HL Deb 31 January 1974 vol 349 cc441-5

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now make a Statement arising from the proposal made in the House of Lords debate on the 18th and 19th of December by Lord Diamond and many other noble Lords concerning the initiation of All-Party talks on the present crisis.


My Lords, I endeavoured to give a sympathetic reply to this suggestion at the conclusion of the debate in which it was made. But I do not think that anything has occurred since which calls for a further statement to the House.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aware that there were very large numbers of people in this House who, following the initiative of Lord Diamond in the debate on December 18 and 19, took the view that it was highly desirable to build bridges of understanding between the political Parties and people of no Party? Is it not also true that we in this House, unlike another place where politics are more rife, are perhaps better placed to build these bridges of understanding and think of possible solutions for the country in the crisis through which it is going?


My Lords, it was because I realised that what had been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, had a wide measure of support in this House that I endeavoured to give it a sympathetic reception. But I did point out that what he was suggesting was a solution which would command the support of, I think he said, all the Front Benches, and also that it would not be possible to confine any discussions to Members of this House; one must take account of what goes on at the other end of the corridor.


My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he can recall that in the course of the debate which took place before the Christmas Recess, following the observations of my noble friend Lord Diamond, I ventured to suggest that, entirely apart from the miners' controversial settlement, having regard to the balance of payments problem and a number of other problems associated with the so-called crisis, it might be desirable that Mr. Heath should invite the Leaders of both Opposition Parties, members representing the C.B.I. and the T.U.C., and perhaps other people with expertise, to come together to seek to diagnose the problem and find an approach to a solution, although I did not expect a complete solution? I have not withdrawn a single word of what I ventured to suggest at that time. Apart from the miners' controversy, the coal controversy, I think it could still be useful, from the standpoint of the future of our country, its economic, social and industrial future, if something of this kind could be considered.


My Lords, I remember the noble Lord's remarks. I listened to them with both interest and appreciation. I still say, however, that a suggestion of this kind inevitably involves the participation of right honourable gentlemen from all three sides of another place. Therefore, it is a little difficult to discuss it from the point of view of the Government with complete candour from the place from which I am speaking now.


My Lords, would not the noble and learned Lord agree that while we, of course, accept that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, is particularly well qualified to draw attention to non-partisan views, it is none the less rather unusual to pick a single proposal out of a debate when so many proposals are made and wonder why the Government have not taken action on it? Most of my experience is that Governments, on the whole, do not attempt to take action on most suggestions that are made.


My Lords, my own experience has been almost the direct reverse; that is, that Governments of all complexions are particularly sensitive to suggestions and criticisms coming from any quarter of either House of Parliament.


My Lords, are we then going to stand idly by while we watch the Prime Minister exercising brinkmanship in industrial negotiations, and having strong Government without wisdom?


My Lords, I think that that is an entirely different question.


My Lords, since the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, put forward his proposition, the situation seems to have got worse. I know that I am putting this in the form of a statement; I will put it in the form of a question. Would the noble and learned Lord consider this again, to see whether he can put forward, or encourage, some constructive thought along these lines? The McGaheys, the erstwhile Viscount Stansgates, and others on the Right, the leader writers of the Daily Telegraph, have been making hard remarks which are getting us nowhere, and this is where we have to try to avoid confrontation at all possible costs.


My Lords, I do not think that anything I have said this afternoon could be described as in the nature of "confrontative" —if there is such a word. I think at the end of the day one has to accept that I was asked whether I had a further statement to make about what the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, had suggested, and I said that I did not think that anything had happened since—whether things had got better or worse—that called for a further Government statement on that point.


My Lords, I apologise for picking out a certain person's remarks, if it is not in accord with the usual procedure. One has to raise a Question in accordance with the Rules of this House, and I felt that that was the only way I could decently do it. Perhaps I can build a bridge of co-operation. I should be delighted to have the assistance of the Front Bench opposite in framing another Question on these lines, which does not refer to an individual Peer. My whole anxiety is to build bridges of understanding, and not only between the Front Benches but between many people of goodwill who are putting our country and its urgent and desperate problems first and foremost in their minds.


My Lords, I should like to ask whether it would commend itself to the House if my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, were to initiate the conversations, by perhaps drawing in Members of another place and other persons?


My Lords, in reply to my noble kinsman, I would say that of course individual Members of the House are always well suited to initiate matters of this kind. So far as I am concerned, in the course of the debate I made it clear that my door is always open, and so is that of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I do not think that I ought to go beyond that this afternoon.


My Lords, as the first person who has no connection with another place to ask a question, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether, as a result of these proceedings, he would at least assure us that he will draw the attention of his colleagues in another place to the fact that the ideas launched by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, persist in your Lordships' House, and will continue to do so?


My Lords, I will make quite sure that my right honourable friends are aware of what has transpired.


My Lords, I wonder whether, in spite of the lack of taste on my part in intervening at all, I may ask the noble and learned Lord to convey to his right honourable friend our appreciation for his having brought my right honourable Leader, the ex-prime Minister, fully into the picture with regard to the recent proposals?


My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend will be grateful to the noble Lord for having made that remark.