Kingdom economy. There can be no doubt that smaller firms are providing the basic source of net new jobs in the private sector. This must be encouraged. It is a matter of regret to my hon. Friends that small business in Britain accounts for a smaller proportion of output and employment than in any other major Western country.
However, it is a matter of celebration that the decline of small businesses is being reversed. Employment in firms with fewer than 100 employees has seen considerable recent growth. In my constituency, the importance of smaller firms has long been clear and in recent times many new and successful concerns have been started, to the benefit of the local community.
All experience shows that the small firms sector is the major channel for new enterprise and initiative in industry and commerce. Such companies can respond more quickly to changing marketing needs, which is essential in these days of increased technology. They also provide vital support in specialised activities for larger firms. That is particularly true in my constituency with regard to aerospace and pharmaceuticals, where Labour party threats of nationalisation could have a devastating effect on such entrepreneurial activity.
At the same time, small firms can provide a source of stability for local economies by removing any overdependence on a few large companies. It is right also to recognise that, as some older industries decline and shed labour, the take-up can come only from new enterprise providing the so-called seed corn from which the industries of the future will grow.
I am conscious that the word "enterprise" has already crept into my brief contribution to the debate. I wish to 1055 concentrate on three policies associated with that word. The first is the Government's enterprise allowance scheme, which was recently the subject of an experiment in a number of areas and helped to create 2,000 new companies. I express my warm welcome for the Chancellor's decision to expand that scheme of giving £40 a week for a year to the unemployed to start up a small business, which in itself creates new jobs, and which will be of considerable benefit.
The second is the concept of the enterprise zone, unfortunately as yet denied to Welwyn and Hatfield. The notion of businesses within a designated area, or starting up there, being exempt from many taxes, planning restrictions and other costs is positive encouragement for enterprise and, again, the creating of new jobs. The third is the idea of the enterprise agency, which can be formed with Government encouragement to provide specialised advice in an area to help in the formation of new firms. That helping hand can be of immeasurable assistance, and once again creating new jobs would be a consequence.
The Government initially talked about an enterprise package as a term to embrace all their many policies to stimulate small businesses. The items in that package now number some 100, which is a further cause for satisfaction in difficult times and a further reason for me to use that word. However, additional assistance may still prove necessary.
Two other specific aspects of policy for small businesses could be of tremendous value to smaller firms. One is the role of employee participation and the other is privatisation. With regard to the former, employee involvement, in terms of both finance and consultation, can be of enormous benefit to work force and company alike. Many of our industrial relations problems have been created by outmoded approaches in outdated firms, so with firms of the future that should be avoided at the outset. With regard to the latter, it is to be hoped that privatisation will grow apace, bringing as it does a break-up of public authority monopolies. Whether it is refuse collecting, road cleaning or whatever, the opportunities for the ratepayer and the taxpayer to get better value for money are clear, but equally the opportunities for small, new and older businesses are apparent too.
In Welwyn and Hatfield, it is a matter of great satisfaction that many small businesses most successfully practise modern and realistic methods of employee involvement. The very style and atmosphere of the company make it clear which those are. Equally, in my constituency it is a matter of deep disappointment that Socialist doctrinaire intransigence has prevented the opportunities, as yet, for privatisation.
The common thread running through the Government's economic policies is the creation of an environment in which private enterprise and entrepreneurial flair can flourish. It is surely right, before the House rises for the Easter recess, that its impact on small businesses should be considered.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
With every recess motion, my sympathy for the Leader of the House grows stronger. The number of things that the poor man has to promise to get through before he can get away becomes greater each time. On the other hand, it makes for an interesting debate. We have certainly had one in the past two and a half hours.
1056 The speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) was particularly moving. He wants, as do all men of good will, in his Province—and, I hope, outside, for him and for all mankind—peace and stability. I was particularly grateful to him for his reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). The task of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is often thankless. It requires a great deal of patriotism, courage and effort. I always thought that my right hon. Friend devoted himself very much to that function.
I shall leave the Leader of the House plenty of time to deal with all the matters that have arisen. I hope that the House will forgive me if I am a little selective. I can make the excuse that I do not have the ability to get all the answers with which I know the Leader of the House will be supplied to all the many queries that have been made. I have the much more agreeable task of picking and choosing a little that touches me most out of so many good and interesting speeches.
I say, in real friendship, to the Leader of the House that it is sometimes irritating when people raise matters—especially when they involve individuals—with which one does not agree. Nevertheless, it is a protection to hon. Members, the House itself and ultimately the country that they should be able to do so without necessarily having to go through the courts in defamation actions. You can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how personally it pains me to say it, because, as you will know, my profession benefits very much from the advice being taken that the Leader of the House gave. Nevertheless, it is more in the public interest that we preserve our rights on privilege.
The hon. Members for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) and for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) I remember as the terrible twins from the days when I was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Their contributions took me back very much. I almost said that they took me back to happier days, but all days are happy in the House, so I shall not say that. We are at another pig cycle. Whether this is a pig cycle immediately following the pig cycle that I knew or whether there has been a pig cycle between the two, I do not know.
§ Mr. Silkin
As the hon. Gentleman tells me, this is the third pig cycle. I congratulate both hon. Members on their ingenuity in finding new reasons for a pig cycle, other than the obvious ones, which Marshall in the 19th century first set out and which seemed to go on and on.
In my day, the reason for the pig cycle was the fact that I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and that I was not devaluing the green pound. It was devalued long ago. Now it is the high price of barley. That is interesting, because it is an illustration of the first farming principle that I was ever taught. That was that it was up horn and down corn or up corn and down horn. I do not know where we are now. It is down oink at the moment, whatever it may be.
I say in great friendship and with respect to two old friends of mine that there is another reason that is common to my day and to today. It is a thing called the Common Market and the common agricultural policy. As I suggested then, they should investigate that course with greater facility than they do.
The second thing that brought back old memories was rates, which were mentioned by the hon. Members for 1057 Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy). When I was the Minister for Planning and Local Government, that was the first thing on the agenda. The Layfield report was produced as a result. I was sent to Stockholm, where I was told that there was a new and splendid method of dealing with local government finance. It is a splendid town. I enjoyed my time there and all the discussions. I heard about how there was a great alternative to what we had in our country and how it preserved the domestic ratepayer. There was local income tax and a bit of poll tax. It was absolutely splendid. Unfortunately, three quarters of the visit was spent on their saying to me that they understood that we had a marvellous property tax called "rates", that it was very fair and cost very little. Would I please tell them all about it? So I begin to worry as time goes by. I think it is probably just having to pay that irritates people, rather than how they pay.
The other question that brought back memories of that time was that of caravan sites for gipsies. This problem is insoluble unless all authorities, not only those affected but those likely to be affected, are willing to combine to solve the problem. Of course, they are not. They very understandably feel that this is a nuisance and must be removed from their territory. Having got the gipsies on to the highway and on to the march they forget about them and the gipsies go to someone else's territory.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) put his finger on the point: there must be some compulsion, sad though it is. There must be a knocking together of the heads of local authorities before we can ever solve the problem.
I set up the Cripps inquiry at the time. It recommended that sufficient money should be given to ensure that decent sites were laid out. The money was and is still provided but it has not ended the problem. The danger lies in the feeling: "Get them off our territory and into someone else's and the problem is solved."
I promised the House that I would do my best to see that the Leader of the House was able, with plenty of time and in a totally unhurried fashion, to answer every question, but there is one last question I must try to deal with before I yield to him. That is the point raised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who rather cleverly took up a second heading of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North. He talked about unfair competition in the building of ambulances in the Irish Republic. It is curious how this has begun to affect one in a dozen different ways. I have counted a number of reasons why ambulances can be produced in the Irish Republic more cheaply than they are here and why such competition is unfair. I therefore hand this bit of ammunition to the hon. Gentleman.
In the first place, there appears to be no VAT paid on ambulances by the Irish. Why I do not know, but that is 15 per cent., and quite a large differential already. Second, they seem to use many young people, which means they pay less. Third, I am beginning to receive a number of complaints about the use of sprayed paint which is very cheap but which is also highly dangerous because it is a fire risk. I say to the hon. Gentleman and, if I may, to the Leader of the House, that this is something which, particularly in view of the use to which these vehicles are put, we all ought to be keeping our eyes on.
1058 This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I apologise to those hon. Gentlemen whom I have not mentioned in the course of this speech, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will be able to deal with their queries much more eloquently than I could hope to do.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Biffen)
This has been a very entertaining and constructive debate. It has many pitfalls, one of which is that I am asked to reply to a wide range of questions, which invests me with the wholly unreal appearance of being able to answer for the Government on these measures. Not only is this unreal—much more dangerous, it is a temptation. If occasionally I fall for the temptation and do actually answer, I hope my hon. Friends will treat it in the jocular fashion it merits. Otherwise they may assume that every point that has been raised will be reported to the appropriate Government Department and answers will, I hope, be dispatched in due course.
I would like to make a brief comment on a matter raised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), just outside the ambit of this debate. He referred to the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill which it is proposed shall be debated next Wednesday. I wish to tell him—I make no complaint, because I have raised this on my own initiative and without having had the chance to tell him—that I will take note of the issue that he raised. I perfectly understand that the Bill as now drafted cannot be turned into the kind of Bill that he would wish as a result of its receiving a Second Reading. I cannot in any sense guarantee that I can meet his objection, but I should like to look at the Bill and I would not like him to feel that he had made his gesture without any response from me.
I join the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) in saying that the moment we address ourselves to any contribution from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) we do so in the knowledge of the suffering that his Province undergoes and the fortitude with which its people bear their burdens. I recognise that uncertainty is at the heart of the difficulties in the Province; if I say that I further wish to identify myself with what the right hon. Gentleman said in underlining how much respect I also have for the work done by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) as Secretary of State for the Province, he will realise the importance to be attached to securing a military position which will be central to that stability. I very much hope that recent economic measures will be sustained and that the recent political developments will not be so dire as the hon. Gentleman has often feared. I appreciate also the hon. Gentleman's courtesy in providing me with the text of his remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) referred to rates and, more particularly, to the disadvantageous rate support grant settlement for Trafford. I know that he has been very active in pursuing this matter and I am sure that he will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today confirmed in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) that he can now accede to the representations he has received from Trafford, from my hon. Friends and from others. He now proposes to extend the 1983–84 grant arrangements so as to "safety net" the main cause of the 1059 grant loss affecting Trafford and others. I hope that will get the appropriate headline in the Manchester Evening News.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I thank my right hon. Friend. I am not really interested in headlines in the Manchester Evening news; headlines in the Sale and Altrincham Messenger and the Altrincham and Sale Guardian would be much better. Can he say approximately how much money Trafford will get in this very generous donation?
§ Mr. Biffen
Not without notice.
My hon. Friend ranged rather more widely over the future of local authority finance, over the importance of charging for services—for example, installing water meters on a more extensive scale—and the improvement in cost containment by putting out to private contract many of the services now undertaken by the local authority itself. I note what my hon. Friend has said. As for when we may hear more of the Government's wider proposals on rating reform, I am afraid I am not in a position to answer that, except that I am certain that it will not happen by Maundy Thursday.
Gipsies were initially mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester), but a number of other hon. Members mentioned them, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). He deftly brought out the fact that the issue extends not only to the countryside but to many of our urban and suburban areas.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North put me in a reasonably safe and secure position because he asked if I could guarantee to introduce legislation by May day. I cannot do so. That brutally realistic reply has immediately caught a reaction of appreciation from the right hon. Member for Deptford. I know that the matter is of real concern, especially to local authorities. It is as much a problem in north Shropshire as it is in north Staffordshire. It enables our constituents to perceive the dark side of the black economy. There is not too great a charitable concern towards the itinerants. There is a real desire for some equity because the itinerant population carries many of the benefits of being in the country without making any contribution. I shall ensure that the matter is referred to the Department of the Environment.
My hon. friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), whom I am delighted to welcome to the debate, made a powerful plea on behalf of his constituents about the recent change in Inland Revenue practice as it affects those letting accommodation for self-catering. The Treasury is well aware of the matter, as my hon. Friend has made direct representations. However, I shall ensure that the debate is a means of double banking that representation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North mentioned a number of problems with roads, especially in Northolt. I know that he wants that matter considered before Easter. I also noted his comments about the Hyde park corner travel hazards. He may have heard our hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) mention that matter during business questions earlier today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) made an eloquent and well-argued plea for the European Community trade marks office being located in Manchester. My right hon. and 1060 noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who will be more dispassionate in these matters than his obdurate and blinkered predecessor, will have the opportunity to consider those arguments. I have a feeling that, although the debate has been around for quite a while, it is nowhere near its conclusion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) mentioned pigs. As the right hon. Member for Deptford said, it is nice to escape from the tedious world of urban politics to what I am sure is an illusory romanticism about rural communities. I found the pigs debate absolutely fascinating. I have been exposed to pigs. I shall ensure that his two arguments for an increase in export refunds and a producer rebate of £2 a pig, paid at the point of slaughter, are considered by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I was interested in my hon. Friend's conclusions. He said that the common agricultural policy had an imbalance between animal and crop husbandry, which was especially evident in the current price structure. I must be careful not in any sense to make any observations that could be even remotely taken as indicative of Government policy. That imbalance existed from the very inception of British membership of the EC. One of the major tasks must be, by one means or another, to claw back to a more satisfactory position with a better balance between those two aspects of our national farming. Only we can do that. We will not find too many people elsewhere anxious to give us a helping hand in that task—it is uniquely a task for us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) raised issues which, although they could be described as constituency matters, go wider than that. We cannot think of tourism, the holiday trade and the whole national exodus to the west country in the summer without realising the importance of his points.
The Government are well aware of the importance to Devon and Cornwall of the A30, and are determined to improve it as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that the inspector fell ill shortly after the conclusion of the controversial Okehampton bypass inquiry. Since his report was received, special arrangements have been made to examine it urgently. Inevitably, that will take some time. The main report alone consists of 612 pages. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment will announce their decision as soon as possible.
The inspector's report on the adjacent Whiddon Downs section is expected shortly. In the meantime, possible ways to improve safety and traffic conditions on that section are being urgently considered with the Devon county council. It will report to us in the next week or so. The Secretary of State expects to make a decision shortly on the Roadford reservoir. I shall draw his attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.
§ Mr. Biffen
Time acquires a sharper focus in an election year. I rest my cheerful answer on that enigmatic interpretation.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend had to say about the future of Dartmoor. He will realise that, when he mentioned legislation, I recoiled because I could not immediately envisage time being available through the 1061 agencies of Government. However, a private Member's Bill may be introduced, or the Devon country council may introduce a Bill.
Anybody who has followed the rather turbulent issue of the wetlands in central Somerset will realise that it is a matter of great delicacy. A number of legitimate interests must be balanced. My hon. Friend did the House a service by raising the issue today, using the pretext of the recess Adjournment debate.
I shall couple the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, who were both concerned about unfair trade practices. It is interesting to note that those unfair practices came from sister nations of the European Community. My hon. Friend referred to ambulances from the Irish Republic and the hon. Gentleman to ceramic tiles from Italy. These matters have been referred to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. The European Commission has responsibility for determining whether there are unfair trading practices within the Community. It is a healthy reminder of how we have to fight our corner. These are issues which are brought to a national Parliament because it is appropriate that these matters should be thrashed out here. The points that have been raised are well taken.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. There is one point on which he can take action. I understand that it is the specification for ambulances in this country that because they are fibreglass they should be properly impregnated rather than spray-painted or painted in any other way because of the fire hazard. It is my understanding—like that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin)—that the ambulances coming from the Republic of Ireland are spray-painted rather than impregnated. This should be taken into account and the DHSS could issue an instruction to the regional health authorities to stop this abuse.
§ Mr. Biffen
I will certainly see that this point is brought to the attention of the most appropriate authority.
I come now to the series of substantial questions that were put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, who clearly felt liberated from the £133 million writ. He has walked around with a cheerful spring in his heels over these past months. This of course was because of his total confidence in the rightness of his cause—as indeed events have demonstrated.
He put to me issues which, as he very rightly said, although they were related to his own personal expenses, raised much more substantial matters that were of interest to the House and to a wider public. I will record them accordingly because I know that he will wish from this point onwards to campaign for a revelation of the answers to the points which he raised and quite properly believes to be of substantial public interest.
§ Mr. Winterton
Do I have my right hon. Friend's support in this campaign, and that of the Government, to reveal exactly what happened so that the people of this country and the Members of the House have the facts as to why the Government withdrew police investigations as and when they did?
§ Mr. Biffen
I am not being drawn beyond what I have just said. I have given generous comments on the points which have been raised by my hon. Friend and I hope that he will take them in that spirit.
I turn now to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), in which he eloquently argued the virtues of small businesses and, more to the point, how there is now tangible evidence that this sector of the economy is expanding. Although it remains relatively small in the totality of economic activity, I believe that it was always foreseen that this would be the economic area which would be the harbinger of economic recovery and growing employment prospects. He made his case very persuasively. Whether he will be rewarded with an enterprise zone in Welwyn and Hatfield this side of a general election, I am not sure, but I can certainly say that it will not be this side of Easter.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) upbraided me for the way in which I reacted over our exchanges earlier this afternoon. I think that we are both sufficiently thick in the skin and long in the tooth not to be unduly sensitive about these matters. I should like to place on record my own feelings as a general principle. Privilege is essential for the proper working of the House but, like all such things, it must be exercised with a certain amount of self-restraint; otherwise the situation easily deteriorates and after a while we find that we excite public contempt rather than respect in that context. If, therefore, I occasionally seem to be more zealous than the hon. Gentleman might wish about limiting the area in which fairly robust comments such as he made this afternoon are made, I hope that he will realise that the last thing I wish to do is restrain him. Indeed, he and others of his ideological disposition are essential for a continuing Tory victory at the next election.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of a Board of Trade inquiry into the Laker collapse. Such an inquiry may well be recommended by the receiver who is investigating the affair. I will none the less relay to my right hon. and noble Friend the conviction of the hon. Gentleman that there should be a Board of Trade inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman then spoke about the Press Council in the Sutcliffe case. It was a fascinating small-scale debate—although not exactly a debate, because I fear that the hon. Gentleman alone contributed to it, and it reminded me of how many good debates are lost to the House because of pressures of time. We shall have to come back to this topic. It has been the subject of an early-day motion. I hope that there will be some chance for an hon. Member who is lucky with Adjournments to raise the subject, because it is a proper matter of concern for this House. That does not mean that I am providing any Government time whatsoever. I had better say that at this stage, or there will be a monstrous misunderstanding.
Coming now to the question of Mr. Papusoiu, the Romanian who was returned to his country, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) is understandably most anxious to be reassured on this issue, which he feels touches the kind of concern for human rights issues which has traditionally been a hallmark of British public life. I hope that my hon. Friend's anxiety will have been assuaged to some extent by what I thought was a formidable speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). He asked if the case that my hon. and learned Friend argued was thought by me to be accurate and, although I 1063 am not in the most authoritative position to give this confirmation, I certainly believe it to be essentially accurate.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West that, having heard the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, we must appreciate that the question is whether Mr. Papusoiu did or did not qualify for refugee status as defined by the United Nations convention on refugees. I understand that anxieties on this matter persist and I will of course see that they are referred to the appropriate Government Departments and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I will conclude by referring to what I think was in many ways a true House of Commons speech—that given by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) relating to the late Alan Grimshaw and the evidence he gave about roof supports. The hon. Gentleman made a very powerful and, indeed, moving speech. In a sense it was very sad, in the circumstance in which it was delivered, of the very recent death of Alan Grimshaw. As an obituary it was most delicately and effectively expressed.
The House, in making a judgment, will have to decide just what should be done in the light of the finding of the Committee of Privileges, because it investigated the problem to determine whether or not Mr. Grimshaw had suffered as a result of giving evidence to a House of Commons Committee. The Committee of Privileges unanimously concluded that there was no indication that Mr. Grimshaw's treatment was adversely affected by his having been a witness before Parliament. As with all such issues, hon. Members will want to go away and reflect. They will want to read the speech of the hon. Gentleman. I thank him for raising the subject and for the way in which he did it.
The motion is that we adjourn on Maundy Thursday and come back on Monday week. It is but a short break; it is therefore consistent with the time normally allowed for the recess. I believe that anyone looking at the working of Parliament over the last few months, not merely as it is recorded by the media but as we know and experience it, would say that we had earned the break and that we should come back the better for it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday 31st March do adjourn till Monday 11th April and at its rising on Friday 29th April do adjourn till Tuesday 3rd May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 31st March until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.