§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.Before I move on to discuss the Gracious Speech, the whole House would, I believe, wish me to express our sorrow to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party for the tragic blow that has befallen him and his young child.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am deeply conscious of the honour which has been done to me by being allowed to move this Motion, and this feeling will be shared with me by all the people of Blackpool whether in the North or South constituency. We have in Blackpool a tradition of political vigour and, I believe, of political wisdom. It was between the wars that a well-known writer, Edgar Wallace, presented himself for Parliament in that constituency, and when asked on the platform, "Why, Mr. Wallace, do you want to go into the House of Commons?", he replied that, as a writer of crook stories, he felt it his duty to go on looking for new material. The House will be reassured to know that the voters of Blackpool showed what they thought of that sentiment about this honourable House by defeating Mr. Wallace by a majority of 33,000 votes.
Many hon. Members will want me to express our thanks to the Leader of the Opposition for holding a June election, and no one will be more pleased than people in my constituency, where, had the election been in the autumn, it would have deprived my constituents, for the second time in six years, of the opportunity of entertaining in Blackpool the party conferences of two of the major parties.
50 My constituency is known for its holiday business. There are not many places in this country where, if one wants to spend a fortnight there, one can go to a different live theatrical entertainment every day.
§ Mr. Blaker
It was a distinguished member of the other place who in the 1920s described Blackpool as the safety valve of industrial Britain. I would not put it in that way today, but my constituents who cater for 8 million visitors a year feel that they are doing a job which is useful, indeed essential, for the health and economy of our country. Without being controversial, I should like to say that the 300 people who work in the excellent amusement park in the middle of my constituency are puzzled as to why it is that 299 of them are classed as being in service industries whereas the remaining one is given higher status as being a manufacturer: I refer to the one who makes the candy floss. I have no doubt that this situation may be changed by some of the legislation foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech.
Blackpool is not always a place of fresh air and fun, because in the winter months it is very often for many people a place of heartache because of the problem of seasonal unemployment. It is a place in which one person out of five is over the age of 65 years, and these are the people to whom the reference in the Gracious Speech about the curbing of inflation is more important than it is to any other section of our people.
Some hon. Members may not know that out of season Blackpool has a very thriving cultural life. It has a symphony orchestra, it has any number of drama societies, it has two flourishing operatic societies, it has an art society and it has its own annual musical festival.
We have about 150 Members who are new to the House, many of them destined to play a great role in its affairs in future years. As I look around me, I find them rather unsettling because most of them look so young; they even make our policemen look old. There is something to be said for a House like the last one which contained the former right hon. Member for Easington—the noble Lord as he now is—who gave us the feeling 51 that perhaps we might maintain at the age of 85 the sparkle and the humour which he possessed. I welcome the new Members and the fact that so many of them on this side of the House come from my own county of Lancashire.
We have all just fought an election campaign, and some of us will have observed the development of a new and increasing malady amongst candidates. The symptoms are irritability, muttering under one's breath a string of mathematical figures, a furrowed brow and a tendency to snap at one's wife over the breakfast cornflakes. Hon. Members, at least on this side of the Chamber, will recognise at once an acute attack of the opinion polls. I suggest to hon. Members for future reference that there is an antidote to this state of mind which I found in reading John Buchan's "Life of Cromwell". When one learns that at that time this Chamber was cleared three times in quick succession by the use of troops, and that the penalty for the loser in those days was for his head to be displayed on a pike in Westminster Hall, this calms the mind wonderfully and puts into perspective the biggest possible adverse swing.
There is no proposal in the Gracious Speech to curb the activities of the opinion polls, and I believe that this is right. They have devalued themselves, and this is good for democracy. There was a fear that they might help whatever party was in power to remain there indefinitely, but their blatant inaccuracy has turned the calling of an election into a form of "Gallup roulette" in which two out of six chambers of the weapon are loaded.
There are many aspects of the Gracious Speech which I should like to mention. I like the emphasis on terms fair to all in the Common Market negotiations. I like the emphasis on reducing the burden of tax and on encouraging savings. Savings have been neglected too much in the past. But I want to mention in particular those passages which touch on human rights and on the position of the weaker members of our society. It is for that reason that I welcome the reference to the Government's special duty to protect the freedom of the individual under the law, the reference to equality and freedom from discrimination 52 in Northern Ireland, the recognition that a growing national income must be used to improve the social services and the environment in which we live and the proposal for pensions for the over-80's and the connected proposals for the disabled and for widows.
None of our great political parties has a monopoly of ideals. Many of our ideals all parties have in common. The problem is to put our ideals into effect. When it comes down to it the Conservative Party has a record which will stand comparison with any, from Shaftesbury's crusade for better conditions in mines and factories, Disraeli's measures to give the working man the vote, his completion of legalising of trade unions, the founding of the contributory pension system, the founding of public health administration, the launching of slum clearance, milk in schools and the beginning of family allowances under the coalition Government late in the war. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not accept this, but I believe that all the major parties of this country would accept that the basis of our democracy is summed up in the words of a Parliamentarian in 1647 who said:… the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as well as the greatest he.It is because I believe that the proposals in the Gracious Speech will be for the benefit of the nation as a whole that I have moved this Motion.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
It is indeed an honour to be invited to second the Motion so fluently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). I am conscious that the honour is really to my constituency of Edgbaston which hon. Members will forgive me for observing is the finest part of the finest city in the whole of Britain outside the capital. That this has been duly noted is evident from the fact that my predecessor, Dame Edith Pitt, who sat for Edgbaston from 1953 to 1966 and is remembered with much affection in this House, was asked to second a similar Motion. She did so in a masterly fashion, combining it with her maiden speech, a feat which I am four years too late to emulate.
There have always been too few women Members of the House. Today, after what has been termed a women's election, I am particularly delighted to see 53 more than twice as many women as before sitting with me on these benches. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in applauding the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) as the new Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. Since she is the first woman ever to hold this post, I may perhaps be forgiven for wishing her special good fortune in the task ahead.
To return to the subject of my constituency, Edgbaston has very much more than a famous cricket ground, a renowned teaching hospital and an excellent university. It contains a true cross-section of Birmingham people living in all sorts of homes, from the high rise apartment blocks which have replaced the old slums to brand new "executive type" dwellings standing in groups on the grounds of the vast mansions which housed the prosperous Birmingham citizens of a bygone century. But not all my constituents are well housed, even today, and I particularly welcome that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to a policy aimed at helping the homeless and badly housed, for so much human misery springs from this.
Edgbaston has the largest chamber of trade and commerce in the country, and this is not surprising, for Birmingham has always been a city prolific of industry and brilliant at commerce. Today, the importance of the part she plays in the economic life of the country through her export record alone cannot be overstated.
The city will be immensely interested in the proposals in the Address for improving industrial relations. The wording is, I think, significant. It refers not to trade union reform but to improved industrial relations. Reforms are certainly badly needed, not only in the trade unions, but also in management. The country has given a clear mandate for Government action in this difficult and delicate field, but I hope that in the end changes will be wrought more by voluntary action than by enforcement of law.
Birmingham has a proud educational record and will be delighted that the Address indicates that she will be free to take what action she feels will provide the best educational opportunities for her children.
54 I particularly welcome the action to be taken in primary schools. Birmingham has a fine city council, famous for its sturdy independence and the way it pioneers new ideas to help its citizens, such as the sale of council houses, rent rebates for needy people in privately rented accommodation, and so forth.
Those in charge of the roads and traffic of Birmingham have an impish sense of fun which has led them to dream up a system of traffic flow which provides residents and visitors alike with hours of diverting amusement as they struggle in vain to reach a given point. Roads which were one-way north suddenly become one-way south. Barriers appear overnight blocking major and minor roads, with a fine disregard of width or importance. Lightning changes are wrought with the sole purpose of keeping the motorist on his toes, or perhaps I should say on his feet. Living in Birmingham is certainly an exciting business.
One cannot mention too many points from the Gracious Speech, but I am anxious to give a special welcome, which I am sure will be echoed on both sides of the House, for no party has a monopoly in compassion, to the proposal to provide a constant attendance allowance for the seriously disabled. I hope that more reforms will be forthcoming to help those deprived by nature or accident of the blessing of full health and mobility.
In April, 1966, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this, from a seat geometrically opposite, though in practice less elevated than the one he now occupies:… the task of moving and seconding the Loyal Address … is always difficult and delicate, but at no time is it more so than at the beginning of a new Parliament before the mood and temper of the House is known to its Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1966; Vol. 727, c. 55.]How right he was. Not only do the newcomers not know the House, but the House does not know the newcomers. I do not know about the temper of the new Members, but their mood at the moment is doubtless one of utter mystification—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—that those moving and seconding the Address should spend so much time speaking of their constituencies, though no particle of a reference has 55 been made to anyone's constituency in the Address.
This is just one of the quirks of procedure of which, I warn, there are several. New Members have a fascinating voyage of discovery ahead. It is not only the procedure that must be studied. Many things here, from the customs to the corridors, are long and baffling. So, I am afraid, are rather too many of the speeches. Strange rituals are observed with hats. A Member must never, never stray from the point under discussion, unless one of several exceptions applies. In the debate on something called the Consolidated Fund Bill, for example, Members hop confusingly from topic to topic like earnest questioners at the hustings.
But whatever difficulties lie ahead—for new Members, for Opposition, and for Government—we are all united in one thing: we are all privileged. I believe, because I love the House of Commons, that we are the most privileged section of the community. From the Prime Minister down to the newest, rawest Member, that privilege is to serve. We could ask no greater honour.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
I know that the whole House will understand if before I move into the main debate on the Gracious Speech I follow the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) in expressing the deep sense of shock and sadness that all of us felt when we heard the tragic news of the death of Caroline, wife of our colleague and friend the Leader of the Liberal Party. The sympathy of every right hon. and hon. Member and their families will go out to our right hon. Friend, conscious as we are of his deep loss and conscious of how much she was able to contribute to British public life. I hope that at this hour the right hon. Gentleman will be strengthened and comforted by the knowledge of the feelings of each one of us and of the House as a whole.
It is an agreeable custom of the House that the first words spoken from either Front Bench are the compliments paid to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. This task presents me today with no problems whatsoever. The whole House 56 will wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool, South and the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight). I think it is fair to say that I know the constituency of the hon. Gentleman considerably better than I know that of the hon. Lady, both from bracing holidays at a very tender age and from still more bracing party conferences.
I am glad that the hon. Lady, in a very illuminating speech, sought to explain to the House the mysteries of the Birmingham road system. Every time I have driven in Birmingham I have found it more and more confusing, more difficult to follow that one-way system. If that continues to be my experience, I hope I shall be able to call on the hon. Lady, if not as a fellow traveller, at any rate as an adviser.
Having said that, I now take this opportunity of congratulating the Prime Minister and his colleagues on taking office as a result of the hard fought election of a fortnight ago. I go further, indeed, and tell the right lion. Gentleman this. He will not find it a factious Opposition, but he will find it a well-informed one. He can rely on the fact that we shall not be tempted to make difficulties for him in the sometimes turbulent area of overseas finance. As a Government, we were ready to sacrifice a great deal in political terms to put sterling on a sound foundation, honoured and respected, and we shall show the same sense of responsibility in opposition. Any measures announced by the present Government directed to Britain's economic strength abroad or to strengthening the internal economy—measures which in our view are well directed—will receive our support. We certainly do not rule out, any more than the right hon. Gentleman does, the consideration of new approaches, provided that they are soundly conceived and, where dashes of adventurism are contemplated, set fully against the risks and perils which can follow reckless lurches of policy; but provided, above all, that they are fair—fair and just to all sections of the community; maintaining, not undermining, the fairer social climate that we claim as one of the achievements of our Administration; fair, not only because social justice is an end in itself and one of the first duties of government, but also fair, as the right hon. Gentleman will 57 rapidly discover, because there can be no solution to Britain's economic difficulties unless all of those who are asked to contribute to that solution, by their efforts, by their restraint—their sacrifices, even—can feel that what they are asked is fair and part of a justly ordered society.
That is why there are very many people concerned with the future of Britain, people whose contribution to that future will be decisive, who will hope that the right hon. Gentleman's action throughout the General Election of muting the themes of Selsdon, even appearing to dissociate himself and his party from them, represent not just electoral opportunism, but a lasting conversion.
It follows from what has been said that Her Majesty's Opposition will not be tempted to censure and negative opposition for opposition's sake. That is not good for Parliament. It is not good for democracy. Opposition, no less than Government, must follow a theme consistent, comprehensive, based on priorities, and subject to a single unifying approach, bringing together every aspect of government—foreign affairs, defence, financial, economic, social, industrial policies. We shall wait for each new development of policy, wait watchfully and keenly, but we shall not rush into condemnation for the sake of it.
It is in that spirit that in a moment I will turn to approach the Gracious Speech; but in the same spirit I propose, also charitably, to suspend judgment on individual Ministerial appointments. It is right that I should say that they, too, will be judged by results, although there are a number of right hon. Gentlemen the whites of whose eyes we can barely wait to see.
It is right to make clear our total opposition to the right hon. Gentleman's decision to appoint a Secretary of State for Defence who sits in another place. It is not only that defence is a major spending department and should be directly and at top level answerable to the elected Chamber. There is the further crucial point that defence policy is capable of generating the greatest possible degree of controversy, particularly if the policies put forward by the Government when in Opposition are to provide the content for our defence debates. But accountability for both expenditure and policy should be to this House, and it is no excuse for the 58 right hon. Gentleman to plead, if he does so plead, that he could not find an adequate Defence Secretary from among his parliamentary party—[An HON. MEMBER: "Paisley?"]
There is another aspect of the Government's composition which must strike the detached observer. I found one of the most agreeable consequences of the election in yesterday morning's Press—that vernal display of Conservative pulchritude surrounding the right hon. Gentleman. It led to the conclusion that had he been photographed not with his back benchers but the no less photogenic women members of his Administration—both of them—it would have been a much lonelier picture. It would have been scarcely less lonely if he had been photographed with the small minority of members of his Administration who went to State schools.
We shall await the right hon. Gentleman's decision about changes in the machinery of Government. He is right to take his time over that. There is one decision that had been taken before he took office which I hope that he will ratify, though this must obviously be for him. I took this decision, but there was then a change of Government. I felt that it was right to bring transport, housing, planning and local government under one head. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have received the proposals, which I accepted, that these Departments should now be fully integrated under one Ministerial head and that the Ministry of Works should be brought into the same Department in order to strengthen the attack on Britain's housing and building problems. If that is what he feels, as I hope that he will, in forcing it through he knows that he will have to be prepared ruthlessly to resist departmental and if necessary Ministerial pressures.
I turn now to the Gracious Speech. In so far as it contains specific proposals, they consist largely of two groups of Measures. The first are Bills which we had prepared, from Fiji independence to the legislation to implement the Report of the Beeching Commission on Assize Courts. I am glad that our decision on the Superannuation Bill as regards the constant attendance allowance and the provision for the disabled has been followed by the right hon. Gentleman in the Gracious Speech.
59 The other group of Measures in the Gracious Speech are a small number of expected Tory hardy annuals, such as the Land Commission, the Boundary Commission and, of course, the expected sell-out to the commercial radio lobby. For the rest, the Government's proposals give a singular appearance of being anything but well thought out; indeed, hardly thought out at all.
Five months ago, after Selsdon Park, a credulous Press was induced to believe that their first, if not their second, Gracious Speech was in draft, together with their first Budget and a great deal of the legislation. That is what the Press had fed out to it. But, apart from one or to well-meaning intentions to review such matters as company law, or to inquire into teacher training, the Speech today seems little more specific than the Conservative manifesto: a few general propositions and the hope that something can then be worked out.
In some cases, the anodyne wording of the Gracious Speech is designed to cover up a more sinister intention. The paragraph on education refers to setting local authorities free… to take effective decisions on the organisation of their schools.I am not sure whether that is intended to include the G.L.C. That is what it says. What it means is that the Conservative Party is going into the 1970s and intends to take Britain into the 1970s on the basis of allowing reactionary Tory local authorities, for ideological reasons, to inflict on parents, teachers and, above all, on children the indefensible and archaic crudities of 11-plus selection. That is a denial of equal opportunity to hundreds of thousands of children, a denial to Britain of the full contribution that those children can make, able as they would be under our proposals to benefit to the full by the type of education suited to their needs.
This one paragraph of the Gracious Speech postpones such opportunities for an entire school generation—11 to 15—in every area where there are doctrinaire Tory councils ready and waiting to abuse the licence that the Gracious Speech holds out to them. The right hon. Gentleman must expect that we shall return to this theme later in the debate, since he and his Government have nailed their flag to the 60 perpetuation of the 11-plus system, regardless of the wishes of parents and teachers and regardless of the best interests of the children themselves.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will wish this afternoon to spell out the implications of the paragraph about local government reform. The Press briefing suggests that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has already decided that the Report of the Royal Commission will not be proceeded with—a Report which held out real hopes for the 'seventies and beyond by modernising a system of local government still governed by the legislation of eighty years ago.
While I am referring to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Prime Minister can expect outright opposition from us on the sale of council houses in priority areas where already the stock of houses is inadequate for urgent priority needs—[Interruption.] If I might intervene in the debate between right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for a moment, my right hon. Friend specifically referred in his speech to the building of houses for sale, not the selling off of council house stock—and only outside priority areas.
The passage in the Gracious Speech about giving the Scottish people a greater say in their own affairs is presumably a reference to the report produced by the so-called Commission presided over by the Foreign Secretary. That commission had its origin in a spirit of political opportunism, when the right hon. Gentleman thought that Scottish Nationalism had more for him in political terms than actually turned out to be the case. Even his Scottish Unionist Party conference could barely be prevailed upon to approve it—and those who did, did so more out of respect for the Foreign Secretary than for his proposal.
Before I come to some of the more serious issues raised in the Gracious Speech, it is right to mention one or two of the omissions. There is nothing on the Health Service. There is nothing on the mentally handicapped, where we had a Green Paper already published and a White Paper in an advanced stage of preparation—[Interruption.] This is not a matter for amusement, even to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I 61 hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what his plans are in that direction.
For a party which for over six months has made law and order its theme, in season and out of season, for a party which has insisted or proclaimed its immediate readiness to introduce legislation on almost every aspect of this subject, the last paragraph of the Gracious Speech borders on bathos when it says:My Government will make it their special duty to protect the freedom of the individual under the law and will examine ways in which this may be more effectively safeguarded.We have been told that powerful working parties, under the chairmanship of the present Attorney-General, another under the inspiring chairmanship of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), to name but two, had prepared draft legislation on every aspect of freedom under the law. Where is the promised legislation on the law of trespass, making trespass a criminal offence? Is it that they have discovered, as we warned, that the nation's police services are singularly reluctant to get mixed up in matters of trespass, for in no time at all they would be involved in the law of landlord and tenant?
There is no indication even of the promised legislation to make the cricket grounds of Britain safe for racially selected teams to play on. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us more about that this afternoon.
But there is one serious omission of something that I think the whole House has a right to expect—the Coal Industry Bill which we introduced. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he has dropped the Bill or whether it was merely an omission that it was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. The House is well aware from past debates on these issues that under successive Governments there has been a rapid rate of closure of coal mines. The whole House knows the suffering and the hardship, especially for older miners who are unable to find work in the area. The House applauded the compassion with which we treated those miners in the 1967 Bill and applauded our decision to carry it on for a further period of years, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us 62 quite clearly this afternoon whether that Bill is being proceeded with in the form in which we introduced it? Will he tell us whether all our commitments to the coal industry and to the miners will be honoured or whether the coal industry is, so far as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are concerned, a write-off? He will also expect that, if he does not proceed with the Bill in the form in which we introduced it, he will get the most unremitting opposition from this side.
So much for the omissions about which I hope the right hon. Gentleman can help us.
Now I turn to the real issues in the Gracious Speech, the real issues for this debate for this Session, indeed, for the whole of this Parliament.
First, Northern Ireland. I want to make clear how much we offer our good will to the new Home Secretary on the task that he faces. I offer him a target. If he can show that he is handling this situation with the same firmness, the same coolness and, above all, the same fairness as my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary displayed, he will earn not only our plaudits and those of fair-minded people everywhere; he will have done more. He will have shown a degree of fairness and detachment on Ulster affairs never previously shown by any member of his party, a party hog-tied, as it is, by its identification with and its responsibility for half a century of unremitting, unchallenged, uncompromising Conservative and Unionist control of affairs in Northern Ireland.
It was clear that the situation in Northern Ireland this summer would be extremely perilous. We had decided, before leaving office, on the movement of the five battalions which moved in last week, and we support the further reinforcements that the Government decided on over the weekend. Those decisions were taken before the confirmation of the prison sentence on the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) and the tactless and clumsy way in which the local police ensured her surrender to that appeal court decision. Last weekend provided the reaction. But there are questions that I must put to the right hon. Gentleman about this.
First, if I am right in thinking that the question of a remission of sentence is for the Stormont Government, not for 63 the Westminster Government, did the right hon. Gentleman or the Home Secretary represent to that Government, in view of our responsibility, through the forces of the Crown, for law and order, that the Northern Ireland Government should remit that sentence? Did they make that representation and, if they did, what answer did they get? If the Northern Ireland Government rejected it, what did the Government do? For law and order have broken down only in Northern Ireland and nowhere else in the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom Government and United Kingdom forces—and United Kingdom taxpayers—are paying the price.
Second, over and beyond the smoke and fury of petrol bombs, there will be no peace and security in Northern Ireland except on the basis of tolerance and a mutual respect for human rights, the human rights to which we as the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are pledged. In the Downing Street Declaration last August, which the Labour Government put to the Northern Ireland Prime Minister on the day that United Kingdom forces took over responsibility for public security and the security of the industries in Northern Ireland, for law and order in Nothern Ireland—a declaration to which the Northern Ireland Premier gave his assent—these principles were asserted for the first time in the whole history of Anglo-Irish relations:… that in all legislation and executive decisions of Government, every citizen of Northern Ireland is entitled to the same equality of treatment and freedom from discrimination as obtains in the rest of the United Kingdom, irrespective of political views or religion.In fifty years this had never been asserted by any Ulster Unionist Government. In all the pre-war years of Tory rule, in their years before 1964, no British Tory Government sought to assert it. I must now ask the present Conservative Prime Minister whether he will repeat that this statement of principles is the policy of Her Majesty's Government here at Westminster? Will he assert that he will make it the basis of the Government's Northern Ireland policy? Will he undertake to resist any Ulster Tory pressure to derogate from it? Whatever the implications, whatever the pressures on the Northern Ireland Government from the 64 extremist forces which are set to undermine that Government's commitment to tolerance and fair dealings—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—will he without fear or favour—fear of extremists or favour towards his political allies in Ulster—recognise that his commitments to this Parliament, his commitments to the wider international community, require him to stand by that Downing Street Declaration, no matter what the pressures, no matter what the cost?
Press reports yesterday of the Home Secretary's visit to Belfast suggested that he was coming under strong pressure from Unionist circles to depart from the neutral rôle that my right hon. Friend successfully maintained, and to force on the Army—in which everyone in this House has the utmost confidence—a change in its posture and approach. This new factor in Northern Ireland, Right speaking to Right, and speaking in the hope that their pressures will succeed, is an ominous development. I welcome the fact that in this morning's accounts of what the right hon. Gentleman has said after these pressures that he stood very firmly by the policy which has been taken so far in Northern Ireland and seeks no changes—[Interruption.]—I was warning him against the pressures that he will get, and he must expect them.
I now turn—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is quite a lot of talk in the Gracious Speech. I now turn to the references in the Gracious Speech to the economic situation. On 19th June, I said that the right hon. Gentleman will have the strongest economic position any Prime Minister has taken over in living memory. [Interruption.] This is the fact. No doubt right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will give their own version, on which they have been hard at work, because it is essential for them so to present the facts of the economy as to give them a let-out from honouring their irresponsible election bribes, both on prices and on taxes, which they never should have made and which they are now becoming increasingly clear they cannot carry out.
I will give the House the facts as they were given to us and as we saw them, the facts as they were coldly assessed by those whose duty it was to give an assessment to my right hon. Friend and to myself before the Budget, after the Budget in 65 May, and indeed right up to polling day. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to say that their advisers are giving them a totally different factual picture now, we shall be interested to hear about it and perhaps to compare notes.
The facts as we had them are these. The right hon. Gentleman took over from us a balance of payments surplus on current account running at £500 million a year—[Interruption.] £500 million this year and, on the estimates given to us, likely to remain at that level for some time ahead—[Interruption.] It was not only on current account. It was a strong balance of payments on current and on capital account taken together.
Sterling was strong—he cannot deny that—in foreign exchange markets, particularly forward sterling. Even the Conservative newspaper The Times referred yesterday—[HON. MEMBERS "Oh."]—there cannot be much doubt about that after the election—to thestrong balance of payments he inherited.The House will recognise the sharp contrast here between 1970 and 1964. The right hon. Gentleman, on returning from the Palace a fortnight ago, was not presented with a crippling overseas deficit which required a meeting that night—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—He has inherited—my right hon. Friend gave the facts and the figures in the Budget debate—a net overseas asset position much more favourable than in 1964. He was not faced with the need for a meeting that night where he had only three choices—devaluation, or quotas on imports, or surcharges on imports.
He will not be visited as I was by the Governor of the Bank of England with firm warnings that sterling cannot be held unless he makes immediate cuts in roads, school buildings and the rest; cuts so severe that roads, schools, and hospitals would have to be abandoned half constructed.
Again, in 1964, when we took long overdue action to deal with the plight of old-age pensioners, war pensioners and widows, this led within days to a crippling run on sterling on the ground that Britain was going soft and could not afford such luxuries with such a balance of payments position. If the right hon. Gentleman now, in 1970, were to redeem his election pledge about 66 family allowances, there would not be a ripple on the foreign exchange market because he takes over a Britain economically strong.
Since the right hon. Gentleman took office he has had the official figures showing a record level of engineering export orders. Since he took office he has had the C.B.I.'s report showing that industrialists are more optimistic about exports over the next 12 months, and that new export orders are moving upwards—[Interruption.] It could be that, if the C.B.I. had not said that it took it during the election and saved the publication until after the election. Since the claims of a crisis, I have no doubt that he has read the statement of the Chairman of the C.B.I. Economic Committee thattalk of a crisis was irresponsible … even on the most pessimistic assumptions the surplus, including invisibles, was running at £300 million a year, which was a 'hell of a long way from a crisis'".That is an entirely different conclusion from the document which the right hon. Gentleman slipped out to the Press two days before polling day, with his references to crisis, to emergency, and to devaluation, all based on deductions from a single month's trade figures.
Where we inherited crippling economic weakness, the right hon. Gentleman inherited the strongest balance of payments surplus in Britain's history, and with assets which had risen more than debts. Starting from that surplus, the advice which we were given in the last assessment that we received from the Government's economic advisers raised no justification for any of his talk about a crisis.
To judge from the not inconsiderable Press briefings of the days when the new Ministers were being given their first indoctrination into the facts of the economic situation, it would appear that economic experts have not changed their forecasts—we will be told if they have over the last three weeks—but they do now see a somewhat greater amount of slack in the economy, measured in terms of industrial production and employment, than was forecast when my right hon. Friend presented his Budget. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt tell us whether this is so. If it is, that might have made an easier Budget possible last 67 April. If this is so, then the right hon. Gentleman should have little cause to complain, for a party which secured office on unrealistic tax promises is now given an undeserved opportunity which should help right hon. Gentlemen to go some little way in fulfilling these huge tax reductions they have promised.
All that is provided, of course, that their other policies do not destroy that manoeuvring room. We were told, two days before the election, that it was official Conservative policy deliberately to hold down prices in the nationalised industries while letting them rip in private industry. By this time I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have been told by the Chancellor what it would mean for public expenditure. Every publicly-owned industry forced by selective price control to keep its earnings below the targets laid down by the Treasury upsets the overall Treasury budgeting position by figures of anything from millions to many tens of millions—tens of millions thereby no longer available to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for tax relief.
The right hon. Gentleman has many promises to make good and not only we but many other people will be watching him over every promise and every pledge.
The first test case—we have had it already within a fortnight—is that of doctors' remuneration. On 4th June we accepted for immediate, indeed retrospective, payment up to £57 million of the £85 million recommended by the advisory body which, as the Royal Commission made clear, is only advisory and not arbitrary, and the other £28 million we referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. The right hon. Gentleman's personal commitment was clear:Our position is that it should be accepted unless the Government of the day considers there is a national emergency which does not allow them to implement a report".There is no national emergency. The only reasons he can give for hedging on the full award are, first, the burden on the taxpayer—a perfectly fair argument, and one that we used—and, second, the effect on claims for increased incomes in other areas of the economy. We used precisely those two reasons for limiting and referring to the board the pay of the higher-paid 68 doctors, while we met the junior hospital staffs in full. We bore in mind the cost to the taxpayer and the effect on wages and salaries elsewhere. From all the accounts, the right hon. Gentleman has not fulfilled his pledge to pay them in full and immediately.
No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer is exercising restraint—it is his duty to do that—but it was the Chancellor himself who said on 9th June:The doctors have been disgracefully treated as they were in 1966. The Kindersley Committee have been insulted by the Government and are quite right to resign. We have always implemented their recommendations promptly and in full. We would have done so this time".Now is his chance.
But perhaps it is not the Chancellor standing in the way. Perhaps it is the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, aware, as we stressed, what an unquestioned award of £33 a week for £80 a week doctors would mean to men in the factories and in the docks where, for example, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a national dock strike is threatened over a dispute concerning a claim to raise the basic rate from £11 1s.8d. to £20 a week. Let us hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether the doctors are going to prove the first broken pledge into what I can now inform the right hon. Gentleman is the wastepaper basket in which the right hon. Gentleman's friendly critics are investing.
On the same day that he promised to pay the doctors' award in full there was published the text of a letter to the Child Poverty Action Group committing his party to early action:The only way of tackling family poverty in the short term is to increase family allowances.This was taken by the Action Group as "a categorical pledge to the poor". Perhaps we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman how quickly he will carry out that pledge, because it was "short time", and no longer.
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will tell us today whether there is to be an autumn Budget to begin the redemption of the pledges. In the heady days of early last week there was well-fed Press speculation about a July 69 Budget. But that evaporated. Now there is hard speculation about an autumn Budget. Presumably that will be confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. After all, if he decided to wait until next April it would be an admission by the Conservatives, after all they said in the election, that my right hon. Friend's Budget last April was, in their view, the last word for this year in fiscal wisdom and inventiveness. They would say that its broad judgment was right and justified by the months which have gone by. It would mean that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have no immediate proposals for improving on it, not even the £700 million tax remissions they voted for only six months ago in the Finance Bill debates. It will be strange, indeed, if the Chancellor does not introduce his Budget quickly. After Selsdon we were told, not only that the Queen's Speech was in draft, but the Budget as well. What happened to it? What happened to the egregious Central Office computer so much trumpeted in the national Press in the latter days of May? I take it that we can expect to get an autumn Budget, and that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us so this afternoon.
In preparation for his Budget the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt wish to be reminded of the things that he is pledged to include in it. Some of his promises, I grant, were not specifically related to the first Budget, but provide for a period of time, though no doubt he will want to make progress on them in his first Budget. There is the reconstruction of the capital gains tax. There is the proposed repeal of the disallowance of bank interest from reckoning as a deduction from tax. There is the proposed repeal of the 1969 provisions aggregating children's income with the income of their parents. There is the pledge to treat the income of married women in relation to their husbands' earnings so that they are not worse off than if they formed an unmarried household. There are the promises to ease estate duty. There are the promises of derating of certain agricultural properties. There are hints I think, perhaps promises, of cuts in the television advertising levy, but this particular easement does not need to await a formal Budget. There are the proposed reforms—easements—in corporation tax.
70 There is what the Chancellor said to the Institute of Directors, as reported in the Financial Times,that the differential against unearned income should be abolished.Good regressive, reactionary, hard-line Tory stuff, unlikely to be helpful in incomes policy, or industrial relations, or in creating the framework of a just society. Still, it is on the record, and the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt including it in his autumn Budget. And when the hoardings of the country were plastered with those pictures of a road fund licence presumably right hon. Gentlemen opposite were intending to commit themselves to a reduction to £15 in an early Budget, if not the next Budget. [interruption.] We expect on this issue to see the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) voting in our Lobby.
There is plenty to work on there, but that is not an exhaustive list. I shall spare the Chancellor by not dwelling on the value-added tax. Not long ago it was an obsession with him. The Tory manifesto played it down. We were told why. The first casualty of the Prime Minister's pledge to deal directly and honestly with the Press and the public was the poor fellow in Conservative Central Office who, when asked why V.A.T. was not a manifesto commitment, replied, "It might lose us votes." The measure of the right hon. Gentleman's pledge to deal directly and honestly with the Press and the public can be gauged from the fact that this young fellow has not been seen in Central Office circles since.
While I have fairly said to the right hon. Gentleman that not all the pledges that I have referred to were committed for the first Budget—and he had made that clear a number of times—the right hon. Gentleman is nevertheless firmly committed to specific action in the first Budget—which is presumably to be in the autumn. He is committed. These are commitments for the first Budget. No doubt he will tell us this afternoon whether the first Budget will be in the autumn, or whether he will simply rest on my right hon. Friend's Budget until next April, but whenever it is, this is what he is committed to in the first Budget. He is committed both to abolishing S.E.T. and making substantial reductions in direct taxation. He cannot deny this. This is his pledge.
71 He said on television, when interviewed by Mr. Alastair Burnett, that the Conservative programme could not be done overnight in one Budget; it must cover a Parliament. Mr. Burnett then asked,But which are you delaying: the cut in direct taxation, or the abolition of the selective employment tax?I quote:Mr. Heath: No, neither, and the two must go together. That is why I said that in the first Budget, we must have a package which will deal with these particular things and it means that we've also got to deal with the question of Government expenditure—and we've faced up to that.'There is a clear commitment. S.E.T. abolished in the first Budget. Cuts in direct taxation. Without hedging, without delay, without qualification. This autumn. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman cannot possibly go on my right hon. Friend's Budget for nine months, as though he had not an idea in his head.
The great master-plan, in his words on 16th June, wasto break the price/wage spiral by acting directly to reduce prices … by reducing those taxes"—reducing and not abolishing—which bear directly on prices and costs, such as S.E.T.Perhaps he has been pressed now to reduce and not abolish, but the master-plan is clearly based on the assumption that if S.E.T. goes, as he pledged, or is reduced, as he hedged, prices will fall. He will see how many traders, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, and others in the service industries, pass on the effects of abolition or reduction.
The right hon. Gentleman has spun a dream-web of falling prices which in turn will persuade wage and salary earners, from doctors to dockers, to say nothing of solicitors, with their 30 per cent. bid, to be content with their present lot and remuneration. We shall see. No doubt this afternoon he will tell us. [Interruption.] I am sorry to have to make clear to hon. Members opposite what must be very embarrassing to them when they realise the implications of how they got here.
I recognise the compulsions on the right hon. Gentleman about industrial policy, and why he has to use words 72 such as "liberating industry". He will no doubt make clear today what, if anything, those words mean, because in the minds of many of those on this side of the House, and of many thousands of workers, they mean the closure of shipyards—the closure of shipyards which, with Government help and reorganisation—not least reorganisation of management—are being made efficient and competitive. If those words mean anything—if all that they have told us, especially the right hon. Gentleman, after Selsdon, means anything—Tory policy means—[Interruption.] I am informing the House what the right hon. Gentleman said. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot have a running commentary by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls).
§ Mr. Wilson
I am informing the House what the right hon. Gentleman said during the election. What Tory policy means is rejecting the finance that is essential if major world industries, such as Rolls-Royce, are to be able to develop their new technological projects. Tory attitudes mean ending the policy of mergers and streamlining necessary in old and new industries alike. It all adds up to a prescription for industrial decline.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman today, or the Chancellor next week, will make a good deal clearer the cryptic words in the Gracious Speech about regional policy. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have committed themselves in the past to ending investment grants, which are an essential weapon of regional policy, and to ending the regional employment premium—although the right hon. Gentleman must tell us whether he accepts the commitment of his right hon. Friend in the House in May that a seven-year period of R.E.P. will be honoured.
But this reference is not the only question raised in the Gracious Speech about industrial relations. For five years the right hon. Gentleman has sought votes by an attack on the trade unions. He was going to call the undisciplined unions to order. He threatened them with every terror that it was possible for his lawyers to devise—always on the eve of a by-election or a G.L.C. election. Now we shall see, in no doubt long delayed legislative form, the reality. His whole posture 73 rests on his proposals to make industrial contracts enforceable. Of little importance to him, perhaps, that the proposals would not have solved the Port Talbot strike, Pilkingtons, the newspaper dispute, the British Leyland 11-week strike, or the American G.E.C. strike, where his proposals were the law of the land.
But what does he mean by enforceable contracts? During the election I challenged him. I asked whether it meant that a contract would be enforceable unless either side said that it should not be enforceable? If so, I asked what was the difference between his proposals and the proposals in the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend in the last Parliament, that it should be enforceable if both sides agreed that it should be enforceable. Does it mean both sides or one side—the employers—regardless of the fact that few, if any, employers would reject an otherwise acceptable argument because of union refusal to make it enforceable?
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "enforceable"? He has been graciously pleased to respond to my challenge. I quote him. At 11 a.m., at his Press conference, he said—[Interruption]—this is an important point about industrial relations. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen will try to follow it. The right hon. Gentleman said:The Conservatives would not give the right to enforce a contract against the wishes of the unions.Is that his policy? A few hours later, at 10 p.m., on television, he said:It will be presumed that contracts are going to be enforceable unless it is decided otherwise by both sides.That is a very important difference from what the Government are putting forward.
Perhaps he will make it clear on what side of those two contradictory formulae his legislation will come down. If it is on his 11 o'clock formulation there is no difference between his proposals and Clause 29 of my right hon. Friend's Bill, but if his evening statement is right, namely, enforceability on the employers' say-so, I warn him that this will be a prescription for total anarchy and chaos in British industrial relations, utterly destructive of the system of collective bargaining which wiser men than he on 74 both sides of industry over a series of generations have devoted their lives to creating and building.
Finally, I turn to the area of policy which may be decisive, not only for our own domestic well-being but for our standing in the Commonwealth and in the wider world. It is true, for example, of immigration, where we welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to further aid for areas of special social need—a continuation of the policy which we instituted in the summer of 1968. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can tell the House today exactly what he is proposing in the immigration legislation foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech.
If that legislation involved a new class of citizenship, treating Commonwealth citizens, from the old and the new Commonwealth alike, as aliens, it would not only affect the Government's standing but would profoundly affect relations with all the countries within the Commonwealth. I was glad that the Gracious Speech said that Ministers will take a full part in the Commonwealth Conference scheduled for next January, but how full that part may be will depend on the Government's policies between now and then.
If that will be true if he introduces legislation of the kind I mentioned on immigration, it is no less true of the Government's policies in relation to Southern Africa. It was a more than symbolic commentary on reactions to the election results that, that very weekend, two world figures changed their travelling arrangements. U Thant, who had planned to return to New York via London to meet members of the Government, diverted to Amsterdam. I notice that the Foreign Secretary has not changed from his Berwick speech; that contemptuous reference to U Thant confirms all he said in 1960.
The South African Foreign Minister, who had no plans to come to London, re-routed to come here, and clearly with one object in view. In opposition, the party opposite made no secret of their plans about arms traffic with South Africa. What many of my right hon. Friends found offensive was the haste with which members of the Government rushed to make clear what their policy would be.
§ Mr. Wilson
On the Tuesday morning after the election, before even the Cabinet had held its first meeting, every newspaper carried a firm story that the Foreign Secretary had decided to supply arms to South Africa—every newspaper. This did not appear in every newspaper by accident, and it was significant that, in the days that followed, there appeared some attempt at back-tracking. The word was put out that South Africa had not yet asked us for arms so there was no answer to be given. Then, the meetings were rearranged, so that Dr. Muller should not be the first Foreign Minister to be received by the right hon. Gentleman.
I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to tell us this afternoon that this more cautious attitude was the result of a directive by him or a resolution by his whole Government of what such policies would mean for the standing of Britain and for the position which the right hon. Gentleman will be able to take up when he meets some 30 Commonwealth Heads of Government in six months' time.
I hope that the Government have worked out for themselves what it will mean for our standing in the United Nations. Have they thought this thing through? Certainly not before the Foreign Secretary rushed into the decision of which we all read. Have they thought out its implications for Britain's representative at the United Nations—now, sadly, no longer a Minister? Have they thought of what it means in terms of the isolation of Britain in a small rump of colonialists and one or two ex-colonial Powers, with all that this means in terms of loss of influence in world affairs? There has been talk of an emergency meeting of the Security Council, and Governments, many indeed in our own Commonwealth, are talking of making the 1963 Resolution on South African arms mandatory and obligatory on every signatory to the Charter.
If that were to happen, would the Government accept this decision, or are they relying on using a veto, just as they divided the country and shocked their friends by the use of the veto in 1956— 76 a veto which, construed as backing apartheid, would have still more far-reaching consequences for the world and above all for the Commonwealth? A few weeks ago, when the right hon. Gentleman, in the much narrower field of sport, showed the Tory attitude to this question, it became clear that, if the then Government had not acted in relation to the Springbok tour, the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh would have been reduced to an ill-attended farce.
The right hon. Gentleman did not mind about that but I warned him then that, if his party were to gain power and if he were to pursue his declared policies in regard to South Africa and his equivocal policy about Rhodesia, it would not be long before a Tory Prime Minister was sitting in the chair of a Commonwealth Conference not of 28 or 30 members but confined to a small number who might feel able to sit with him—each of them, like him, reduced to international impotence as a result of the actions of this Government.
That was my warning, and it is still more relevant today, because, just as Britain's economic strength depends on the maintenance of firm and fair industrial, social and financial policies, so her standing in the world depends on maintaining a heritage of foreign and Commonwealth policies rooted in morality, idealism and concern for the dignity and equality of men everywhere—a heritage which we fostered, a heritage of which we shall ever be proud.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)
I join with my hon. Friend for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in expressing my own shock and horror, and, indeed, that of all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, at the news of the death of the wife of the Leader of the Liberal Party. We join with them in expressing our deepest sympathy in relation to the enormous loss which he and his son have suffered.
I also join with the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my hon. Friends the mover and seconder of the Motion in reply to the Gracious Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South naturally had to touch on Blackpool, which is certainly well known 77 to all of us and figures in many other ways in addition to its political activity. There used to be a legend in our own party that it was impossible to win a General Election unless one had had a conference at Blackpool. This legend has now been laid to rest. In any case, it became rather difficult to carry out when both major parties started holding their conferences at Blackpool. At least we can look forward to conferences at Brighton or Blackpool quite happily for many years to come.
I am particularly happy—perhaps this is more a personal point—that the mover of the Motion should be the son-in-law of the late Sir Pierson Dixon, because this week we have resumed the negotiations to get into Europe, if fair terms can be obtained, and he was the leader of the official delegation from 1961 to 1963. No man did more—indeed, I believe that he gave his life—for those negotiations.
I would also congratulate the seconder, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight). Perhaps I might couple with that my congratulations on the election by the House of a woman for the first time as Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, and add my congratulations to the Chairman. She has already had a long career in local government and now has one of great activity in this House. We also appreciate the amount she does in the country. I should like to thank both of my hon. Friends for the eloquent and charming way in which they have moved and seconded this Motion.
I should like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the congratulations which he kindly tendered to me personally and to my right hon. and hon. Friends. Naturally, of course, the form of opposition which he and his party pursue is a matter for them to decide. I would only add that, on questions such as he has raised, on matters of sterling, I will expect him to tell the House and the country the truth as he sees it, without fear or favour—to use his own words. I ask nothing more and nothing less than that. I have found that the rest of the world knows the truth and there is no reason why it should not be expressed in the House.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we should find that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were a very well 78 informed Opposition. They raised our hopes to the heights, only to dash them to the ground again within a fraction of a second, because we found that the right hon. Gentleman was no better informed in his speech today than he was in Government, and he has perpetrated all the same misconceptions which were the result of their failure in administration.
We have seen a display of happiness. No man in the House today is more happy than the Leader of the Opposition in resuming the place which he once occupied with such distinction and will now continue to enjoy. Happiness came through every sentence. Words no longer carry responsibility. What a happy position. Verbal activity instead of action—what a happy position. Every verbal gimmick which can be thought up by the right hon. Gentleman—cheap jibes, even mischief-making over Northern Ireland, which I much regret—nothing has been changed by the last four weeks except the position of the party.
What the right hon. Gentleman has not realised is that it is precisely this which the country has so decisively rejected. The country has had six months of almost continuous electioneering since the right hon. Gentleman's speech of 12th December, and it has now just about had enough of it. The result is clear-cut. For the present, the game is over.
When the right hon. Gentleman started, I began to realise that we should have one of his election speeches. By the time he finished, I realised that we had had the whole lot, and the Press conferences thrown in. We quite understand. He wants to show his depressed supporters behind him how he would have played it had he been given a second chance. That we quite understand, and he now wants to get off his chest some of those speeches which he would like to have made in defence of his past policies or in anticipation of the future which for some strange reason he never put forward at the time of the election.
I believe that the Leader of the Opposition misjudges the mood of the country at this moment. The attitude of people today is that they want fewer words and rather more considered action by the Government. They want this Government to get on with the job in the way they are doing it. In the first half of 1970, we had a surfeit of politics and very little 79 responsible Government. It will be exactly the reverse in the second half of 1970 under this Administration. We shall ask to be judged by our success in handling the problems which we put before the country and which we are now facing. That is how the House will judge, that is how the country will judge, and there is no other criterion by which I wish to be judged. We were elected on a programme for a Parliament—the right hon. Gentleman himself has again stated that—but, at the beginning of this Parliament, I wish to state as clearly as I can the broad approach which this Administration will follow in dealing with our affairs. The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech on the note of overseas matters, and it is here that I shall begin.
I believe that the main aim of our foreign policy must be to make a modern and broadly based assessment of where British interests lie. Then, our task is to sustain those interests with all the energy and determination which we can command. That is what we shall do. My complaint in recent years has frequently been that the trouble with British policy has been that it lacked a coherent theme of this kind. It has been influenced, and dominated, by quite different considerations. Sometimes, as in the Far East and the Gulf, it was influenced by considerations of party unity, without regard to considerations of foreign policy. Sometimes—I think particularly of Africa—decisions have been taken as a result of emotional pressures which, however sincere, have not always been fully reasoned, and neither have they been reasonable.
There is nothing crude or selfish about our foreign policy in trying to achieve these objectives, because our interests as a nation coincide closely not only with those of our friends and allies but with those of the international community as a whole. We share with the rest of the world the desire to promote peace and to further development, and as a trading nation we probably have greater interests at stake than any other country in this respect.
In Europe, it is a British interest that we should come together increasingly with our friends. It is a British interest to work out a way of establishing a common European voice on world affairs. 80 But it is also a general European interest to do both these things. That is why the negotiations which have just been opened by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy must find a settlement fair to all if they are to succeed and give us and our friends a European voice. This goes even wider than Europe. From a European base, we can work more effectively for better East-West relations. We can make a fuller European contribution to the solution of the problems of the Third World. It is, therefore, in both British interests and wider interests that we should bring this about.
Similarly, we share with our friends a critical interest in the maintenance of a strong North Atlantic Alliance. But at the same time as this is the bulwark for the West it is also a means for developing policies with the countries of Western Europe and North America to relax tensions between East and West, and this will be of benefit not only to Europe and Britain but to the rest of the world.
In South-East Asia, it is a British interest that we should work out with our Commonwealth allies in Malaysia and Singapore, in Australia and New Zealand, a way in which we can join effectively with them in helping to maintain stability in that area. So, too, it is in their interest, and they have made quite clear that it is and that they want us there. It is also in the interest of many of their neighbours, about 200 million people in that area who share their need for security.
Now that the election is over, I hope that in discussing these matters we can get away from the nonsense which was talked about conscription which tarnished the election campaign of the party opposite.
The right hon. Gentleman did us a good turn by calling the election a year before he had to do so, and 18 months before the last date for our withdrawal from the Gulf and the Far East. We should have had greater difficulty in carrying through our policy if he had gone to the full length of the Parliament. As it is, we have reasonable time now to work out with our friends a new and up-to-date system of co-operation based on the realities of the situation. This will take account of the concern, which they share 81 with us, to see peace and stability maintained. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much will it cost?"] In time, the hon. Gentleman will get used to the knowledge that different policies will now be followed by this Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] Once hon. Members opposite move away from the instant politics which they have suffered from their leader over the past five years, they will see these policies being worked out and pursued steadily.
There is the same need for stability in the Middle East. There is the same British interest in the Middle East, particularly because of our long connections with the Arab world, and our desire to see Israel living safely within secure frontiers, and we shall do our best to this end through the four-Power talks and in any way which is available. Our policies in the Gulf will similarly be directed to seeing how Britain can best contribute to peace and stability there.
In Africa, we have important interests both north and south of the Zambezi. This I have constantly emphasised. But there must be also a recognition that we have vital defence interests in South Africa which we cannot ignore and of which account must be taken. This in no way means that we condone racialist practices. We condemn them wherever they occur. But it is not our intention to be pushed into pursuing courses which could do great damage to this country while having no practical effect in bringing about the results which their advocates wish to see. We entered into the Simonstown Agreement, and the Government intend to give effect to its purposes. What is involved is a matter for careful consideration, and when our examination is complete we shall make an announcement to the House.
We shall also honour our undertaking to make a further effort to see whether a settlement of the Rhodesian problem on the basis of the five principles is possible. We do not propose to take hasty steps. We shall move only with proper preparation and in full recognition of the strong feelings which everyone in the House certainly knows exist. But we believe that it is our duty to determine for ourselves the prospects of finding an acceptable settlement, and we are sure that a further attempt must be made.
82 These are all essential British interests. We also see it as an essential interest to work as closely as possible with the developing world and to build up trade and other contacts with them. But, just as they have vital economic, defence and security interests so must they realise and recognise that we have similar interests which do not damage them and which we cannot sacrifice and are not prepared to sacrifice.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He will appreciate that it is made perfectly clear in the Simonstown Agreement that there should be no discrimination. Would he therefore insist that coloured people working at the base would get just as much as whites?
§ The Prime Minister
I have said that we will make a full statement about the Simonstown Agreement and how its purposes are to be pursued when we have given further consideration to this and discussed it with all those involved. That is the proper way of handling a matter of this kind.
I want to conclude on the question of foreign policy by saying that our situation calls for policies based on a realistic assessment of our needs and capacity. If this foreign policy which gives high importance to British interests appears to be novel or surprising, it is because for too long we have allowed the real purpose of foreign policy to be obscured, and the danger of this is that we have been misleading both ourselves and others. We have sometimes created the impression that we are prepared to adopt courses which in fact we cannot and will not adopt. We have encouraged exactly those pressures upon us which hard facts compel us to resist.
But no one should read into our determination to pursue policies which take proper account of the real needs of this country a reluctance or a refusal to respond to the challenges which face all the developed countries in the world to-day, and we will do our best to deal with them, as we have done on previous occasions—the challenge of world order, the dangers of racial conflict, and the challenge of world poverty. We shall do our best in conjunction with our friends and 83 allies and the world community to find solutions to them.
Our objection to so much of what has been done in the past is that it has been merely a matter of gesture; it has been to impress rather than for any real, genuine effect. For our part, we shall only take whatever practical and effective steps are within our capacity. But, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has emphasised, this is always bound to depend on the political and economic situation here at home.
Obviously, one of the most urgent problems to which we as a Government have had to give our attention on taking office is the situation in Northern Ireland. Let me state at once the policy of this Government on Northern Ireland. I reaffirm our pledge that the Border is a matter to be decided by the people of Northern Ireland. This undertaking, founded on the provisions of the Ireland Act, 1949, which declared that Northern Ireland will not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, has been repeated by successive Governments, and I reaffirm it today.
I want to make it clear that the Army will remain in Northern Ireland for as long, and in sufficient numbers, as is necessary to deal with the situation there. In the first few days after taking office we authorised the despatch to Northern Ireland of substantial reinforcements to cover the difficult July period. This action was based on an appreciation put forward by the General Officer Commanding before the General Election took place.
§ The Prime Minister
Last weekend we arranged for the process of reinforcement to be speeded up, and some of these reinforcements are already in Northern Ireland.
I know that the whole House will wish to agree with the expression of appreciation in the Gracious Speech of the manner in which Her Majesty's Forces are carrying out the very trying tasks assigned to them.
The Northern Ireland Government are pledged to the objective of securing peace 84 and harmony in the Province on the basis of justice, equality and freedom from discrimination for all citizens. In our view this is the responsibility of the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland. It is to them that the people of Northern Ireland must look. We as a Government endorse what they have done and are doing to this end. At the same time, it is a commitment which this Government fully accept.
There can be no going back. There must be no slowing up. Much has already been achieved by the Government of Northern Ireland. Its completion is urgent. We shall fully support them in all the programmes to which they are committed in order to secure justice and equality of treatment in the Province.
I am grateful that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary went at the earliest possible opportunity to see the situation for himself and discuss it with the Northern Ireland Government. He will be able to tell the House about it himself when he speaks in the debate here tomorrow.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way, and particularly for what he said about Northern Ireland. Can he cast any light on statements in today's Press about discussions that are supposed to have been taking place between the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and various representatives of extreme organisations there about the formation of a people's militia, whether that has been discussed with the General Officer Commanding, and whether it is likely to be the policy of the Northern Ireland Government?
§ The Prime Minister
I cannot give the House any information about this, except to say that it was not a matter that was discussed with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
We also understand the extent to which economic difficulties contribute to some of the strains of the Northern Ireland situation. Last week we endorsed the development programme, of which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have full knowledge, designed to create more opportunities for jobs and the improvement of living conditions in Northern Ireland. We accept the financial implications of this for the United Kingdom. 85 But whatever financial and other inducements are offered by Government, real development will come about only when confidence has been restored.
I hope that this combination of measures should provide confidence for all the communities in Northern Ireland of working towards completely fair dealing, and, given the restoration of quiet and stability, that improved economic conditions will come about in which all in Northern Ireland can share.
I would now like to look at the state of the economy here at home as we found it on taking office. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has given one of his accounts of the conditions when he took office in 1964. It would therefore seem to be all the more remarkable that the first work of that Administration was to publish a White Paper in which they said that no further economic action needed to be taken. I do not propose to fight over the battles of 1964 and 1966 again, but I would refer to the statement the Leader of the Opposition mentioned which I issued on 16th June, because I would like to quote from it. It was about rising prices. I said:It is agreed on all sides in this election and by all responsible outside observers that Britain and other countries are today facing one of the most serious inflationary problems since the last war.I added:This problem is more serious for Britain than for most other countries because of our poor growth in productivity, our inadequate reserves and substantial overseas debts, the chaotic state of our industrial relations and the fact that we are suffering from the backwash of the collapse of the incomes policy.Now, with the election campaign behind us, and speaking as Prime Minister, I take this opportunity of confirming everything I said then. No one on this side is likely to be surprised, because the situation is as we have said it was all along. No one on the Opposition Front Bench need look surprised—indeed, right hon. Gentlemen do not look surprised—for the situation is as they have known it to be all along. No one outside the House, either at home or abroad, will be surprised, because the situation is as the economic indicators which have been published showed it to be. It is only those who were lulled into complacency by the talk of a sunshine 86 economy who are now in for the rude awakening.
The right hon. Gentleman has criticised me for dealing with the economy in terms of one month's trade figures. Nothing could be further from the truth. I dealt with the trend in the first five months of this year. It is the trend, of course, which matters. There was a downward trend in the surplus on the balance of payments, and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer knows this perfectly well. Of course there will be good months and poor months, but it is the trend which matters. This is no longer a matter of political argument: this is the situation with which the country has to deal.
But let us look at the good aspect. It is that we still have a balance of payments surplus. Our invisible earnings make a crucial contribution to that surplus, and we may pay tribute to what they have achieved.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
If the Prime Minister does not give way, the hon. Member must resume his seat.
§ The Prime Minister
The surplus on invisibles could have been even greater were it not for the burden of the interest payments on the overseas debts incurred by the last Government—the former Chancellor gave the figure of £1,650 million last March.
The former Prime Minister gaily says that overseas investments can be set against these debts, but they are private investments and no longer on the Government portfolio, and they can be set against debt in the real sense only if the Government are prepared to take them over in order to offset the debt which has been incurred, which, of course, is not the case. What is more, the figures which the Leader of the Opposition quotes are the figures of investment mostly before his time, because his Government took measures to prevent overseas investment. Moreover, the investments have increased their value 87 because of the more rapid growth of the economies of countries overseas where those investments were placed.
But there has been some further reduction in the debt under both the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer as a result of the inflow of funds, and this is reflected in the improved reserve figures for June, which are announced this afternoon.
§ The Prime Minister
It was £10 million. That is an improvement. It is due to an inflow of funds which resulted in an increase in sterling balances.
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman would stop shouting himself silly and listen, he would have the explanation. Nevertheless, the total of outstanding debt which we have inherited is formidable. This is the legacy which we take over from the outgoing Administration. It is inevitable that this burden is bound to be with the country for some time to come.
But I want to turn to the other aspects of what the Leader of the Opposition described as a strong position. It is not a sign of a healthy nation that there are more than 500,000 men, women and young people out of work. It is not a sign of a healthy economy when the number of strikes in the first four months of this year was 60 per cent. up on the same period for last year. It is not a sign of a healthy economy when industrial output is stagnating and the industrial production index for April has actually fallen one point. It is not a sign of a healthy economy when manufacturing investment, by which the Government rightly set such store, is static. It is not a healthy economy when inflation is as rampant as it is today. This is the condemnation of the outgoing régime. It is not a strong position for us to take over an economic situation of that kind.
The industrial consequences of this are there for all to see. Great firms with household names are unable to finance their expansion out of their own resources and have had to go to the Government in order to borrow. They see their profits 88 squeezed by taxation and their production continually disrupted by industrial disputes, their wage bills soaring in the scramble to keep up with price inflation. They turn to the capital markets, but they cannot get borrowings except at punitive rates of interest. This is how it affects industrial firms throughout the country; it drives them for their very existence to loans and subsidies. That, of course, was what the whole policy of the outgoing Government was really about.
I insisted throughout the election that the greatest problem facing the country was inflation, and the same position is stated in the Gracious Speech. I have never disguised the difficulty of dealing with this problem, nor the fact that it will take time to get on top of it—we have had experience of dealing with inflation from outgoing Socialist Administrations; we had it in 1951. This is the worst inflation the country has faced since 1951. We know the amount of time it takes for the country to get rid of inflation. [Interruption.]
§ The Prime Minister
Our previous experiences may have been old, but this appears to be new.
We know exactly the problems with which we are confronted. It is no comfort to this country to say that other countries are suffering from inflation. There may be a country here and there where the level is worse than it is in this country, but these countries have higher levels of growth than we have had and higher ratios of savings. No country is as vulnerable to inflation as we are or depends more on international trade. The inflation from which we are suffering is the worst we have known for 20 years, and it is not due, as has previously been the case on occasions, to running the economy at too fast a pace—the levels of industrial production and the large figures of unemployment show that.
Nor can we blame it on the money supply. To be perfectly fair, the outgoing Chancellor did much to redress the errors of his predecessor. Today's inflation is the result—it is the pay-off—of other policies which were pursued by the last Government in allowing Government spending to run ahead of what 89 the nation could afford and covering it up by high taxation and rising prices. That reduced the standard of living of the people. After all, it was a reduction in the standard of living to which lion. Members opposite so strongly objected when they were sitting on this side of the House.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will speak later in the debate, but the path which we intend to follow was clearly set out in our manifesto and in all our election speeches. We repeat our undertaking to reduce the burden of taxation. My right hon. Friend has set in train the necessary examination of Government expenditure and in due course he will announce the action to be taken. Some items are susceptible to immediate reduction; others will take time to mature. But no field is to be exempt from this examination. In the autumn we will lay before the House the results in the appropriate form.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins: (Birmingham, Stechford)
The right hon. Gentleman has raised a number of points which we can debate next week, but in the course of the election campaign, on 5th June, he used the terms "national emergency" and "crisis". Has he now come to the conclusion that these conditions do not prevail? If not, what measures to deal with this emergency does he propose before the House adjourns for three months?
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is incorrectly informed. It was his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), the new editor of the "New Statesman", who used the phrase—[Interruption.]the right hon. Gentleman may well have denied it, but nobody else has denied it. People have given witness to the fact that he used the phrase. We will make our announcement at the appropriate time when we have decided to do so.
§ Mr. Roy Jenkins
Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that during the election campaign he himself used the phrases "national emergency" and "crisis", and is he or is he not withdrawing them now?
§ The Prime Minister
What I did during the election campaign was to quote the phrases of the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend who was then in the Government. I challenged the then Prime 90 Minister to say whether or not he agreed with his right hon. Friend. He never had the courage to stand up and say so. That is the position. The general conclusion is the position. The general conclusion—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) must learn to contain himself in this Parliament just as in the last.
§ The Prime Minister
The general conclusion is that we shall pursue the policies which we clearly put before the electorate and which were set out in the manifesto. Foremost among these policies is that concerning industrial relations.
We have committed ourselves to introducing this Session legislation which will provide a more satisfactory basis for the development and improvement of industrial relations over the next decade. While we were in opposition we gave a very clear indication of the lines of this legislation. No party in opposition has ever set out in such detail and so clearly a policy which would be pursued. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition minimises this today. He knows that these were comprehensive proposals covering all aspects of industrial relations, of which the enforcement of contracts was only one. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is better informed than his leader.
Before these proposals are put to Parliament, my right hon. Friend will wish to have discussions and consultations with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. We have made plain from the beginning that we are prepared to receive constructive ideas over the whole field of industrial relations. We are not prepared to delay proposals. We will carry on constructive discussions with all those who wish to have them.
I want to add simply this. The present rash of strikes, to such a large extent unofficial, is the symptom of impoverished industrial relations, of unsatisfactory machinery and of increasing disregard for obligations which have been undertaken. I believe that as a nation we are not doing justice to ourselves or to our history. The last Administration, in fairness to them, recognised this, 91 but they failed themselves. We have a mandate from the country—a mandate for very detailed specific policies in this field.
§ The Prime Minister
It is our duty and responsibility to carry it out in a democratic society, and we shall do so with the support of Parliament.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of industrial relations, will he tell the House whether the Government have decided to pay the doctors' award in full?
§ The Prime Minister
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State saw the doctors last week. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a statement was made then. There are to be further discussions and an announcement will be made at the appropriate time. The Government will pursue their own policies and they will inform the House accordingly when they take decisions—and not at the behest of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I wish to deal with the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition about social policy. Of course, we recognise the importance of this. The growth of the economy is not an end in itself. One of its main purposes is to do more in the social services. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite failed to achieve their full objectives, not because they did not wish to do so, but because they had not the resources with which to do so—and that was very largely the fault of their other policies.
We shall be bringing forward legislation to give some pension to those very elderly people who have been kept out of National Insurance because of their age, and at the same time we shall introduce some of the provisions of the Bill brought forward last Session by the last Administration with which we were in agreement to provide pensions for women widowed between the ages of 40 and 50 who are without pensions because of the age limit in the present scheme, and to make an attendance allowance payable to those who are very severely disabled. We hope that, as a result, a quarter of 92 a million people who are in need of help will benefit.
On housing, our aims will be to improve the position of the homeless and the badly housed, to refashion the housing subsidies to give more help to those in greatest need, and to encourage home ownership. These are policies which were put before the electorate and approved and which will be followed.
As a first step, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing has removed the arbitrary restrictions on the sale of council houses. But what the Leader of the Opposition has done is just to stand the former Patronage Secretary, the three-week Minister of Housing, on his head again. He now explains that the only purpose of building council houses was to force people out of existing council houses into buying new council houses if and when they were built. Would it not be simpler to let them buy the houses they are in?
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
As I seem to have made history as the Minister of Housing and Local Government who held office for the shortest time, may I also make history as a Patronage Secretary who talks? I made it perfectly clear, and I repeat it, that had I been Minister of Housing it would have been my policy, on behalf of my Government and my party, to ensure that no council houses already in existence in the priority areas were sold to existing tenants because of the need in the slum areas where the homeless are, but that in the non-priority areas of which there are thousands I would encourage councils with limited housing subsidies to build, with Government and building society funds, council houses for sale to people on the waiting list.
§ The Prime Minister
I was only pointing out that the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's policy was extremely silly and that we have a better one.
Both in housing and in education we are restoring freedom of choice to the individual. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has already taken action to give local authorities in England and Wales more freedom to take their own decisions and we shall introduce legislation to deal with this matter in Scotland.
93 The Leader of the Opposition still cannot get out of his head the extraordinary misrepresentation—which he perpetrated throughout the time when he was in government and in the election campaign—that this meant insistence on the 11-plus. Nothing is further from the truth. The great majority of local authorities in England and Wales have abandoned the 11-plus, and the great majority are Conservative authorities. The point is that it gives freedom to local authorities working with the Secretary of State to make their own decisions instead of having a diktat from Whitehall to which we and they are opposed. We are also looking at the question of giving greater priority to the primary schools—again, a policy which we believe is right.
I should like to mention the question of regional policy because, again, this has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition. We, of course, intend that in the whole country, in Scotland and Wales and all the regions—not just some of them—there should be effective land use planning and co-ordination of the activities of government. This will cut across Departmental boundaries.
I should like to say to the Leader of the Opposition that I did not find his arrangements, certainly not the one which he had when in office of an overlord Secretary of State, nor the complete amalgamation of Departments, ones which I should accept without further consideration. I did not accept the one of the overlord; I do not think that the Secretary of State himself thought that it was very satisfactory.
As far as the other proposals are concerned, I am considering these together with various other matters which have to be dealt with in the functions of Departments and institutions. This will take a certain amount of time but I shall then make an announcement, not only about the particular aspects of Ministerial responsibility for the environment, but also about various other Departments and institutions.
Whatever changes we make in this respect in the sphere of regional development and the environment, however, there will always be a need for co-operation and advice in regional and environmental planning from industry and commerce and from local associations and voluntary bodies. This will reinforce the work of 94 local authorities. I was, after all, the first Secretary of State for Regional Development. This has always been dear to my heart and I have the greatest interest in seeing that what has always been a very difficult allocation of responsibilities is now properly sorted out.
I want to deal also with a further point raised by the Leader of the Opposition that we will carry out our pledge to introduce legislation this Session on Commonwealth immigration. Our aim in justice to all those who are already in this country, whatever their race, creed or colour may be, is to set the public mind at rest on this issue so that there cannot be any further justification for exciting passions and so that there can be absolutely no reason for apprehension on the part of immigrants who are already settled here. I gladly pay my tribute to the part which the former Home Secretary played in trying to reach that objective.
The position of those who are already here is not to be altered in any way. They will continue to have the right to bring in close and genuine dependants and they will remain free to choose where they live and where they work. We shall continue to make available special assistance in areas of social need, and particularly those where large numbers of immigrants have settled, because we all know the burden on housing, schools and the Health Service. Our policy for future immigrants has already been clearly set out in detail. I do not propose to go into it again this afternoon—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have more to say on this—but there is, as has always been apparent in our policy, to be no more permanent large-scale immigration into this country.
Finally, we pledged ourselves, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, to restore sound and honest government. This means that we shall take action on the recommendation of the impartial Boundary Commissions. The previous Government broke the tradition of fair dealing in this respect in a vain endeavour to save themselves at the election which we have just had. It is notable that the biggest constituency at that time had an electorate seven times the size of the smallest. We shall see that effect is now given to the recommendations of all four Commissions and the next election, whenever 95 it may come, will be fought on fairer boundaries and with less unequal electorates.
I have dealt with only the main themes of the Gracious Speech and I have endeavoured to deal with only some of the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition. When I undertook to form the Government, I declared that it was our objective to unite and not divide the nation. I hope that this will be the objective of all parties in the State. Of course, we will have political conflict, because we have different objectives from time to time and we have different means of carrying them out, but I believe most firmly that if we are to achieve our purposes as a nation, we must work for greater unity among ourselves.
Perhaps it is because we have devoted so much attention during the last 25 years to securing a sounder economy for our country that we have not paid enough attention to the more fundamental inner strength of the nation itself. We can all easily see those matters which can so easily divide us, whether it is today in the tragic situation in Northern Ireland, whether it is the difficulties which confront us over immigration or whether it is the problems which face us in our industrial relations, all too well-known to all of us. These are matters which can divide us and reduce our effectiveness.
We have started the negotiations in Europe with hopes of reaching a successful outcome. We cannot hope to play an effective rôle in a united Europe unless we ourselves can bring unity to that Continent. We cannot hope to influence the outside world in peaceful directions if we see conflict within ourselves here in this country. Surely, it is true—we all recognise it—that we must try to make it known outside far and wide that men of different races and creeds have to learn to live together, whether in countries or in continents.
Perhaps at this moment, speaking for the first time in this House as Prime Minister, I look back to the first work which I undertook as a new back-bencher, when we then put forward once again a concept which is an old one: that of one nation. It goes far wider than social and economic spheres. It covers our industrial 96 relations, education, the young people and those who have now retired. It covers both the spheres of race and religion.
I firmly believe, however, that the great task which lies before us humbly as an Administration, but lies before us also as a House of Commons and as a Parliament, is to work to create unity in our country, to create one nation. This is the greatest challenge which faces us still today, but it also sums up the broad purpose of this Administration: to create within freedom in Britain one nation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), may I say that the Chair is having some difficulty in putting new names to new faces. As a number of hon. Members among the Opposition have indicated a desire to make their maiden speeches this afternoon, the Chair would be grateful if they would come to the Chair and identify themselves.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
In different and happier circumstances, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party would have been trying to catch your eye in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he has been struck by this appalling tragedy, a personal tragedy which, I think, has been felt more deeply in the House than any other, at least in my experience. I must start by asking to be associated with the sympathy which has been expressed to my right hon. Friend by the mover of the Address and by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister.
I should also like to pay my tribute to the speeches of the mover and the seconder of the Address. However much one may disagree with the policies of the Conservative Party, one must also congratulate the Prime Minister on a notable personal triumph, probably all the more so as being to many people unexpected.
The Prime Minister started his speech with a review of the foreign policy which his Government will pursue and he said that it would be based upon a realistic examination of British interests. He started by saying that we had a considerable interest in strengthening the unity of Europe in regard to its foreign relations, and I agree.
97 The Prime Minister went on to various other matters with which I agree rather less. I do not think that a military presence east of Suez is a major British interest. I feel, however, that if it is the policy of the British Government to send back troops in considerable strength east of Suez, it is a disastrous start for them to have begun to agreeing to supply arms again to South Africa. If we are going back to the Far East we must not go back there as apparently in alliance with the major white racialist countries of the world and in defiance of the expressed opinions of the United Nations.
I agree that a great deal of hypocrisy is talked about supplying arms to South Africa and we are not the only country which does so, and, indeed, a great deal of hypocrisy is talked about our relations with African nations altogether, and it was talked about our relations with Nigeria and Biafra, but still, that this should be the first thing which the Government appear to have done in foreign policy is unfortunate and actually contrary to our interest. The Prime Minister has spoken against "instant government" and it seems to me unfortunate that this does indeed appear to be instant government.
The right hon. Gentleman passed to Northern Ireland. I would agree that we have to keep troops there and that it is essential to restore law and order and I think everyone listened with sympathy to his pledge that all would be done to carry out the policy of reform, which the Northern Ireland Government have agreed upon, but at the root of this trouble there is, surely, a deep-seated insecurity and fear both among Protestants and Catholics, because, in different ways, they both feel themselves to be minorities. Without in any way criticising the Government of Northern Ireland, who cannot be blamed for the fact that there is a permanent, inbuilt Conservative majority, which, for perfectly understandable reasons, is Protestant, is not this a case in which the first need is to look at some political reform, and we hope in cooler times to consider how the fears of the minorities may be to some extent exorcised by giving them greater representation?
The Prime Minister then passed on to the economic situation. To my mind it is perfectly true that the balance of 98 payments is much better, but there are other aspects of the economic situation which are far from good. We have a very low growth rate, and we have far too low a rate of investment and too high a rate of unemployment and fast rising prices.
Much has been criticised about our democracy but we can take some pride in it for one thing, and that is that, although before the election it was widely said that the Government would inflate the economy and have a give-away Budget, thereby possibly endangering the balance of payments in order to make people feel happier at home, this in fact did not happen, and it is creditable to our system that we had a Budget which was far from being an electioneering one. It appears that the balance of payments has been improved at the cost of restricting the economy to a point at which it becomes impossible to direct money to the social improvements which we should like, and indeed, at which it seems that people are very little if any better off than they were a year or two back.
The Government's priority rests on reducing taxation, and that, in turn, rests upon reducing Government expenditure. I would, therefore, hope that, in the general review which the Prime Minister said he is carrying out, he will look at the methods of auditing and examining public expenditure in general. There seems to my mind to be a very great area of waste between central Government and local authorities. In general, there seems to be far too little machinery for holding inquests upon what has gone wrong in the past. This House should play a bigger part in examining and controlling Government expenditure.
The next thing the right hon. Gentleman talked about was vigorous competition. No doubt in due course we shall be told what further steps he intends to take about, for instance, the Monopolies Commission, but there is in the Gracious Speech a lack of anything which is specifically dealing with what is usually called incomes policy. I would have hoped that the Government would have looked at the custom of ensuring wage increases right across the board. Wage agreements should be done at plant level, and these global increases, if they are deemed to be inflationary, should be 99 submitted to some organisation which can see whether they are in accordance with the public interest. In general there is very little reference in the Gracious Speech to an incomes policy, and yet I do not believe we shall really control inflation without at least having some long-term view of what policy is to be in relation to wages in the public sector. The doctors' pay is only one example of a general difficulty. It happened to come up at the time of the election when there was a temptation for everybody to say to the doctors that we would give them the increase, but whenever the question comes up there is great difficulty in knowing how to handle increases in the public sector which is growing bigger all the time, and this is not a matter which is very much dealt with in the Gracious Speech.
I pass on to some matters which deal with the machinery of Government. The Prime Minister has spoken of what he describes as the style of Government. He must also change the machinery of Govment. The first point I want to refer to is that paragraph of the Gracious Speech dealing with devolution, which says:At a later stage plans will be laid before you for giving the Scottish people a greater say in their own affairs.This is a fairly vague statement. I beg the Prime Minister not to go forward with the plan which his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary concocted. It is really unworkable. Furthermore, if by some miracle it could be made to work, it does not meet the genuine reasons for having more government of Scottish affairs in Scotland. It will not give Scotsmen greater control over their own affairs, and it will not draw into Scottish government people of real ability, for they will not have real power. He might think as an alternative in terms of an assembly in Edinburgh to which could be allocated some or all of the moneys now expendable in Scotland, which could distribute such moneys as it saw fit. I hope that we shall be told before the end of the debate what that phrase in the Gracious Speech really means, and whether "later stage" means during this Session or during this Parliament.
Going on to local government, the Prime Minister reminded us that he was 100 the first Minister in charge of regional development and that he had always had an interest in local government. Here I would hope that he will not only consult the people concerned about the form of local government but will pay very close attention to what they say, because although, to my mind, there are admirable suggestions in both Maud and Wheatley, there are other suggestions which will break up communities which have real community lives, and I represent two such, without ensuring greater efficiency or greater democracy in local government. I hope, therefore, that this was not only a phrase, and that the right hon. Gentleman is really going to look at the desires of local people and, where necessary, depart from policies of rigid uniformity all over the country, because in many places they cannot be reconciled with the realities of life of the communities concerned.
Then we come to regional development, and here it seems to me that we may be going back to the abolition of investment grants and the introduction of allowances. There are many development areas where these would be extremely hurtful, because the industries are not earning profits, and rely on direct grants, and I would hope that the Highlands and Islands Development Board would not be curtailed in helping investment of which there is too little already. Are we going back to the strategy of growth points? If this is feasible in some parts of the country it is certainly to my mind not the best way of helping development areas in many parts of Scotland.
The Prime Minister talks, too, of increasing attractions and amenities. Here I would agree, but there is one which needs to be improved, and that is transport. That is one of the vital matters—a reduction in freight rates and the improvement of transport, and I am very glad to see the Prime Minister nodding his head.
Lastly, the Common Market. Naturally most people are glad that we are at last getting into negotiations with the Europeans. Naturally, we realise that these negotiations will go on for a long time and that everything cannot be covered in the first two or three days, but there are two matters which I do not think are sufficiently pressed. One is that we 101 should retain our capacity to have a regional policy to help certain regions in regard to employment and industry. Secondly, there is the question of the fishing industry. We constantly hear a great deal about agriculture. If we and Norway go into the Common Market it will be essential to have a fisheries policy. This will mean that we shall have to have agreement about the protection of fishing grounds and marketing.
I feel that there is a case on a constitutional issue like this for examining the possibility of a referendum. I do not feel dogmatic about it, but this is a constitutional issue—that is, an issue on which this Parliament will bind its successors. The ordinary convention is that no Parliament can do so, but with the Common Market and home rule for Scotland the situation is different. We have no constitutional machinery for the discussion of major issues. I would not make this mandatory and I would not have the referendum until there were definite proposals. Up to now I have been against referenda, and I am against them still for ordinary issues which are the business of this Parliament. We are sent here to make up our minds and not to keep running back to our constituents for snap decisions. But over the Common Market there is much anxiety in the country, and there is the difficulty that no major party is opposed to our entry, so that the opposition is not argued on an effective scale. This is a constitutional issue and in a different category from ordinary questions; I would not make it mandatory and it should be limited, but I think there is a case for consideration.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The right hon. Gentleman is making the mistake made by many of our political commentators in suggesting that all the parties are committed. The Labour Party is not committed. Some Labour leaders may be committed, but the party as a whole is not. I hope that he and other commentators will take note of that. There are just a few believers, that is all.
§ Mr. Grimond
Of course in no party is that whole party committed to anything. There are dissidents in any party on any subject. Nor is the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party committed to going into 102 the Common Market on any terms. But in general the leadership of all parties is committed to entering negotiations and is at least favourably disposed to getting into Europe if the terms are right. That I think is a reasonably fair statement of the position. I think that a referendum should be seriously considered by Parliament. There are grave objections to it, but it might be a method of satisfying public opinion that it is not being steamrollered into a decision which, unlike most decisions taken by Parliament, would be irrevocable.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
It is rather a long call, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from the days when you were in command of a Polish fighter wing and I was at a bomber station at Bramcote and our service together in South-East Asia, to today, when I am able to congratulate you on being elected Deputy Speaker of this House, which I do with the greatest pleasure.
The General Election has to a great extent been an election between two personalities. One tried to present himself as the oracle, as someone who need not be questioned and who need not at any place or at any time put himself in a situation in which he could be questioned—a gentleman who showed himself rather like a peacock which he hoped everyone would applaud and return to favour. On the other hand, there was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who had to fight his way to the front, and did so, and who I believe became Prime Minister because he showed above all during the battle, as he will do as Prime Minister, that he is a man with humility, an essential in any man with great power. Perhaps that is what was lacking and has been shown to be most lacking in the previous Prime Minister before the election, during it, and today. The Prime Minister showed himself as a man of compassion and integrity, the greatest virtues which any Prime Minister can have. I believe that this Government will be an exceedingly good Government.
The Leader of the Opposition has led the country up the garden path about the balance of payments situation for some time, and even today he said that he had turned over to the present Government a situation in which sterling was 103 on a sound basis, that it was accepted and respected throughout the world and that there was a current surplus of £500 million in 1969. He was careful to say that that situation was likely to continue for just a short period. A disclosure of the way in which the public were hoodwinked over a long period was given in the Labour Party manifesto which said that Labour inherited a deficit of £800 million—So in just five years, Labour has registered an improvement of more than £1,300 million.This is not so at all. Nothing of the sort has happened, and it is right that this should be exposed.
The then Prime Minister and his Government carefully selected two years. They selected 1964 when the deficit was not, as stated here, £800 million but £744 million, but, of that, £381 million was Government portfolio foreign investment. Since then there has been no Government portfolio foreign investment, so that only £363 million was current account deficit, and it was stated by my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that he had taken steps to rectify the situation. What has never been stated and never taken into account in the figures published by the Government is that in 1965 the deficit had fallen to £81 million and in 1966, the year of the election, there was a surplus of £40 million. So it was that the Labour Government when they went to the election said that there was no financial crisis and that they had weathered the storm. The real situation was disclosed in the following years.
In 1967 there was a deficit of £322 million and in 1968 a deficit of a further £309 million, and in November of that year the Government devalued the £ purely and simply to bring our prices into line with world prices and boost our exports. The 1969 surplus, which does not wipe out the deficits of the previous two years, is due in part to the engineering exports, orders to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, and which were taken soon after devaluation and which are now maturing. To say, as the Leader of the Opposition did, that the economy is above suspicion and that the situation has been rectified is the greatest possible nonsense.
104 My right hon. Friends have thanked the Leader of the Opposition for giving us the opportunity to go to the country in June instead of waiting another 18 months. Underlying our economic situation are possibilities that could bring about a similar position to that which existed at the time of devaluation in 1967. When my right hon. and hon. Friends have examined the books they may well find that it was because of the fear of a financial crisis developing in the autumn, when, because of inflation, it will be more difficult for us to compete in world markets, and because of the fear of drastic action having to be taken, that the then Prime Minister called the election in June.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The Prime Minister said quite clearly that he had decided on this date four years ago.
§ Mr. Burden
Yes, we all know that, but that was when the then Prime Minister thought that he was the oracle. Now, he is rather like a deflated balloon, because even that is not believed. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the matter. No doubt he will be able to question his right hon. Friend's wisdom on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement as though he had many months ago foreseen the result of this election. How bad was his judgment, and how bad has it been on many things.
Of course, whatever may be found, the only way in which we can expand our social services and raise the standard of living of the people is by industrial expansion. There can be no industrial expansion unless we can compete in world markets. The same applies today as has applied before—in order to import the raw materials which will run our factories and the food which our people need, we must compete in world markets, which are getting more and more difficult each year because of the expansion of other industrial countries.
The Japanese have broken in in recent years in a great way. They are no longer copyists and producers of cheap merchandise. They are producing high quality merchandise at very competitive prices. No matter what Government we have, unless the factories of this country can produce competitive merchandise, our 105 standard is living and the standard of our social services will go down.
Therefore, it must be the first action of the Government to give British industry confidence in Government, confidence that the economy not only will be able to expand but will expand. I am convinced that deliberately high taxation on industry over the last few years has increased unemployment to about 600,000, which the Labour Government said they would never accept. They created this stagnation in industrial expansion and this unemployment with high taxation. Companies do not have the profits to plough back to re-equip themselves with the machinery which is constantly changing in a constantly changing and advancing technological world.
Therefore, if the Government—I am sure they will—carry out their promises to remove some of the taxation from industry, this will benefit not only industry but all the people. It will help to increase production. It is appalling that the figures of the big industrialised western nations over the past four years show that our production has stagnated more than any of the others. Stagnant production and rising wages merely mean that, on cost and on merchandise, we are becoming less and less competitive. This must be put right. We have the knowledge and the men of experience to put this country's economy back on the rails providing the opportunity is given.
Of all the myths exploded in recent years, the greatest is that the nationalised industries, of which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite speak almost with adulation, are publicly-owned. The public have as little control over them as the birds in the air or the sheep in the field. Indeed, we in this House have practically no control over them. We cannot put down questions when they raise their prices. We are not allowed to question anyone in the House about their general efficiency, except once a year when perhaps their results are presented.
Now, of course—probably because of the odium which attaches to a too tight association between nationalised industries and Government—the Post Office has been hived off into a Corporation. Here again, Parliament is debarred from close questioning of price rises and so on. It is imperative that the Government take steps to ensure much closer control, 106 in the public and the national interest, of the nationalised industries. Almost inevitably it is they who spark off general price rises. In many instances, they provide the essentials for productive and distributive industry. I hope that they will be given close attention—
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that some of our nationalised industries have shown far the greatest advances in production per man of all industry—far greater than private industry—and that, so far from their price increases being out of the way, they are less than those of private industry?
§ Mr. Burden
In selective cases, of course, that is true, and also if one selects private industries on the same basis, many of them will have shown equal or even greater production. But I am dealing with the matter as I see it across the board. Because the nationalised industries have a tremendous effect on the general productivity and industrial progress of the nation, they should be much more answerable to Government and Government should exercise much more control over them than has been the case in the past.
Especially worthy of mention is the unfortunate trend by which the railways and the travel industry-I am thinking particularly of Thomas Cook and Lunn—and the road haulage industry are more or less integrated. Therefore, instead of their being in competition, particularly the movement part of them—the railways and the road freight—they work together in a compensating manner over costs. The way in which rail and road freight costs are rising will increase the general cost of goods. They should be parted. They should not be allowed this association, in which one can complement price increases by the other.
I also hope that S.E.T. will shortly disappear. When it was introduced I told the then Chancellor that it would never perform the function for which we were told it was intended. The very fact that unemployment has now risen from 350,000 to around 600,000 shows that it was an absolute nonsense. It was either completely untrue or the grossest of miscalculations to declare that it would transfer labour from the distributive to the manufacturing industries. It has 107 driven a great number of small firms out of business. I understand that the closure rate this year of small firms in the distributive industry is greater than ever before. I hope that this kind of discrimination against the distributive trades, unjustified, unethical and unnecessary, will be removed as early as possible.
I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will bring men who have considerable industrial knowledge more and more into consultation and perhaps into Government Departments. Many of them understand the problems of industrial Britain better than the closed circuit of civil servants can. However, with them, our civil servants can play an enormous part in helping to get us back on the right lines.
Another aspect of the Gracious Speech concerns immigration. I think that we are all broadly in agreement that we want to see people, irrespective of language, colour or creed, living in peace and harmony and integrated into our society as far as that is possible. This is undoubtedly the policy of the Government. They have already shown their compassion to two groups of people of different colour. They have allowed into the country a hundred Indians who were isolated in Germany. In their case, quick action was taken. Only yesterday we had an expression of disgust from the Minister of Housing and Local Government after he visited a London tenement in which coloured people were being unscrupulously and viciously exploited. Here again, I am sure that necessary action will be taken to make clear the position of those who come here with great hopes and then find themselves ignorant of many of our laws designed to protect them when they are unmercifully exploited.
I am sure that the majority of sensible people agree that we cannot have unlimited immigration. In the future, it must be confined almost exclusively to those who can bring some social and economic know-how or other advantages and who will integrate themselves into our society.
When I was fighting the election in my constituency, I came across what I believe to be possibly the most pathetic group of immigrants. I am speaking now of 108 Asians who have come here from black African countries. The time has come when the Government must take a much firmer stand than the last Government did. On many occasions, the last Government made loud noises, only to turn and run when their bluff was called. The then Prime Minister did it at the time of the proposal to introduce legislation on industrial relations. It was done again at the time of the proposed South African cricket tour.
What appalled me about the latter case was that those who complained bitterly about the South African cricketers coming here are most intolerant and vicious in their behaviour towards Asians in their own countries. Before they attempt to blackmail us into saying that we will not allow South African cricketers to come here or they will stay away from the Commonwealth Games, they should practise racial tolerance and moderation towards Asians born and living in their countries. They should show them the same licence, tolerance and freedom as we show to those of any colour or creed who come to live here. Those countries should be told that we will listen to them and accept their criticism only when their standards are as high as ours. Many of the Asians coming to live here have been forced out of countries where they had built good lives for themselves. In most instances, they have helped to raise the economies of countries like Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania. We should bring pressure to bear upon those countries to treat their Asians as we treat black Africans, from wherever they come.
We have an opportunity. We have a new Government. We provide those countries with considerable aid. If they expect to continue to enjoy these bonuses, they must at least listen to a strong urging from us to treat those who have been citizens of their countries for many years but who differ from them in race and colour in the same way as we treat those who come here, giving them full freedom and opportunity as individuals from the moment that they arrive here.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. T. M. Cox (Wandsworth, Central)
In making my maiden speech, I ask the indulgence of the House.
109 I have the honour to represent the constituency of Wandsworth, Central. In the last Parliament, the constituency was represented by Dr. David Kerr who, I know, was held in high esteem by both sides of the House, as he was by his constituents.
The people of Wandsworth, Central are the kind who have helped to create the respect which our capital city has throughout the world. They are friendly and helpful, as I have already had the privilege to discover.
The constituency is similar to those represented by many hon. Members. It is a blend of good modern housing and more twilight areas. Part of the constituency's housing is certainly in need of modernisation, because it lacks many of the modern amenities which people are entitled to expect in the homes in which they live and seek to bring up their families. A recent report by the local branch of the National Union of Teachers has also illustrated the improvements which could be made to our local schools. I make those points because, having served in local government for many years and had the honour to chair committees which were responsible for these kinds of developments, I hope that the Government will not become obsessed with cuts in taxation and Government spending. The problems to which I have referred can be tackled only if generous assistance is given to local authorities from the national Government. No one is against cuts in taxation—I certainly am not—but they should not be made at the expense of improving the environment in which we live. I sincerely hope that the Government will remember this.
One of the major subjects covered in the Gracious Speech is that of industrial relations. I have entered this House from the shop floor of industry. My working life has been spent, first, working underground in the South Wales coalfields and, more recently, in the electricity supply industry. I have been appalled, as have many of my workmates, at some of the comments which have been made about the British worker and his supposed lack of national interest. It is very easy to condemn industrial unrest and at the same time to ignore the problems that cause it.
110 I want to see improved industrial relations. It is for the benefit of all to encourage this to take place. But I hope that the Government will be in no doubt whatever that this will not be achieved by legislation. It will not be achieved by agreements unless they are fully acceptable to both sides. It certainly will not be achieved via the courts, nor via the advocacy of the British legal profession. These will not be the means which will create the kind of industrial relations that we wish to see. I am convinced from my experience that only one thing will achieve it: the attitude of mind of working people simply as to whether or not they feel that they are receiving fair and just treatment in whatever issue they may be involved. Whether it is wages, working conditions or disputes procedure, it will not be legal obligations, but the progress that trade unions and management can make on each of these issues that will help to decide the attitude that work-people adopt.
I should like to give one example. I have a cutting from a national paper which is headed:Sick man told 'Get well or be sacked.'This is an example of the kind of actions that so prejudice the minds of working people. I have the greatest sympathy, as I am sure have many hon. Members on both sides of the House, when examples such as that are given, with the kind of attitudes that workpeople take.
I do not dispute that we have many problems to tackle. The complicated wages structure obviously needs a great deal of improvement. There is the attitude of companies which refuse to recognise or, indeed, negotiate with trade unions. I hope that no one in this House will be in any doubt that there are still a great many companies in this country that adopt that attitude. There is the need to make trade union members realise that if they want modern, efficient trade unions to give them the kind of service that I believe is required in this day and age, they have to start to pay for that service. I do not believe that we can continue to have, as is often the case, trade unionism on the cheap.
I should like to comment briefly on two matters of which I have experience and which I believe need to be expressed.
First, shop stewards. These people, despite the image that they are often 111 given, undoubtedly do a first-class job. Thousands of agreements are made every working day throughout British industry which are perfectly acceptable both to trade unions and to management, but the need still exists for further development of this vital rôle that workers play. Many unions spend a great deal on this particular function. Certainly the union of which I am proud to be a member does. This is one matter on which I hope that the Commission on Industrial Relations, working with management and the trade unions, will play a leading role, because, as I say, this is a vital function in industrial relations.
Secondly, the need fully to consult workers' representatives at the earliest opportunity on whatever issue may arise that affects the well-being of workers. I cannot stress too strongly the damage that is often done simply because this does not take place. In this day and age we really must start to make workers feel that they are far more than just numbers, on a firm's payroll, which tragically is often the attitude adopted by workers.
If we begin to tackle some of these issues we will establish the basis of good industrial relations, the kind of relationship that is acceptable to workers, to trade unions and to management and, I am sure, to everyone in this country.
I thank the House for the courtesy that it has shown in helping me over the ordeal of making a maiden speech.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like, first, to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your election as Chairman of Ways and Means and to wish you well in your office and in the Chair.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Cox). who certainly made a most assured and effective speech for his first time in this House. What he said about industrial relations gives us a great deal of food for thought. This is a big problem of human relations and it will not be easy, whatever form of legislation is introduced. Certainly the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of local government and the unions will stand us in very good stead in future. We shall no doubt be hearing from him again. I congratulate him on taking this step on the first day of Parliament and 112 on making a number of skilful points in his speech. I should also like to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on taking office, particularly the Prime Minister on the splendid courage and resolution which he showed throughout the General Election, as a result of which he broke through in the last few days and won a triumph of great significance in this century.
I see my hon. Friend the new Chief Secretary on the Front Bench. I particularly wish to welcome him on his new appointment, because I wish to talk about that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to the over-80s. The Chief Secretary was among those who assisted me in my campaign to secure pensions for people who were excluded in 1948 by the National Insurance Act, 1946, which was passed under the Labour Government after the war. I understand that we shall shortly be receiving this Bill which is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. Therefore, I will not go into all the merits of the argument again because I have debated them for a long period, as many hon. Members will know, in the House and at Question time. But I am extremely pleased that the Government have decided to bring forward this Bill in fulfilment of one of their first pledges. I have constantly made the point that both sides of the House bear a heavy responsibility for not having done this before. I say "both sides of the House" because I was a critic of the previous Conservative Government in this connection. I know that there were others as well.
I first introduced a Private Member's Bill in 1964. I will not go over the history of that. But now that we have a position where there are only 110,000 old people in this category alive today, it seems extraordinary that it has taken so long to come to the point. The previous Government opposed my Bill, which was introduced by others of my hon. Friends on six different occasions, and voted it down. They always put up arguments which they said were convincing. There is no need to go into that controversy again, but the figures are worth quoting. At the end of last year the total amount required to pay these pensions would have been £30 million per annum gross, a saving of £14 million on supplementary benefits, making a net cost of £16 million per annum. 113 It is rather extraordinary that this should have been so strongly resisted, and it should have been contended that supplementary benefits were really an answer to the claim for pensions as of right.
It was also said that these people had not contributed, and therefore they were not entitled to pensions as of right. I reiterate the point, in case it is made again, that these old people never had any right to contribute. The 1946 Act meant that anybody over pension age on 5th July, 1948, had no right to contribute by law, and therefore it cannot really be complained that they failed to contribute. There are those who seem to think that one could devise some form of pension arrangement for them less the Exchequer subsidy, but I do not think that that would be fair in the circumstances after all this time, and I hope that my right hon. Friends will pay them the full retirement pension.
These people are now, on average, 85 years old, and clearly there is not much time left for them. I therefore applaud this humanitarian decision to pay pensions to these old people who have waited for a very long time. They suffer from a considerable sense of injustice. Many hon. Members will have received letters from them and know that they do not enjoy any other benefit from the National Insurance scheme, including death grant, and this is an impossible position to sustain in our present system.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman be in favour of extending the proposals in the Bill to other categories of people under 80, who are excluded from pension rights?
§ Mr. Neave
I am aware that there are other anomalies. I have met this argument before, but I think that the Government are right to give priority to these old people because they have no legal right to contribute. There are other categories of people who had an opportunity to contribute, and who are now suffering hardship, and I hope that they will be dealt with at another time, but I have always argued that priority should be given to the over-80s who were excluded because they were above the pension age on 5th July, 1948.
That is my answer. I have often met that kind of argument in introducing my Bill. I agree with the hon. Gentleman 114 that there are other anomalies, and I hope that the Government will get round to dealing with them as soon as they can. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Gracious Speech he will see that the Government are proposing to deal with the problems facing younger widows, and that of constant attendance allowance for the seriously disabled, but there are other anomalies about contributions, and no doubt these will be raised later on in the House.
I should like now to proceed to the question of the appointment of Select Committees. I raise this now, but there will be an opportunity to question the Leader of the House about this in the near future. The Select Committee system has been highly controversial, but on the whole it has been a considerable achievement, and it is one of the successes of the previous Government. There are those who do not like the Specialist Committee system because they say that it takes away a number of things from the Floor of the House, in the sense that it occupies more hon. Members upstairs, but there are areas, especially of science and technology, which should not be the subject of ideological disputes, and all-party committees can do very useful work in probing decisions of the Government and the policy-making system of the Government.
I do not wish to refer to this in any more detail, except to say that I hope the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be appointed very soon and will be able to continue with its work, particularly in respect of those matters which it was studying in the last Parliament. I hope, too, that the other Specialist Committees which were appointed in the last Parliament will continue. In particular, I should like to see the reinstatement of the Select Committee on Agriculture. I think that it was a mistake to abolish this Select Committee, because it provided an opportunity to discuss farming matters in a way that was useful. I repeat my hope that the Government will reinstate it.
One cannot, of course, go beyond certain limits. These Select Committees occupy a large number of hon. Members, and one must choose the subjects and Departments carefully so that the best result is obtained for the House. If we want to make the House of Commons more effective in probing policy-making 115 by the Government, we ought to maintain the Select Committees at as full a strength as we can, and I hope that we shall hear about this fairly soon.
I move from that topic to that of the need to create more resources by increasing the productive capacity of the country, which is the theme of the Gracious Speech, and which I think is the right theme for the new Government. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his speech today, and on his references to this theme, and I should like to relate it to something which one does not often get much opportunity to refer to in the House.
The need to create more resources for research and development is very important, and is becoming increasingly urgent. There is considerable uncertainty in Government research establishments about what their future organisation will be. I hope that the Government will not come to any hasty conclusions. They ought to take a long hard look at the whole problem of national objectives in research, and I hope that they will not stand on the Green Paper which the ex-Minister of Technology issued the other day, and which was studied by the last Select Committee on Science and Technology. That was too narrow an argument.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be desirable to proceed with as little delay as possible to implement the proposals contained in the previous Government's Bill to take into public ownership the nuclear fuel group?
§ Mr. Neave
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the former Government's Atomic Energy Authority Bill, I must tell him that there are certain aspects of the Bill with which I agree. One proposal promoted by the Select Committee, was the need for a nuclear fuel company. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this should be a joint organisation between private enterprise and the A.E.A. There are, however, other aspects of the Bill which will have to be looked at again. What I was referring to was the Green Paper on the organisation of industrial and Government research. I do not want any more uncertainty than is necessary in Government research establishments. I think that we have to 116 look at the national objectives of research. We ought not to have any formal division between civil and defence research such as the Green Paper proposals for a British research and development corporation would have made. I find this a weakness in the previous Minister's proposals.
It is a problem of creating new resources. It is quite clear that the discussion which has been going on for some months about research in private industry comes down to the fact that there are very few firms which can afford to spend more than 5 per cent. of their turnover on research and development, and therefore there are large areas of research, certainly those areas of high technology, which are very important and which have to be done in Government research establishments. To decide the priorities of these and to decide the future organisation of these Government research establishments will be a very tricky task. It will involve a number of difficult staff questions. I hope that it will be completed as soon as possible, but not in too hurried a way.
I mention this because, as hon. Members know, Harwell and the Culham Laboratory affect my constituency. I hope that the Government will be able to maintain the A.E.A. as a separate research organisation instead of including it in the slightly monolithic British research and development corporation which was proposed in the Green Paper. I hope that they will have separate multidisciplinary research establishments for electronics based on Malvern, and for aero-space based on Farnborough. These are ideas that I hope they will take up. They are alternatives to the Green Paper proposals and they will require a considerable amount of discussion.
I conclude by referring to research in the pure sense—that is to say, under the Science Research Council. One notes—as other hon. Members and I have often said in the House—that it is no good being top in pure science and very low in economic growth. That is the difficulty in which the country finds itself at the moment. Its skills in scientific research are high, but it is low in terms of economic growth. We must harness these two things together.
I hope that the Science Research Council will also be examined in terms of the 117 way in which the Government should allocate money on the Science Vote. I am assuming that the Council will continue to be the medium through which pure research is sponsored—and not only in economic terms. We must not forget that the brain drain of scientists is still serious. It has not been entirely stopped. We have to assure scientists of worthwhile careers. This will be done not only by reorganisation but by creating new resources through a larger national income. I believe that this is the theme of the Gracious Speech in terms of scientific research.
I make no apology for making a limited point today, because we do not often get the opportunity to make speeches about the future of research and development. They are immensely important and involve the Government in making vital decisions. What I have said about the Government research in areas of high technology does not mean that the Government should not encourage more research of a mundane kind in private industry. They should do that but they should reorganise Government research so as to get the maximum industrial payoff. So far that has not been done. That fact was recognised by the former Minister of Technology. That is why he set out the proposals in his last Green Paper. These proposals left out the defence orientated establishments, which they should not have done, and there is now a golden opportunity for the new Government to put forward a new programme of research that will greatly benefit our scientific community.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
May I congratulate you, Sir Robert, on your appointment to the important office of Deputy-Speaker. It is a very great pleasure to all of us to see you in the Chair. I join the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) in paying my compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Cox) on his maiden speech. It was delightful and refreshing to hear such a practical approach in a maiden speech. It is not an easy thing to do. My hon. Friend was very wise to seize the first opportunity of entering into our debates. I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity, 118 on this subject and on others, for us to hear him in the future.
I agree with the hon. Member for Abingdon about Specialist Committees. I hope that the Specialist Committee with which I was associated—the one on overseas aid—will be reconstituted. If it is not, much valuable work, together with the evidence that it has taken, may be lost, and much valuable comment could not be made available. I hope that that fact will be taken into account.
I want to refer particularly to one area of concern—regional policy. This is a matter of deep anxiety for all who live in development areas, and certainly for those who live in the North-East of England. It is a special anxiety because of comments made in the past by Conservative speakers—including none other than the present Prime Minister—as to their intentions, when returned to office, concerning development policy. They have said this in speeches that were even repeated during the Election campaign.
The fears created by the speeches made by the party opposite in this respect will certainly not have been set at rest by the terms of the Gracious Speech, or the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon; indeed, if anything anxieties will have been sharpened. It is of the utmost importance that in areas like these clear decisions should be taken quickly, because in these areas a field of uncertainty is building up in industry which can be acutely damaging to the prospects of the North-East and other development areas.
We have had the unhappy fact of the refusal of the present Government, among their first actions, to make any appointment comparable to the special Minister for the North that we had under the previous Government. That post has gone. Further, no decision has been taken about the future of the special Minister or Ministry dealing with development matters and questions of regional development. Although we have heard some comment from the Prime Minister this afternoon to the effect that the Government intend to look into the matter further, anxiety is bound to continue, and any long delay in coming to a decision is bound to make our concern all the greater.
119 The proposals—not yet contradicted—put forward by the Prime Minister during the election will certainly tend to aggravate the present very serious situation arising from a lack of adequate use of resources in development areas. The previous Government had made great changes in many of these areas. My own area—the North-East—had achieved at least a far better balance of industry. No longer did it rely on two or three major heavy industries for the whole of its future. That situation had changed, and it was a very important change. Tribute to the changed situation was recently paid by a completely non-party political source—the North-East Development Council. It referred to the importance of that change. Undoubtedly, as a consequence, we have been faced with very heavy and tragic unemployment in the last few years. That situation goes back over a long period, aggravated, of course, by the terribly rapid run-down in the mining industry and the revolutionary changes that have taken place in other major heavy industries.
I want to know what policies will now be carried out to deal with these acute difficulties. It is all very well to have generalisations in the Gracious Speech, as we have had. We are used to generalisations in this House. But we were assured by the Prime Minister that we were now to face a new era, and that there was to be a new atmosphere in which we were to have action rather than words. We were not going to be fobbed off with polite phrases that were meaningless. I hope that that will prove true, but there are many polite phrases in the Gracious Speech about development areas.
We are told that the new Ministers attach the greatest importance to promoting full employment and an effective regional policy, and that they will stimulate long-term growth in the less prosperous areas by increasing their economic attraction and improving their amenities. So say we all. But they are again polite phrases and we shall want to see evidence of the action that is to follow them up.
I say straight away that if the Prime Minister decides that in terms of this policy he will retreat immediately from the pledges and promises that he made 120 during the election nobody will be happier than I. The more promises about development area policy he breaks the better it will be for the development areas and the more happy I will be. I will be the first to congratulate him on doing so.
I hope that he will not find it difficult to break these pledges quickly because of what he has said in the past. They have pledged themselves, for example, to phase out the regional employment premium, which was making a considerable contribution to existing industry and offered considerable help to new industry. There has been some suggestion that, as this was only a provision for seven years, the new Prime Minister's undertaking is covered, and that all that was meant by the present Prime Minister was that it would not go on beyond seven years. But this is vital for industries in our areas, who want to know what they can rely on in determining their pricing structure and the rest. This is what it was for—to help industries in the development areas, to give them some price advantage and more opportunities for further development and employment of more people. Therefore, if the Government intend that it should not be proceeded with after seven years, they should say so quickly.
The other so-called valuable pledge—at least the Prime Minister appeared to regard as valuable—was that the investment grants should be discontinued and replaced by depreciation allowances. This means that those firms which are doing pretty well would get some further contribution, and those which were trying to make their way would get none. That is a wonderful way of helping development in the development areas! Again, it is vital to know whether they mean to do this. Again, uncertainty is highly damaging both to industry coming in and to existing industry which is planning developments. What hope on earth is there of going forward with major proposals for development in our areas as long as this cloud of uncertainty hangs over them due to the action of the present Prime Minister and his supporters?
We have also been told, as part of their policy, that there will be some loosening of i.d.c.s, that no longer will the priorities be so certain in their operation, that the assurances that we had in 121 an area like the North-East—that we would get a reasonable priority in determination of areas for development and that these certificates would be rejected in many other parts of the country, where perhaps private industry might have wished to go—that these would no longer count.
We suspect that their attitude is that industrial development certificates will no longer be available to the development areas in the same way, because of what the Gracious Speech says about the withdrawal of Government intervention. This makes one suspect that this policy is not likely to continue. Again, the uncertainty which the right hon. Gentleman has brought into this vital matter is bound to concern everyone in those areas. Oddly enough, the North-East Development Council, certainly a non-partisan body, which is concerned with the development of the area, has criticised previous Governments for not using i.d.c.s. strongly enough. Clearly, that will not be the view of the present Government.
To add to our anxieties, in spite of the effort of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to get a reply from the Prime Minister, we have not yet heard whether the Government intend to proceed with the Mining Industry Bill. An area like mine, which has suffered so severely from pit closures, wants to know—and not in six or nine months but now. Presumably, this is one of the matters to which the new Administration have given a lot of consideration in advance. Why should we wait? This is another matter which concerns us because of the very serious effect that this rapid rundown of coalmining has had.
One or two issues which need immediate attention in my own area are affected by the declared policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I want to know whether the new Government will confirm the special emergency action which my right hon. Friends took to help safeguard temporarily the Palmers Yard at Hebburn on Tyneside. If not, why not? We want to know now. This is not a decision which can be delayed if we are to get new orders into that yard.
§ Mr. Burden
Since this situation has been developing over the last year or so and cannot have happened between the election and now, surely the last Government 122 should have been in possession of all the facts and should have taken action, if that was necessary, before they left office?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am sorry, but on this subject the hon. Gentleman shows himself rather illiterate, because the Government did take action. After prolonged negotiations with Vickers, they made proposals which mean that a temporary arrangement was made, under which that yard is safeguarded for a period of months. I want to know whether that will be firm, or whether, in view of the Government's attitude to Government intervention, it will be thrown overboard—as they well could. There is no reason why not. If they dislike Government intervention—what is sometimes sneeringly called "instant intervention"—they will want to overturn this. This decision was only temporary, to tide us over a brief period until decisions were taken about the future of the whole ship repair industry. Now, the whole of that matter is a matter of extreme urgency.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
Those of us who, like my hon. Friend, represent shipbuilding areas, are very alarmed by the speech reported to have been made by the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, when he expressed a very strong view about the lack of support which the Government should give to the shipbuilding and ship-repair industry. This is one of the reasons that we point out to the hon. Gentleman that we in shipbuilding areas are concerned. This has frightened many of us.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. Hon. Members opposite cannot escape the fact that their speeches and policy demands follow them. They have made clear, as have their leaders, that their policy is to end Government intervention in industry in this way. It is, therefore, acutely important that we know precisely what the new Government intend to do. Some of us are not prepared to wait for months for a reply on matters of this kind. We want to know whether the temporary arrangements which were made with regard to such places as Palmers Yard, which used to employ thousands of men on Tyneside, including many of my constituents, are to be carried further. We want to know what their future is to be, and also what 123 the future of ship repairing is to be. The industry itself prepared a report for the previous Government. At least, that report, with the present Government's recommendations, ought to be published so that we know what the issue is.
This is a serious matter. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) may laugh if he likes—
§ Mr. Burdenrose—
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
No, not again. These are not laughing matters for those of us who represent these areas and who raised questions with the previous Government on matters affecting the daily working lives of our constituents.
§ Mr. Burden
I was smiling for this reason. The hon. Gentleman himself has had Government office. The present Government have been in office for a couple of days, and he now asks them to make enormous decisions on matters which were not taken into consideration when his own party was in power. For five and a half years, the whole thing was allowed to run down without his Government taking the right action.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Gentleman is wrong again. If he knew a little of the facts, he would realise that, fortunately, the previous Government took a whole range of actions with regard to shipbuilding which enabled us on the Tyne and elsewhere to have a far more flourishing industry, and make a bigger contribution to Britain's trade returns, than would otherwise have been possible. They managed to save the shipbuilding industry. What they did not do at that time—and there was every reason why they should be cautious and careful in what they did—was to include ship repairing. But this matter has been under discussion now within the industry for over a year. The previous Government, with their usual caution, were anxious to have a full report and recommendations from the industry itself before taking action. Does the hon. Gentleman regard that as an improper course? Would he wish a Government to rush in in advance of the industry's own examination of the position?
§ Mr. Burden
Why does the hon. Gentleman suggest that this Government 124 should take action before they have had an opportunity of reading the report and recommendations?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The new Government have had an opportunity. The report is before them. It is of the utmost importance that they allay the anxieties which they have themselves occasioned by their insistence that they would end Government intervention. I want an assurance that they are prepared to examine these issues on their merits in the whole context of the industry concerned and that they will not allow their political predilections and pledges to the public about getting rid of Government intervention to interfere with what ought to be followed as a practical and sensible line of policy in these matters.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have assured us that they will do something about providing improved transport facilities and about the appearance of the development areas, not recognising, of course, that a great deal has been done in the past few years to improve communications, so much so that—again to quote the same source—the North-East Development Council has said that we have now achieved in our area perhaps the best system of communications in the country.
As right hon. and hon. Members opposite have insisted that they intend to do even more in this respect, they can take up the plans which are before their Ministries now. If they give sanction for the additional grant to enable those plans to go forward, in spite of the unwillingness of my local Tory council, I shall be delighted. I shall be delighted to have their support against the local council and to see that sort of early evidence of their intention to help.
The most immediate expression of the main need to improve the image of the area and its facilities can be seen in what is done regarding derelict land. The previous Government had a good record in speeding up the clearance of dereliction in our older industrial areas. Unfortunately, previous Tory Administrations—we see many of the same faces today—had an appalling record. They did nothing about it. We are delighted to see the broad expression of intent and good will in the Gracious Speech, suggesting that they will now turn over 125 a new leaf and do more, but we want to see evidence of that new determination in areas such as mine.
I have given just a few illustrations—they seem to have provoked a good deal of excitement—of practical ways in which the new Administration can show whether they mean to give us more than a series of old platitudes dressed up afresh and they really mean to take action to benefit areas such as mine. We have warned them that we are not prepared to give them endless time to show what they will do in practice.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
In this debate thus far, one sentence which I have heard in every similar debate in the past five or six years has been absent. It is so often said, "There is not much in the legislative programme for the coming Session", but that could not fairly be said on this occasion, and no one has said it. Even though the phraseology of the Gracious Speech is largely in general terms, there is every indication of a massive legislative programme this Session.
Time does not permit one to cover more than just a few points, and even those only cursorily, but one point which I am very glad to see is the proposed review of the size and role of the Territorial Army. I hope that this excellent force will as soon as possible be revamped and brought back to its former efficacy.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), for I know from his Strasbourg days his great interest in the environment and in the control of pollution. If we agree on nothing else, he and I will agree, I am sure, in welcoming the clear commitment in the Gracious Speech that something will be done about pollution control and the environment. This is the debt which we owe to the past. A price has been paid for our economic prosperity and for our use of our natural resources. If we are to give anything to the generations succeeding us, we must make efforts now to ensure that our precious irreplaceable resources and environment are preserved.
126 Another matter in the Gracious Speech which struck me forcibly—perhaps, because I was a chartered accountant once upon a time—is the reference to the reform of the tax structure, coupled with incentives to saving and, needless to say, a reduction in the present crippling burden of taxation. Obviously, if we are to secure the rising production on which our economic development so urgently depends, then there must be incentives. There is no sense in someone working overtime only to pay 40 per cent. or more of his earnings through burdensome taxation at the end of the week. People are just not prepared to do that, and rightly so. Moreover, we must think not only in terms of personal taxation but also of corporate taxation. We must bear in mind that so many firms, particularly small ones, do not have the cash to plough back into expansion projects. Although we may hear much of the I.C.I.s and Unilevers of this world, let us not forget that about 80 per cent. of the economy of the country is built on and dependent on the small firm.
Also closely connected with these topics is the urgent need for someone to restructure our tax system. Perhaps this may require a Royal Commission. The 1952 Income Tax Act may have been a masterpiece of its kind, but nearly 20 years have elapsed and there have been vast changes and added complexities in the tax system in that time. Now our tax law is virtually unintelligible, even to the experts. This is something that Parliament must try to tackle. It is no use simply dealing with tax rates and things of that kind. We must simplify the whole concept and codification of taxation.
Allied to taxation are savings. I do not think that it is unfair to say that the movement in savings is a very good indicator of national prosperity or otherwise. When people are optimistic about the future, savings grow. When they are pessimistic, savings drop. The present slide in savings tells its own story.
After rising prices, the issue raised most frequently in my division during the election campaign was pensions, particularly for the young widow. Perhaps one may be emotional about this matter. My delight about the sentence concerning it in the Gracious Speech is uncontrolled. For some years in every speech I have 127 made in the House I have tried, whenever I have been in order in doing so, to drag in the question of pensions for young widows. Their position has been a scandalous anomaly. I hope that it will be dealt with as far as possible, though there will always be some anomalies in the social service structure.
I welcome the giving of a pension to those over 80, but it has been an absolute disgrace that a woman under 50 who has perhaps been bereaved almost on the eve of the qualifying date has not received a pension. One case I came across during the election was of a lady whose husband died at five minutes to midnight on a Saturday night. The Sunday was her 50th birthday and she did not get a penny. This is intolerable. A person like that is thrown on to the labour market to find whatever job she can, and almost certainly it will be of the most menial kind.
The hon. Member for South Shields and I both come from regions, from the north-east region of two islands. I welcome the clear declaration of the implementation of an effective regional development policy. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman in bemoaning the projected departure of the regional employment premium, because this helped not only the person who really needed it but also the quite considerable number of employers who did not. Quite often I have been told, "It is very nice to have the premium but, frankly, I do not need it". Need is surely the criterion on which regional assistance should be determined.
I hope that S.E.T. will depart from our midst very soon. The tourist trade suffered in the early stages of the imposition of S.E.T. In the first year of the tax in Northern Ireland one-third of total male employment in the tourist trade vanished. When adjustments were made in the imposition of S.E.T. on the tourist trade those men did not come back into the industry. They were lost to the tourist trade for ever. I do not know whether this pattern was reflected in other tourist areas.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole point of the regional employment premium was to try to make it possible for firms to reduce prices from factories in development 128 areas so that they would get more orders into those areas?
§ Mr. Pounder
That is only partly the case. One of the big things that has now been realised by both sides is that these areas of the Kingdom are no longer liabilities. They have good quality labour and normally have good communications. They can be developed and expanded without overheating the economy as a whole. That is the great value of the regions, and with a proper regional policy that can be exploited. I do not believe that R.E.P. is the way in which that can be done.
I have no doubt that during the next few days, if not the next few months, the subject of Northern Ireland will loom fairly large in the deliberations in this Chamber. I welcome the support for the Northern Ireland Government and their policies so clearly stated in the Queen's Speech, a statement with which I am in total agreement. This is so important. Nothing else can really matter in Northern Ireland until there is a restoration of peace. It was therefore extremely kind of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to visit Northern Ireland so soon after taking office to see for himself the sort of situation and problems which we face.
Last weekend we had the worst period of rioting we have had for many months. During it, two new and very serious phenomena emerged. The first was an increased use of automatic weapons. I have the product of one of them in my hand—a .303 bullet picked up in a street in my constituency. The second is the use of incendiary parcel bombs in downtown shopping centres. This is another twist in the screw of tension. In tonight's Evening Standard we read a report of an arms cache being found in Fulham, allegedly destined for Northern Ireland. This is extremely serious.
I should be neglecting my duty if I did not make two points which have come up a great deal in recent weeks, certainly in the minds of my constituents. One is that the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary must be restored very quickly. These men are feeling frustrated, and I believe that if we are to have a proper restoration of law and order in our Province they must be given back their self-confidence as soon as is humanly possible.
§ Mr. Pounder
I will give way in a minute.
Second, the Army, to whom great tribute is due, is going through an extremely difficult and unenviable time in a rôle for which it was not trained and for which it could not have been expected to be trained. They have endured with a great deal of fortitude, and the regiment from the constituency of the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) has given very distinguished service in Northern Ireland.
But the great danger at present is that, rightly or wrongly, criticisms are beginning to creep in, particularly over what appears to be a somewhat complicated chain of command, so that perhaps there is not sufficient flexibility in the Army's manœeuvring, plans and so on to act when circumstances may change very rapidly, as they did last Saturday.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie
Since the hon. Gentleman is the first Ulster Unionist Member to take part in the debate, we would welcome a rather more detailed comment on what he meant by restoring the self-confidence of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The hon. Gentleman should be more specific. I do not mean that he was glossing over the matter, but he was not too specific.
§ Mr. Pounder
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman. I was not glossing over anything. I understand that there will be a considerable period tomorrow to debate Northern Ireland, and I do not wish to poach. That was the sole reason for my only saying what I did. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to try to elaborate in one sentence on what I was getting at, I will tell him that where street violence breaks out and the Army moves in to control it the Royal Ulster Constabulary is expected to move out. That is the sort of situation which is not good for morale. It should be a joint exercise between police and Army. I hope that that has briefly answered the point.
In the Gracious Speech there is a commitment to give additional economic assistance to Northern Ireland. I welcome this unreservedly. For far too long people in this House and Britain as a whole have tended to ignore the fact that 130 British standards in Ulster, about which so much is talked, also mean British standards of economic prosperity and employment opportunities. Until we can get those standards in Northern Ireland we are likely to have periodic moments of distress. How can we hope to attract the new industry so vital to our economic development until there is peace? Once peace is restored I believe that we can talk very seriously in terms of considerable economic prosperity.
There was a reference to implementing the Boundary Commission recommendations in the Gracious Speech. I hope that when that legislation goes through provision will also be made for granting holidaymakers a vote. I do not know how other candidates fared, but I fared adversely because of the number of people away on holiday. It seems absurd that a person who lives in this country and who pays taxes in this country, but who happens to be on holiday for a couple of weeks, should wind up as a second-class citizen who is not allowed to exercise his democratic rights at an election.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
I am aware that it is the custom of the House for an hon. Member speaking for the first time to be non-controversial. I am also aware of the desire for brevity. I shall be brief and, I trust, not too controversial.
I should like first to pay tribute to my predecessor who served in the House representing Wrexham from 1955 to 1970. Idwal Jones was not a flamboyant Member of Parliament. Rather he was quiet, scholarly and thoughtful, but I am sure that his qualities of scholarship and quiet thought must have enabled him to serve the House well. Certainly we in Wrexham know that he served his constituency well, and my main anxiety is not merely measuring up to this debate, but measuring up to the standards laid down by Idwal Jones.
Wrexham is not a typical coal-mining constituency. Indeed, it is barely a coal-mining constituency at all. We have only two pits left. But the character of the place has certainly been shaped by coal mining and its people possess in abundance those qualities of warmth and independence which mining everywhere somehow seems to nourish and foster.
131 During the past six years, we in Wrexham have undergone a revolution. We have had a revolution taking place under our very noses, but we do not seem even to have noticed it. It has been one of those rare kinds of revolution where nobody has been hurt. Six thousand or 7,000 miners in the East Denbighshire coalfield, as if by some magic, have been reduced to barely 2,000, while at the same time 30 or 40 new enterprises, large and small, and in all kinds of varied activities, have sprung up in the area to absorb and absorb successfully the greater proportion of the displaced miners. I come here to represent a new Wrexham, a new and dynamic Wrexham which intends to retain its dynamism and which will seek constantly to renew itself.
The Gracious Speech mentions the important subject of industrial relations. I claim to speak on this subject at least with recent and direct experience. I have managed a coal mine for the past 14 years, a coal mine employing up to 1,300 men. My proudest boast at the end of that time is that each agreement I have entered into with trade unions at the colliery in the past six or seven years has been sealed, not by a quasi-legal flourish of signatures to a closely worded document, but by a handshake with the secretary of the union, each of us knowing what his obligations to the other were.
I trust that I may be forgiven in saying that on purely technical grounds, like thinness of seam and difficulty of working and so on, my colliery six or seven years ago should have been the first to close in the North Wales coalfield. The fact that it is still in business is due as much to team spirit and to the mutual confidence of everyone at the pit as to any other factor. I believe that this almost Utopian state of affairs would not have come about, however much good will and however much skill had been shown by the union and by the management, if the practice had persisted of looking at each new agreement legalistically, so that it might be studied carefully by the Philadelphia lawyers of each side and fair game made of the loopholes which inevitably each side would triumphantly claim to have found.
The ultimate result of this sort of outlook is the enshrining in constitutions of such things as the right to strike. It 132 seems to me that the so-called right to strike is treasured by present trade union leaders today and recognised, although deplored, but almost always for the wrong reason, by many of our managers. Because of the balance, the equilibrium, of large complex industrial technology in the modern world and the immediate social interdependence that follows, the right to strike ought to be an anachronism dating from the old days when we had legitimately two sides to industry. In practice, we still have two sides, but the wisest industrial policies should now have as their guiding star the aim of making the right to strike the anachronism which it ought to be.
The first step in this process could well be the rejection of legalistic attitudes which are bound to perpetuate the traditional idea of industry polarised into two sides, management and workers, linked together by ever more rigid and explicit forms of legal contract. The contractual nature of a personal commitment to industry in 1970, which is what it boils down to, will never be secured by a lawyer, however eminent he may be. Napoleon knew nearly two centuries ago that battles are won in the hearts of men. Many people who have pretensions to being leaders of industry today have yet to learn it. I trust that in the months ahead I shall, as occasion arises, have the opportunity to try to persuade any sceptical Members of the soundness of that view.
In the meantime, I thank the House for the forbearance with which it has heard a newcomer gingerly taking his first steps on a road which has been trodden by so many illustrious men in the past.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Tom Ellis) has already secured one convert to his just belief. His speech evoked in us the sentiments which he claimed for his own constituents. He claimed for Wrexham—and I, too, can speak as a Welshman, although an expatriate—warmth and a sense of independence. It is true of Wrexham and it was true of his speech.
I entirely agree with him that no lawyer can possibly create the conditions which will enable one to succeed in establishing a good system of industrial relations unless the spirit is there among the 133 men and the leadership by the managers, a sense of co-operation in industry. But lawyers can sometimes help in creating a background and structure to enable men to appreciate how best to honour the agreements into which they enter. When we have the opportunity of hearing the hon. Member again, we shall listen to him with the greatest interest, not only because he is sincere, but because he has been for many years the manager of a coal pit which has been saved from extinction, which must at least in part measure be due to his efforts.
I wish to say a few words on general subjects and then to turn to a subject which has not been dealt with at all today. First, particularly as I can catch the eye of the Leader of the House, I wish to say something about when we can take the proposals of the Boundaries Commission. I hope that we shall be able to make the Bill somewhat wider. May we have a Representation of the People Bill to deal with the question of holiday voters, a subject upon which there is deep feeling, and with a question which affected at least two people—the Prime Minister and myself—namely, misleading labels of candidates in a General Election? Let us not forget that the man who took the name of Ted Heath, while he was effectively slaughtered, managed to get nearly 1,000 votes from the confused electorate. I had a Conservative candidate standing against me. I am not sure that many Labour candidates in the election fighting fairly marginal seats would have liked to find somebody adopting the same tag and calling himself a Labour candidate.
We in the South-East are faced with very severe jamming in an effort to try to cool the ardour of Radio Caroline in the North Sea. This is having exactly the reverse effect and is jamming B.B.C. radio and television. I hope that the new Minister will follow the easy path and will not continue the jamming if it interferes with the reception, not only of my constituents, but of the constituents of hon. Friends to whom I have spoken in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.
I wish to say a few words about the development areas. It probably has not occurred to hon. Members opposite, and it may not have occurred to all my hon. Friends, that some of the least prosperous 134 areas in the United Kingdom are the coastal areas of East Kent. The highest unemployment is to be found in these areas. It is far higher than the unemployment in the development areas of the North-East or the North. In May this year, the unemployment figure in the Isle of Thanet was no less than 7 per cent. This is a staggering figure, and it has risen every month.
It is said in the Gracious Speech that a flexible development area policy will be adopted in the less prosperous areas. The coastal areas and seaside resorts, particularly of East Kent, demand urgent and special attention which I feel sure they will receive from the Government and which they were refused by the Labour Government, who pursued the obdurate policy of giving advantages only to particular development areas, mainly in the North and North-East.
The Leader of the Opposition said that no firm and clear policy on law and order had been laid down. He referred to those who have been advocating policies for the consideration of a Conservative Government when elected. Many of them were put forward recently and some have been in existence for some years. The Gracious Speech plainly indicates that the Government intend to give very careful and immediate consideration to this issue but are not prepared at this time to commit themselves as to the outcome of their thoughts. Clearly the Government are right, for until the Home Office, Lord Chancellor's Department and other Departments affected have had the opportunity of detailed consultations on the matters with which I propose to deal it would not be right to give a firm and clear commitment. Nevertheless, the Government can say a little more than that they regard it as a special duty to secure the protection of the freedom of the individual within the rule of law.
The Government should proceed with an urgent review of the structure of the police and of their needs to conquer the rising tide of crime. It is clearly their special duty to protect the citizen against growing lawlessness. The Home Secretary should require one of his Ministers to give this matter his entire consideration. This is a very large subject. In dealing with the structure, we must consider whether the police force should remain as it is, whether it should have a national criminal investigation force as a separate 135 unit, or whether he should merely retain one unit and have a two-tier structure within that unit.
The police force of London has hardly any more men in it than it had in 1938. This fact is stunning in its implications. Basic recruitment in London is over 5,000 down on the number which the force should have. The number of detectives in London is only just over 3,000, which is far too small a number.
The question of the structure depends first on a decision whether there shall be a national police force. I am emphatically of the belief that a national police force would be a fatal mistake and quite wrong. But it depends on the second consideration—whether we should have a national criminal investigation force. This is not necessary, although, in my opinion, it is the best approach. What we need as an alternative is recruitment across the board. There are virtually no graduates with honours degrees from the universities in the police force. Graduates have not the slightest intention of joining the police force if they have to become "bobbies" on the beat or ordinary regimental policemen. These men are determined to become detectives with a career. Like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, they wish to belong to an élite professional class who can secure the rewards of successful criminal investigators. These people are totally different from what I might call the excellent N.C.O. guardsmen type of people whom one often finds among the police in the countryside.
Recruitment must be multiple and at least two-tier. We must also take into account the desperate need for accountants, businessmen and for other men who can assist in tackling the rising tide of crime, wherever it may be found. The present conditions of work for the police are deplorable. The number of hours they work if they are in the C.I.D. far exceed 60 a week and one-third of their time is wasted, in my view, on paper work. More than one-third of a detective's time is spent on paper work. As to secretarial assistance, in one area of Essex 19 detectives have two so-called stenographers, neither of whom can do shorthand and both of whom go home at 5 o'clock. As the detectives do not get there until half-past four or five, no police work can be done. Instead, it 136 usually has to be done by a young woman constable, who has to be compensated for working extra time.
Housing is a key factor. There is no special consideration for housing. The Greater London Council should supply housing for the police and the housing associations should ensure that they get a proper share, which they do not at present.
With regard to aids, there is practically no first-class photography within the police force today. The whole question of the use of telephoto lenses and other methods of photography could be of the greatest assistance in tracking the criminal. Tape recorders are not used but could be very valuable to secure an accurate recording, not only of events at the scene of the crime, but other matters which lead to the conviction of criminals.
The rate of successful detection in London is about one-quarter of the crimes. It is far too low. Dictaphones are not used. Computers are not used. There is no computer system with which to deal with all the lost silver and other metal of that kind. Neither is there any proper index of criminals, although we hope to have those records in two years' time. At the same time, however, computers are used for the ordinary process fixed penalties on which we all have to pay our 40s. fine. These are merely some of the matters. Women police could be enlisted and serve healthy functions in the police, thereby relieving the time of the men and be of great assistance in handling many of the other crimes, more particularly those relating to drugs, in which they could be of the greatest use. The Exchequer must bear the cost. It is ridiculous that in the countryside it is still rateborne.
I turn from some of those general considerations to the C.I.D. How best could it be organised? The organisation requires to be substantially different from that obtaining today. There are no squads today dealing with the big silver and bullion robberies, there are no squads properly organised to be able to deal with fraud. The Fraud Squad is far too small. It does not have either businessmen or accountants to enable it to undertake the major trials about which the public read.
137 To deal with this matter quickly, I suggest that there should be set up forthwith a commission on law enforcement in the Home Office, so that there may be expert conferences not only between those within the Home Office, but drawing on evidence from all over the country and from the international experts, many of whom I met in America and who would be of the greatest assistance in coming over to those conferences under the aegis of the Home Office. The rising problem of crime is an urgent problem. The country recognises this. The Government hitherto have not recognised it.
Finally, an intelligence section. Many years ago, in 1953, when I first came to the House, I suggested that there should be an undercover intelligence section. It was the day of the great train robbery that I was actually talking with the Commissioner when it was reported. I was asking him whether we could have coloured undercover men. I was told that we could not. It has remained the position that we do not use coloureds. That is wrong. Not only should we use coloureds: we should have a proper intelligence section of people who, after they have done their period of training, could join the criminal investigation force or section. These are only some of the matters which are vital to an immediate consideration and review of the structure of the whole of our police forces in the fight against crime.
Perhaps the overriding factor, however, is this. This House has had a number of excellent Select Committees, on technology and the nationalised industries in particular. They have brought great credit upon the House. I believe that we need a standing committee on law enforcement along the lines that President Nixon has for the United States of America. That standing committee on law enforcement should consider what the law enforcement grant should be. It should particularly consider the question of crime prevention and how we can achieve the co-operation of the public in the whole problem of tackling crime.
That committee should also consider how research can best be introduced, whether through the universities or existing institutions, because research is badly needed into the whole range. For a 138 matter of a few thousand £s, Dr. Walls and his team could do valuable work on blood corpuscles for investigation purposes. A mere matter of a few thousand £s, which could so easily be spent, could, no doubt, yield a return of many hundreds of thousands of £s in respect of crime. I do not want to go into the figures; they are there for everybody to see. I make no partisan approach to this matter. It is too serious.
I turn briefly to law and order. In the field, as I call it, of law and order, I regard the whole question of vandalism, hooliganism and the militants, whether in the universities or those who cause destruction on beaches, as calling for a major new approach—that is, compensation. Make the wrongdoer pay for his pleasure. If he wishes to destroy the pleasure of others, let him redeem himself by paying in respect of his sins. It is essential that this should be achieved. This means that we need a new law of malicious trespass.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the hooligans about which, he suggests, there is nothing in the Queen's Speech. Let him not for one moment think that this Government or this party have the slightest intention of seeing that people who come and break up cricket pitches, who go to Cambridge and break up dinners or who go anywhere else and destroy the lawful pleasures of others, get away with it. They will not get away with it.
We on this side will see that adequate and proper measures are brought in which will restrain those hooligans and make them pay for the trouble which they create. This will involve new legislation, which is now to be carefully considered. It must be considered, of course, by lawyers, it must be considered by the Departments, but I am confident that when this is all done, it will be necessary to have a new law. That law of malicious trespass will enable the wrongdoer to pay the person who suffers from the wrong which he has perpetrated. By the attachment of his earnings, by the attachment of student grants and by making parents pay for children if they are under the age of 18, one will have a system which will be just to the individual and just to the person who suffers and who requires the protection of society.
139 Nobody in this House has yet sought to put forward what I believe to be the right policy for the chronic alcoholics and drug addicts. I do not share the view of the former Government that the Misuse of Drugs Bill was of any great value. It deals only with the production and handling of drugs. It tries to deal with the pusher as if the person who takes the drugs is a pusher and to put him inside for 14 years will succeed. It is a curious reflection that the view which I propose to express would probably be called very liberal, and yet the previous Government took a very Right-wing view, as they would regard it, by trying to take stiff and stern measures. There is only one way in which we shall really be able to deal with the growing problem of drug addiction, and that is by trying to cure the addicts. Therefore, it is no good allowing them to be able to obtain supplies; we must treat the addicts.
Everybody who is an addict should be subject to treatment if he is caught taking drugs. An addict should be maintained in a centre for treatment, for a period not in excess of, say, 12 months. He should not only be treated but he could go out to work under supervision and thus, in this way, he could pay for his keep, and we should be able to bring him back as a useful citizen. There were no fewer than 3,000 chronic alcoholics languishing in prison in this country last year: 3,000; there were 35,000 convictions, and there were 3,000 in prison. Why do we want alcoholics cluttering up our prisons? Prison is entirely the wrong place for them. The proper place is a treatment centre where they can receive treatment and go out to work under supervision.
This is part of penal reform and we need to look at a matter like this in a new light. Not a soft light: a hard light, by all means; but one in which compensation and expiation of the crime is the aim, one in which people who go to prison do a job of work, and are made to work hard and pay for what they have done. That is what I believe in.
One of the reasons I am in this House now is that I believe that this Government will be able to tackle the rising tide of crime and will be able to bring about a better and more worth-while approach by all to society in its entirety. This question is a moral issue as well, and I hope that in the next year or two we 140 shall see Measures which will do a great deal to give us a return to a better and more moral society, with a substantial reduction in the volume of crime.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Carter (Birmingham, Northfield)
I rise to my feet to make my maiden speech, and if the Government were to listen to the advice and guidance which I offer them they, as a party, would remain in power for at least a hundred years, probably longer. Unfortunately, however, from the Queen's Speech I am convinced that my advice will be brushed aside, and, therefore, I feel quite safe in broadcasting such precious advice. I refer to that part of the Queen's Speech dealing with industrial relations.
Before doing so, and in accordance with the traditions of the House, I should like to pay a compliment to my predecessor, Mr. Donald Chapman, who represented the Northfield division of Birmingham for the best part of 20 years. While canvassing and going round the constituency I met score upon score of constituents who were full of praise for his efforts, particularly his efforts for the motor car industry. We have in Northfield the Longbridge car works, the biggest car works in Britain, and over the years he played a very notable part in the problems associated with the firm owning those works.
Turning to industrial relations, I should like to dwell for a while on the ways in which policy in this field affects the car industry. As hon. Members will know, it is one of those industries which is extremely strike-prone. There are many reasons offered as to why there is such a high incidence of strikes in the car industry. I think we can put them roughly into four categories. One is the methods of working, the tremendous pressure on an assembly line, working not necessarily all the time at the speed of the men, and in a way which will produce the most efficient results, but determined by the need to get cars off the line at the quickest possible speed. The methods of working, therefore, are usually critical for employment conditions. The overall conditions of employment, again, are determined by the nature of production, and also the economy of the nation has a lot to do with the level 141 of industrial relations within the car industry. Above all, in my opinion, the biggest source of difficulty in an industry such as the car industry is the division which exists between the employed and the employer.
In my opinion, the law has no part to play in reconciling the differences which exist between employed and employer. We all know, of course, that in a progressive society there must be an element of conflict. Without it Britain, the nation we know today, would not have arisen. Similarly, in industry today, without conflict between either production and men, or men and employer, we would not go forward. Conflict, in this sense, tends to be the mother of invention. If the Government feel that the law is a suitable means for dealing with the troubles which we have in industrial relations I would tell them that they are wrong.
The only way, in my opinion, and as the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) so admirably spelt it out, is to unite, to conciliate, but, above all, to involve people in the affairs of industry. In this connection the advice which I offer the Government—though I doubt whether it will be accepted—is to promote a level of industrial democracy which would allow working people to involve themselves more fully in all the affairs of their industries, commercial activities, and so forth. To give the working man and woman a sense of pride and a sense of involvement would lead us to a position where we would have common goals, common objectives.
The trouble is that in so many parts of industry today we have employer and the employed at each other's throats. What we must do is to try to reduce that situation and make it more tolerable and to place people on an equal level, or as near an equal level as possible, so that when problems arise people see them as problems which they should all attempt to solve. A management problem should be looked at by the working people as their problem, and when a problem arises on the shop floor that, equally, should be looked at by management as a problem for them.
I belong to a branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union which has 8,000 members in the British Leyland car works at Northfield. As, having been adopted as candidate in the constituency, 142 I went to two or three branch meetings, and listened, it was with some surprise that I perceived the high level of concern which the men had for the efficiency of their industry. I well remember an occasion of a problem with a supply of washers, a problem which could easily have led to some form of industrial dispute. It almost brought the track to a halt. These things were used rather liberally in the past, and they were scattered around, and they lifted up duckboards and benches and found sufficient to keep the track going, and they were extremely concerned that, through a fault in management and in ordering, the supply had been put into that position. If we had in the Longbridge works in Northfield a joint body of working people, managers and the owners of the industry working together to solve these problems rather than invoking the law, we would be more likely to get results. The law has no place in industrial relations, and I sincerely hope that the nation is not put to the hard test of practicality to find this out.
The Prime Minister referred this afternoon to his belief in one nation. That belief is shared by every Member of this House. I certainly share it, but in my opinion the Government's intended legislation in the affairs of industrial relations would tend to divide. I do not want that to happen. Like the Prime Minister, I believe in one nation, but I believe in a united nation and therefore ask the Government to listen to the advice I have given to them and not to introduce the law into industrial relations.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
It is a tradition of the House that one compliments a maiden speaker on his speech if one follows him, but it is no tradition which makes me say that the House has just listened to a speech from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) which has been a considerable contribution to today's debate. He has shown clear personal insight into the problem of industrial relations, he has indicated his belief that the law has no place in settling differences in industry and has shown his strong belief in conciliation, participation and involvement. I am sure the House will welcome an hon. Member who has so much to contribute on the subject of industrial 143 relations, which will be discussed at length during the lifetime of this Parliament, and in which the personal knowledge and information of the hon. Member for Northfield will be of great value.
As a result of the General Election I believe that the country has chosen the most effective Prime Minister and the most ingenious Leader of the Opposition for many years. It will be a welcome reversal of rôles which can do nothing but good.
May I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in extending heartfelt sympathy to the Leader of the Liberal Party on the personal tragedy which has struck him. It may be that more indications of the risks involved are needed on roads whose minor dangers are familiar to local people but which are used also by through traffic. As the Member of Parliament for Basingstoke I am asking for a special review of safety on the A30 and A34 roads.
Strong feelings have been represented to me by between 4,000 and 5,000 people in the Basingstoke division who were denied their right to vote because they were away on holiday. One of the oldest traditions of democracy is that there should be no taxation without representation. A situation in which 4,000 or 5,000 taxpayers in the Basingstoke constituency are denied the right to vote in a General Election which so much affects their future should not be allowed to continue. We must sympathise with the Prime Minister and avoid the strain suffered by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister. He must have been wrestling with his conscience during the four years after he had decided the date of the General Election, knowing all the time that he would disfranchise a large number of electors by pursuing the plan he had made so long ago. I am sure the House would wish to prevent future Prime Ministers from suffering so long under this strain.
When I was in the other place this morning listening to the Gracious Speech it struck me that it was remarkably like hearing a repetition of the party election manifesto. It is a good start that so much of what has been promised by the Conservative Party during the General Election should appear in the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)
I did not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend in the middle of his charming oration about people on holiday being deprived of their vote, but does he realise that on the Order Paper there is Motion No. 1, signed by 170 Members, drawing the attention of the Government to the need for such reform?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for further advertising the Motion of which I was one of the early signatories.
The matters to which I wish to draw attention are prices, taxes, one aspect of the Common Market and industrial relations. Prices have risen faster than they have done for 19 years. This causes considerable hardship to people with fixed incomes, pensioners and those who do not have the assistance of a powerful trade union in obtaining substantial increases in pay to keep pace with rising prices. I recognise that the pressure of rising prices cannot be reversed overnight and that one has to analyse the cause before prescribing the cure.
We face the unusual situation that economists are agreed that we are suffering from cost-push rather than demand-pull inflation. This has two important lessons for us. The rise in retail prices can be illustrated by a saucepan which has been put on to boil. The late Government turned up the gas under the saucepan, the gas of inflation. They imposed £600 million in S.E.T. on the builders, the distributive industries and the service industries. The effect on the shopkeepers and those involved in distribution of having this enormous tax channelled on a comparatively small part of our economy has been to force up prices. The Government's solution was to sit on the lid of the inflation which they were stoking up—a position which was futile and painful and which has eventually led to an explosion. The problem of the saucepan boiling over, or of inflation, can be dealt with only by going to the cause, and the cause is the colossal amount of taxation piled on to this section of the economy.
The first thing—and I am delighted to see that the Gracious Speech recognises this—is to turn down the gas and stop piling on extra taxes in this part of the business community. Then there is 145 the problem of cost-push in manufacture—not only excess taxation but wage increases unrelated to productivity. We do not seek to reduce wages, and there is now perhaps little to be obtained in many industries from increased productivity. But one way is left which I urge upon the Government, and that is to increase production so that the higher wage costs are spread over a larger number of articles produced. This will enable increased wages to be absorbed in increased production instead of prices being increased to the customer, the consumer or the exporter.
I recognise that this is not an easy decision for the Government. The Treasury mandarins will undoubtedly advise that in this situation there should be a stop, a freeze, or a slowing. However, we cart take comfort from the fact that in the past 50 years the mandarins have been wrong at least as often as they have been right. If we wait until the spring, if the Government do not introduce a Budget in the autumn, we run the strong risk that there will be a falling away of the present surplus on the balance of payments and then we shall have no option but to comply with the discouraging advice of the Treasury advisers.
Let the Government take courage and introduce an autumn Budget. Let it cut income tax and corporation tax. Let it be worth while once more for people and businesses to go out and get more business and to expand.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
What is the prescription of the Conservative Government to deal with a situation where wage rises are not met by increased productivity?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I was suggesting that it was not only a question of increased productivity, but that, if production was increased, overhead costs, including wages, would be spread over a greater number of articles, thus reducing the cost per article. The way in which we should go ahead, therefore, is by increasing production as well as by achieving greater productivity, for in that way we shall get the economies which come from larger scale production, which spreads overheads more effectively.
146 The present level of taxation is so high that it is a positive disincentive to work, to effort, and to initiative. Small companies are taxed between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. It is just not worth while starting a company or expanding a company, because of the level of taxation. A record number of companies are going out of business, either in voluntary liquidation or in bankruptcy. That is a bad sign when the country should seek to be more competitive.
The effects of high taxation are also causing young executives to refuse to take promotion or to go to another part of the country or to emigrate in increasingly greater numbers. Their attitude is—"Why bother? It is not worth while". Older men who are invited to work overtime refuse to do so because it is not worth it, with 40 per cent. of additional earnings going to the Treasury.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The effect of marginal taxes on higher income reveals a different situation.
A reduction of tax brought about in an autumn Budget would have three effects. First, there would be an increase in savings in company investment if companies were not taxed so heavily and could produce the money from their own resources for the necessary expansion. Second, individuals would be likely to save more if they were given some encouragement. High taxpayers, particularly, would be likely to be high savers. It does not follow that the whole of the tax reduction would automatically go in increased consumption, thus adversely affecting the economy. There would be some increase in spending power. An increase in demand and an increase in production would follow from it, but I do not think that that is inflation, if the analysis is correct that we are suffering, not from demand inflation, but from cost inflation. That is a different illness requiring a different cure. This is what needs to be tackled to find the way out of the present economic impasse.
The third effect would be to ease the intolerable pressure on trade unions for the very high wage demands which are now coming forward. The unions are constantly told by their members that the marginal extra tax paid on any increase secured is so great as to make the 147 increase not worth-while; therefore, there is a demand for an even bigger increase to cover the tax.
This is important also in relation to the Common Market. If the present round of negotiations is successful, we shall face the toughest cut-throat competition our economy has ever known, with the trade barriers between us and the six or the ten countries in Europe removed with absolute free trade between us, the Germans, the Italians, the French, and so on. Unless we have made our economy competitive, unless we have given incentives to our businessmen, unless we have made it worth while for people to go out and get business, when that competition comes the effect on our economy could be disastrous.
It is of immense importance, as the Gracious Speech says, thatThe energy and enterprise needed to achieverising production and an improvement in the social serviceswill be encouraged by reforming and reducing the burden of taxation, providing new incentives to saving and liberating industry from unnecessary intervention by Government".That is a prescription for much greater prosperity for Britain in the coming years.
I am glad to note also from the Gracious Speech that it is to be an economy which is not only prosperous but also one which is compassionate and a society which is compassionate, a society which will give pensions to the over-80s, a society which will help the younger widows, whose problems are well known to all hon. Members from their constituency surgeries. I am delighted that the constant attendance allowance for the seriously disabled is mentioned in the first Gracious Speech produced by this Conservative Government. I should be trespassing on the time of the House were I to talk on the question of industrial relations.
In this Gracious Speech three things stand out. First, the manifesto on which the Conservative Party fought the General Election is embodied in the Gracious Speech in a legislative programme. Second, it is a programme which will bring increasing genuine prosperity to Britain and enable us to repay the colossal 148 4,000 million dollars of short-term debts which we have inherited. Third, it is a compassionate Gracious Speech which remembers those in society who are not so prosperous and who are facing difficult times. For these reasons, I greatly welcome it.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) will forgive me if I do not particularly follow him in his remarks.
I want to preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) on the excellent maiden speech which I am sure that the whole House will agree that he made. I have always thought that Parliament could do with much more wisdom and experience representing what actually goes on in the car factories and workplaces. I am sure that my hon. Friend will provide just that. I look forward to hearing contributions from him in the future.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Tom Ellis) on his excellent contribution. In describing the relationship which he had with the representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers at the colliery which he used to manage, he described a situation which is very familiar to me representing, as I do, a fair number of coal miners. It is an industrial relations situation which I hope that we shall hear referred to in this House on many more occasions in the future. These two contributions have made their point already and, since obviously we shall spend a great deal of our time in the coming Session on industrial relations, we shall hear a lot more from my two hon. Friends.
Like the hon. Member for Basingstoke, I was grateful to hear some mention in the Gracious Speech of pensions for widows between 40 and 50, pensions for the over-eighties, and a constant attendance allowance for the disabled—rather belated but very welcome inclusions, nevertheless.
I found the rest of the Gracious Speech disappointing. I agree with one of my hon. Friends who regretted that it did not include any definite statement of intention about the future of areas with 149 large coal mining populations. In this House, I represent not a northern constituency, but one which comprises a great number of coal miners with many question marks hanging over them. My constituents are anxious to know what is to happen to the proposals contained in the Coal Industry Bill which was before the House before the Dissolution.
Miners are conscious of the great efforts and endeavours to help them made by the Labour Party when in government. In 1967, it was this party which made available over £950 million of borrowing powers to help the National Coal Board. It was this party which made available over £100 million to help the Coal Board with some of the more serious human consequences of pit closures. It was this party which gave sums to the Electricity Generating Board and other industries to help them burn more coal.
Those are the kinds of measures which were contained in the Coal Industry Bill. We heard no reference to them in the Gracious Speech. We have heard no reference to them so far from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope that my constituents will be told very soon exactly what kind of support the Prime Minister and his Government intend to lend to the coal mining industry.
Representing a Midlands constituency, I am on the receiving end of many of the miners transferred from the northern constituencies of some of my hon. Friends. In many senses, they have staked their futures in coming to my constituency on the confidence which I hope that the party opposite will retain in the industry. By coming to coal mines in the Midlands, they thought that they would have a guaranteed long life and a prosperous future. They are still looking for that.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I may call you that, may I congratulate you on assuming your office? I have always been in favour of the advancement of women. I am very conscious that we are both making history in this place, since I was obliged to have a discussion with Mr. Speaker and the Clerk at the Table about what to call you. We discussed the possibilities of "Madam" and "Miss". Ultimately, we settled on the title that I have used. I hope that it will be acceptable to you.
150 As I was saying, the concern of my constituents for the coal mining industry has not yet been alleviated by the Government. My constituents deserve some assurance, and I shall do my best to see that they get it as soon as possible.
In the course of the election campaign, there have been numerous references to increased flexibility with industrial development certificates. Mine is not a constituency which falls within a development area. Consequently, we do not receive the full grants and assistance which many northern constituencies do. The previous Administration showed great understanding in the flexibility with which they operated the industrial development certificate policy in my constituency. I hope that the new found flexibility about which we have heard from the party opposite will not mean that the chances of my constituents getting further certificates will be damaged. In the main, it is with these kinds of policies that my constituents have been concerned, and that concern is not removed by what is said in the Gracious Speech.
I come now to what are probably the two central points of my remarks. I was sad to see that the subject of transport, especially public transport, received no mention in the Gracious Speech. The new Minister of Transport has only just been appointed. He will need a great deal of time to study the complicated Transport Act which this party put on the Statute Book. The right hon. Gentleman will find himself confronted with a very serious situation in public transport, not least in the West Midlands.
In many parts of the West Midlands, especially in North Warwickshire, public transport has been hovering round the crisis point for the past six months. We have had a terrible winter for bus services. Bus services have improved slightly as staff recruitment has increase. I hope that the new Minister will soon address himself to the kind of problem which has arisen this week in the area. In Birmingham, the West Midlands and East Midlands Traffic Commissioners have had proposed to them yet another fares increase by the Midland Red Bus Company. On this occasion, a 25 per cent. increase is sought. The company has appeared before the traffic commissioners with an application for a fares increase 151 almost annually. In my constituency, it is costing ordinary people £2 or more every week to travel between the constituency and their work. Many old-age pensioners can no longer afford to travel on public transport, mainly because the local Conservative-controlled council will not grant concessionary bus fares but also because of the annual increase in fares.
I hope that the new Minister will not only give serious consideration to the near crisis point at which public transport is now arriving but that he will examine closely the whole future of the traffic commissioner system, the independence of traffic commissioners under the 1960 Road Traffic Act, and his own powers in this direction. If an annual fares increase is to be granted to bus companies and if this 25 per cent. increase is granted, my constituents will lose confidence completely in the whole system of traffic commissioners. I shall do all that I can both inside and outside this House to make sure that the increase does not take place, but what is urgently required is some re-examination of the independence of traffic commissioners, the appeals system to the Minister, and so on.
We have heard a great deal and no doubt will hear more in the future about the state of industrial relations. I am a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union and of the National Union of Teachers. Both have been in the news a fair amount recently. I represent some very active and vigorous trade unionists in Nuneaton, Bedworth, and Coventry. It is our kind of trade unionism. It is the kind of trade unionism where the man on the shop floor is entitled to play his part and does so to the full. It is a voluntary kind of trade unionism. It is a grass roots trade unionism, and that is not at all the trade unionism envisaged in the Gracious Speech. British trade unionists and the way in which they act are unique. Indeed, the Donovan Commission, which this party set up, described them as exactly that. We do not have the fat corporation presidents with the magnificent salaries and the big air-conditioned offices and cars. We give the men on the shop floor the chance to have their say, and I hope that they will have their say in the future.
152 In the Midlands, which is the centre of some vigorous trade unionism, trade unionists share the concern which has been expressed. In the Coventry area, we have achieved a high income and a very good set of working conditions, and we have set some precedents in wage negotiations. But these have not been given by employers: they have been fought for every inch of the way. I am not prepared to stand by and see the future of trade unionism in my constituency threatened and everything which my constituents who are trade unionists stand for threatened, and I am not prepared to stand by and see the future of voluntary, free, participating collective bargaining sacrified by the threat of these proposals.
It is obvious that the party opposite does not understand the shop floor and does not want to understand it. They are working on their old Selsdon Park emphasis of, "If it moves and you do not understand it, bash it good and hard." That is what trade unionists feel. The law does not have a place on the shop floor. The law should not dictate the pace of industrial relations. It is better procedures in collective bargaining which are wanted, and not the introduction of the law.
Therefore, whatever emerges from the policies of the party opposite, we should not have any magnificent attempt to bring the American, Canadian or Australian style of bargaining into this country. Statistics show that our methods are far better than theirs. We have something unique. It may need procedural reforms, but it generally works. It will not work if we bring the law on to the shop floor.
Many of my constituents have been very worried by the references in the Gracious Speech to the proposals to change the system of support for the farming community. We know that we enjoy cheap food because, in the past, Governments of both parties have favoured a system which gives a guaranteed support to the farming community. I understand that it is now the policy of the party opposite to abolish that, whether or not we get into the European Economic Community. Indeed, even their own Front Bench spokesman has already said that the abolition of all these subsidies could increase food prices by £300 million or £350 million. If this is the party opposite who say that they will keep prices 153 down and who pretend to have the interests of the housewife and the consumer at heart, it is time that they examined the whole of their future agricultural policies.
Apart from that, many of my constituents are concerned about the proposal of the party opposite to renegotiate or reexamine the whole system of housing subsidies. There is a Conservative local authority and a Labour one in my constituency. The Conservative one has not a particularly brilliant council house building record, but if the party opposite carry out the proposals which they have made about local authority housing subsidies being renegotiated my constituents will face some of the biggest rent increases which they have ever faced. These are the proposals which have not received much explanation in the Gracious Speech: they have just been referred to. But it is the reference to them which has caused great concern in my constituency and throughout the country.
It is a pity that the Leader of the House is not here, because I have something to say which is particularly addressed to him. There was nothing in the Gracious Speech—perhaps we should not expect it—about the future of the committee system. I have been a member of the Select Committee on Estimates and the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, as well as numerous Standing Committees. What has impressed me above all is the great contribution to this House which has been made by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I refer particularly, although I was not a member of that Committee, to the great reputation, progress and status, as well as the contribution to the status of this House, achieved by Sub-Committee D of that Select Committee, which was examining the computer industry. It is that kind of Committee which has brought the Press and others here and has let them see that the House of Commons does other things than argue in this Chamber.
It was the activities of that Sub-Committee which led people to conclude that other things were going on here. I would not like that Sub-Committee's activities wound up. I should like Select Committees extended. I should like to see one particularly on transport and for 154 most other Government Departments. This is the way in which we can show the people that we really care and in which we can examine things very often on a non-party basis. Above all, this is the way in which hon. Members can get to the facts.
I was disappointed by the Gracious Speech. My constituents will have been very concerned if they thought about some of the proposals which were not in it or which were in it. What I want for them and for all the people is confidence in their future, in their prosperity, and some kind of guarantee that their living standards will go on rising. I am sorry to say that, so far, what I have heard from that side and what I have read in the Gracious Speech does not give me any long-term guarantees of that.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
May I be the first to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your accession to this very high office? We know that you have sat in the Chair many times in Committee, but this is much more important and impressive, and we wish you very well. You have made history in being the first lady to occupy the Chair as Deputy Speaker. I think that you should be known from now on as the "First Lady" of the House of Commons.
I should like to associate myself with the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) on that subject, but not on some of the other subjects on which he spoke. He made a very impassioned speech on industrial relations following two impressive maiden speeches on the same subject. The hon. Member is jumping to conclusions. He has read the Gracious Speech and he is assuming an awful lot without giving time for these things to be elaborated. He must realise that, with a change of Government, there will be a change of policies and methods.
The fact that there are to be those changes does not mean that the outcome will be unsatisfactory. He should pay some regard to the Prime Minister's words this morning, when he spoke of his wish and his intention to make this one nation. For too long in industrial relations there have been "us" and "them". Management and men are one team. It is up to them to co-operate to the full for 155 the common good and prosperity of their companies.
The hon. Member spoke on a number of other points which were in need of very detailed examination and which will obviously get a detailed reply in due course. In particular, he pinpointed one matter of bus fares as an instance of the continual and annual rise in the cost of living. It is quite clear that this is due to the policies which have been pursued in the past. It is our aim and intention, and we shall succeed, to stablise the cost of living. When that is done the old-age pensioners will not need subsidies for their bus fares, because their pensions will be worth while and they will have more purchasing power in real terms.
I really want to speak on a different matter. I was pleased to see in the Gracious Speech that the size of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve will be reviewed. This is most welcome to me, especially at a time when many of our regular forces stationed in this country, and there are not many, are engaged in Northern Ireland. To my mind that commitment reduces our forces here to a dangerous level. However, I welcome the intention to look into the size of the auxiliary forces, because they are a necessary background to our regular forces.
However welcome this is, it is disappointing to me to find that there is no reference to the Navy. This is the most important part of our national defence. It is a most important matter for my constituency and the City of Portsmouth. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in Plymouth on 27th September, 1964, said:We believe that in the present state of the world we need a stronger and more effective Navy. The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 1960s. It has been run down to a dangerous extent.If the Navy was inadequate in 1964, it is even less adequate in 1970, because no fewer than 37 ships have been taken away from the Fleet, and the carriers are to be phased out. I recall, before the war, that Portsmouth Harbour had long lines of ships in reserve. Fareham Creek was full of them. Some were obsolete; some were obsolescent. But all those ships were of great value in the last war. Similar ships could be of value in another emergency. 156 But those ships do not exist today; they have been scrapped.
It is, however, true that the ships of the Royal Navy today are of higher quality than ever before. But they get more and more complex; they carry more and more gadgets. The late Lord Cunningham said about the post-war Navy that it can detect ships on the sea, it can detect ships under the sea, it can detect aircraft over the sea, but it can do very little to attack them. But this has changed very considerably. Frigates today have greater fire power than cruisers and destroyers have greater fire power than battleships, but they are very expensive in terms of money and manpower: manpower to crew, manpower to maintain, and the trained, highly skilled manpower that is required is extremely difficult to find.
I ask the Minister to reconsider the requirements of the Navy. To my mind there are two requirements: first, highly sophisticated ships to counter major powers; and, secondly, there is an equally important rôle for unsophisticated ships for what one might loosely call police duties. I have in mind something similar, in modern terms of course, to the Hunt destroyers of the last war. They were cheap to build, they had small crews, and they did a useful job, replacing, for many purposes, expensive Fleet destroyers. I think that there is a place for unsophisticated ships in the Fleet. Such ships will make the Fleet more effective and will save money.
I now turn to the question of carriers. This is an urgent matter, because we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. I am sure that carriers still have a valuable part to play in the Fleet. I know that they are extremely expensive to build and to run, and they are extremely expensive in trained manpower. But if we compare the cost of carriers with R.A.F. stations overseas with their long tail, expensive installations, and the fact that they are static, carriers could replace them more economically and more effectively because they are more mobile and can operate where required and their position at a given time is not known. But the carriers that we have at present are too expensive and too sophisticated. The same two requirements are there. I think that a case exists 157 for simple carriers like those of the wartime escort type, but they could today be even simpler because of the development of the vertical take-off aeroplane. I ask the Government to carefully consider these points.
There is one other matter in the Gracious Speech to which I should like to refer—housing. I was pleased to see in the Gracious Speech:My Ministers will pursue a vigorous housing policy … Home ownership will be encouraged.We all know that housing is an important social service. Adequate housing would reduce calls on other social services, such as hospitals, old people's homes, and so on.
It will be recalled that between 1951 and 1964 the number of houses built by private builders rose ten times. The private builders—especially the small ones—built most of these houses. The small builders built a very large proportion of the houses for owner-occupiers; but today they are just not building them for a variety of reasons. The first is that many have gone bankrupt and have gone out of business in the last few years. Those who are left have many problems. I am sure that most hon. Members have had heart-rending letters from small builders in their constituencies about their problems. The little men, the men who build one or two houses at a time, have the problem of land. I am pleased to see in the Gracious Speech that the Land Commission, and with that I presume the betterment levy, is to go. That, I am certain, will mean that more land will be available for the small builder.
There has been unrealistic planning for land. There has been an unrealistic policy in many cases on in-filling. The planners do not necessarily agree to an odd plot here or there which could well be used by these small builders. At times there has been an unrealistic policy on green belts which are not really green belts at all but odd fields between natural boundaries, such as roads or railways, and built-up areas.
The small private builders have the problem of credit restrictions. Normally these small builders work on bank loans. Today the banks cannot lend them the money with which to operate. The high 158 interest rate today is a severe burden to them. They cannot afford the high interest rates. In most cases, neither can their customers.
Mortgage rates affect demand. Mortgage restrictions cut demand. All these matters gravely affect the small builders, and the small builders' output gravely affects the housing programme. I am sure that the Government will take all these matters into consideration when considering the housing programme.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, once again, I congratulate you on your high office and wish you every success in future.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I have a double honour today. I have the privilege of making a maiden speech and I also have the honour of being the first maiden speaker to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on being the first woman to accede to the great and high office of Deputy Speaker. That I certainly do.
It is usual for a maiden speaker to refer to his predecessor. Hon. Members will know that there are certain difficulties for me because my predecessor's encounter with the constituency of Swindon was of brief duration. But I am sure that he enjoyed his period in the House and will be returning here one day in the not too distant future, for another constituency. I feel sure that he will do well when he arrives.
I feel privileged to represent Swindon. It is a great town. It is in the South-West, but it is bordering on the Midlands. It is an industrial town. The people of the town are honest, industrious, and very canny. After 18th June I very much appreciate that fact. In the past its people have built some of the finest railway locomotives in this country and, indeed, in the world. I am only sorry that they do not continue to build those great locomotives, although I am pleased that from being a one-industry town Swindon has become a town of diversified industry, which fact stands its people in good stead in periods of recession.
Swindon also has a fine football team, which last year created a double. Not only was it promoted to the Second Division; it well and truly beat, in the League Cup, a well known London football club. Perhaps I should not mention 159 that in the House. Swindon is also an expanding town, and it is likely to expand still further if the present Government carry on the policies of the previous one.
It is clear, therefore, that one of the problems that will face the constituency is housing. That is what I want to speak about now. In the Gracious Speech reference was made to housing and the need to improve the position of the homeless and the badly housed. My hon. Friends and I fully sympathise with that aim, but I wonder whether the policies so far enunciated by the Government will solve this very vexed problem. In the first place, I doubt whether the proposed sale of council houses will create any more units of accommodation. If we are to solve the housing problem we must have more units of accommodation.
That is not to say that I believe that everybody should live in rented property. It is my view that if anybody can afford it he should definitely own his own house. But over the last four or five years a greater number of people than ever before have become house owners. Over 50 per cent. of the people of England and Wales now own their own houses. My hon. and right hon. Friends and myself are in favour of the greatest measure of house ownership. In expressing doubt about the sale of council houses I want to make it clear that we are not speaking against owner-occupation, but there are very real difficulties about selling existing council houses. In the first place, this policy will make the administration of council housing and council estates much more difficult. If one house here and one house there is owned by somebody other than the local authority the area will be difficult to administer, repair, paint, and so on.
But there are other problems that will redound against the interest of the people who must remain in rented property. For example, one of the major factors which help to keep local authority rents below market levels is the large pool of prewar, cheaply constructed council houses. Because the market value of those houses will be rather lower than that of post-war houses it is likely that they will be the first to be sold. Therefore, the cheaper houses will be taken out of the housing revenue account, which will have a most 160 disastrous effect on the housing revenue account, and the remaining tenants, who may be the poorer tenants, will have their rents considerably increased.
Furthermore, the present policy is to sell these houses at market value less a maximum deduction or discount of 20 per cent. The houses will therefore be sold at a cheap rate. If they are to be replaced they will have to be replaced at a premium rate. That, in itself, will have a further worsening effect on housing revenue accounts throughout the country. If we couple this with the promise or threat—whichever it is—in the Gracious Speech to reorganise housing subsidies on the basis of the individual and not the house it is likely that rents of council houses will be such that people earning about the average wage will find it extremely difficult to pay the rents demanded. The Government should reconsider the general application of such a policy.
If there is a large-scale sale of council houses in areas of acute housing shortage it could have a crippling effect on slum clearance programmes, since it is pretty obvious that if we are to clear the slums we need alternative accommodation to house the displaced people. If large tracts of council houses are sold off it will not be possible to house people from the slums, because sufficient units of accommodation will not be available. This may sound far-fetched, but already—almost as soon as the circular was issued—in a town not 40 miles from here the chairman of the housing committee has announced that he will sell 5,000 houses out of a total stock of 9,500.
Under those circumstances it will not be possible for that local authority to discharge its real housing duty, because it will not have a sufficient number of houses to rehouse people who will need to be rehoused from the slums. Speaking in an entirely non-partisan way, I therefore urge the Minister of Housing to re-examine the Government's policy and see whether it will not lead to extreme difficulties.
There is a need to have a balanced housing programme—to have houses for sale and houses for rent. It is no good imagining that everybody will be able, or will want, to own his own house. If we are to have mobility of labour it will 161 be necessary to have a large pool of rented dwellings. This wholesale selling off of council houses will do infinite damage, not only to housing, but to the economy of the country.
As a former chairman of a housing committee I appreciate the need, as everyone does, for more houses, for cheaper houses, and I believe that measures ought to be taken to achieve that objective. There are measures which could be taken, and taken in a short time, to achieve that end. I urge the Government to abandon their policy of doing away with the Land Commission, because if the commission is done away with the cost of land will soar. Furthermore, I hope that the Government will try to set up a Housing Corporation to co-ordinate the efforts of local authorities to see that waste is eliminated, and to see that leadership is given through the country in a real housing drive because, when all is said and done, we must all believe and recognise that the only possible way of solving our acute house shortage, which will go on for at least 20 years, is to have central direction and to ensure that, above all, we have a policy which will build houses, which will build them quickly, and which will build them cheaply at prices that people are able to afford, whether in the price that they pay for them, or in the rents that they pay.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I add my voice to the three which have congratulated you upon assuming your high office this evening, and congratulate you, too, on the historic occasion on which, for the first time in our history, a lady occupies the Speaker's Chair. All in the House who know you well will be assured of your success in your high office, and all who know you well, and indeed all the House, will wish you much happiness in discharging that duty.
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) on a useful, moderate and well thought out contribution to our debate on the Gracious Speech. He will not, I am sure, mind if I do not follow him into the matter of housing, to which I had not intended this evening to devote any of the short time during which I intend to address the House, but I congratulate him most warmly, and from what we have 162 heard I am sure that we shall look forward to his contributions to our debates on many occasions.
The first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech is one which necessarily ranges over a very wide area. Indeed, we were specifically led to believe that today was to be a day of general debate, as opposed to the days which will follow when the House will devote itself to more particular aspects of the policies which have been unfolded in the Gracious Speech.
I begin by saying—and this will not occasion surprise to any of my friends—that I unreservedly welcome all that is in the Gracious Speech. For me, the policies outlined therein represent a complete change from the Socialist bureaucratic paternalism which has formed the basis of the policies of the Labour Government and which has dictated the legislation which we have had over the last five and a half years.
We are now to see in action a Government who have promised and set out fairly and clearly policies which they are to pursue. They have promised that they will once again give the people of this country the opportunity, free from over-interference by the Government, to exercise the qualities of initiative and enterprise which made us a great country and can maintain us as a great country in the future. The philosophical differences between the policies outlined in the Gracious Speech and those which have been pursued by the Labour Government over the last five and a half years are very clear and profound.
I want this evening to touch on only one or two aspects of the matters referred to in the Gracious Speech. First, I welcome unreservedly the promise that the energy and enterprise needed to achieve a new Britainwill be encourged by reforming and reducing the burden of taxation, providing new incentives to saving and liberating industry from unnecessary intervention by the Government.I emphasise the phraseby reducing the burden of taxation".The last speech that I had the honour of making in the last Parliament was on this very subject of taxation, and I do not want to repeat all that I said then. Indeed, it would take a long time to do so, and I have many other things to refer to.
163 In that speech I pointed out what a cruel burden was placed on many people, particularly retired people, by the fact that rates of income tax and surtax made no allowance for the fact that the value of money had changed completely from what it was when the commencing rate of surtax which we now have first came into operation in relation to incomes from investment in the 'twenties. I was able then to quote figures which showed the devastating effect of this change and the fact that that starting point had not been changed, although the starting point for earned income had been altered.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when one considers what income is necessary now to give the equivalent to a pre-war income of £2,000 for a married man with two children. Such a man would now need to earn £10,400 a year. If all his income were from investment, he would need £24,800 a year. This is only one aspect of the whole sphere of txation. I welcome the Government's pledge to take all practical measures to reduce this burden which not only bears most cruelly on retired people living on investments after the sale of their businesses but also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) said a short time ago, has the grave and serious effect of destroying the incentive to save and making savings virtually impossible both for those who are earning, and for those who are retired. Taxation in this country has reached a cruel and scandalous level, and I am happy that one of the Government's first priorities will be to do all possible to reduce it. May I add that, after my last speech in the Chamber on this subject, I received letters not only from constituents, but from people all over the country who were suffering under this burden in their old age and who, living upon savings, had found their standard of living cruelly cut as a result.
I turn now—inevitably, in a speech of this kind on the Gracious Speech one touches upon many aspects of policy there outlined—to the promise to give effect to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for the redistribution of Parliamentary seats. I have no desire here to rake over old ground, and I recollect that it was enormously to the credit of 164 two hon. Members on the Government side who are no longer with us, Mr. James Dickens, the then Member for Lewisham, West, and Mr. Ben Whitaker, the then Member for Hampstead, that they had the courage to stand out against a refusal to implement the Boundary Commission's proposals because they recognised that it was a dishonest attack on the very foundations on which our democracy rests. I am glad that one of the first undertakings of the new Government is to put this matter right.
I associate myself also with those who have made a plea that, at the same time, or as soon as practicable thereafter, we should do something to give postal votes to people on holiday. In my own constituency at the time of the election campaign I found that there were many hundreds of people perhaps even thousands, away on holiday in the month of June, and many of them bitterly resented being deprived of the right to have a vote in the election of a Government of their choice merely because they were doing something which nowadays is common to almost everyone, that is, taking an annual holiday.
Times have greatly changed. Everybody takes a holiday. Many people take their holidays abroad, often in the form of package tours which they pay long in advance and which they cannot cancel, even if they wished to do so, in order to do their duty and vote at the election without considerable financial loss, which for most of them is obviously out of the question. We must recognise the facts of modern life when we decide how the suffrage in this country is to be exercised. One of those facts is that almost any time of the year when an election could take place, whether in the height of the summer, in June or July, when people without children may well be on holiday, whether in October, when many people will be taking late holidays, or even in January or March, when many may be abroad ski-ing in Switzerland or elsewhere, large numbers of voters may be deprived of the right to vote.
Such people are entitled to be able to exercise that right. There is no insuperable obstacle. In the past when this matter has been raised, it has been said that to give the vote to people away on holiday would put too great a burden on 165 returning officers and others. But this is not a burden which is incapable of being discharged perfectly normally and properly and without great difficulty. There were people in my constituency who came back from a great distance to vote, but if one is overseas one cannot do that, especially if one has booked one's place in a foreign hotel through a package tour. It is time we recognised reality, and I hope that, before the next election, arrangements will be made so that people on holiday are entitled to vote by post.
Still on the subject of domestic policies, I refer to the passage in the Gracious Speech dealing with freedom under the law:My Government will make it their special duty to protect the freedom of the individual and of the law and will examine ways in which this may be more effectively safeguarded.Largely because of my own work in the law, this is a subject to which I have been happy to devote a good deal of time since I came into Parliament. I shall not repeat all the matters which were laid before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) when he dealt with this question. There is no doubt that at present criminals have very much the upper hand in society, and that a Government who fail to do all that is possible to see that the police are properly manned and equipped to deal with this situation are failing in their first duty to the countray, which is to maintain the Queen's peace.
With that I pass from the specific question of law enforcement, but I want to say something about the other aspect—the maintenance of public order. Our whole society depends upon mutual tolerance and the fact that each citizen must recognise his duty to respect the lawful activities of each other citizen. Without such respect, society collapses. I am the first to maintain the right to lawful demonstration. But as soon as demonstration becomes violent and unlawful it saps the foundations of society. This was the lesson we should have drawn from the cancellation of the South African cricket tour, because it was a victory for forces of disorder. However noble their motive when they said, "We dislike apartheid and we dislike a cricket XI coming here from South Africa", they 166 had no right to do something which they knew would lead to violence or to seek to do violence to prevent other citizens doing that which was lawful. In succumbing to that threat of violence the Government of the day made themselves the agent of violence. That was the real lesson of the cancellation of the South African cricket tour.
It is incumbent upon any Government in Britain today, certainly of the present Government, to take all measures they possibly can to make as difficult as possible violent demonstration, the violent taking possession of property, the invasion of cricket pitches and football grounds and doing damage there. To this end I am convinced that the law must be reformed, and the first essential reform is a new law of criminal trespass. This could be perfectly easily framed so as to deter such acts as the taking possession of the house in Piccadilly by violence by hippies last December, and at the same time not to bring within the ambit of the criminal law the hitherto uncriminal act of the person who is threatened when he walks along a private footpath with that lying notice, "Trespassers will be prosecuted", when we all know that he cannot be.
I want to say only two other things before I resume my seat, because I am aware that others wish to speak after me. First, I welcome the promise to introduce legislationto improve the arrangements for the administration of justice … in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions …We had a lengthy debate about this in the last Parliament, and I will not go over old ground. But delayed justice is a denial of justice, and the present system, as was said then, has come near to breakdown. The sooner the new system is put into effect by the necessary legislation, the better it will be for the administration of justice in England.
Finally I turn very briefly to one matter of foreign policy. Whatever else is done in this Parliament, I think that at its end what will have been most important is the negotiations, however they turn out, for membership of the European communities. One of the great tasks before all who take part in the political life of this country over the next few years is to bring the issues fully 167 before the people of this country. The economic argument for adhesion to the European Economic Community is overwhelming. Although we must face the fact that there will be a price to be paid in terms of increased prices in Britain, we have seen by the success of the Community so far that the compensation to be derived in increased production and growth is enormous. Anyone who visits Europe regularly may see for himself how the countries which at present form part of the Community have benefited from their participation over the last eight years.
But in the long run the political arguments for adhesion to the European Communities are even more important than the economic. What we are seeing built in Europe and what we ought to be part of is a new union in Europe which should make impossible for ever the sort of wars which have torn Western Europe apart for centuries. We are seeing the emergence of a new ideal, and what form the European institutions will take the day after tomorrow it is impossible at present to foresee. We can say only that whatever form they take will be a vast improvement on the state of endemic civil war—for such I term it—which has existed in Europe for centuries.
As our negotiators, firmly protecting British interests and in particular the vital interests of our duty to New Zealand and the sugar-producing countries in the Commonwealth and the necessity to shield us so far as possible from the great burden—and there is no doubt that it is a great burden—of the agricultural payments, pursue their negotiations, I take this opportunity of wishing them godspeed.
At the same time as the negotiations are progressing, it is greatly to the interest of the country that we should do all we can to foster our good relations with France. There is no doubt that when we become an integral part of the European Communities, we shall be thrown into much closer relationship with all European countries, and perhaps particularly with the French Republic. This country now has an opportunity such as it has not had for many years to put completely behind the misunderstandings which have done great harm to the relationship between our two countries 168 over recent years and to do all that it can to foster Anglo-French friendship, Anglo-French understanding and Anglo-French business relationships.
I hope that the new Government, at the same time as they pursue the negotiations for our entry into the Common Market, will do all that they can to see that Anglo-French friendship is one of the things which will further our aim of going into Europe and making our relationships there much better when we go in. I go so far as to say that from the point of view of defence we should explore the possibilities of further understanding with the French and if necessary and if possible in the nuclear field.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
May I first take this opportunity of congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment, and wish you well? As the first Scottish speaker in the debate, it is right that I should express on behalf of my colleagues on both sides of the House representing Scottish constituencies our pleasure on seeing you in the Chair. Although we have lost the services of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) in the Chair, we now have the services of another fellow Scot. We know that you will bring great credit not only to yourself and your constituency but to the whole of Scotland. We wish you well in your new position and much happiness in it.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) will forgive me if I do not comment on his interesting arguments. I want to refer to Scottish matters. The issues with which I am concerned are parochial. The Gracious Speech says thatplans will be laid beforethe Housefor giving the Scottish people a greater say in their own affairs".I am very much in favour of that. If the people of Scotland had a greater say in their own affairs, I should be sitting on the benches opposite. However, the notion of a Scottish assembly has never appealed to me, and I do not think that the Government should hastily proceed with a Scottish assembly such as that envisaged by the Foreign Secretary. I felt that the constitutional committee over which he presided was conceived in haste 169 and perhaps in fear or perhaps opportunism to catch the rising tide of nationalism in Scotland at that time.
It is clear, however, after the General Election, that the Government do not have a mandate from the people of Scotland to proceed with an assembly such as that envisaged in the manifesto of the Scottish Conservative Party. That is not to say that we are not proud of our nation, but we believe that there are other more important questions with which the House should deal. We should deal with the question of devolution in a different way.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were a distinguished member of the Royal Commission on Local Government Reform. While I did not agree with it in every particular, I think that it would be preferable if we went ahead with the reforms advocated by Lord Wheatley and his colleagues in substance rather than proceeded with the sort of assembly being advocated by the Prime Minister and his colleagues on the Front Bench. I hope that this matter will be given a great deal of thought and that we shall not proceed too hastily.
Scotland is concerned to remain fully a part of the United Kingdom. There were those who felt that perhaps separatism was the answer to Scotland's problems. But when a steel worker in my constituency picks up his pay packet on a Friday night he usually counts the amount of money in it; he does not ask first whether Parliament is in Edinburgh or in London. He is concerned about his standard of living and how he can provide for his wife and family. This is the attitude of most Scottish people. They are concerned about the social and economic progress of Scotland. That is why they are asking the Government to continue with the regional policies which were in being during the period of office of the Labour Government. I know that those policies do not find acceptance in toto with the new Administration, but the people of Scotland, Wales and the North-East voted fairly solidly for them and I hope that they will be allowed to continue and that there will be the same emphasis on industrial development certificates and encouraging some of our modern industries to go to parts of the country which many years ago were regarded as economic backwaters.
170 The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) chided my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). He said, perhaps not unreasonably, that the Government have been in power for just two weeks and yet my hon. Friend was complaining about the things that they were doing. The hon. Gentleman failed to take my hon. Friend's point. My hon. Friend was not complaining about what the Government have done or have failed to do. However, before and during the election campaign a number of statements were made about regional matters by important members of the Government. The Prime Minister talked in Edinburgh about encouraging the creation of jobs in Scotland, Wales and the North-East of England. He seemed to be concerned primarily with the cost. I have always been concerned with the cost of bringing jobs into Scotland and into Wales, but that should not be our principal consideration and I hope that we will not be mesmerised simply by the cost of regional policy. There are many other serious consequences in not pursuing it. There are economic factors such as building up the stock of houses and hospitals already there. It would, therefore, be wrong simply to judge the success of our regional policies on the cost of jobs which go to development areas.
I wish to comment on a paragraph in the Scottish Conservative's Party's manifesto. In many ways it is a well-thought-out document. It says thatThe situation requires the creation of new jobs rather than the protection of all the old jobs.That in itself is, perhaps, superficially an admirable sentiment. We in the North want to encourage the newer industries to come into our area. We have welcomed them over the past decade. They include B.M.C., Rootes at Linwood and the Hoover plant in my constituency. We are, however, concerned to maintain the jobs that we already have.
We were very disturbed by reports—I hope that they were wrong—of a speech made by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, when, speaking at Newcastle or elsewhere in the North-East, he seemed to say that we were wrong to spend as much money as we were spending on shoring up the old 171 jobs in the shipbuilding industry. I may have got him wrong, but that was how he was reported in Scotland. It put fear into the hearts of the shipyard workers who live in Glasgow and constituencies like mine.
If the Labour Government were to be congratulated on one thing during the past five years, we in the West of Scotland congratulated them on the amount of assistance they gave to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and shipyards like Cammell Laird. We spent a lot of money in doing that. We realised that they were having hard times but we knew that it was important to the almost 50,000 people who are associated with shipbuilding in Scotland and the North that those jobs should be maintained and that in the initial stages, to overcome the difficulties of the industry, to give it new equipment and ensure that it could meet competition from abroad, it should be given every possible assistance. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, who is at present occupying the Government Front Bench, will report my anxiety and concern about the shipbuilding industry and the speech made by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology about the whole future of the Upper Clyde shipyard and all shipyards associated with it on the River Clyde and throughout the country.
I make these points about shipbuilding because, although the number employed in shipbuilding on the Clyde is, perhaps, fewer than it was a decade ago, a great number of people still work there and many people are dependent for their source of living on the men who work there.
One of the biggest groups of people whom I represent in my area are steelworkers. The steelworkers of Lanark-shire have for many years supplied not only the strip for motorcars, but heavy plate for shipbuilding on the Clyde, Tees and elsewhere. Therefore, they have a concern to ensure the maintenance of the Upper Clyde shipyard, Cammell Laird and yards like them throughout the length and breadth of Britain.
The steelworkers, however, have yet another fear, because, I regret to say, the Gracious Speech makes no mention of what is, to me and to many of my 172 colleagues, one of the most important of British industries. I was elected to this House a number of years ago at a by-election at which the principal topic of conversation was the nationalisation of the steel industry. I remember being counselled some six years ago by the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), that those of us who represented steel constituencies had a very serious obligation to ensure that they were in no way damaged. We carried out that obligation. We nationalised the steel industry. This was something which met with the full approval of all who worked for Colville's and other iron and steel works in Scotland and throughout the rest of the country.
Now these people are very concerned about what is to be their future. There was a lot of talk during the election campaign and before that of the denationalisation of the industry, and the workers were very concerned. They do not want this to happen, and the 50,000 or 60,000 people there whose future is bound up with the British Steel Corporation and who have every confidence in the management of the British Steel Corporation certainly do not want to see denationalisation taking place, and they are now very concerned whether it is or is not any part of the thinking of the new Administration of the country that the new Administration should hive off the more profitable parts of this industry to private enterprise once again. That is something which the steel workers and all of us in Lanarkshire would certainly deprecate. We like the industry we now have. It has over the past few years been doing a good job for the steel workers and the people of Lanarkshire and we want to maintain it precisely as it is.
Therefore, in conclusion, I would ask two questions of the new Administration. We heard promises by the British Steel Corporation that over the next five years the rate of investment would increase. The last Government appreciated that the steel industry had an important role to play in building up the economy of this country, and the last Administration, in co-operation with the British Steel Corporation, were concerned to spend about £100 million over the next five years on modernising old steel plants which we have in Scotland, and we most certainly 173 hope that this investment will continue and that there will be no cutbacks at all. We would like to have an early assurance that the promises which were made by the previous Administration in co-operation with the British Steel Corporation will be kept.
My last point on the steel industry is that we in Scotland believe that the salvation of the steel industry in our part of the world is a new iron ore terminal. That is a project with which you, I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are familiar. I shall not bore the House by going into all the arguments in favour of an iron ore terminal. Suffice it to say that we believe that if we in Scotland are to have a viable economic steel unit we must have an iron ore terminal and that we must have it very quickly indeed. I am not suggesting that in the course of the next few days a decision should be made by the present Administration, but here there is anxiety, because while in opposition the then shadow Secretary of State for Scotland indicated that he was in favour of an iron ore terminal to help improve the position of the Scottish steel industry, he did not have the whole-hearted support of many of his hon. Friends. So I hope that in the course of a very short time, certainly before we rise for the Summer Recess, we shall be given some sort of indication as to the Government's thinking on the position of the steel industry in Scotland, and, indeed, throughout the country.
These are the only two points of substance which I raise, on shipbuilding and on steel, and I raise them because of the genuine fears as to their future, and I hope that during these debates we shall be given some assurance, so that the fears of our constituents may be allayed.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) for having clarified the way in which we should address you; he told us that he had looked it up and that you should be addressed as "Mr. Deputy Speaker". I, too, congratulate you on the great job that you have taken on. I know that with your usual charm you will steer the House through many difficult tempests and will succeed in bringing calm to stormy water.
174 I hope that the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) will forgive me if I do not comment on his argument. Although I love his and your beautiful country, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am a Sassenach and it would be wrong of me to enter into a Scottish discussion.
I shall talk about the Midlands, in whose prosperity the motor trade plays such a great part. The motor trade is going through a very difficult period. Many people think that people just make a motor car. They do not. The assemble it. The components of cars are made in many small factories throughout the country, particularly in the West Midlands. A recession in the motor trade affects many people.
There is now a recession. The home market has been badly run down. General taxation has meant that there has been little money left in people's pockets and they cannot afford to buy new cars. The increased taxation on the road fund is having a certain effect. People now have to think about money. It is not easy to come by.
Then there is the iniquitous selective employment tax. I am delighted that it is the Government's policy to abolish this tax. Motor car manufacturers are exempt, but dealers and many others concerned in the distribution and sale of automobiles are affected by the tax. On top of all these things, the very high rate of purchase tax makes it very difficult for the ordinary man in the street to buy a new car. To make it certain that he cannot afford it, the late Government brought in the penal terms of the hire-purchase agreement, which made it virtually impossible for the vast majority of people to buy new cars.
The whole of the home market is being run down. A very telling indication of this is that, although in the first six months of 1969 British Leyland paid over £7 million in taxation on its profits, in the first six months of 1970 it paid £½ million.
If the home market is run down, the cost of producing cars is increased. The danger then is that we will price ourselves out of foreign markets.
Then there is the industrial relation problem. I am delighted that the Gracious Speech says that the Government are to tackle this problem. Hon. Members 175 opposite have raised another hare about the way we intend to tackle the problem. They suggest—wrongly—that we are not in contact with those working on the shop floor. Many of my hon. Friends have, as I have, taken the trouble to speak to these people and their wives. These people would welcome any reasonable proposals for abolishing industrial strife, which is cutting their pay packets and lightening their wives' shopping baskets.
The difficulties of dealing with this important problem can be exaggerated. The Government, in their wisdom, and in full consultation, will bring about a much more peaceful time industrially in the near future. It is frightening to go round the country and see the incredible number of foreign cars. I wonder why they are here, and I have a feeling that it is a question of delivery, which is wrapped up with the question of industrial strife. I sincerely hope that both sides of the industry will be brought together to evolve a happy, peaceful settlement which will help the prosperity of the country and enable individuals to have a happier and more prosperous life.
Small businesses have been going through a difficult time. S.E.T. has hit them very hard indeed, with the result that either the service they provide has had to be cut or the price has had to go up, neither of which they wish. But the most difficult thing which they have had to face has been the credit restrictions. Here I must declare an interest in a small retail wine business. Many small businesses are adequately financed in normal times but during the Christmas period stocks have to be built up. In the past it has been possible to obtain accommodation from one's bank. Do not forget that the stock may be sold before Christmas, but if one has credit accounts one does not get paid until March. The banks have not been allowed to give credit for that type of business and great hardship has been caused. It is the small businesses which have built up the nation. The late Lord Nuffield started with a small bicycle shop in Oxford out of which he built up a great motor industry to the enormous benefit of this country. Such people should not be discouraged but encouraged. That is why I am so glad that we have a new Government which will be sympathetic to 176 these people and will not dislike private enterprise but will do all they can to encourage it.
There has been perpetual interference by the Government in private industry. Far too much of the time of people running businesses has been taken up in complying with ridiculous restrictions and form-filling imposed upon them by the late Government. I hope that this will be done away with in the future. It is a terrifying thought that, just at a time when more houses are required, 7,000 builders have been driven out of business by the actions of the Labour Government last year. I only pray and hope that they will be able to come back again with a greater sense of security behind them to build the houses which are so badly needed, and that the Government will encourage them to do so.
The small farmer has not had an easy time; few farmers have. Townspeople do not realise how much money is invested in farm land. If the land may cost £300 per acre it might cost another £140 per acre to stock and equip it—say £450 an acre. When that is multiplied by 200, which is the acreage of an average farm, it becomes clear that a lot of money is involved. The farmer does not get a proper return on it, and certainly he does not get a return on the work that he himself puts into farming his land. When one thinks of the amount of import money that he saves the country, surely he needs encouragement. That is why I welcome our new proposals to deal with agriculture. To my mind, it is intolerable that, for years, every February, we have had this annual wrangle between the National Farmers' Union and the Minister, ultimately the Treasury. The battle has gone on and has been unsatisfactory to everyone. The sooner that it disappears, the better.
I turn finally to law and order. I was very glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) raised this point and referred to the proposed South African tour. The subject cropped up frequently in the course of my election campaign. I said that, much as I dislike apartheid, I felt that the then Prime Minister should have had the guts, if he did not want the tour to take place, to take it on himself to stop it, rather than pass the buck to the Cricket Council and the M.C.C.
177 The ex-Prime Minister gave way to anarchy, but the case which frightens me occurred much closer to home, in the village of Romsley in my constituency. Birmingham City said that it needed an extra reservoir to add to its water supply. It applied for some 400 acres of agricultural land. The Minister set up an inquiry, and his inspector reported that he did not feel that the proposed reservoir was necessary. However, Mr. Anthony Greenwood, then Minister of Housing and now in receipt of an extra £2,000 a year, decided against his inspector. He said that he intended to reverse the decision, and his reason for doing so was that he was frightened of what the Welsh Nationalists might do if he did not. I agree that Birmingham's water supply is vitally important, but the Minister's action showed appalling weakness. He was so weak because his Government in one year reduced police recruiting from 6,000 to 200 and, in addition, pretty well slaughtered the Territorial Army. I am glad to see that our Government intend to restore that.
It is no wonder that people breathed a sigh of relief when the computer began to work in the early hours of 19th June. It is no wonder that many people in the Midlands were relieved. They realised that those whom I have been discussing will be looked after by this Government. I hope that they will receive the assurances that they so badly need.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
As a newly elected Member, let me add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your remarkable and historic achievement. I have no doubt that you have richly earned this high honour. I wish you every success.
I am very conscious of my privilege in being sent here by the electors of St. Pancras, North to represent them, and I hope that I will have the indulgence of the House while I live out the ordeal of addressing this Assembly for the first time.
Members of the last Parliament and of many previous Parliaments will remember my predecessor, the right hon. Kenneth Robinson. Mr. Robinson came 178 to this House in a by-election shortly after the last war and served Parliament and his constituents in an exemplary fashion for over 20 years. His greatest achievement was probably in serving as Minister of Health. In that office, as in all his endeavours, he gained the respect not only of Members on both sides of the House and his constituents, but of citizens throughout the land. I cannot hope to emulate his achievements in this House, but I should like to think that I may be able to gain the same kind of respect from the constituents of St. Pancras, North which Mr. Robinson enjoyed.
Prior to coming to this House I have had many years' experience in local government in London. I am grateful for that experience which has already stood me in good stead in following the procedures and practices of this House. Having served my apprenticeship, as it were, in St. Pancras, North and latterly in Camden I am interested in many aspects of every-day life. In the next few minutes I should like to mention just a few of those interests.
St. Pancras, North is in many ways an exciting constituency. Indeed, in previous years it has sent many Members to this House. It probably has the most cosmopolitan population of any area of the country. Yet there exists amongst that population a genuine desire to coexist and to play a full share in the development of our community. This spirit did not just happen. It has been nurtured and encouraged by the local council, aided by an excellent committee for community relations which brings together many local voluntary organisations and trade unionists whose sole object is to achieve and make a reality the question of integration. That is not to say that we are smug or complacent. We are certainly far from satisfied. But I should like to commend the example of St. Pancras, North to all who are genuinely interested in bringing about harmonous relations between citizens of many different nationalities and religions. Therefore, I await with interest the development of the Government's intentions in this respect outlined in the Gracious Speech and mentioned by the Prime Minister today.
Another aspect of local affairs in which I am extremely interested, coming from 179 the borough of St. Pancras, is, as might be expected, housing. I am disturbed about many of the implications raised in the Gracious Speech on housing. I am disturbed about the implications which may well mean—and will definitely mean if carried through—high increases of rents for many of our council tenants, a much longer wait on the waiting list for people who have already waited far too long, and many more delays in what ought to be a sphere where we should be speeding up the provision of houses.
I was particularly pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition express views on the sale of council houses. I entirely agree with the sentiments which he expressed in that regard. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) who developed that point and has thus saved me boring the House with further details. However, I hope to be able to develop still further my views on the sale of council houses and the implications in a later debate.
As chairman of a local disablement committee I, too, welcome the Government's intention to carry out the previous Government's plan relating to constant attendance allowance for the severely disabled. I look forward to the details, which I hope will be announced very soon for the practical application of that policy.
I have many other interests in local affairs and in public life, and I hope that there will be time to develop those still further on some other occasion. In the meantime, I want to shift for a moment to another subject because, before coming here, I worked for more than 20 years as a precision engineer on the workshop floor. For the last five years I was a technical training officer employed in civil air transport, and I can therefore claim to have had a certain amount of experience of all the matters connected with those two occupations.
I have always been an active trade unionist, and I am therefore obviously interested in industrial relations and in training. Both these subjects are mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I hope that I may be able to make a contribution to the debates which take place in the near future on both those aspects of our daily life.
180 I am convinced, as are many others, that industrial relations will not be improved by threats of legal sanctions or by the use of courts of law to enforce agreements. On the contrary, this kind of approach will worsen an already delicate state of affairs. This theme has been developed by previous speakers, and no doubt will be developed still further in the weeks and years that lie ahead when we come to discuss this extremely important and vital question.
There can be no argument about the progress made by the previous Government in relation to training and re-training. The scheme under which I was privileged to work developed, in the main, as a result of the activity of the previous Government. I believe it to be an example of the kind of progress that can be made, and I hope that in the course of the review mentioned in the Gracious Speech that scheme and many others like it which have been started in the last five or six years will be used as examples and expanded. There is plenty of scope here for expansion.
I should like to mention many other aspects of industrial training, but I feel that they would be far better left until we come to the more detailed debates on them. I shall therefore resist the temptation to develop the points that I have to make until I hear the detailed debates. Suffice it at the moment to say that I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and to hon. Members for listening to me throughout this few minutes' ordeal. As I said earlier, I hope that I may be able to make further contributions and develop the points which I have mentioned briefly when we come to the specialist debates which will no doubt follow this debate on the Gracious Speech.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
It is a great pleasure to be able to congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on his excellent and informative maiden speech. It is obvious from the amount of information that he has been able to contribute in the very few moments in which he has spoken that he has a wealth of experience, for which this House is always grateful. In our House of Commons we specially welcome people who have experience and knowledge, because our democracy flourishes 181 on the experience and knowledge of the many Members who pass through it. We look forward to the hon. Member's future contributions. We hope that he will enjoy being able to tell us all about his experiences and we hope that it will not be too long before some of the Bills to which he has referred are debated, so that he can give us of his best.
The Gracious Speech always provides an opportunity to make a number of comments over a wide field. I start by making comment that is of purely personal interest to me, because I have not had the answer to it. I refer to the discussions that have taken place about the Government's decision to sell council houses. My local authority—the county borough of Tynemouth—has had an excellent housing reputation for many years. A long time ago it thought that it would be advantageous to sell council houses and without difficulty it obtained permission to do so. The extraordinary thing was that when it made the necessary arrangements nobody wanted to buy council houses. There must be some new development that has persuaded my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to introduce this legislation.
I now want to refer to the proposed industrial relations Bill. I am sure that in the trade union world there is a great desire for an end to unofficial strikes. It stands out a mile. My part of the world—the North County—is very trade union minded. I am sure that if we could devise a good Bill that would prevent unofficial strikes it would be very welcome, not only to the management side but to the sound trade union workers who believe in trade unionism and want to see it play a full part in developing a sound and stable economy.
I notice with great interest that Mr. Victor Feather said that before he would agree to give assistance to the present Government in respect of their proposed industrial relations Bill he wanted an assurance that the degree of unemployment, which is a very unsatisfactory feature of our present national life, would be substantially reduced. That was a wise statement. On Tyneside the result of six years of Socialist Government was a doubling of unemployment, which has caused great hardship and anxiety about the future. I look forward to Mr. Feather 182 presenting realistic proposals on how unemployment on Tyneside in particular, and in the country generally, can be reduced. Tyneside has the highest level of unemployment in the northern area, partly because of the rundown of the mining industry. Mr. Feather must have some critical comments to make of the late Government. I do not accuse them of not having tried. They tried very hard, but their policies were obviously wrong.
In all the criticisms which are made of the proposals we intend to put into legislative form, nobody refers to the way we shall deal with the problem of voluntary absenteeism. I cannot understand why the great shipbuilding industry on the Tyne—Swan Hunter, which is now a big consortium and which had great assistance from the late Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope I am always reasonable in giving credit where it is due. It is extraordinary that a firm like Swan Hunter, the finest shipbuilders in the world, is in dire straits because of voluntary absenteeism.
If that is taken in relation to the serious situation of Palmers, I cannot understand why men who have secure jobs in a firm of world-wide repute should stab their own people in the back. With the high level of unemployment on the Tyne one would have thought that the industrial workers would co-operate with management and not jeopardise orders by voluntary absenteeism. I admit that some magnificent shipbuilding work has been done recently.
I hope that efforts will be made by hon. Members opposite, by Mr. Vic Feather and by the trade union movement in general, to deal so far as practicable with voluntary absenteeism. It needs sound discipline and a great deal of understanding. Our loyal and magnificent workers on the Tyne would welcome action which would prevent them and their jobs from being jeopardised by those who indulge in continued voluntary absenteeism.
If it is true that the National Coal Board is soon to apply for permission to increase the prices of coal—a move which would be viewed with great disfavour by the general public—I should like to have a complete schedule of all collieries with the rate of absenteeism, which may not apply to all collieries but which may apply to some. If we are to assess whether an increase in the price of coal 183 is justified, we must know whether it comes about because of legitimate cost increases which have been accepted or because there is a lot of voluntary absenteeism in the mining community.
I have been in the House a long time, even since nationalisation. After I came back in 1950, as the Member for my present constituency, in the days when vast sums of capital were being spent on coal-mining, I always tried to elicit from the then Minister of Fuel and Power what the real effect of that capital expenditure on machinery and the like was on the general economic balance in the coal trade. By all accounts, it should have reduced the costs of production, but I could never get a straight answer.
My complaint about the National Coal Board, especially in the context of the price increase likely soon to be proposed, is that we are never given a true picture. I want the present Government, before any decision is taken, to object to an increase in the price of coal. I am pretty certain that, if the collieries were efficiently managed in relation to their labour force, we could reduce the costs of coal production. If a price increase is requested by the National Coal Board, therefore, I hope that the Government will insist on a minute examination of how and why this situation has developed.
I believe that we have allowed the National Coal Board to get away with far too much. I hope that there will now be some strong and firm talk—I could use a bit of Geordie language myself on this matter—and I shall want to know in clear and conclusive terms what has caused the National Coal Board to come forward, as I am sure it will, for an increase in price. I hope that my hon. Friend on the Government Front Bench who is listening to what I say will ensure that my views are conveyed to the proper quarter, because I regard this as a most important question for our industrial future.
Those are the two matters on which I should like answers. I want to know what Mr. Victor Feather advises for reducing unemployment on the Tyne, and I want to know what will be done to deal with voluntary absenteeism. I put it to hon. Members opposite who are concerned 184 about Palmers, as we all are on the Tyne—I fully support them—that our position would be much stronger if all on Tyneside who have good jobs in good shipbuilding firms did not do things against the interests of their fellow workers who really want protection against those who seek to destroy an industry which has been built up over the years and in which Swan Hunter and other shipbuilders have done so well.
I notice that the British Steel Corporation has announced that it is going to make a profit, and I am very pleased. Perhaps it will then be able to reduce the price of steel to the shipbuilders. Swan Hunter has to tender for ships at a fixed contract price, with the result that it has been making a loss. This is not to the advantage of shipbuilding on the Tyne for the future. We must make a genuine profit. If the steel industry because of its capacity under nationalisation—I put that in so that hon. Members opposite will listen—has managed for once to make a profit on steel, I hope that that profit will be passed on to those industries which have to struggle against rising costs of their raw materials so that the national economy may be developed as a whole on a sound economic scale.
I am very pleased about the new Bill to give pensions to the over-80s as I was the second Member to introduce such a Bill following on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). We on this side of the House have had a lot of fighting to do for this section of the community. We never managed to convince the late Government that such a Bill was a sound thing to introduce. I congratulate my Government and my Prime Minister on having decided to introduce it at a very early stage. Our Bill was introduced four times and four times it was turned down. I would like to put on record, because I like to get as many things on record as I can, how delighted I am that there are at least two Ministers who introduced that Bill in the Treasury, so there can be no Treasury objection. I assume that they are in favour of the Bill that they as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and I introduced, and that we shall have a full pension for the over-80s.
I am also delighted about the constant attendance allowance. This has quite 185 rightly been fought for on both sides of the House for a very long time. It has now come largely due to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, introduced by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), but supported wholeheartedly by both sides of the House. I am delighted that that is to come into operation, and I hope that this will be very shortly.
I am very glad about the widow's pension. I hope that we shall also manage to do something about reducing taxation on maintenance awarded a woman who has divorced her husband, particularly maintenance for the family. If she goes out to work to maintain as good a standard of life for her family as she can it is monstrous that that maintenance from the husband through the court has to be taxed. I was going to introduce a Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule—though I would not have got it from the late Government, but I gave my place to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) dealing with the Police Federation so that he could introduce a Bill in connection with police widows. I am very anxious about this matter. I have a case at present, and when the House was dissolved for the election the only person to whom I could send it was the head of the Inland Revenue, Sir Arnold France. The case concerns a woman who is a qualified art teacher. She is struggling extremely hard to maintain a home and standard of life for herself and her seven children. She gets £3 a week, which is all that she can get from a rather absurd husband, and that wretched £3 a week is included in her earned income for tax purposes.
Because of the arrangements which local authorities make for paying people who take special classes, although she can earn quite a good salary when she is working, she has to go on National Assistance occasionally, because in the long recess she has to work a month before any money is due to her and then wait another month before the local authorities pay. The position of some women who have divorced their husbands and who are trying to maintain a good standard of life for their families requires the attention of a humane Government, which my Government is.
186 I am interested in the subject of joining the European Economic Community. This is a complicated issue. In my part of the world, Sir John Hunter is a deadly opponent of our joining, while the shipping interests generally are in favour of it. The fishing industry, which is very important in my area, favours going in, because it is so close to Europe. There are many technical economic details to be discussed and considered carefully.
There is one aspect which worries me and about which I want some comments on the record. I want to know what is to happen to those people living on small fixed incomes, living on investment income or occupational pensions which were not particularly large when awarded. Adjustments may be made for other people receiving emoluments from the Treasury, or through social security arrangements, but the people about whom I am concerned and who are the salt of the earth will not be able to draw from that source. I hope that my Front Bench will make a special note to send a special letter, with all the seals necessary, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber), who is now starting the negotiations, to ensure that the position of these people is discussed at an early stage.
While I am on the subject, I should like to know what is to happen to these people when we alter the basis of support for the farming community. I do not often talk about the farming community, because there are only about six farms in my constituency and the farmers give me very little trouble—they are delightful people. However, I try to speak for people on small fixed incomes, whether they live in John o' Groats or Land's End. They are people who have served the country well and I shall not support any Government unless I am sure that the position of these people is adequately dealt with.
These people must not be squeezed out in alterations to agricultural support, or in joining the Common Market if we get proper terms. I believe that women are much better than men at dealing with the details of life. I am a very good feminist, but whenever I spoke about equal pay in the old days, I used immediately to make a speech about coal mining, or the shipbuilding industry so that I would maintain a proper balance in my own 187 part of the world. But now the difficulties of people living on small fixed incomes are more easily understood—and I say this with apology—because men have a better and wider appreciation of the technical and economic problems than someone like myself. But I want a proper balance to be kept. I want people like the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North who have special knowledge to contribute so that the position of these people may be understood. If we go into the Common Market, most of our people will have a higher standard of living. But there will not be a higher standard of living for the people who are no longer earning.
I have had a good say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and I have made a few points at an early stage in the record of the Government. I am sure that they will be a first-class Government. But I wish to pay tribute—and I am sure that this will be unexpected—to someone, Harold Macmillan, who, when he became a member of the Front Bench, related industrial problems with agricultural problems. I have been a Member of the House for a very long time. I know that my Labour opponent thought that I had been a Member for far too long, but, fortunately, the constituents did not. In the old days, our party was, quite rightly, very keen on the agricultural interests of this country. In those days employers did not like politicians very much and so we kept out of matters. But Harold Macmillan, when he became the Member for Stockton-on-Tees, realised the problems which arose from unemployment. We on the North-East Coast were very critical of the last Labour Government because of their inability to deal with this problem.
During the war many parts of the country like Bristol, the Midlands and North-East Coast had the advantage of having situated in them wonderful industries concerned with air and technological matters which were of great advantage to this country and those areas. The experts said that we would—
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West) rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Interventions prolong speeches and there are still hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ Dame Irene Ward
We were all very grateful for the building of those aircraft. But when the Second World War started those responsible for our security took a line from the Border and said to my part of the world, "You will be bombed to bits so you cannot have anything"; and we did not get anything. That is what has made us so vociferous in putting forward the interests of the North. I hope that the North will be given additional assistance. We did not have some of the industrial advantages which accrued to other parts of the country during the war.
I am delighted to have contributed to the debate on the Gracious Speech. I hope that all the points which have been made, from all sides, will have serious consideration by my Government and that the good points which have been made by so many hon. Members will find their way into legislative practice.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I should like to join the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on his maiden speech. My hon. Friend said that he was a precision engineer. The precision with which he delivered his speech, both in content and in time, was an example to us all.
The hon. Lady no doubt believes that by exercising her right in the debate she has cut down my time. I think I am correct in saying, however, that if I happen still to be on my feet when this debate is adjourned I have the right to finish my speech when the debate recommences tomorrow. Perhaps, therefore, the hon. Lady has done me a great service inasmuch as I shall be speaking to 189 a slightly fuller House tomorrow than I am this evening.
There are a number of points with which I wish to deal, but before doing so it would be appropriate, on the day that the new Chairman of Ways and Means has been appointed by the House, to congratulate the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir R. Grant-Ferris) on his appointment and to pay tribute to his predecessor, the right hon. Sydney Irving, who was a Member of this House for a considerable number of years and filled that office with great distinction, with great tolerance, great impartiality and understanding of the responsibilities of one who is called upon to serve that office. I know that the hon. Member for Nantwich will follow the great tradition which has been set by Mr. Irving. I only hope that my right hon. Friend will not be too long delayed in returning to the House.
One of the points with which I wanted to deal was touched upon by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth when she referred to the need to end unofficial strike action. The only way one can stop unofficial strikes is by removing the causes of those strikes. That will not be done by a framework of legality bringing the "copper" on to the shop floor. It will be done only by the establishment of good industrial relations.
In my constituency this week, an unofficial strike is taking place at the Erith works of Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd. That strike has come about because of the decision of management 190 to declare redundancies, their refusal to negotiate with the representatives of the trade unions and their complete failure to conduct themselves in accordance with the standard code of practice issued by the Department of Employment and Productivity.
Here is a management who, for good reasons or bad, have decided to cut down their work force. Whatever the merits of their case may be, they had a clear duty and a responsibility to come to the workpeople through their shop stewards committee, through their duly appointed trade union representatives, and give prior notice and enter into decent, meaningful consultations. This the management of Standard Telephones and Cables have failed to do. I say to the hon. Lady that it is bad management of that sort which is the root cause of unofficial strikes. So, if there is anything meaningful in the Gracious Speech which could do anything at all to help in this matter, it is those words which say that a Measure will be introducedlaying down standards for good management"—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.