Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday 21 December do adjourn till Wednesday 9 January.—[Mr. Major.]
§ Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)
Most hon. Members will think that this Christmas recess is deserved and, indeed, overdue. Their complaint might be that the period of the recess is too short rather than too long. With great respect to those hon. Members who may believe that they have national or international points to raise, in an extremity the House can always be recalled. What cannot be done, however, is to give a feeling of necessity to the vital interests of our constituents.
I have such a constituent, who is liable to be deported immediately after Christmas. I must pay a qualified tribute to the Minister of State, Home Office, and I have given him notice that I was going to try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in this debate. I asked him on 30 November to delay deporting the lady at least until after Christmas, so that she can spend Christmas with her family. This he has done, but the fact remains that he notified me and her only yesterday. One can imagine the agony through which she and her family have gone during the period until yesterday, and through which they will go between now and her almost certain date of deportation early in the New year.
The facts of the case are alarming, and I do not believe that they will be contested by anyone. The lady's name is Ayse Halil and she has three children. The first is a boy, Sebah, who is aged 11 and is a British citizen. He was born in England and has always lived here. The second boy, Sarhan, is aged seven and is also a British citizen. The third, a girl, was born in Cyprus three years ago. The two elder children attend the local primary school, Myatt Garden school, where they are so popular that it is not difficult on any day to gather together many children and parents to see what can be done to help the lady who is being deported. That is a reflection of the popularity of the children and of the family in the locality.
Here we come to an interesting point. The grandparents have lived in Britain since 1971, and Ayse's father served with the British Army for 25 years before that time. He came here as a British citizen in 1971, and his son—Ayse's brother—is also a British citizen who lives here. If Ayse is deported, her elder son, who has lived here all his life, will either have to be left behind or must accompany his mother to the Turkish part of Cyprus, where he must speak a language that he does not understand—none of the children speaks Turkish—and must remain in what is effectively a foreign country for as long as it may be his fate to live there.
I do not contest the Minister's suggestion — the mother does—that she entered Britain by deception. I say only that she did so in 1971, when the rest of the family was already here. Had the parents known what to do, their daughter as well as their son would have had British nationality. But her father, who served for so long in the British Army, did not know what to do, so she did not acquire British nationality. She came here in 1971, she was regarded as an illegal immigrant and after a considerable period she was deported.
However, she returned again because her two older children were here. She is a very dutiful daughter and 345 sister and a loving mother. She came back to be with her whole family. The extended family of grandparents, parents and children is typical of the way in which she grew up, and it sometimes still exists in the villages of our country. It was not unnatural that she should return, particularly as her relationship with her husband had undergone a difficult phase, and she is now pursuing an action for divorce.
The Minister, in such circumstances, can do one of two things. First, he can exercise compassion; I give him credit for some compassion because he has at least allowed her to stay until Christmas. Secondly, he can say that she was wrong in offending against the rules and that therefore she must go, regardless of what may happen to the family, her parents, her brother, herself or her children.
The Minister is basically a compassionate man, but one of the principal ingredients of compassion is not just sympathy with somebody in distress, but imagination. It is the ability to override bureaucracy, which will always, in my experience, tell one why one cannot do something. The Minister can tell the bureaucracy that it has to do something. Here is a family that has settled well into the community and is popular, and which consists of three generations. I believe that somebody who served in the British Army for four or five years is worthy of some support, and somebody who served for 25 years is entitled to even more support by that length of service. However, the Minister does not hold that view.
The Minister makes his point on the issue of the deception—I do not know whether there was one, but if there was, it was understandable. He does not view the matter from a human angle but from a bureaucratic angle. When I pointed out something that his predecessor had said in the debate on the British Nationality Act, the Minister chose to dispute it with me, so it is worth while repeating what was said then. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that any child who had been here for 10 years should be regarded as entitled to remain here, whatever the status of the parents. He said:We have chosen the tenth birthday as the cut-off point because we would not wish to insist on the deportation of a child born here who had lived here for 10 years. If his parents are here subject to conditions of stay or in breach of the immigration control at the time of birth, 10 years seems to the Government to be a long enough period in which to expect those problems to have been resolved.Furthermore, the first 10 years of a child's life clearly are the formative years. By the age of 10, we believe, the child's roots could be regarded as being firmly set in this country." — [Official Report, Standing Committee F, 26 November 1981; c. 221.]There could not be a clearer picture of the oldest child, who is 11.
When I put these various points to the Minister he replied in a long detailed letter. He said:Turning now to your specific points, you have suggested Mrs. Halil and her family have a long association with this country. But this is not so. Her father and her paternal grandfather were, like Mrs. Halil herself, born in Cyprus.I am a little older than the Minister of State, and I can remember that Cyprus has a rather long association with the British Crown, which started in 1878 when Benjamin Disraeli brought back from Berlin peace with honour, and also Cyprus. As a result of that association, a number of people on that island joined the British Army, and I made that point to the Minister. It would seem to me that 25 years is quite a long association, but the Minister is entitled to take a different view.
346 The letter continues:Although her parents were registered as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies when she was still a child"—that is worth noting, as well—they continued to live in Cyprus for many years indeed, until after Mrs. Halil had grown up and married, and they never sought registration for their children.I repeat that they did not even know that it was necessary, and why should they? The letter continues:Mrs. Halil had not contemplated accompanying her parents when they emigrated, and as on marriage she had ceased to be a dependent daughter, she could not in any case have come with them to this country for settlement.What was the major crime that this woman committed against the British law, constitution and everything else? It is that her parents did not register her as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. What a terrible mistake she made when she was about nine or 10. I understand that the Minister of State would wish to punish her for that for the rest of her life.
One of the essential agreements of compassion is imagination. We are dealing with a family which does not speak a word of Turkish, which is useful—the father is well employed — is liked in the community and has settled down well. If the Minister of State gets his way, what will happen? The family will go to Cyprus. The children will be homeless. They will be separated from the rest of the family—from their uncle whom they look on as a second father, and their grandparents—and from their school friends. The Minister of State is condemning them to that.
I leave the House with one last gem in the letter of 6 February 1984 written to me be the Minister of State. It deserves to be put on the desk of every civil servant in Britain. I pointed out that the lady was being divorced and that I was worried about the children's fate. The Minister replied:I am not satisfied that her circumstances in Cyprus would be markedly worse than those of any other divorcee with young children.Cyprus is, however, a foreign land, which is partitioned and speaks a language that the children cannot understand, and the children will be taken from the rest of their family.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the Christmas recess without an extensive debate on a subject that is exercising a large number of minds—the BBC licence fee. Although I know that this subject will be debated in another measure—
§ Sir Dudley Smith
—much later, as my hon. Friend says—it is important that there should be contributions to this discussion.
There is no popular recognition of the need for a substantial increase in the television licence fee. Many people regard it as wrong that, to obtain a television set, one must pay a fee, whether or not one watches BBC programmes. Some people watch the opposition channels far more frequently. I am sure that all hon. Members are worried about the fact that although £60-odd for a licence fee does not matter much to an affluent person, many people on fixed incomes — pensioners and the unemployed—who will not receive any assistance in this respect, will find that amount a severe imposition.
347 Over the years, the BBC has made a tremendous contribution in establishing radio and television, but it is not without its faults, some of which have grown up recently. Stories of a prince's ransom paid to some disc jockeys do not go down well, nor do accounts of junkets abroad for executives or stories of a not especially senior official stationed in north America who, if the press is to be believed, has been jetting backwards and forwards on Concorde. Those stories would certainly not go down well with two or three multinationals which, as a mark of stringency, impressed upon their directors and senior executives the fact that they must travel club class, rather than first class, when they travel backwards and forwards across the Atlantic. Even today, there is a newspaper story about a well-known television presenter on breakfast television who is, allegedly, offered the kind of money that one would expect an international footballer to receive. I am not saying that these are vast amounts of money compared with the totality of BBC finances, but it is indicative of an attitude that needs to be changed when dealing with public money.
The BBC should stick to those aspects of television in which it excels. The BBC excels in a number of respects. The BBC pioneered the advance of television, but it has, however, gone into other areas that need to be curbed in view of the request for financial stringency. By and large, breakfast television is a waste. Local radio is often a disaster. This is a highly competitive area, and time and again one learns that BBC local radio is well eclipsed by the commercial opposition.
I believe —this might not go down well with the Opposition — that the BBC might have more friends among Conservative Members and Conservatives outside the House if it were a little less biased. In many instances, it is fairly easy to detect that the BBC is left of centre. [Interruption.] The Opposition may scoff, but, to ascertain the reaction, they should ask the public. Commentators, analysts and presenters with a bias can be clearly perceived to be in the majority, and that is worrying in a democracy in which the BBC is the national broadcasting institution.
I am not suggesting that there is any conspiracy against the Government or the Conservative party. I am suggesting, however, that for years the corporation, perhaps innocently, has been attracting many more people from the Left than is healthy — be they producers, executives or presenters. I am talking not merely about current affairs; it spans the whole spectrum of programmes, including drama.
Above all else, the BBC should be seen to be neutral and even-handed, and most people would expect that of the BBC. The BBC must be properly funded. It is unsatisfactory to the corporation and to the public at large that there should be a special form of taxation to raise the revenue to operate the BBC. That system has applied for a long time. It is understandable in view of the way in which the BBC grew up, but I do not believe that it can hold water today. Although some fee element should be retained, there must, in future, be some element of advertising to provide for the corporation's financing needs.
The BBC, which is so good in many ways — technique and achievement—will not compromise itself by a sensible input of advertising. I am sure that the BBC 348 in its heart of hearts will realise that, and most hon. Members — certainly Conservative Members — would subscribe to that view. Sufficient free advertising occurs on the BBC at present. Books and records are plugged, and during all kinds of discussion programmes there is a free dropping of product names. Once upon a time that was totally prohibited. Today there is advertising all the time. Let the BBC come clean and do that properly and sensibly.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House — I know that this is not entirely his responsibility, but he is a man of enormous influence—will consider seriously a strictly limited increase in the licence fee when we return in the new year and that there will be a genuine move towards some type of limited advertising.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)
Two matters should be debated before we adjourn for the Christmas recess. The first concerns unemployment. Most hon. Members, and certainly Labour Members, have waited for a long time for a statement that the Government will really tackle the scourge of unemployment. I raised this matter last year on the motion for the Adjournment for the Christmas recess. I said then that Conservative Members want the unemployment level to be reduced substantially. But they have not yet persuaded the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to give sufficient attention to this problem and to have a think tank considering the unemployment problem, which is the scourge of our time. We are simply tinkering with the matter and hoping that something will happen.
We need to have a fundamental look at unemployment. We shall have to redefine what we mean by unemployment. It cannot continue to be a lottery. Last Christmas, I related the story of a young woman who said to me that she had a degree. She had been unemployed for only a short time and had managed to secure a reasonable job. When she went to the social security office for the last time to get her P45, tax forms and other papers in order, the young men and women she had met during the few months that she was unemployed congratulated her enthusiastically and wished her well. They said, "You have a job, and we haven't but we shall remember you with great fondness." The young woman told me that the sad thing was that many of the young men and women, who were as qualified as she was, had not been lucky enough to secure a job. In other words, obtaining a job is a lottery. Some people can obtain jobs, but many suitably qualified people cannot. That is a scandal and a shame.
Whether we accept the massaged figures of about 3.5 million people at present unemployed, or the probably truer figure of 4 million if one includes the number of people who do not bother to register because there is no job available, it is a scandal of the first order that we have not given all our time and attention towards tackling the problem.
The massaged figure of .5 million people unemployed is being increased at the rate of about 20,000 a month. The optimistic view is that unemployment will remain at that level; the pessimistic view is that the figure might double or be half as much again and add about a further 375,000 to the number of unemployed. We do not seem to be doing anything about it apart from tinkering a little with job 349 creation. Some attention should have been paid to this problem. The Cabinet should have given its powerful attention to solving the problem.
Other countries are dealing with the problem. West Germany is tackling the problem, and we must. The social fabric of this nation cannot endure if we continue to add to the already far too high total of unemployed. I shudder to think what will happen if we increase the unemployment figure by a further 200,000, 250,000, 350,000 or 400,000 year by year. The Government must make a statement to show that they recognise the scope of the problem and that they are going to do something about it.
The second subject about which I wish to talk is that of people being persuaded to take out guarantee insurance when they buy television sets. They are called extended guarantees and they are for consumer goods—television sets, refrigerators, deep freezes, washers, driers and other such commodities. Many people are persuaded by slick salesmanship and, we must recognise, by the attraction of the security obtained from paying an insurance premium of £30 or £40. They then believe that the television, or whatever, is guaranteed and that maintenance will be free if it needs repairing. They may have to pay a bob or two for one or two small things, but they have a virtual trouble-free guarantee for about five or seven years.
The problem is that many of those guarantees have turned out to be bogus and worthless. It is calculated that 800,000 people have taken out such guarantees. The companies have made rich pickings. When the people have called upon the insurance company they have found that it has gone bust. If one calculates that the companies have to pay some commission to the agents promoting the insurance, if the companies finish up with only half of what the 800,000 people have paid, they will make a great deal of money.
I believe that we are to have an insolvency Bill in the new year. There was an article in one of the Sunday newspapers about it, and those who have considered the matter do not think the Bill will deal with the problem that I have described.
Christmas is probably one of the most important times of the year for selling extended guarantee insurance. Most hon. Members will agree that it is the time when most people buy such goods and seek insurance. We have not had a statement from the Government about the matter. The Minister has been rather dismissive. I infer from what he said that people are expected to be more prudent when buying that kind of insurance. We have a duty as Members of Parliament to protect people. They are not imprudent. They have been sold bogus and worthless policies. I am not saying that the people who sell them know that, but when the customers call upon the companies to deliver what they are insured against, they find out that the companies are no longer in business. We have a duty to protect such people.
Those are the two matters to which I think we should have an answer before we adjourn for the Christmas recess.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
I am sure that no one in his right senses believes that we should rise later than Friday, so the points that are being made in the debate are for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the 350 House to contemplate during the recess. I wish to raise a number of points briefly which my right hon. Friend may wish to brood upon before he replies.
The first is about disarmament. As my right hon. Friend knows, some extremely important talks have been taking place in this country between the Prime Minister and Mr. Gorbachev over the past few days. The Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, is to meet Mr. Shultz and other such meetings will undoubtedly take place. I hope that the coming year will see a substantial commitment by the leaders of the West and the East to getting some agreement signed during the course of 1985.
For example, I cannot understand why it should not be possible to reach an agreement on chemical warfare. No one can favour the continuance of chemical warfare or the weapons to sustain it. The negotiations on that matter, which have been dragging on for so long, should be able to be brought to a conclusion.
Secondly, if both sides give sufficient impetus, it should be possible to bring to a more successful conclusion the negotiations on balanced force reductions that have been going on in Vienna for over 10 years and which have made no progress. I also hope that the Americans and the Russians will address themselves seriously in the new negotiations that are to take place, to the proposals that President Reagan made over a year ago about what he called "build down"—reducing the numbers of strategic weapons which exist.
I defer to no one in my belief in a strong defence policy, but I firmly believe that there are too many missiles in the world. It is possible to have a safe world and a safe balance if we proceed in the way that the President suggested with a mutual build down of the number of missiles. I hope that the Government will place the full weight of their diplomacy behind constructive talks to reach agreements during 1985.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) mentioned unemployment. We have been reading a good deal in the newspapers recently about the fact that the Government are contemplating new initiatives on unemployment. They may be reflected in the Budget, but we must wait and see.
I hope that it will be understood by Ministers that many hon. Members on both sides of the House regard the reduction of unemployment as a matter which should be at the top of the Government's list of priorities. We are looking for initiatives from Ministers—not just throwing money at the problem—which will deal with this great social evil. I hope that nothing will be ruled out of serious consideration in advance. During the past few months there has been an investigation into various forms of social security. If there has not been an investigation into reducing the pension age of men, there should be one. That would have a substantial effect on the unemployment problem. It is a policy which has great public support, and it should be examined much more urgently.
I remember raising that matter with the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) when he was Minister for Social Security in the previous Labour Government. Ministers in both Governments have said that the policy is too expensive. Unemployment is costing the country more and more and we cannot afford to ignore such initiatives. I hope that the reduction of the pension age for men will be considered seriously by Ministers between now and the Budget, along with an expansion of the job release scheme.
351 I received a letter this morning from a constituent which stated that about 84,000 are in receipt of the job release allowance, which is undoubtedly a worthwhile contribution. However, I hope that the scheme will be expanded. The unfortunate decision was taken some time ago to raise the qualifying age to 64 years and we should be looking to reducing it to the previous qualifying age of 62 years.
I hope that between now and Parliament meeting again on 9 January there will be a serious consultation on the limited list of drugs. I believe that every hon. Member has been disgusted by the circular which has been put out by Roche Products Ltd.
§ Mr. Latham
Indeed. That circular has done great harm, undoubtedly, to the constructive points which have been made by general practitioners, which have been taken seriously by all hon. Members. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to assure me that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health is starting from the basic proposition that patients must be able to have the drugs they need, and if two drugs are the same, it obviously makes sense to choose the cheaper one. I am sure that everyone supports that approach.
However, the present proposals seem to be unduly restrictive, for example, on laxatives, which are especially important to the elderly; they should be considered again. There should be proper consultation between now and 31 January.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong-headed of the British Medical Association apparently to refuse to enter into consultation on this issue?
§ Mr. Latham
I concur with my hon. Friend's intervention. I have stated that I take that view in letters that I have written to general practitioners in my constituency. It is most regrettable that the BMA has taken such an attitude. I hope that it will reconsider its position as quickly as possible so that the best professional advice is available to Ministers before they make an important decision.
Finally, many of us are concerned about the attitude which seems to come from the Department of Health and Social Security, that rural maternity units are undesirable and should be closed. The Department seems to take the view that mothers-to-be should give birth in large central hospitals. There is no support for such a policy in rural areas. Mothers-to-be attach great importance to, and much enjoy, the support and help that they are given in rural maternity units such as those in Melton Mowbray and Oakham. If the DHSS takes the view that it can get away with closing rural maternity units through regional health authorities or district health authorities so that all facilities can be concentrated in large general hospitals, it must realise that that will be opposed by those representing rural constituencies.
I hope that that will be understood by Ministers. Our constituents are incensed by the "concentration" policy. I have raised this matter previously with Ministers and I 352 must tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I have not been satisfied with their responses. I shall continue to raise the issue until I get satisfaction.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
In joining others in resisting the Adjournment of the House, I wish to make a firm protest about the way in which the Government, and especially the Foreign Office, have sought to introduce a fee for issuing entry certificates. I am pleased that the Leader of the House is in his place, as he had to endure three points of order from me on this issue last week. He undertook during business questions on Thursday to consult his colleagues in the Foreign Office to ascertain the procedures that they are proposing to introduce for entry certificate fees. I was therefore concerned to learn yesterday from the Foreign Office that it intended today to lay an order that would seek to introduce a charge of £10 for entry certificates from 1 January. It appears that it intends to use a procedure that is not subject to parliamentary procedure, either that of approval or annulment. It proposes to introduce an order to amend the Consular Fees Act 1980.
Yesterday, there was a meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is charged with responsibility for scrutinising such orders. It was therefore denied an opportunity of scrutinising the proposed Foreign Office order. That goes to reinforce the concern that I and others have about the way in which the Foreign Office has proceeded.
It was proposed originally by the Foreign Secretary on 22 November to introduce entry certificate fees and the proposal is to become a fact in the way that I have outlined. Many hon. Members may not consider this to be a matter of great significance, so I remind the House that £10 is about a third of the annual income of a Bangladeshi family living in a rural area in that country. We should be concerned also about the principle lying behind the introduction of such a fee. It diminishes the right conferred by the Immigration Act 1971 on Commonwealth citizens freely to enter the United Kingdom. It may be ultra vires to diminish such a right conferred by statute by means of an order of the sort that I have described. As I have said, the order will seek to amend the Consular Fees Act 1980, which I would argue was never construed, when enacted, as a suitable vehicle for introducing a charge for entry certificates.
The entry clearance procedure, when established, was presented as a means of facilitating entry into the United Kingdom for Commonwealth citizens and others. It was suggested that it would avoid protracted and distressing problems of the sort that are often encountered at ports of entry. These problems are often encountered by those who have entry clearance permission, but that is by the way. There was no suggestion when the procedure was first introduced—and certainly when the debates took place prior to the introduction of the entry clearance procedure — that a fee would be introduced. It was never suggested that the Government considered a fee to be appropriate. It is entirely inappropriate for such a fee to be introduced, and if it is considered to be a precedent, we are no doubt on a fee escalator for entry certificates.
We all remember that nationality fees have been introduced and increased substantially over a short period. Even the Government were embarrassed by the obscene profits that they made from nationality fees. They were 353 persuaded some time ago to introduce modest reductions in the fees charged. If an entry certificate fee of £l0 is introduced, it is likely that a substantial increase will be suggested in the near future.
It is an outrage for the Government to introduce a fee by means of laying an order that will not be subject to parliamentary procedures. They have compounded the outrage by adopting a back-door method to implement it. They have committed a contempt of Parliament in so doing as they have denied those of us with an interest in these matters any opportunity to debate the fee in principle. We shall have no opportunity to question the Executive about the way in which the scheme was proposed.
It is clear that the scheme was cobbled together in a hurry. That was done in desperation when the Foreign Office was beleaguered by criticisms of the inadequacy of our overseas aid budget. With cuts in the British Council's budget and a reduction of the moneys available to the external services, some bright spark, no doubt buried in the Treasury, thought that it would be a good idea to introduce a fee for entry certificates.
I understand that the proposal has been resisted considerably within the Foreign Office, and that is understandable. I hope that considerable second thoughts will be given to the introduction of a fee during the recess. I hope, too, that the proposal will be deferred and that the House will be given an opportunity to debate the introduction of a fee so that we are not presented with a fait accompli.
Several hon. Members mentioned the financing of the BBC. I should like to comment on that issue which, as hon. Members said, will perhaps be debated more extensively at a later hour. I should like to express my concern and that of many of my constituents at the application by the BBC for a £19 increase in the licence for a colour television. It is clear that many pensioners will be unable to pay such an increase, if it is agreed. They might be faced with the prospect of giving up watching television altogether or, like my constituent Mrs. Lilian Swailes, might find themselves in prison. Mrs. Swailes is a widow, a pensioner, who was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment recently because she could not pay a fine that resulted from her inability to pay her television licence fee. Other pensioners in my constituency have recently made it clear that they are prepared to go to prison because they do not want to pay the reported increase in their television licence fee.
I am sure that this belief is shared by many other hon. Members. I believe that the only way of resolving this matter satisfactorily is for a substantial increase in the pension to be agreed, which would allow pensioners to make choices on what they spend their own money. However, it is unlikely that there will be such a substantial increase in the pension, particularly under this Government. Therefore, the Government's options narrow considerably. They know that this has been a controversial issue for many years. The time has now come for all pensioner households to have free television.
Ministers should understand that television is often the only form of entertainment for pensioners, and often the only company for them. Many are isolated — the removal of bus services, the increase in bus fares and other difficulties have isolated many of them, who now look to that little box in the corner as their only entertainment and company. We should see television more and more as a 354 social service for pensioners. That should be recognised by the Exchequer funding the moneys necessary to enable all pensioner households to enjoy free television.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith), who referred to this subject, floated the idea that we could alleviate the problems over the financing of the BBC by the introduction of advertising. That presents a very serious threat. The idea might have superficial attractions for some hon. Members and sections of the public, but I believe that it presents a serious threat to the programme standards of the BBC, and certainly to its accountability. It would expose it even more than at present to commercial pressures. There are considerable doubts about the availability of advertising revenue to be extended to the BBC and, if there were advertising, what would be the impact upon many newspapers, particularly regional newspapers throughout the country?
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
If the hon. Gentleman does not want the licence fee to go up, or if he wants it to go up by a minimum amount, yet does not accept the idea of advertising income for the BBC, how does he propose that the BBC should balance its budget? Does he propose that the Government should subsidise the BBC? If so, it would become an arm of Government. It is s difficult problem. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can give me an answer.
§ Mr. Madden
It is a difficult problem and has been around for a long time. Government financing of the BBC's overseas services has not created the problems mentioned by many detractors of the idea of Exchequer funding of the BBC. In my view, it should be funded from the Exchequer as essentially a social service and that could be done for a fraction of the cost of Trident nuclear submarines, for instance, and would do a great deal more good to many more people than increasing the licence fee in substantial dollops, as has been done year by year. If we continue with the licence revenue system, it will become more unwieldy than it is today.
As an hon. Member representing part of Yorkshire, it would be impossible for me to argue that we should not adjourn without mentioning the plight of the unemployed and the extent of unemployment in the Yorkshire and Humberside region and in my constituency, where in parts it reaches 40 per cent., 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. The debate earlier today highlighted the damage that Government policies are doing to the prospects of getting a job for many of my constituents, particularly school leavers, and those who have endured long-term unemployment for two, three and four years.
Those people want the Government to change their policies. They want a change of priorities. They do not want to see available resources being given in tax cuts to the relatively well-off; they want them to be put into public expenditure—into massive house building and construction programmes and improving the infrastructure of our county and our cities. Those are the sort of projects that they want. They do not know how long they will have to wait for changes in policy to come from the Government, but they do know that that is the only solution that they can look to. They hope that the Government will respond quickly to their plight and their needs, which they see so vividly. They know what the remedies are. What they are waiting for is a response from the Government, and they hope that it will come sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)
I make no apology to the House for raising a problem that is probably exclusive to the county of Cornwall. We require an early indication from the Government in respect of the county's application for a milk quota for the new agricultural college that is to serve the needs of Cornwall and is located in my constituency. I should add that I have had extended correspondence on the issue with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I informed his private office earlier today that I intended raising the matter this evening.
As the House will know, Cornwall is a rural county. The importance of farming to the economy is not in question. Indeed, it is only an accident of history that no farm college was located within the county. The need for a farm education and agricultural training centre in the county for the national certificate in agriculture and, in addition, for training and education for part-time students was identified as an urgent priority in 1983, and was supported by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science.
The county council was offered a lease of the 440-acre Duchy home farm in August 1983, which could be used for agricultural education and training in the county's main agricultural enterprises. Being located in the south-west of the United Kingdom, Cornwall is essentially a livestock-rearing area. We like to think that we grow the best natural grass in the world. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) will not disagree. A herd of 75 cows was established in 1983 on a county council smallholding as an interim measure, to be ready to transfer to the home farm in September 1984. However, in April this year we saw the implementation of milk quotas as a result of the EEC decision.
As no milk was produced on that farm on 2 April 1984, it did not automatically qualify for a quota under the regulations, and it could not be considered as a special case as the rules in that respect are very strictly drawn. Furthermore, the county council is unlikely to succeed in claiming a quota on the basis of exceptional hardship as it would have to establish that farming was its main occupation.
On the other hand, approval has been obtained from the National Certification Council for Agriculture for the one-year agricultural course to begin in September 1985. In practice, it is likely to begin in September 1986, but that does not alter the fact that the uncertainty is causing problems. Day release students are already attending the new agriculture college, and it is hoped eventually to provide residential accommodation for about 40 students who will undertake the basic one-year course.
The total capital outlay by the county council for the project is likely ultimately to be about £750,000. The livestock, new dairy units and other features have already cost about £250,000. At present, young people from Cornwall wishing to undertake a basic, standard one-year course in agriculture have to attend establishments in Devon or Somerset. With the exception of the cost of education, the farm is to be run on a financially self-supporting basis. The lack of a milk quota means that the farm will run the risk of a levy, which could significantly affect its financial viability.
356 I believe that the hardship caused by the EEC regulations to local authorities, such as Cornwall, which aim to provide an agricultural education provision of their own must be recognised and alleviated. The regulations which introduced milk quotas made no reference to the requirements of agriculture education or farm extension in general. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to give us an assurance that, once the new EEC Commission is established in 1985, the Government will apply to Brussels for our special requirements to be taken into account. I do not criticise either the Commission or the Council of Agriculture Ministers for this omission with regard to agriculture training establishments. Nevertheless, there is a real problem.
It would be ludicrous if, after all these years, we finally achieved a farm college for Cornwall, which is essentially a livestock county, but could not allow students to be trained in milk production and all that is involved in the running of a dairy herd. Dairying is a fundamental part of the farm economy of Cornwall. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has considerable sympathy with our position, which arises from a pure accident of history. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend, with his west country connections and no doubt his deep understanding of our problems, to assure the House that, once the new Commission is established in Brussels, our requirements in Cornwall will be drawn to its attention.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
Looking forward to 1985, it is not a bad thing also to look back. If we are glad to get away from here for a short break, I am sure that Ministers are equally glad to get away and even more glad to know that we are going away. I hope that if Ministers get anything from Father Christmas in their pillow cases, stockings or whatever, it will be better briefs to use when they get back.
The Government's greatest totem pole of the last Parliament was the money supply. In this Parliament it has become the public sector borrowing requirement. As a matter of fact, I do not go much on totem poles and I think that the Government might do better if they did a few things slightly differently. There is a strange paradox about getting older. One realises that although one is getting older and has less time, in politics there is plenty of time, but Governments seem not to recognise that. I believe that the Government may be in too big a hurry about some things.
Looking back over the five years or so since the Conservatives came to office, one recognises that the Government have done many things which needed to be done following the period of the Labour Government. They got inflation down and productivity up. With the exception of the miners' strike, they achieved a great reduction in the number of strikes and much better order in British industry. Government expenditure has decreased as a proportion of GNP and industry is more competitive.
All those things are splendid, but one or two things are not so good. First, unemployment is much too high. We must be realistic and understand that unemployment is also high in many other countries, but that does not alter the fact that we must reduce it here. Secondly, manufacturing industry has received a buffeting and too much manufacturing industry has gone out of business altogether. Furthermore, the cost of welfare and social 357 security arising out of unemployment has increased greatly and become an extremely severe imposition on the Treasury and the taxpayer.
I believe that some relaxation of control of the PSBR and some extra expenditure on construction and housing —I voted reluctantly in support of the Government in the previous debate tonight—would be a good thing. I do not want to pelt money at things. I just want a bit more to be made available. I do not believe that that would be catastrophic for the Government or the Treasury. However, I am told by my friends on the Treasury Bench — not least by the Prime Minister in answer to my question the other day—that there will not be any more money. On the contrary, the Government mean to stick to their policies and to the tightness of the PSBR, and not to give the support in the form of public money that I should welcome. They expect—they have said so—that, if the climate is right, British business and commerce will revive the economy, provide jobs and reduce unemployment without Government support.
Let us suppose that, by a strange mischance, I am wrong and the Prime Minister and the Government are right. At the moment, I am not sure that I am not right. However, let us suppose that I am wrong. One ingredient in the Prime Minister's strategy, which is absolutely vital to its success, is confidence about the future in industry and commerce. Confidence is vital if there is to be expansion and investment. Confidence is a very tender plant, and without it there can be no growth.
At the moment, industry and commerce are cautious, tentative and unadventurous. I am in business as well as being a Member of Parliament. I know that business men are thinking, "Things are all right, but we shall not push the boat out because we are not quite sure what will happen in the next year or so." Why is that? There may be several reasons, but one reason, of particular importance, is that we have had five years of turmoil, because there had to be five years of change. We have been working on the bad situation that the Labour Government left us, and trying to turn the state juggernaut round. To turn any juggernaut round in the middle of a motorway may seem to be the quicker option, but the wise and safer course is to take the juggernaut round by the slip roads. The distance is longer, but one will reach one's destination more quickly in the end.
Some of the turmoil of recent years could not have been avoided. As always, some of it arose from outside causes and was not the Government's fault. For example, the Government are in no way to blame for the miners' strike. It is entirely due to the refusal by the NUM and Mr. Scargill to do a deal. However, some of the aggro apparent in our society does stem from Government action. In the coming year, the Government must concentrate on less contentious legislation and try to create a more relaxed atmosphere. Industry and commerce cannot feel confident about their ability to advance in an atmosphere of political aggro, controversial legislation and dissention of various kinds. The Government and the Prime Minister will have to implement more slowly the programme that they believe to be necessary. I, too, believe that some of the Prime Minister's ideas are necessary. We must still continue to reverse some of the preceding trends, as we have been doing during the past five years. However, it is now necessary —indeed, vital—to slow the process down. Some of the Government's ideas should be left to the next Parliament. We need to win the election. The Prime 358 Minister's strategy of depending upon industry and commerce to solve our economic problems and provide jobs cannot be implemented if there is any uncertainty about confidence, or if, as at the moment, confidence is limited. There must be real confidence for the future, and only the Government can create it.
The country depends upon industry and commerce. I believe that the Government could provide a little more help.
But, even with the little more help for which I have asked, it would still be the responsibility of the free enterprise sector to provide success. I plead with the Leader of the House and his colleagues, during the next Session of Parliament, to bring in less contentious legislation and to avoid some of the traumas from which we have suffered during the past week and month. If we are to effect an improvement in the economy, the mood of the country must be got right, and the Government must seek to get it right.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Before the House adjourns, I seek assurances from the Leader of the House on two matters. The first is linked to early-day motion 243, which arose out of a trial in which sentence was delivered on Monday. On Monday, both the leading items on the 10 o'clock television news were about serious court cases following serious offences, both of which raise the same issue. The first was the case of Colin Evans who was convicted of offences against children and had been employed by Berkshire county council. The second case concerned the supply of drugs to young people by a Mr. Catherwood while he was employed as a supply teacher—the title is unfortunate—by the Inner London education authority.
My query relates to the work of several Departments of State. I hope that it will be appropriate for me to direct my remarks to the Leader of the House. How can we improve the situation for the parents and guardians of children and young people? It is clear that the present system is failing. Employers do not find out about highly relevant offences committed by employees who may then perpetrate similar offences against young people during the time of their employment.
At some stage Mr. Catherwood applied to ILEA for a job, but I accept that, at the time when he applied, the rule and the practice were different. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, there is now a duty for a declaration to be made. However, the system is entirely fallible. Those who have most to hide will declare that they have not committed offences. They will conceal their recorded offences from the eyes of the authorities.
We have to respect the privacy of the individual. It should not be a matter of public knowledge that people have committed offences, if the slate has been wiped clean. However, we must find a way of assuring parents, guardians and other responsible people that youngsters are not liable to be looked after by people who may be a grave risk to them. Is there a chance of the House examining this grave issue soon? I accept that we shall not do so this week, but perhaps we might have an opportunity soon after our return.
The first offence involved sexual offences and the murder of a child and the second involved the supply of LSD, cocaine and cannabis, and was committed in the borough that I represent. Such drugs were supplied at a 359 time of serious drug risk to young people. We should examine the law to establish how local authorities and other special employers can be guaranteed to know the track record of those whom they employ. In the Berkshire case, it appears that other employees knew about their colleague. While that in some way makes the occurrences far worse, it appears that ILEA did not know about the criminal drugs record of its employee at all. The present law is clearly inadequate if this can happen.
Early-day motion 156 relates to Crown post offices and sub-post offices, although it refers principally to the latter. It states:
"That this House views with concern the Post Office's campaign to close a number of urban sub-post offices; believes that it is becoming clear that the public consultation before closure is a sham; is concerned about the long-term structure of the Post Office network, both urban and rural; and calls upon the Government to allocate time to have this matter debated on the floor of the House in the near future."
In most parts of the country the Post Office is conducting consultations preceding the announcements to close sub and Crown post offices. The early-day motion asks for an opportunity to have a debate on the consultation procedure that the signatories, of whom I am one, regard as a sham.
I shall quote the example of my constituency because it illustrates the point clearly. We have two Crown post offices, both of which the local district postmaster proposes to close. They are the Bermondsey district office on the Old Kent road and the south-east district post office at 329 Borough high street. The post office at Borough high street has considerably more business than most other district or Crown offices in inner south-east London.
The Post Office Users National Council tells me that it cannot get involved in individual cases, so it is not an effective ally of the customer. The district postmaster has a duty to balance considerations of social need, which are widely drawn, commercial considerations and constraints imposed on the Post Office in its present form. The arguments are about priorities within a cash limit imposed by the Government. There is a major failing in the system which many of us do not accept when closures are announced at the same time as there are profit margins such as have been announced this week and when there is an overwhelming public demand from parents with young children, the handicapped and the elderly and from local commercial interests.
Some of the facts that the Post Office supplies about the time taken to be served and the number of counters open are also untrue. I can supply evidence to support that assertion in regard to the two offices that I have mentioned. Yet there is no possibility of any organisation asking the district postmaster to reconsider his decision, even when there might be a change in the area's economic circumstances. There might be an argument based on social need, but there might also be demographic change. The population in north Southwark is increasing after having declined for 10 years. Will the Leader of the House agree that there is a failure in the procedures as there exists no method for challenging decisions to close post offices? I hope that he will accede to my request soon. I am asking for an assurance today that we can debate this soon because there is not long before a final decision will be 360 made. The post offices will be closed and then it will be too late. The House should consider these issues before such decisions are made.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
There are several subjects which ought to be debated before we adjourn. One is the televising of the proceedings of this House, which I hope will never come here in Trojan horse fashion from the other place. Another is the awful mess which I fear we might be getting into by giving emergency aid to many countries in Africa which, unfortunately, are often badly governed, as with Ethiopia. The long-term problems of feeding local populations will not just go away as a result of our sending emergency food and supplies. There are grave and difficult problems there. I hope that Britain and the Government do not feel any shame for the failures of Governments in Africa. Our part has been praiseworthy.
I do not apologise for saying that we should not adjourn until we have debated church affairs. I shall concentrate on that subject. I last mentioned the subject briefly on the Adjournment for the summer recess on 29 July 1982 at c. 1247 of the Official Report, following the controversy about the Falklands memorial service. Matters since that time have, unfortunately, got much worse. There was, of course, a time when ecclesiastical subjects were frequently debated in this Chamber, as in the 16th and 17th centuries, when most people believed that church and state should be one. I still believe that disestablishment would be a bad thing and damage the essential fabric of this old Christian nation. That is partly why I am so anxious about the state of the Church of England today.
The procedure for appointing bishops was changed a few years ago, so that now the two names which are presented to the Prime Minister are supposed to be widely supported after thorough consultation. The state has always had a say in the appointment of bishops since early Christian times, and rightly so. Whether the calibre of bishops has improved since the new procedure, it is difficult to say. A bishop used to emerge, rather like the leader of the Tory party, without any votes being taken. I believe that the new system needs to be looked at again. A democratic method is not always or necessarily the best method for top appointments in any walk of life.
There is much criticism of the bishops. Some of it, I agree, is unfair. Bishops still enjoy a position of considerable social and political influence in Britain. Some still live in palaces. I am glad that they do. Some still sit in the Lords, and I welcome them there too. However, they are in a position of great difficulty about speaking out on public affairs. If they speak they are accused of meddling in politics and if they do not speak people ask why the bishops are so silent. Nevertheless, bishops should be careful when making pronouncements outside their normal sphere of faith and morals. Furthermore, they cannot unfortunately speak from a position of great strength in their church where congregations are still falling, where clergy are few and diminishing and where, unfortunately, there is considerable discontent among the wives of the clergy.
We are now living in what in many ways is a heathen society, with great evils such as crimes of violence, divorce, rape and cruelty distressingly common. In my view, these are the first matters to which the bishops should turn their attention and on which they should speak 361 out and be heard regularly. Divorce has now become horrifyingly common, with appalling effects on the family and children. Surely there is hardly a subject in social affairs which is more urgent and critical, yet how often do we hear the bishops speak on this subject?
Their first concern should be their clergy and their flock. Instead, they are often tempted to deal with less immediate problems in people's daily life, such as the atom bomb or the affairs of the Third world. More than ever, the nation needs teaching about our Christian faith and Christian heritage, yet how often do we hear this from the bishops? It is not that I object to their views on political matters, which may be Left-wing or perhaps wishy-washy SDP, but these matters are secondary to the great questions which we must all ask about life and death, redemption and sin, death and resurrection. These are the matters on which ordinary people desperately need guidance—not things like nuclear disarmament.
Sometimes the bishops put themselves in a ridiculous position: as, for example, over the coal strike, where some of them appear to equate the coal board's stand—which with all its terms of pay and redundancy is extremely generous—and that of Mr. Scargill and the miners on the so-called picket lines. The failure of nearly all the bishops to condemn the violence of the strikers, both on the picket lines and against working miners' homes and families, is quite disgraceful.
I shall pass over as quickly as I can the much publicised appointment of the Bishop of Durham. In the good old days, one of his chief responsibilities was to keep out the Scots. Today he seems to be letting all kinds of heresies into his speeches, which trouble and worry the faithful. However clever he may be in an Oxford common room, he should surely be more careful in his public pronouncements. Looking out from his castle towards his glorious cathedral, he should ponder his heavy responsibilities. Many a clergyman would desire to be in that marvellous position.
I am also troubled about some of the activities of the General Synod, and I wish that its proceedings were more often debated here because I believe that many Back Benchers—more than those who are Anglicans—more truly represent the feelings of the man and woman in the pew than does the Synod. The Synod seems to have attracted the activists who do not necessarily represent ordinary church people.
The near destruction of the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England is dreadful. I prophesied that this would happen when we debated these matters more than a decade ago and when—unfortunately, as I now see it —we approved the new services. Nowadays, one can find a prayer book service only in about one out of 12 parishes. I live half way between my constituency and Westminster, and I have had to scour parishes in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to find a prayer book, Holy Communion or matins. Whenever the subject is mentioned by colleagues, great regret is expressed on all sides that we ever allowed the Church of England to do such a dreadful thing.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that three members of the General Synod also sit in the House. I assure him that when this place turns down a proposal from the Synod, the Synod clearly takes notice. he can be reassured that even if we do not manage 362 adequately to represent all the views in this House, this House is near to the thoughts of the Synod more often than the hon. Gentleman might think.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
The General Synod has recently expressed its view on the introduction of women priests into the Church of England. I have no very strong views on that, although I would hesitate to support A. I would certainly counsel caution among my colleagues in the House.
The nation is undergoing a spiritual crisis. There is still a faint film of Christianity over this land, based largely on our past, traditions and character, but I fear that it is growing thinner. The enormous change in sexual morals is upsetting the institution of marriage on which our society depends. The rise in crimes of violence is terrifying. Even the old morality of honesty and fair dealing is dying, and in the City of London scandals have broken out which would have horrified our fathers.
People, particularly young people, are now longing for a lead and guidance. They want some benchmarks for their ordinary life. Discipline and respect are no longer what they were. We used to pride ourselves on the fact that England was a peaceful society. We prayed each week in the Book of Common Prayer that we should be "godly and quietly governed". These are the matters to which the bishops and clergy should turn their attention.
§ Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)
My brief experience in the House has taught me that this debate is always a fascinating occasion, and I particularly wish to single out the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis), with which 1 totally concurred.
However, the subject I wish to raise concerns a constituent, Mr. Alan Russell, who, with three other Britons, is presently detained in Libya and has been since May this year. For the bulk of this period of more than seven months, the precise accusations against the four men have not been known. During this whole time their families have suffered great distress. The anguish and uncertainty that pervade the lives of those households as Christmas approaches deserve the sympathy and concern of this House, the Government and, indeed, the authorities in Libya.
I pay tribute to the fortitude of Mrs. Carol Russell and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Walters, who are also my constituents. Their unswerving determination to do everything in their power to secure the release of Alan Russell has been wholly admirable. I hope that I would have the same courage and strength if I were ever in that unfortunate position.
Mrs. Russell's plight has been made worse by the fact that her husband was employed by a Libyan company, and payment of his salary ceased some time ago. It is unfortunate that in those very exceptional circumstances, which by no means apply to all Britons held abroad, there is no source of Government aid to help families meet the cost of journeys to and from the countries in which their relatives are held. However, far more urgent than any financial consideration is the need to secure the release of Mr. Russell and the other detainees.
Mr. Russell's trial, on charges which carry very severe penalties, opened last week in Libya and was adjourned for one week until tomorrow to allow a longer time for his 363 defence to be prepared. We cannot tell what the outcome of that trial will be. I understand that a British representative in Libya will have access to the trial, and that is most welcome. However, whether we can have confidence in the outcome of the trial and whether it will be fairly conducted remains to be seen. I have no doubt that many people in this country and throughout the world will watch that process very closely.
I am particularly glad that the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative, Mr. Terry Waite, is paying a second visit to Libya. I hope that he will be able to bring comfort to the four men, whose morale, understandably, has been at a low level during a long period of uncertainty.
I should like to bring three points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. First, I urge the Government, in the strongest possible terms, to take every action they can to secure the release of Mr. Russell and the other three men. I recognise that throughout the last seven months efforts have been made behind the scenes. Indeed, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for the way in which he has kept in close contact with me and with the families of the detainees. However, a more public effort must now be made by the Government on behalf of those men. Commercial factors and the position and status of Libya within the international community are negotiating cards which could be used. Is it not possible for an envoy to be sent to Libya to seek the release of Mr. Russell and the other three detainees.
Secondly, Colonel Gaddafi can be assured of my belief that the immediate release of the detainees would produce an easing of relations between our two countries. That would be most welcome in Libya.
Thirdly, I wish to send a clear message to Mr. Alan Russell — that, as long as I am his Member of Parliament and free to speak in this House, his plight will not be forgotten, his case will not disappear from the political scene and I shall continue to urge the Government to act.
At Christmas time, when it is the privilege of probably all Members of Parliament and of most people in this country to be at home with their families, I ask the House and the Government to spare a thought for those poor families whose Christmas will be dominated by their separation from a loved one, a separation which, without action being taken by the Government, may last for very much longer than the Christmas recess for which the House will shortly and deservedly adjourn.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
May I say to the Leader of the House that I am not opposed to a Christmas recess. I look forward to spending some days with my wife, children and grandchildren. I look forward also to spending some time with my constituents; in particular, the miners who are on strike, and their wives and children.
We are to return here on 9 January. Why should we not return on Monday 7 January and use both Monday and Tuesday to consider the wide-ranging problems of the prolonged miners' dispute? If the House were to spend two days exclusively on this issue, we might find a solution to a problem which is causing great distress to miners and their families. There is also the financial implication that 364 the nation is forced to endure because of the intransigent attitude of the Prime Minister and her protege, Mr. Ian MacGregor, supported by her somewhat dried-out wet, the Secretary of State for Energy.
The financial implications are not my only concern. The nation will return to normality only when the violence, brutality, bullying and bitterness are brought to an end. There seems to be less chance of a settlement after 10 months than when the strike began. Both sides are losing financially. Internationally, both the miners and the nation suffer. Surely this Chamber can resolve the differences. It is for that reason that I am pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appeal to everybody—to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, other Ministers and Back Benchers—not to allow this dispute to continue. When one assembles and catalogues all the speeches that have been made and the questions that have been asked and answered since last March, one can only conclude that enough is enough and that the negotiations must begin again. Why not 7 and 8 January 1985?
Let me examine some of the reasons for the deadlock. The main contentious issue is the interpretation of what constitutes an economic pit. I have just read a document which was prepared by Andrew Glyn, fellow and tutor in economics at Corpus Christi college, Oxford, and an associate member of the Oxford university institute of economics and statistics. The document gives chapter and verse as to why the economic case put forward by the National Coal Board is totally false. Although the report was prepared by Andrew Glyn exclusively for the national Union of Mineworkers, the figures—the statistics and evidence presented — confirm the statement by Philip Bassett on 28 November in the Financial Times. It is undoubtedly sufficient to confirm the reasons for the refusal by the NUM to accept pit closures on grounds other than exhaustion or geology.
In my constituency, Wyndham Western colliery, which was closed on 7 January, employed 550 miners. It was the last pit in the Ogmore valley. Male unemployment in the Ogmore valley is now 24 per cent. There is very little prospect of further employment for the 550 miners who were pushed out of work. I wonder whether the evidence presented by the NCB's accountants on the economics of the Wyndham Western colliery was the reason for its closure.
Philip Bassett, on 28 November, in his Financial Times article—it is not often that we pray in aid that paper—says that six academic accountants carried out a study which enraged the NCB regarding the case for pit closures:The study was led by Mr. David Cooper, Price Waterhouse professor of accounting and finance at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and included senior accountancy academics from Sheffield and Manchester universities and the Manchester Business School.The Financial Times article stated that the report by the academic accountants said that careful scrutiny of the underlying accounting reports that identify pit profit and lossproduces the conclusion that they fail to form an adequate basis for informed management decisions".The article states:The authors give the specific example of the cost of coal at the Cottonwood pit in South Yorkshire—the proposed closure of which was one of the sparks which led to the present strikes.They say that NCB figures show that in 1981–82, the pit lost £6.20 per tonne. But they suggest that if the fixed cost element then was approximately the same proportion of total costs as in 1984, then 23.1 per cent. of the unit cost of £50.5m would not 365 be avoided by the decision to close the pit — so that in 1981–82, Cortonwood would have contributed £5.50 profit per tonne to the NCB.While not claiming this example to be definitive, they say it does indicate the difficulty of public debate on economic closures.I should like to go into graphic detail about the document on the economic case against pit closures, but I will not delay the House. However, it is important for me to spell out what some of the sections include, so that if the House decides to have a one-day or two-day debate on the dispute, these matters can be resolved amicably. The 10 sections of the report demonstrate the difficulty of deciding what is an economic pit and what is an uneconomic pit. It considers the impact on the economy of lost coal production, the reduced production of mining investment in goods, reduced rail services, extra electricity costs and the reduced consumption of United Kingdom goods by miners' families, as well as losses to the miners, their families and children. In areas such as mine, there is also a loss to the whole community.
The document includes tables on the cumulative costs of closures in certain areas. It mentions the St. Johns colliery in Maestag and the Garw,' colliery in the Ogmore valley. Mention is also made of the Cwm Coedely colliery. Emlyn Williams and Terry Thomas of the south Wales NUM have told me that the NCB has repeatedly claimed that two of those three pits are uneconomic and should be closed. The board bases its arguments on its own accountancy assumptions, which need to be fully analysed before the NUM can consider further consultation on pit closures.
I toured my constituency last weekend and I know that the miners in Wales will not be forced, cajoled or starved back to work. Their wives back them and will ensure that the men do not go back if there is still a threat of colliery closures. The miners and their wives know that if the men go back and the axe falls on collieries in their small communities, there will be no alternative employment available.
As I said, we have 24 per cent. male unemployment in my constituency. If the St. Johns colliery, which employs 824 miners, is closed, unemployment in that community will escalate to 45 per cent.
The Observer on Sunday carried an article headedNo surrender in the valleys.That article mentioned the Ridley report, which was leaked to The Economist, and said that many miners carried grubby photocopies of the report in The Economist in their pockets. That report was the Tory party study, drawn up in 1978, which mapped out the policy to dismantle the nationalised industries. It mentioned the "political threat" from the "enemies" of the next Tory Government.
The Observer report said:The battleground should be chosen by the Government, it says, and it was likely to be the coal industry. The Government should prepare itself, the report says, by building up coal stocks at power stations, planning coal imports, encouraging haulage companies to recruit non-union drivers, and adapting all the power stations to burn oil as well as coal. As a deterrent, money should be cut off to the strikers and the union should be made to finance them. Finally, a large mobile force of police should be equipped to deal with the inevitable violent picketing. As the Economist predicted, little of the plan reached the Tory manifesto.It has all, however, come true.Even today, Norman Willis, the general secretary of the TUC, has suggested that the pit strike could go on for 366 years. What a frightening thought that is when we analyse the cost to the nation. What a frightening thought it is for me as an hon. Member who represents miners, their wives and families and who knows what hardship they are enduring.
For the reasons that I have listed, which have been confirmed by economic experts, I ask the House to reduce our Christmas recess by two days to discuss fully the dispute in the mining industry, with the one aim of amicably resolving this long-lasting, damaging and frustrating dispute.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I shall not be asking for the recess to be postponed. Indeed. I should like the longer recess to which we have become accustomed. If we had less legislation, we would have time for the debate that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) seeks and which I agree is long overdue.
I wish to draw attention to a matter that is important to the whole world. There is an extraordinary contrast between plenty in Europe and famine in Africa and elsewhere, yet the European Community is asking all farming communities in the EC to cut food production. That is crazy.
I recently attended a meeting in Europe at which experts forecast that large-scale famines will continue for the next 30 or 40 years. I understand that the desert is extending by at least 10 miles every year. Privately and through the Government, the European Community and humanitarian organisations, this country has been in the forefront of helping famine-stricken regions and we have also given help during other famines and disasters over the past 20 years.
However, we cannot go on working from hand to mouth. We ought to have a plan based on the facts and an expert understanding of the situation. I should like to urge the Government, along with our partners in the EC, to find out the real facts as to how long the famine conditions in Africa and, for that matter, in Bangladesh and elsewhere in future, are likely to last. They should then decide what important steps should be taken, and in what order. Should we go for providing water supplies or, perhaps, or planting forests? Indeed, I believe that much of the trouble with the desert conditions has been caused by the felling of forests throughout Africa. Perhaps we should be sending agricultural advisers to help people, to teach them to grow more food for themselves. That is an important aspect of the work that should be done.
We must carry out research into how the food that Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States can produce in abundance can be made palatable to Africans. Other than in extreme emergencies, it is not much good sending wheat to Africa, when Africans are used to eating maize. For that matter, it is not much use sending wheat to India when Indians prefer, and understand how to cook, other pulses, and so on.
Equally, it is important to be able to reduce the weight and bulk of food. The food sent in is often extremely bulky and that, in turn, greatly reduces the possibility of access to ports and of transportation. Ports are often primitive, and transport to the hinterland may be extremely limited and of poor quality.
The Government, together with our European partners, should look into those issues as a matter of urgency so that we can use the food that we could be growing here for the 367 rest of the world, and so that we can help those all over Africa and other parts of the world who are suffering from famine to obtain that food on a long-term basis. It is no use dealing with such famines on an ad hoc basis. Thus, I hope that during the coming months we shall hear of a plan to assist those famine areas on a long-term basis.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I came into the debate a few minutes late. Normally, I am pretty much on the ball. I was involved in speaking to some miners from Northumberland who are still on strike, but I shall deal with that later.
My first point is that I have been making some inquiries, and have found out that there has apparently been no call to hold a debate, instead of adjourning, on the VAT that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking from the record produced by Band Aid. I cannot believe it. Three weeks ago I came in here and asked a question fairly innocently about the Government sending that money to Ethiopia instead of shoving it into the Chancellor's chest. I think that the VAT amounts to 18p on every record. Those young people who made the record gave their services freely, but the money is being coined by this Tory Government while all the people mentioned by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) are starving in Ethiopia, the rest of Africa, central and south America, and elsewhere.
About a week later every man and his dog were on the radio. Every time I switched on the radio or television there was Dr. Death claiming that he wanted the VAT back. He was going to knock hell out of the Chancellor. Then there was the Liberal Chief Whip — [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Indeed, where are the Liberals tonight? Is there a joint selection meeting on? The SDP and Liberal Members are all missing. David Steel finished up on television. He wanted VAT. They were all going to go knocking on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's door. Now they have a wonderful opportunity to speak on the subject just before Christmas. But I imagine that they have all gone. They have started on a fact-finding tour of the Caribbean. That is where they have them in the winter. They have not got the nous to come in here to raise that subject.
Having started this whole business, I am making a final appeal. I call on the Leader of the House, who used to be an expert on financial matters—
§ Mr. Skinner
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had got a fairly cushy number. In his job, he escapes all the facts and figures. He does not have to face all the brickbats that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the others have to face. He does not have to prop up the Secretary of State for the Environment. But as I have said, just before Christmas we are asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay back that 18p on the millions of records that have been sold.
But having said that, I shall return to the subject of the miners. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and others have said, I believe that there should have been a debate on the mining industry during the past few weeks. One of the things that appals me is that we constantly hear Government spokesmen and 368 spokesmen for the coal board say on television that the miners do not want to do a deal. It is worth reminding hon. Members that the strike is not about money. It did not start because people were after increased wages. By and large, most strikes and industrial struggles are about wages and conditions. But this strike has nothing to do with that. It is the most honourable dispute to have taken place this century, because it is about saving jobs. Hon. Members should understand that.
With every year that has passed since I became a Member of Parliament, more jobs have been created in the House. There are more Members of Parliament now than when I first came here. There are also more people in the Press Gallery and more people to feed them. More people are employed all over the building. I am not complaining, but the House is one of the most uneconomic units in Britain. If the Prime Minister's philosophy of profit or die was applied to the House, it would have to close down. After all, the canteens do not make a profit. They had to have a massive write-off not so long ago. Carpets were put down at £24 a square yard. If the Grantham grocer's shop mentality had been applied to this House and to the other place, the reserves would have been exhausted years ago and both Houses would have shut.
With 4 million to 5 million people out of work—according to how often the figures have been massaged — we are saying that the miners are trying to stop another massive addition to unemployment. When the strike began it was not about what some newspapers would describe as greed and materialism, as most strikes are portrayed in the Tory press; it was about trying to keep people in work. That is an honourable cause to support.
The NUM has not put a single demand on the table. It has not asked for anything. It has never been to the coal board to say, "By the way, this is our demand. We are going to strike if you do not give in." That is not what the strike is about. The strike came about because the NCB said, "We are fed up with 'Plan for Coal'. We want to get rid of it. We are going to close 20 pits and get rid of 20,000 jobs, and if we get away with that, we shall close 70 pits and get rid of 70,000 jobs."
The NCB says, as the Government often do, that Arthur Scargill has not budged an inch, but how can he? We have not asked for anything. We have not asked for a 10 per cent. increase, so no one can ask why we do not compromise on 7 per cent. The argument is about jobs.
If the miners in south Wales—one of the peripheral coalfields—go back to work, they know that half the coalfield will go down. Towards the end of the century, there will probably not be a pit left in south Wales. One reason why the south Wales miners have been the strongest in the strike is that they can see mass unemployment, such as they have had to face for decades, facing them now. They do not want to stand any more of it.
Therefore, I hope that the people will understand that we cannot move, because we did not start the strike. We have nothing to move on. We did not ask the coal board for a single thing from 6 May throughout the strike.
I want to put forward another argument in this short debate. The miners are not engaged in any special pleading. In every statement they make, the Government give the impression—the Tory press, the BBC and ITV follow them, gladly it seems—that the miners and the NUM want something that no other industry has. In other words, they say that the industry must be economic; that it must make a profit or go under.
369 I have just mentioned the Houses of Parliament—an uneconomic unit. "Uneconomic" applies to nearly every industry in Britain. Take farms. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) has just put forward a plausible argument suggesting that it would make sense —economic sense, really—for the world to produce as much food as we possibly can and of the right kind. We could then shovel it across to Africa and all those other places where the poor kids are starving. As a principle, I do not argue with that philosophy. I would argue whether it has to be done under the aegis of the Common Market, but I believe that the argument is sound. I believe that Britain should produce enough food to cut down the import of food. That is a good argument as well. Therefore, I am not complaining about the overall strategy of subsidising uneconomic farms in Britain.
§ Mr. Skinner
According to the think tank report, which the hon. Gentleman supports—he can go to the Library and get the report; it is dated November 1983—the Government will be financing farms to the tune of £1,000 million throughout this financial year. With the CAP payments on top, that comes to the equivalent of an average of £20,000 for every farmer in the land.
On top of that, because we have some even more uneconomic farms called hill farms, especially in Wales and such places, the Government sensibly say — all Governments have done it—that it makes sense to give those farms where the terrain is difficult to develop, more money. So on top of that they get another £200 million called the hill farming subsidy. Nobody argues about that. It went through the House on the nod during the miners' strike.
If the miners were treated like the farmers—taking into account the reports from Andrew Glyn and the other five accountants — there would not be a single uneconomic pit in Britain. That is the truth of the matter.
The miners are not asking for anything special. We are just saying: do not treat us as well as the farmers but go half or a quarter of the way, and every mine in Britain would be profitable.
Let me make a comparison with the Japanese car company, Nissan. The Government have given £200 million to Nissan because it would not come to Britain and employ people unless they did give that money. That company will employ a maximum of 500 people in the north-east. That is equivalent to a £400,000 subsidy for each job. Arthur Scargill and the NUM are not asking for that kind of money. They do not want £400,000 for every employee in the NCB. They will settle for a small proportion of that. Hon. Gentlemen cannot talk about special pleading, because we are not asking for as much as the Government have handed over to that so-called super-efficient Japanese car company, which is destined to smash British Leyland.
I shall compare the miners with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Every BBC unit of production is uneconomic. The BBC has no super-pits as the miners have. If all the radio stations that have sprung up in the past decade had to live or die according to the philosophy, under which the Prime Minister say pits must operate, every one would close. The same is true of large sections of British industry.
I hear solicitors say, "I wouldn't support the miners' strike. Every single miner is living off the back of the 370 taxpayer." When people tell me that the mines should make a profit or be closed, I ask them where they work. Nine times out of ten they work in an industry that receives a massive subsidy from the Government or which is fiddling the books, either in a fashion that is allowed by the law or in some other ways, such as fiddling tax and capital allowances. None of the advanced factories have been built by an entrepreneur who is carrying out the Prime Minister's philosophy of "make a profit or go under"; they have been built by taxpayers. How are they filled with equipment? Money for that also comes from taxpayers. Taxpayers subsidise those factories up to the hilt. That applies throughout the British economy.
Every multiple store that uses cheap labour under the youth training scheme is subsidised. The £25 a week is paid for by taxpayers. The miners are not asking for as much as that. They do not want to be treated as well as that. We are not pleading a special case.
Most ironic is the fact that the so-called super-efficient oil industry is also receiving taxpayers' money. That is according to The Daily Telegraph of today. Most people imagine that oil companies can manage well, but, they have now run into difficult strata underground, just as we do in pits. Because some pits in south Wales are more difficult to mine, it costs more to extract the coal The oil companies started with big economic pools of oil and have now drained most of them. The Daily Telegraph states that there is a rush for North sea oil licences. It continues:Companies have been encouraged by the tax incentives aimed at encouraging offshore development, and the Government's anxiety to see the development of the smaller finds now accounting for most of the discoveries and the start of exploration of deeper waters.That is exactly the problem of the so-called uneconomic pits. We have deep pits with small, narrow seams, but because the oil company is primarily in the private sector, it will get tax handouts to develop small, uneconomic pools of oil.
There is hardly a segment of the British economy that is not subsidised to some extent. Therefore, the miners are not receiving anything extra from the Government. Perhaps the most important and easiest comparison is with the Common Market. I know that the Leader of the House does not like it. On many occasions we trooped through the Lobbies against it in 1971 and 1972. I think we voted 36 times out of 36.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I voted more often than the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Skinner
No, I was there every time. I did not miss one vote, nor did the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). I am still opposed to the Common Market. The Common Market is up to its neck in debt. If the Government applied the same rule of thumb to the Common Market as they do to the mines, it would have been closed yesterday.
This autumn, the Common Market asked for more money from Britain and the other countries. The Community treats us with contempt. During the past few days, a couple of Common Market commissioners, because they are so contemptuous of the way they operate and because they have mechanisms that allow them to do what they wish, were promoted to vice-president for three weeks to increase their pensions by £2,500 a year. Yet the Government talk about mines having to make a profit 371 The most startling example of the Government's double standards was mentioned in the House on Monday. A gold bullion mine, Johnson Matthey Bankers, discovered that it reserves were exhausted in the last few days of September, yet it traded when it knew that it was insolvent. The Government decided to prop it up to the tune of £75 million so that their friends in the City could stay in business—
§ Mr. Skinner
It is not rubbish. I remember the night —30 September—when 200 people were brought to the Bank of England in Threadneedle street. There was no ballot. They did not bring in all the investors, and some of them were not even contacted by telephone. It was the most undemocratic procedure that has been carried out in the City, although it has seen a few in its time. Those 200 square briefcases went to the Bank of England to concoct a deal which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by a nod and a wink, had said they could, to patch up the bank. It could not be allowed to fail because others would have fallen like dominoes. They have managed to hold it together since with taxpayers' money.
That is why we should have a debate on the miners before the recess. It will save money. There has been much talk about the public sector borrowing requirement. There is always one totem pole that must be saved. Since I have been a Member of Parliament, we have had to have wage restrictions to stop the value of the pound increasing; we have had incomes policies to stop the pound decreasing in value; and the same is true now of the PSBR.
Contrary to what the press and the media say, at the last ACAS meeting the members of the NUM executive said, "We will accept the final suggestion from ACAS." The media give the impression that the NUM turned down that proposal. That is a lie. Scargill, Heathfield and McGahey agreed to the last ACAS proposal. In Wales and the peripheral areas, where the miners know that there will be massive closures if MacGregor and the Prime Minister get their way, they will stay out and fight.
The Government have had some luck during the past 40 weeks. They have had to settle many pay claims from other trade unions because they do not want two major industrial disputes at the same time. But that will not continue for ever. I hope that they realise that, as the new pay rounds go through, there will be further industrial action on different fronts. They will not give in constantly. NACODS has turned down the first offer of 5.2 per cent., and I am encouraging that union to fight until it obtains a better deal and to take action if necessary. The Government will not be able to buy off those unions for ever.
I am confident that if the miners of Wales, Scotland and all the British coalfields, including Yorkshire, stand their ground, we can win this battle. But it is a scandal that the British taxpayer has been asked to pay £5,000 million to back the Prime Minister in a war of attrition against the miners. That represents £100 for every man, woman and child in the country. That is what everyone has paid until now to finance a strike that was started by the Government and by MacGregor. However, provided that we can maintain our resolve and determination, we shall win the fight.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the Christmas recess, it should have the opportunity to address itself to a number of issues connected with certain national services provided for our constituents. If this proves . not to be possible during Advent, perhaps, after Epiphany, parliamentary time could be found to advantage.
On the Order Paper, in my name, is early-day motion 208 on the future of the pharmaceutical industry. This would provide a chance for wide-ranging discussions not only on the National Health Service, but on the contribution of drug manufacturers to the medical requirements of our citizens. My motion states:That this House, while recognising the need for value for money in the National Health Service and the possible role that generic drug substitution may have in achieving this, nevertheless urges Her Majesty's Government to give fullest consideration to the consequences of mandatory prescribing for the current and future strength and success of the pharmaceutical industry and of companies such as Roche, both in terms of ability to engage in continuing research and development and of satisfying the requirements of patient care.My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will immediately recall that Roche is a major employer in my constituency, as are other companies such as Smith, Kline and French, and that the pharmaceutical industry is an important contributor to the health—in more ways than one—of Hertfordshire. I very much welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the need for a consultation process over such a fundamental change in NHS policy, and I trust that the concerns expressed by Roche and its employees, together with those of the medical profession, will be given the attention that they undoubtedly deserve.
A further aspect of the NHS, and the subject of current parliamentary questions from me, is the planned development of the Welfield site in Hatfield for the expansion of geriatric and other patient care by the health authority. The recognition of the increased needs of the elderly in mid-Hertfordshire is very much to be applauded, and has been advocated by me and relevant individuals and organisations for the past five years or more. It is firmly to be hoped that the forthcoming inquiry will ensure the go-ahead for this much needed additional facility.
Other national services that are constantly the subject of the concern and scrutiny of my constituents are those that provide many of the public utilities—in particular, gas, electricity, telephone and water. On the latter, I am especially gratified that, after I have campaigned since my election to Parliament for the greater availability of water meters, the Government recently responded in this House by announcing a joint study between the water industry and the Department of the Environment on the possible extension of water metering generally to households.
Also on the Order Paper in my name is a private Member's Bill, the Standing Charges (Abolition) Bill, which is awaiting a Second Reading debate. This too would provide a chance for a wide-ranging discussion not only of the public utilities, but of the unfairness of the creation, in effect, of another tax without recognition of the ability to pay or of the level of consumption. My Bill seeks to abolish the levying of public utility standing charges.
My right hon. Friend will, I am sure, be aware that a typical family pays almost £3 a week in standing charges for gas, electricity, telephone and water before enjoying 373 the benefit of any of those facilities. The net result is to impose a flat rate burden, which often falls most heavily on those least able to bear it.
Although the possible consequences of my measure would be a rise in the price of units used, it has been estimated that nearly two thirds of consumers would be better off by such a fairer system. If one considers the case of the elderly, an even greater number of them would gain from such a change, and this would be of special value in Welwyn/Hatfield, which has a growing pensioner population especially anxious about the cost of such services, on which it is increasingly dependent.
If I recognise the limitations on the time available before the House rises for the coming recess for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I am certain that he will appreciate that this is a sign of yuletide goodwill to all men. However, may I encourage him during the 12 days of Christmas, to find a moment to reflect and make a new year's resolution to provide the opportunities that I have shown, albeit briefly, are needed?
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
Before the House rises for the Christmas recess I hope that it will seize the opportunity at its disposal to save life. Shortly after being elected to this place I was extremely disappointed when the House had an opportunity to save life but voted against the restoration of capital punishment. Because of its failure to act, murder as a crime goes unchecked and has, indeed, increased.
Another type of murder is committed thoughout the world, and especially in Britain — abortion. A few weeks ago, I saw a film called "The Silent Scream" and witnessed the calculated destruction of a human being and the dismemberment and the extraction of an unborn baby from its mother's womb. I saw abortion take place, and the ultrasound film gave me an inside view of what happens during that operation. What a contrast it was to the delight I experienced early this year when my wife gave birth to our first child, and I had the joy of understanding a little of the miracle of life.
The author of "The Silent Scream", Dr. Bernard Nathanson, used to run the biggest abortion clinic in the world and between 1968 and 1978 presided over 100,000 abortions. Today, Dr. Nathanson no longer campaigns for abortion but instead condemns it. He now believes that human life before birth is human life and that abortion destroys human babies. Thanks to the work of the three scientists and Nobel prize winners, Crick, Howell and Watson we now know that at conception something completely new is created, which can be traced from then on in an unbroken line of form and substance through birth, development and adulthood. Everything that a human individual will be is present in the first cell that is created by the fusion of the male sperm and the female ovum. Left in the correct environment, the early human being will grow and develop. By 11 weeks, the foetus is clearly recognisable as a human baby. A baby at that stage of gestation was aborted in Dr. Nathanson's ultrasound film.
The science of foetology has given us a wealth of information about unborn human life, yet we still question the validity of those babies. No one doubted the humanity of Louise Brown when she was created in vitro, and scientists witnessed the beginning of new life. We question human life only when it is unwanted and 374 inconvenient and the decision is made to abort it. However, we cannot pick and choose about human life and say who is human and who is not. In 1983, we destroyed more than 171,000 babies by abortion in Britain. Numerous women have been profoundly physically and emotionally scarred by abortion.
Abortion is not always a safe or simple operation. The fact that abortion is legal does not make it safe. In May 1980, Dr. Robert Winston of London's Hammersmith hospital said:Abortion, even done by the best hands, can lead to infection of the tubes and ultimately infertility.There are those who fear that we shall return to hack street abortions if there is any restriction on current legislation, yet, in countries where there has been a tightening of the abortion laws there has not been an increase in abortion deaths.
Abortion is not the great panacea for all social ills. A liberal abortion law has not fulfilled the promise of the slogan, "Every child a wanted child". According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the number of children physically injured by their parents rose by almost 50 per cent. in the three years to 1982. Many aspects of the Warnock report have been profoundly disturbing to people throughout the country, so I am delighted that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) is to introduce a private Member's Bill concerning one aspect of the report. However, I feel that the Government should take urgent action, especially on the whole issue of abortion.
I would not wish to go into gory details, but the instrument the abortionist uses enters the womb and the baby rears away in anguish. As the instrument moves towards the child, it can clearly be seen to open its mouth in terror; so the title "The Silent Scream" is not used for dramatic effect. I challenge every hon. Member to see the film, remain unmoved by it and still be prepared to be a party to the murder of the innocent. Abortion should not be used as a form of birth control.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
In this Session we have had considerable debate about certain aspects of the public and private sectors. There is, of course, a third vitally important sector— the charitable and voluntary sector—about which we have had little discussion. The House should have a debate on that before it adjourns for the Christmas recess.
There is a wide range of subjects which at the moment are sources of anxiety and which, if dealt with piecemeal, will have an unsatisfactory conclusion. There is considerable anxiety about the role of the Charity Commission. Set up in the middle of the 19th century as a branch of the High Court, the Charity Commission has a large staff, but everyone says that the commission is incapable of carrying out the job for which it is intended because it has inappropriate and insufficient staff. That must be a matter of anxiety.
In the summer there was a short debate on a private Member's motion, during which the Home Office Minister with responsibility for charities admitted that he was anxious about charity fund raisers and the way in which they can often take a disproportionately large share of the money that they raise. There have been disturbing examples—fortunately, few and far between—of people who raise money dishonestly for charity or claim to be 375 raising money for charity when they are not. My right hon. Friend the Minister promised to study the matter seriously. It would be good if some evidence of that scrutiny were to be forthcoming.
It is possible to change some of the ways in which charities are financed. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is aware, not long ago a group of hon. Members produced a pamphlet which contained some suggestions that deserve a response from the Government.
An important question is: what will happen to charities and charitable funding—in this I include the voluntary organisations, some of which are not charities—when the metropolitan counties and the GLC are abolished? I have no doubt that they will have a prosperous and useful future. In their dying stages, the GLC and metropolitan counties have taken enormous pains to finance a wide range of voluntary organisations and charities so that they may widen their constituency base. When those organisations have disappeared, are the Government confident that they can ensure that a great deal of the work that is being carried out will be continued successfully?
I should declare an interest as a trustee of Community Service Volunteers. In that organisation, and in a great many others, it has been well demonstrated that it can be cost effective to deploy volunteers on socially acceptable and useful work which costs considerably less than some of the Manpower Services Commission's schemes and with results that bear comparison with them.
I should like my right hon. Friend in his reply to address himself to the fact that each time we go to the Government with a suggestion about expanding the work that is being done by the organisations I have described, we are often unsuccessful, even when the case seems to be unanswerable.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
Before we adjourn for the Christmas recess I wish to talk about road safety, especially drinking and driving. I am particularly concerned about the Government's campaign to "Keep low", which seems to suggest that we should not drink too much before we drive. That is unacceptable. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport has made it clear that she is against drinking and then driving but, unfortunately, the campaign message does not give that impression. I remain concerned, even now, that one should not drink and drive.
I am concerned also that so many accidents occur on stretches of motorway that are unlit. Recently and tragically, 10 people lost their lives on the M25. That happened on one day last week when there was thick fog. I do not wish to prejudge the inquiry, but I maintain and submit that if the M25 had been properly lit throughout its length, with the warning signals working and speed limits being adhered to strictly, there might have been a different result. With the Lion Intoximeter 3000 breathalyser working properly, or an alternative breathalyser, perhaps some of those who might have been tempted to have a little too much to drink, or who should not have been on the roads at the time, would have taken notice of the prevailing conditions and slowed down, or stopped driving altogether.
There are 1,688 miles of motorway in England and Wales and only 338 miles are illuminated. It seems 376 obvious that if the remaining stretches were illuminated there would be a safer system and lives would be saved. In a written answer to me on 12 December it was estimated that the cost of lighting the remaining unlit stretches of Britain's motorways would be £90 million. Running costs would be £9 million. When the M25 is completed, an additional £7 million would enable it to be fully illuminated. Having a Leicester constituency, I travel on the M1 frequently, and it seems that it would cost £9 million to illuminate the stretches which are presently dark.
Speaking of the M1 and Leicester, I should say that I shall not be taking part in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill which will be initiated by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), but I can assure the House that I remain totally in favour of rate capping and against any campaign by Leicester city council to oppose it. I shall continue to fight for my constituents, who I know support the idea that the rates will be much fairer with rate capping.
Each night-time fatal accident on our motorways in 1983 cost £205,460. With 206 people on average being killed each year on our motorways, we would be saving money by ensuring that lights were provided along all stretches of motorway.
I shall resume my place as I know that others wish to speak. However, I shall be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House devotes a part of what I know will be an excellent speech to the state of safety on Britain's roads.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
I do not think that the House should adjourn for the Christmas recess until, as my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) have argued, it has fully debated the miners' strike and the Government's attack on the National Union of Mineworkers.
The Conservative party's attack on the NUM started before the beginning of the_dispute which has continued for 10 months. It goes back to a report which was prepared by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who is now the Secretary of State for Transport. That document was commonly called the Ridley report, and it was leaked in 1978 to The Economist. It showed that the then Conservative Opposition were preparing to attack what they regarded as the main political enemies of a future Tory Government. Those enemies were, of course, trade unions such as the NUM which would refuse to sacrifice jobs and communities at the command of a Conservative Prime Minister and Cabinet.
In such a debate, we should get to grips with the argument that is advanced by the occupants of the Government Front Bench that the miners' dispute started on 6 March when Ian MacGregor of the National Coal Board tried to save the country £135 million of uneconomic spending on the coal industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has said, the Government have wasted nearly £5,000 million, 37 times more than the stated target of the original savings when the dispute began. Had the dispute not taken place, there could have been a £25 a week increase for every registered unemployed person. There could have been a £4 a week decrease in the taxes paid by every working person. I am sure that that would have gained wide support throughout 377 Britain. It is nothing to do with economic or uneconomic pits. The coal board's losses have been adequately torn to bits by reports such as that of Dr. Andrew Glyn of Oxford university.
When I was lucky enough to intervene in the debate about a fortnight ago on the orders for increasing the subvention to the coal industry, I told the Minister that the coal board had to pay interest back to the Government, pensions to retired mineworkers and compensation for subsidence of people's houses, especially in the Nottinghamshire and Mansfield area, caused by pits that might have closed down some years ago. I said that those costs still had to be borne by the industry even if every pit were closed. When I said that those costs as a whole should be borne by the Government, the Minister said that that was not economic sense, and that every business had to bear such costs. If we could remove such things from the coal board's accounts, Cortonwood would be making a profit of £6 per tonne of coal and the industry as a whole would be making a profit. The argument has nowt to do with economic or uneconomic pits. That should be brought out in a debate.
What should also be brought out in a debate on the coal strike and its ramifications is the way in which the Government have been prepared since the mid-1970s to try to take on and destroy the trade union movement, with its ability to protect working people. They thought, in the words of Lord Stockton, that if the brigade of guards of the working class, the NUM, could be cracked first, other workers would be demoralised and despair, and would not stand up and fight.
Two years ago, in what was probably one of the best years for British capitalism for some time, 30 to 40 per cent. of the capacity of major industries such as chemicals, engineering, construction and glass, was laid waste and idle. In the timber and furniture industry, 52 per cent. of the capacity could not be used. The situation has worsened since then and is getting worse under the Government, in the 1980s. The Government are worried about resistance to future massive redundancies, so they want to demoralise the trade unions. It is nowt to do with the tonnes of coal coming out of the ground; it is about destroying the capacity of the trade union movement to fight against the Tory Government.
We should debate that matter before anyone in the House goes home for a couple of weeks' holiday over Christmas while hundreds of thousands of miners and their families suffer. The House should debate the miners' strike rather than adjourn.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
We have had the expected but nevertheless welcome series of short and serious speeches that are a feature of these three-hour Adjournment debates. No fewer than 18 hon. Members have raised matters of great concern not only to them and their constituents, but to the House and country. The Leader of the House will have his time cut out to answer them all intelligently.
When we debated the summer recess, the Opposition amended the motion because they did not think it right that hon. Members should be away and unable to influence Government policy for some 13 weeks while the miners' strike continued. It is with dismay and foreboding—a sentiment echoed and amplified by my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), for Bolsover (Mr. 378 Skinner) and for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist)— that one has to record the fact that the strike, which began over nine months ago, is still proceeding and we still await the first Government intervention to help to achieve its solution.
Nevertheless, the short break of less than three weeks between 21 December and 9 January is not open to the objections of the summer, and we shall accept the Adjournment motion, although with reservations, in the hope and expectation that we shall have replies to the points raised in the debate.
Many specific questions and grievances were raised today that I would wish to echo and reinforce. I refer, first, to the matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), who brought up the tragic case of the post-Christmas deportation of a Cypriot family in his constituency who have been here for more than 10 years. Indeed, the eldest of Mrs. Halil's three children is 11 years old and was born in the United Kingdom. I had always thought that, in administering the Immigration Act, the Government's general policy was to give more favourable consideration to those who have been in the country for more than 10 years, particularly those who came here before 1 January 1973 when the new Act came into effect. I hope that the Leader of the House will deal with the various points raised and tell us that he has been able to give new and favourable consideration to that particular case.
The second matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), and I hope that the Leader of the House will reconsider it extremely carefully. It is wrong that no opportunity has been given and none will be given for the House to debate the important issue of the introduction of fees for entry certificates. It is even more astonishing that the order, which has apparently been laid today and is due to take effect from 1 January when the House is in recess, has escaped scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which met yesterday and which will not have the opportunity to consider the order before it comes into force. It is entirely wrong for Foreign Office Ministers to table an order before that Committee has had the chance to scrutinise it.
The third matter was raised by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Post office closures affect most of us, and especially those who represent inner city constituencies. The only reason for closures on the scale contemplated is that the Post Office, which is not making any overall loss, has been required in the forthcoming year, under its so-called external financing limit, to make a net contribution to the Treasury of no less than £70 million in addition to all its normal costs and the servicing of its obligations. That is what is putting the pressure on post office services which are especially important in inner city areas and in communities in which a large number of people do not use banks and are heavy users of the various services of the Department of Health and Social Security which are administered through post offices. In many areas, pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed and women with small children will be seriously affected if their local post offices are closed.
In addition to those specific matters, I hope that the Leader of the House will address himself to two main issues. The first is the growing national concern about unemployment which has been reflected in so many 379 speeches today. The seriousness of the problem and the remorseless way in which the numbers have increased is reflected in the pre-Christmas count taken each November for the period of Conservative rule. The figures are 1,259,000 in 1979; 2,016,000 in 1980; 2,770,000 in 1981; 3,063,000 in 1982; 3,084,000 in 1983; and 3,223,000 in November 1984. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Markerfield(Mr. McGuire) pointed out, the underlying trend is still an increase of about 20,000 per month. Moreover, the figures that I have given understate the true extent of unemployment. What is so dismally impressive about those figures is that they have grown larger every year. We are now in the sixth year of the Prime Minister's experiment and there is no sign of the number ceasing to grow, let alone of any reduction in the appalling total.
In 1984 the country has finally begun to wake up to the reality and the cost of what has happened to it. Conservative Members have at last begun to understand that, far from being a temporary expedient in consequence of policies designed to defeat inflation and to create more so-called real jobs, unemployment is endemic in the Government's whole monetarist and deflationary strategy. Many members of the Conservative party now seem to be uneasy about their Government's core policies. We hope to see the effects of that unease as the Session proceeds, not just in revolts on local government capital expenditure, such as there have been and will be, but in a changing attitude towards the role of government and the provision of community and social services generally.
I must also mention the tragedy of drought, hunger and famine not only in Ethiopia, but in vast and growing areas of the African continent. There is a clamant need for immediate action for relief. The British people expect such action from their Government. That is why — as my hon. friend the Member for Bolsover mentioned—they do not understand why the Government have failed to make their own contribution in terms of VAT to the moneys raised by the Band Aid record.
The problem is long-term and deep-seated. There has been plenty of warning. In September 1984 the World Bank, in its third report on sub-Saharan Africa, stated:The spectre of disaster… confronts Africa and the international community.It is estimated that the famine in Africa threatens some 35 million people. The Christian West, with its food stores bulging with surplus grain, and other products has a duty to assist, but it has shown little recognition of the scale of the problem, its likely duration or the suffering involved.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) had his own agricultural interests in mind, but he made a strong point when he said that what was needed was a longer-term plan to enable us to assist a continent which is in dire difficulties and will continue to face problems for many years. I hope that the Leader of the House will at least have something encouraging to say on that matter.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
First, I thank the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) for endorsing the adjournment motion. He did so in a 380 somewhat fastifious fashion, but in these difficult times the Treasury Bench is happy to receive support on any basis.
The right hon. Gentleman made some pertinent points. I hope that he will not think me dismissive if I try to contain them within my review of the debate as a whole. About 20 speeches have been made this evening and if I am to cover them all I shall be under a constraint in terms of time.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin), who opened the debate, put with great force the case for Mrs. Halil. I shall refer the matter to the Home Office again. However, I should place on record the fact that, as recently as 1981, Mrs. Halil was deported after her case had been fully considered not only by the immigration appellate authorities, but also by the House of Lords, and that she defied that order by returning illegally, using another name.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) told us about the problems of the farm college in his county. We all hope for a successful and commonsense resolution of the difficulty. I will draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to my hon. Friend's belief that an initiative to the new European Commission could prove valuable. Incidentally, we were all transfixed by the revelation that Cornwall has the finest pasture land in the United Kingdom. Clearly that fact is reflected in the margins of dairy farmers in that part of the country, and we will bear it in mind when—as seems regularly to happen—there is another peasants' revolt in the south-west.
My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) referred to the sad fate of Mr. Alan Russell, who is now languishing in gaol in Libya. My hon. Friend will be encouraged by the fact that the Minister of State. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was on the Front Bench to hear his comments. I hope that he will take comfort from that fact.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith), who has explained why he has to be absent, ran a trailer for the debate which will take place later today on the television licence fee. I enjoyed my hon. Friend's trenchant comments. Mercifully I am not required to endorse his strictures on the BBC. Nevertheless, he set out what must be the real anxieties. The debate concerns the licence fee charge and the core services of the BBC which should be covered by such a charge, which is regressive in its impact. There is a constructive debate to be had on that matter.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) opened the topical issue of unemployment, to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney also referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) and the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) also contributed on this topic. I accept that this will be a continuing and major feature of political debate in the House as the Session proceeds into 1985. I should like to make just one contribution in the dying days of December. The training programme, which is running at £2 billion a year, and the great emphasis on improving the quality of the youth training scheme are an integral part of the campaign to provide a better pattern of employment. Much will turn on the mobility of our society and its response to the sharp economic challenge, which is wholly unavoidable for a nation with such a maritime and overseas trading tradition. Our ability to respond to such 381 a challenge, which is the opposite of what is promulgated in terms of a protectionist resolution of the coal dispute, will be at the heart of the public debate of this matter.
I should like now to deal with the important issue of fees for entry certificates. I fear that the fox on which I was relying was well and truly shot, because I understand that the hon. Member for Bradford. West (Mr. Madden) is not proceeding with the plan for a debate on this issue tonight. I fully understand that the hon. Gentleman has pursued this matter. As he said, he has raised three points of order which have been conducted with not uncommon for him but nevertheless uncommon courtesy in these times. I shall of course refer what he said to the Foreign Office. I entirely understand that his anxieties are held with great conviction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) brought a note of philosophy to our proceedings. I do not believe in the politics of crusade. Crusades are all right for a while but then one has to change gear. The consolidation that follows a crusade begins to anchor a new climate in which politics are debated and in which social democracy gradually replaces the more exotic forms of Socialism which adorn the Opposition Front Bench—although not at the moment. My hon. Friend and I are at one in believing that we have a greater task in this than perpetual revolution. However, it was a little unnecessary for him to bring an echo of our previous debate into this one. I thought that all passion had been spent. He said that his vote had been cast with the utmost reluctance and reservation. I must inform him that the Whips Office, I suspect rather like the England changing room, goes on the homely philosophy that they all look the same on the score board.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised important issues concerning the Post Office, which I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and fearful cases of recent crime. The collection of central records is always a delicate issue and for someone who sits the Bench that he occupies, it must be especially delicate. He will appreciate, therefore, that this is an issue on which we must try to have a reflective rather than an instant response.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) made some pertinent comments on the present qualities of the Church of England. I do not think that there is any requirement of me other than to note them, but I cannot resist the temptation to say that I have a lively sympathy with what he argued. It is perfectly proper for the Church to take a lively interest in contemporary social, economic and, perhaps, political matters. However, in the 18th century, when the Church became so other-worldly, it was quite unable to identify the spiritual poverty which brought forth the Methodist revival. There is a spiritual challenge, which can easily be overlooked, if the Church concentrates too heavily on other dimensions of its natural work.
The coal industry dispute was featured by the hon. Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Coventry. South-East (Mr. Nellist). There can be a considerable diversion into matters of accountancy, but I suspect that charges of faulty 382 accountancy will not long outface the basic fact that at present a subsidy of £1,300 million annually is being paid to the coal industry.
§ Mr. Biffen
I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I have an obligation to the House.
There are sound arguments for the economic concentration of the coal industry around those areas where it can perform to greatest effect. We have experienced this in respect of textiles, engineering, shipbuilding and footwear. It is simply quite untrue to say that we can insulate the coal industry from these other factors.
The hon. Member for Bolsover, whose contributions did not suffer from any understatement, feels a certain anxiety. But the strategems of the Government are not undermining his position. It is the action of one third of the coal miners who are still at work aided particularly by the 16,500 who have returned in recent weeks. They are also aided by those, predominantly trade unionists, engaged in the movement of coal, those engaged in the unloading of record shipments of imported coal and those at the power stations undertaking coalburn. The organised industrial class is undermining the position of the hon. Member for Bolsover, and although I am happy for those skills to be visited on the Government, I must tell him that is how it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) referred to the problems in the pharmaceutical industry. My heart has other causes to which it warms more immediately, but none the less this is an important issue to my hon. Friend, who has a major pharmaceutical producer in his constituency. He is perfectly right to say that its voice, as well as many others, must be heard.
I note the enthusiasm for water meters. I only hope that that is not what at first sight seems to be an easy solution to proper levels of charging in that industry, because the House will learn to address itself increasingly to this issue over the coming years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) made a powerful speech on abortion. While I can offer no promises of Government legislation, the Warnock proposals will come before the House in the new year, in the form of a private Member's Bill prepared by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) — [HON. MEMBERS: "Right hon. Friend?"] Yes, why not?
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) again expressed great interest in charities—
§ Mr. Speaker
And the same to the right hon. Gentleman.
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Speaker put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Periodic Adjournments).
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,That this House at its rising on Friday 21st December do adjourn till Wednesday 9th January.