HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc598-613

Question again proposed

Mr. Haselhurst

The letter continued: —Secretary of State's decision which could give rise to new evidence which has not been made available for comment by other interested parties.

I believe that it is well proved that there is nothing normal about the procedures that have been applied to these inquiries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne continued: I realise that other aspects of civil aviation policy are likely to be debated in public over the coming months but there are matters that should be kept separate from the decisions on the planning applications. I find that one of the more incredible statements that could have been issued on this subject.

If there is a worry in the Government's mind about the quasi-judicial nature of Ministers, surely it has been shown that the Government could be affecting the policy that would flow from their final decision on the inspector's report by some of the other things that they are doing.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a decision bearing upon the airports policy when he announced last week—to the surprise, it is reported, of the Select Committee on Transport—that the Government have decided that the airports within the British Airports Authority would not be privatised separately. No one could deny that in certain circumstances this could have a crucial effect on the kind of decision which should be made about airports policy.

The problem of the limit on air traffic movements at Heathrow is a worrying one for the Government, as the limit has now been reached, even before terminal 4 is open for business. If the Government were to change their mind about the air traffic movements limits at some time or another, the fact could have been crucial to the inspector who heard the Stansted and Heathrow inquiries in determining the parameters within which he could work and recommend to Government.

I am worried that the Government are allowing themselves to be hemmed in, and that options are being extinguished, while other options are deliberately not being pursued which could have a decisive effect upon this important issue. This matter has a national perspective, as many hon. Members representing northern constituencies are vitally concerned in what will happen.

I am also worried about the possibility of leaks. I know that it is unsatisfactory to have to mention that, but we live in the real world, and we know that we cannot place reliability on the fact that reports, once they are in the Department's hands, will stay sancrosanct. If these things get out into a highly charged atmosphere in which my constituents, and the constituents of hon. Members who represent areas around Heathrow, will be disturbed to read half-baked stories in the press, how will that affect the quasi—judicial nature of the position of Ministers, if people want to make comments on what they read in the press?

I think that we are being asked, as Members of Parliament, not to press the substance of the case that the inspector has heard. My right hon. Friends say to me that they hardly dare to be seen talking to me, in case their position has been improved. That position is not affecting the British Airports Authority. Its public relations has gone on unabated during the lifetime of this Parliament. I understand that it has a considerable interest in this matter. It is possible to lobby Parliament. Can it not be satisfied that its presentation to the inquiry was sufficient to make its case, if it is a good one?

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is highly political, and that by lobbying the House in the way that it has done the British Airports Authority has shown it to be a highly political issue in which its own survival is involved? It would behove the Government to take it as such, and to hold a debate in the House so that all political opinions can be expressed and the Government can be wiser before taking a decision on the matter.

Mr. Haselhurst

I take that point absolutely. It worries me that hardly a day passes without the BAA seeking to influence Members of Parliament on this issue. I am told that it is hardly possible to go to a reception in central London and not find a member of the BAA popping out from behind a pillar to put its point of view. One colleague tells me that he was in receipt of hospitality during five consecutive weeks. It would not surprise me if the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship was invited to go on a helicopter trip to Stansted to pray in all the churches affected.

The latest thing to happen—as hon. Members will be aware—is that a little yellow ticket has slipped through our letterboxes. Attention was drawn to that in today's edition of the Daily Mirror. When asked why the BAA had given all Members of Parliament a free pass to its airport car park and whether it was to do with Stansted becoming London's third airport, an official said: Good heavens no. We are merely offering these facilities because MPs do such an important job. I can only hope that that pass has not been sent to the Ministers who have responsibility, in their quasi-judicial positions, for considering such matters. There must be a very thin line between influencing the House properly and overstepping the mark. That must be considered very carefully. If the local authorities concerned with this issue were spending money on the scale of the BAA, I suspect that the Government would be down on them like a ton of bricks for wasting public money. The BAA cannot escape responsibility for that.

As the Government come to make up their mind about the handling of the report, they should bear in mind—whether they intend to recommend Stansted, terminal 5 or something else—the words used in the House by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr.Shore) on 6 March 1978. I do not often quote members of the Opposition Front Bench approvingly, but, when speaking about Windscale, he said: I have, however, been conscious of the strong, widespread and proper desire of right hon. and hon. Members to debate the broad issues of national and international significance which I asked the inspector to examine before a decision is made. I believe that great benefit to our democracy would flow from such a debate. This case is, indeed, unique in the issues which it raises, and I have therefore decided to proceed in a way that will enable the House to have such a debate and to be involved in this major decision. To do so I must take an unusual course. We want a debate in which Ministers could take a full part and which would lead on to a decision without running into a protracted further process of consultation and possibly the need to reopen the inquiry. I think that this aim would be generally agreed. To achieve it, I must first dispose of the planning application in the other manner which, I am advised, will be consistent with my objective. This will be done in the form of a refusal to grant planning permission on the present application. However, subject to the debate which my right hon. Friend will arrange before Easter, I propose to lay before Parliament shortly afterwards a special development order under Section 24 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971". My right hon. Friend now Secretary of State for Defence, but then speaking for the Opposition, said: That must be right." —[0fficial Report, 6 March 1978; Vol. 945, c. 981.] Indeed, that must be the right way for the House to handle this most unique inquiry of national significance. I hope that my right hon. Friend can assure us tonight that the House of Commons will be allowed to play its full and rightful part in the determination of this difficult issue.

10.10 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The House should not adjourn until the Government give a firm commitment to do all that they can to expedite a decision on when the M40 extension from Oxford to Birmingham will be constructed.

For many years the people of Banbury, north Oxfordshire and the whole of the west midlands have been awaiting the construction of the M40 extension. My predecessor in the House, Sir Neil Marten, was promised a Banbury bypass as a matter of urgency way back in 1959, when he first entered the House.

If hon. Members go into the Library and take any volume of Hansard at random between 1959 and the present day they will find Oxfordshire Members asking questions about when the M40 would be built.

I shall mention a random selection. In 1976 the Minister for Transport said: Proposals for this important link will be continued to be developed over the next few years."—[0fficial Report, 3 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 607.] In 1977 the Under-Secretary of State said: My right hon. Friend does not now expect to make an announcement until the autumn."—[Official Report, 13 July 1977; Vol. 935, c. 174.]

An answer which is a gem of its kind because it is short, succinct and tells one everything that one knew beforehand —which I intend to frame and send to the Secretary of State—reads: My right hon. Friend is still considering this matter and will make an announcement as soon as he has reached a decision." —[Official Report, 26 October 1977; Vol. 936, c. 823.] The delay continued and in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) the Minister said: My right hon. Friend will make an announcement as soon as he can. We regret the continuing delay."—[Official Report, 14 December 1977; Vol. 941, c. 492.] In desperation, the then leader of the Cherwell district council, Councillor Les Tustian, wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport saying: Since 1974 my council has been consistent in its strong support of the proposed extension of the M40 through this District in the firm belief that it is essential both to relieve existing severe traffic problems and to provide the improved communications vital for the planned growth of the area. He was rescued by the Conservatives winning the 1979 general election. We all thought that things would start to move. They did. The Department of Transport published its preferred route and a public inquiry took place. The inspector completed the inquiry in the summer of last year.

The first thing that I did on being elected a Member of the House was to write to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him about the proposed timetable. My hon. Friend the Minister of State replied that she anticipated that the inspector would take about six months. She stated: The M40 is, of course, one of our priority schemes and I can assure you that we will make every effort to bring the necessary statutory procedures to completion in the shortest possible time span. The people of north Oxfordshire want assurances that the M40 is one of the Government's priorities and that they will make every effort to bring the necessary statutory procedures to completion in the shortest possible time. An estimate of six months has been given, which would have taken us to early this year, but a couple of weeks ago I asked the Secretary of State for Transport for a future estimate. I was staggered to discover that he had yet to receive the inspector's report.

The delay in making a firm decision is causing concern in north Oxfordshire. The position was succinctly explained by the present leader of the district council Councillor Charles Shouler, in a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport on 3 April this year. He said: I understand that you will be receiving the inspector's report on the M40 public inquiry in the near future. May I implore you to consider the report and announce your decision as quickly as possible consistent with proper consideration. The proposals for this section were initially placed before the public in 1974. The resulting delay and frustration have long since passed the point that is acceptable. The Oxfordshire Structure Plan and the local plans for Banbury and Bicester indicate considerable growth in population and employment in the two towns. The success of these policies is extremely dependent on the provision of the M40 extension; also the relief that will be afforded the many villages on the present through county routes is long overdue. We look to you for a positive and urgent conclusion to this Inquiry as the future of North Oxfordshire will be determined by the decision as to when the M40 will be constructed.

I look to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to give positive and urgent consideration to the inspector's report. It is certain that the sooner the M40 is completed, the better it will be for the west midlands and north Oxfordshire. The M40 will relieve at least 50 communities in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire of much unwelcome traffic. The M40 will speed the transit of goods between the west midlands, north Oxfordshire and the Channel ports. It will encourage more visitors to explore the west midlands and north Oxfordshire by making the area more accessible. It will complete the basic motorway network, which Britain needs to stay abreast of road developments in competing with industrialised countries. The M40 will bring more benefits to the people of the west midlands, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire than any single improvement since William Morris and Herbert Austin brought prosperity to the midlands. Before the House adjourns, I should like to hear the Government's firm commitment that they will do all that they can to speed the progress of this motorway.

10.14 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

I contend that the House should not go on holiday until it has debated fully and properly the Government's role in attacking the National Union of Mineworkers and attempting to destroy the coal mining industry. I wish to put the case for well over 1,000 Warwickshire miners who have been on strike for many weeks. I shall attempt to outline the Government's role in appointing the angel of death MacGregor, firstly to British Leyland to sack Derek Robinson and other shop stewards in the motoring industry and then to the steel industry to sacrifice 80,000 jobs, and now the Government have politically appointed him to attack the mining industry, especially the NUM.

Why, in 10 weeks of a dispute, have the Government authorised the facility for about 2,500 miners to be incarcerated in police cells following their arrest during picketing — 1,908 in England and Wales and 512 in Scotland? About 2,500 workers were arrested trying to defend their jobs. It is not true that, despite the hardships caused by 10 weeks of the dispute, with soup kitchens in Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Scotland and south Wales and Kent—and all the other coal areas—that there is any softening in the miners' mood. The Government should be aware that the attitude of the mineworkers to this dispute is hardening. The miners realise that if MacGregor chucks the "Plan for Coal" out of the window, the plan for dole he is implementing will mean not just setting back the industry five or 50 years. If he cuts 4 million tonnes from coal production during the next 12 months, less coal will be produced in Britain than was produced in 1864, 120 years ago. That is the scale of the reversal that has been planned with this attack.

The Government might claim in their reply, as they have often done before from the Dispatch Box, that they have a policy of non-intervention. The Government have intervened. In the past five years, the Government have closed 46 pits and 40,000 jobs have been lost that would otherwise perhaps have gone to youngsters.

The Government have doubled the coal stocks, as they did in 1972 before the strike then in an attempt to prepare for starving the miners out. Last year alone, it has cost the National Coal Board more then £200 million in interest charges to finance the operation of doubling the coal stocks. Instead of giving that coal to the pensioners in winter—each winter 50,000 people die from hypothermia, because there is insufficient food and fuel to maintain their body temperature — coal is stockpiled at the pitheads and power stations in preparation for a dispute. The Government are prepared for disputes also with legislation deeming those on strike to be receiving £15 per week in strike pay, and they have, therefore cut £15 per week from the benefits of the families of striking miners. The Government are now deducting the cost of food donations given to the miners, thereby attempting to starve them back to work.

In recent days, we have heard that there is not sufficient money to give decent rates of pay to nurses, teachers and mineworkers, but the Government have found sufficient money, in another form of preparation for the dispute, to buy the loyalty of the police. Police pay has increased this year by 8.4 per cent. —double what the Government reckoned was the going rate for other parts of the public service.

The Government are spending £100,000 a day in Warwickshire trying to ensure that the strike is weakened. Nationally, tens of millions of pounds are spent on the dispute. Special forms have been introduced in Nottinghamshire so that, when coppers arrest blokes on the motorway or on the picket lines, the police do not even have to think politically about their reasons but have a special line prepared in a form for the arresting officer to sign. Even the Police Federation regards that form as a piece of "politicised verbiage". The federation welcomes the fact that some policemen do not like being told by the Government what they should be thinking about the coal dispute. The police have set up a national reporting centre on the 13th floor of the Scotland Yard building—there is intervention. In April 1972, after one of the major defeats of the Tories by the miners, especially after the Saltley gates incident, the Government were preparing for the next dispute. Pass laws have been brought in in Nottingham and Kent. The Government have used Boeing 737s to fly coppers from Manchester to Nottingham. Those pass laws must make Zola Budd feel at home, now that South African laws have been brought into Britain.

The Government have intervened with the largest police operation this century in an attempt to break the NUM. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, they will not succeed. The miners have taken on the Tories on three occasions and have managed to defeat them—1972, 1974 and 1981 —and the Tories will lose again at the end of the current dispute.

The Prime Minister is seeking revenge. That is why she has ordered that 2,500 miners be locked up and the dusting off of the Riot Act, which can mean unlimited fines and unlimited sentences for those who are charged under it. She thinks that if she can break the National Union of Mineworkers all the other trade unions will follow. She thinks also that the lack of support from the leadership of the TUC for the National Graphical Association's members and the members of the Civil and Public Services Association at Cheltenham means that the working class is weakened.

The miners' dispute shows that that is not so. The overwhelming majority of miners have been out for the past three months. The House will recall that Mr. MacGregor said at the beginning of the dispute that he would like to hear from the miners' wives. We do not hear him saying that now. Miners' wives support groups are working in Warwickshire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and in every section of the coalfield.

The Tories have written off women for far too long. They reckon that they can use them only by sticking them in television programmes — the one or two who are misguidedly asking their lads to go back to work—and allowing them to serve their own purposes. The miners' wives have shown how working class women can organise. They are gaining the growing support of workers nationally.

We are seeing the exposure of the transparently thin arguments of the National Coal Board and the Tories. I have heard Ministers talking about investment in the industry and claiming that it is £2 million a day. The miners are realising that for every £2 million a day that goes into the industry, £2.2 million has to be forked out to meet interest charges on loans to the Government. Most of the NCB's losses in recent years have stemmed from interest charges, which have amounted to £1,200 million over the past four years.

The miners are seeing through the argument about coal being expensive. The European Commission has said that it is cheaper to mine coal in Britain than in Belgium, France or Germany. It has been proved that the subsidy that is given to the British coal industry is a third of that which is provided in Germany and only a fifth of the subsidy that is made available in France and Belgium.

Tory Members do not have to believe me. They do not need to believe the European Commission or the Select Committee in another place that considers these matters. I suggest that they read in this morning's edition of the Daily Mail about those bastions of Tory privilege where most of the members of the Cabinet have received their primary and secondary education in recent years. They should read the magazine which has been produced by the young Tories at Harrow, in which it is argued that Britain's coal is expensive only because it is less subsidised than coal in Europe. It is argued in the magazine that Britain's miners have been forced to take a rigid stance and have the courage to stand up for what they continue to believe in. Poor old Eton might have been considered to be a second line of defence for the Tory Cabinet. However, the Eton College Chronicle, according to the Daily Mail, advises Arthur Scargill to sit tight and let the Tory Government destroy itself with its poor economic record. The Government seem to be getting not very much support from the kids at Eton and Harrow.

I have been in this place for 11 months, and to me the miners' dispute has revealed the two faced nature of the Government even more clearly than previous events.

Only four weeks ago the Foreign Secretary was proudly promising freedom of the press, of travel, of speech and from arbitrary arrest. In fact he was telling us that those freedoms would be maintained in Hong Kong when it is handed over to China in 1997. Does he intend to export those rights from Britain? Those rights, which have been won by the working class over the past two centuries, are being attacked by the Government and removed from the people. That is the only method that they can find of trying to solve the crisis of the capitalist economy. They want to take a larger share of the wealth that is created by working people and place it in the wallets of the rich.

In the words of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Government intend to "neuter" the trade unions, to reduce wages and to transfer wealth to the rich. Miners are drawing that conclusion. That is why an increasing number are joining the Labour party and are making the dispute a political issue. They are joining the Labour party's campaigns that are designed to force the Government into an early general election. If there is an early election and a Labour Government are elected, that Administration will be prepared to tackle the problems of industry. We shall then be able to look towards a real plan for coal, a four-day week and retirement at 50, for example, so workers like my grandad do not die from "the lung" in the early 50s. We could give proper jobs to the youngsters coming out of school. Let us have real investment, when we eliminate interest charges through public ownership of the banks and private leeches like Dowty's and all the rest of the private firms that supply equipment.

Coal reserves in this country are at 45 billion tonnes. We deserve—working people deserve—the right to plan that industry in conjunction with workers making other forms of energy such as oil, electricity and gas. The dispute, when it has been won, will have raised the political consciousness of many working people and exposed the Tory Government for what it is. It reinforces my hope that a Labour Government will be back in the House in the not too distant future.

10.25 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I certainly do not have the time at my disposal to answer all the claptrap that we have heard in the past few minutes from the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). I want to concentrate instead on a subject that is undoubtedly uppermost in the minds of those in the rural community in all parts of the country, especially in the area that I represent. I shall deal with the quotas that help to control the overproduction of milk throughout the European Community as much as in this country.

I am grateful for the opportunity to press my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a statement to be made on one aspect of the matter before the House rises for the recess. What measures, if any, will be taken—I believe that some will be taken—to soften the impact of those quotas on the small farmers, who truly deserve some special treatment?

Let me make my position clear. I have been a Member of the European Parliament for the past five years, a post that I shall soon relinquish. I have been calling, certainly in the past three years, for measures to contain and control the overproduction of milk.

I am not one of those who take the simplistic view that overproduction of milk is always carried out by farmers outside this country or, indeed, outside my area. I commend to the House an excellent speech made very early on Wednesday morning by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He pointed out that in this country alone under the intervention stores there are 144 days supply of butter and 692 days supply of skimmed milk powder, which has been produced by British farmers and not by the French. I shall quote figures from my part of the world, the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Over the past three years milk production in those counties has increased by 150 million litres.

I am not apportioning blame in the matter. Indeed, I have the greatest sympathy for the farmers because they were responding in many ways to encouragement from certain quarters.

Mr. Maclennan

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is not apportioning blame to any quarter, but does he not think it reasonable to attribute particular blame to both Conservative Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who have been promoting the production of milk for increased manufactured products?

Mr. Harris

No doubt, if we had arrived at a position where quotas were levied at present production levels, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (1vIr. Maclennan) would have been the first to attack Conservative Ministers of Agriculture for not ensuring that our production had increased over the intervening years. It is so easy to apportion blame. I shall not do so, certainly not against the farmers. We must face up to this situation. If we do not do so, the measures needed to, bring production under control will be even more harsh in the years to come, so we have to do it now.

Letters that I have received from the small farmers in my area, which Members of Parliament for every rural constituency must have received, make the case for special treatment for that sector. I was most heartened by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister of State at columns 340 and 341 of the Official Report when he made it clear that the Government were considering some means of softening the impact for the smaller farmer.

My purpose is to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he can give some assurance that there will be a statement on this before the House rises for the recess.

10.30 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

This debate provides one of the very few opportunities to discuss the security services.

The recent death of Mr. Dennis Skinner in Moscow has posed a number of questions that are unlikely to be answered because of the obsessive secrecy surrounding the security services and because we have not managed to achieve any measure of parliamentary control over MIS or MI6, although in the United States there are Congressional committees which supervise the security services.

I wish to talk not about MI6 but about MI5, an organisation which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, has a staff of about 2,000 and works closely with 'the special branch, which effectively adds a further 1,800 people to the type of operation conducted.

The general reasons for wanting parliamentary control are obvious. Members of Parliament must have some say about the aims and priorities of our security services, the methods that they use and the costs involved. I cannot prove all the facts that I intend to cite, but I believe that they are reasonably reliable.

The charter of MI5 is concerned particularly with monitoring "subversion", which is defined as an attempt to overthrow or undermine democracy by political, industrial or violent means. Many of its targets are the peace movement, trade unions and, dare I suggest it, even Members of Parliament, though doubtless more Labour than Conservative Members.

I cite just a few examples. Section F2 is concerned with investigating trade unions. Section F6 runs informers and infiltrators into trade unions. Section F7 deals with a mixed bag of "subversives", including lawyers, journalists and peace activists.

The MI5 registry contains dossiers on some 500,000 people. Assuming the inclusion of some 16,000 Communist party members, perhaps 50,000 members of other so-called extreme groups and perhaps a further 68,000 names to cover all civil servants who are positively vetted, that still leaves about 350,000 names unaccounted for. Who are those people, and why is it necessary to include them in the dossiers? That is not to say, of course, that we accept that it is right and proper that the former groups should be included.

One of my main concerns is the disrespect for the law shown by our security services. I shall leave aside activities in Northern Ireland, which merit a separate debate, and confine my comments to Britain. Subsection Al of MI5 is concerned with collecting three types of information, which is usually obtained in association with burglary or illegal entry of premises.

The terms used are picturesque. "Source cinnamon" is concerned with planting a bug in a telephone or junction box. "Source azure" is concerned with planting bugs in private rooms. "Source still life" is concerned with photographing membership of political or other organisations. Indeed, many of the entries in the files begin with a photograph of the membership card of the organisation to which the individual belongs.

Those activities are frequently carried out in association with the special branch. Sometimes plumbers, meter men or other workmen are used, but illegal entry is also practised. In recent years, many organisations have been surprised—until they discoved the cause—when break-ins occurred in which documents were interfered with but nothing was taken. The list of organisations that have complained about this is very long indeed.

I now turn to the frontier of legality for records and files. There are many records — Government records, Department of Health and Social Security records in Newcastle, records of general practitioners in Southport and local authorities' records. I contend that the security forces have access to them and make use of them.

I have touched only on the tip of the iceberg. Recently many matters have come to light which must worry all hon. Members. I cannot see why Parliament cannot have some control over the security services—even if it were through a Committee which met in secret. We have a right to know what is being done on our behalf and in our name. I suspect that quite frequently even Ministers are not kept fully informed. The demand for this sort of parliamentary scrutiny will continue until it is met. It is a reasonable request, and I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to it.

10.35 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I have rarely heard so unprovoked and unfair an attack on a Minister by a member of his party as that by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). I was shocked to hear him say that the Leader of the House was incapable of replying to the debate. I was shocked, not because I thought that his comments were inaccurate, but because it was unreasonable of him to think that he was the only hon. Member who thought that the right hon. Gentleman would answer the debate in the first place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not worried by these assaults from what should be friendly quarters.

The debate has been intriguingly wide ranging. The representations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), as ever, on behalf of his constituents and those made by the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) made a fascinating syllogy. They spoke from two opposite extremes of prosperity and continued to show the flaws in a Bill which is being debated and will probably be on Report after the recess. It sets out the framework for the Government's new regional policy.

The hon. Gentleman was correct to say that there was a misunderstanding about regional policy, because it is not just assisted area policy. It is not, it never was and it never should be. The need to regenerate the old industrial areas, such as Stoke, is compatible with the need to avoid the over-congestion in housing, schools and hospitals, which would arise in the south-east of England if the market forces—so adulated by the Leader of the House and his colleagues of the monetarist school—were allowed to operate as the Government wish. I was intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Berkshire, East. My right hon. Friend should examine what the hon. Gentleman said for ammunition for future speeches on behalf of his constituency. I do not intend to be patronising, but I found his contribution thoughtful and helpful.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made an intriguing intervention. Hon. Members will know of the extent of his expertise in industrial relations. I suspect that he is better acquainted with the soiree than with the pitface. Nevertheless it was interesting to hear him talk about the problems of the coal industry. I know that the hon. Gentleman reads avidly in his spare time, and so I recommend that he reads schedule 6 of the Donovan report, which deals with the Government's experiences with Kent miners in wartime. It is fascinating reading, and I only wish that I had had time to obtain a copy of it from the Library. It is hilarious and ominous, and I advise the hon. Gentleman to read it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) rightly said that the Government should intervene in the coal dispute. Some could argue that the Government have already intervened too much by appointing Mr. MacGregor as chairman of the National Coal Board, because there is little doubt about what the chairman's remit was when he took over his responsibilities. The Government should remember that what looks tempting politically can sometimes turn out to be a dangerous game. I say that as someone sponsored by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, and I do not wish there to be a confusion of interest here. There is an interesting coincidence of events emerging at present, where at the same time as the Government are fighting the mining unions, they are lining up on a different issue for a fight with the rail unions. It is not a sympathy fight, like that with the miners, but is a struggle with regard to industrial relations in the railway industry. I ask Conservative Members to consider whether they relish the thought of fighting on both fronts. Perhaps the Government are playing a game that they will come to regret.

Hon. Members had some sport in pulling my hon. Friend's leg about his figures for coal stocks. However, some of them, including the Leader of the House, will recollect that in late 1973 and 1974 the late Maurice Macmillan came to the House and gave figures on coal stocks which we subsequently showed to be incorrect. I do not suggest that it was done deliberately, but it happened. There is a great area for dispute between the figures for coal on the ground, and stocks that are useable, effective and practical. Do not be deceived by the fact that there are great mountains of coal. The coal must be in the right place, and that comes back to my point about the struggle with the transport unions.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) mentioned the increase of drug abuse, which was fascinating to me since I used to be Opposition spokesman on Civil Service matters. I remember warning the Home Secretary and the Department of Trade, as it then was, of the hazards of cutting the Customs and Excise staff, and pointing out that it was becoming almost impossible to carry out meaningful checks on ships coming into Britain. What the hon. Gentleman said vindicated the warnings that we gave to Ministers then.

It was unfair of the hon. Member for Orpington—I did not refer to him earlier in a derogatory way, and it is not my role to protect members of another party—to say that the case of someone being incarcerated unnecessarily and wrongly for seven years in an institution such as Rampton is such a horrifying prospect that no hon. Member is justified in using this opportunity to bring it to the attention of the House. He was wrong—

Mr. Stanbrook

It is a matter of finding a suitable opportunity. The suitable opportunity for raising such a complaint is when a Minister can be present to listen and reply to the accusations, so clearly it would have been better to raise the matter on the Adjournment rather than to use this debate.

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to be consistent in his criticism, he should criticise his hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), who I thought made an excellent and interesting constituency speech on the Stansted issue, and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, both of whom attacked the policies of Ministers who were not here to listen to the debate. By all means level the criticism, but at least be even-handed and recognise that Conservative Members are guilty of the same offence.

Mr. Haselhurst

It is reasonable to point out that the burden of my remarks was to ask the Leader of the House that a debate be arranged on that matter.

Mr. Williams

I am sure it was. But the hon. Gentleman was also expressing a fear that there were likely to be leaks from the same Minister whom he wanted here to deal with the debate and from his officials. I am not making a malicious point against the hon. Gentleman, because it was a good speech. All I am trying to do is point out the inconsistency of the position taken by his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington.

I want to revert to an issue which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman expected me to raise again. He will recollect that when we were debating the Easter Adjournment I made a reasoned presentation of the events in relation to Oman and asked whether the rules about ministerial conduct needed to be revised. I put it to him that we should consider an inquiry into the relevance of the rules in the light of recent experience. In his answer, in column 1246 of Hansard of 5 April, the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to indicate that he felt that there was validity in the point I had made and that the rules might need to be updated, although, in fairness to him, he said that the time would have to be chosen so that the matter could be dealt with with objectivity.

We are now many weeks beyond that debate and it is reasonable for the House to say that we have been through a rather strange experience with the Prime Minister on this affair. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, for five months we tried to get a simple yes or no to the question: did she or did she not know of her son's commercial involvement? I am left at this stage with an absolute conviction which I did not start with; I started with an open mind. I invite the hon. Member for Berkshire, East, who is smiling, to read all the irrelevant answers that the Prime Minister has given to specific questions, including the transcript of the "Panorama" broadcast. The conclusion one comes to is that after five months of weaving, dodging and evasion—

Mr. Stanbrook

Muck raking.

Mr. Williams

If I wanted to muck-rake I would be talking about Taiwan, not Oman. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know more about that, that is another matter. We are not muck raking; I will not accept that allegation. There is a different story to be told if we want to muck-rake.

For five months the Prime Minister has dodged and evaded a simple question. That means that the Minister who has the ultimate responsibility for deciding whether something is or is not in contravention of the rules in relation to the conduct of Ministers is herself gravely in breach of those rules and is flatly refusing to do anything about it. Therefore, before we rise for the recess the Leader of the House should give a clear indication of when he intends to initiate an inquiry into the relevance of the rules relating to the conduct of Ministers.

10.48 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

This has been a wide-ranging debate. God willing, I shall touch upon each contribution. To start with the speech of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), I must disappoint him. I have no intention of taking further my comments on the question of Oman and what deductions one might draw from that incident.

In respect of the other points that were made this evening, I shall, of course, have all the speeches referred to the relevant Ministers where that is appropriate. If I do not say so in response to individual contributions, I hope that the House will bear in mind that that is my intent.

I shall start, as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West did, with speeches of constituency or regional character touching upon regional policy. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) argued that inner area status should be granted to Stoke to enable us to deal with the problems of industrial change and in particular the consequences of the decline in the traditional industries of the potteries, coal mining and tyres.

My hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) argued for a review of regional policy for the south-east that would resist an unattractive inflow of industry. I shall not parody what he had to say, but some might have thought that it sounded rather like, "Keep our villages for stockbrokers."

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Estate agents.

Mr. Biffen

Bijou estate agents.

It is unwise to go down the path of believing that it lies within the capacity of Government either to deliver a desirable rate of economic change or to withhold a rate of economic change. Of course Government policies are interventionist, and have been for decades, but for that to give rise to the expectation that there can be a frustration of the usual location of activity is unwise.

The speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) caused a modicum of controversy in what otherwise is always an immensely festive occasion. I appreciated that he informed me that he would seek to raise the subject, and realised by the very nature of his communication that he did not expect me to give a definitive answer to his measured and serious accusations. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I am sure that there will be other occasions when the matter comes before the House.

To say in relation to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) that Stansted is a constituency interest would be the under-statement of all time. He is proving every bit as formidable an exponent of his constituents' interests as was the late Sir Peter Kirk. I took great interest in what my hon. Friend said and I noted his points about the timing and scope of any debate. I shall ensure that the relevant Ministers are informed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) spoke with feeling about the M40 and the Banbury bypass. I know the feeling well because the Oswestry bypass similarly appears to have acquired a measured status in the archives in the Department of Transport — although happily our bypass will eventually go forward. [Interruption.] On such occasions I must get in a few references to my constituency. I hope that my hon. Friend will be as favoured as I have been.

Clearly the debate has been very much influenced by the considerations of the miners' strike. It has demonstrated that the House is well able to have a debate on the subject without the formal rubric on the Order Paper. It also shows why the more Establishment creatures in this place are quite happy that it should be left to these evening hours than to occupy prime time. It has been a splendidly vigorous debate, albeit in limited form.

The Government's position was put fairly by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). There is nothing extraordinary about it. It is fully within the philosophy of "Plan for Coal" that we should move towards the era of an industry based upon low-cost coal production. Of course, in the process of change interests are affected. As the most important interests are those expressed in individual terms, the individual redundancy arrangement is far more important than the statistical abstraction about the number of pits involved.

I found some difficulty in proceeding from that slightly anodyne economic concept—which would, I believe, suddenly join the Alliance with the Government as a broad proposition—to discover that it was much more sinister; that this whole thing was a device whereby Government were determined to engage—to quote the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) — in "an exercise in revenge", picking off one industry after another, not just the coal industry but a whole shopping list of industries, which would fall, domino-like, once there had been this great success. The hon. Gentleman used the word "salami," but I prefer "domino". He might care to bear that word in mind for future use, perhaps at the next protest meeting. That was to be matched by a determination to smash the trade unions, and the right hon. Member for Swansea, West spoke of a calculated determination to take on the railway unions as well as the miners.

Every Thursday morning I sit in Cabinet and am overcome with admiration for the skill, calm detachment and judgment of my colleagues. I had not for a moment realised that they were harbouring such massive ambitions, ones which defy what any British Government have sought hitherto.

Is it not as well that we recognise that this dispute is an attempt to bring about circumstances of low-cost coal production, using techniques not significantly different from those applied in the last decade or two, and in circumstances in which one has found oneself on a collision course with a number of people on the trade union side who, for one reason or another, are determined to stand and take issue on this matter? It is not a conflict between the union and the NCB and the Government. It is essentially a conflict between those in the union who wish to follow the leadership of Mr. Scargill and those who prefer not to adopt such policies.

It is well-known—not only in Oswestry but even among the landowners of the Lothians and the miners of Tranent — that if the union secured dominance in totality, right across the coalfield, so that there was 100 per cent. stoppage, the relationship with all the external unions—steel, transport and whatever—would be totally different. What we see today, however, is a dispute the character of which is substantially contained in the fact that many miners wish to continue, and are continuing, working.

What is the disaster of the police intervention? It is that they are taking up their duties to enable those who wish to work so to do. Is that use of the police reprehensible? Reference has been made to 2,500 arrests having been made, and the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said that the police were trying to weaken the strike, as if the police were direct agencies of Government and were, of their own volition, trying to engage in some resuscitation of the class war, which is near and dear to the hearts of those extremists who engage in this conflict. This small-scale debate is a demonstration of where the arguments lie in the balance of moderation and commitment. If this dispute could be determined by debate, we would be delighted to debate it again and again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), and the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) expressed their commitment to the Ulster Unionist party document, "The Way Forward", and I am certain that the House will look forward to an early opportunity to debate the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), who reminded us of the need to have the subject of law and law implementation at the heart of Government legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) wished for a debate on milk quotas and their application as soon as possible. There will be a statutory instrument involving the scheme, which will come before the House. It will not necessarily come before next week, but it will come shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) commented on the need to have discussions on both terrorists and drugs within the next weeks and months, and we would all say "Aye" to that. My Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), wishes to add to Parliament's responsibilities some committee or control over the operations of MI5. I do not think that I can offer any early hope of that.

Two speeches were devoted to international affairs. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) spoke against the impending visit of the South African Prime Minister. I am sure that he will be relieved to know that I do not agree with him, and I should like to put that on the record. However, it is highly desirable that the British Government should have the widest possible talks about the situation in Angola, Mozambique and Namibia with the affected powers in the area. I should have thought that that was a natural and defensible part of British foreign policy.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) is no longer with us, but he is one of the most regular contributors to these occasions, and one of the most predictable. It was again about Britain's role in Cyprus as a guarantor power that he spoke. This was a timely reminder that in one age we take on all kinds of international responsibilities, but the efflux of time makes them look absurd within a matter of a decade or two. Perhaps that is a reminder that we should travel with some humility when we take on international responsibilities and obligations. Working through the United Nations and in consort with our allies, we shall do our utmost to secure a lessening of tension in the island. This is even more necessary in view of the delicate situation that has arisen in the Famagusta area. As the hon. Member for Tooting said, he has made many speeches on this subject, and I hope that before he makes the next one, we shall have happier news to report.

The House has before it a motion for a very short holiday. I recommend it, and I hope that we shall come back invigorated to continue conflict as usual.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising on Friday 25th May do adjourn until Monday 4th June.