§ Order for Second Reading read
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
I rise to draw attention to the case of Mr. Robert Dirk Smith, a South African citizen aged 23. In so doing I must declare an interest, as is appropriate in the House. It is well known that I have been associated for a number of years with the David Brown Corporation, and I am proud so to be. If other people's export records had been as good as ours this country would be in a very different situation.
I want to refer to the problem of Mr. Dirk Smith as briefly as I can, and I shall try to deal with it in the most factual fashion possible and to make it clear to the Government that I am not trying to push them into a corner. There will be plenty of other days when we can try to push them into a corner. This is not the day. Today is the day to deal with this problem. The problem is complicated to the extent that Mr. Robert Dirk Smith is the stepson of Mr. Ian Smith, of Rhodesian fame. He was born a South African citizen of a South African father, and has only adopted the name of Smith.
The situation is as follows. Mr. Robert Dirk Smith came to this country on 5th April as a visitor. Some time in the middle of April he was walking along Piccadilly when he saw the David Brown Corporation offices. He went in and asked for a job as a graduate trainee. I should explain that he is 23, and was educated in Rhodesia and at the University of Cape Town, where he has a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering. He held various student jobs in vacation employment in mining and engineering and in other engineering plants in Europe.
Mr. Smith was visiting this country and, I understand, came to like it and felt that he would like to stay here and have an opportunity to study some of our technological skill. When he walked into the David Brown offices, I do not 2044 think that anyone there had the slightest idea that he had anything to do with his stepfather or with Rhodesia. It was only later that we learned this.
When the application was made through the normal channels the Manager of Training and Management Development in the David Brown Corporation, Mr. J. S. Hudson, consulted both the local office of the Department of Employment and Productivity and the Home Office. He consulted Mr. Anderson on extension 236 in the Home Office. Mr. Hudson was informed that it was possible for an application to be made, was given guidance as to how it should be made, and was informed by both the Home Office and the Department of Employment and Productivity—he has given me this assurance himself—that it was not necessary for Mr. Smith to leave the country to make an application, that the form of entry by which he had entered this country could be transferred if it was done under a suitable form. The only form under which it can be done is form AR 1 (ST)—the " ST " stands for student trainee.
The application was submitted, and on 21st April a reply was received from the Home Office. The application was made to the Home Office because in normal circumstances it takes about three weeks for it to be dealt with, and Mr. Hudson was advised by the Home Office that if the application was made to it directly the whole affair could be expedited, as Mr. Smith was here for only a month and was due to leave on 4th May. On 27th April the David Brown Corporation received a reply from the Home Office saying:Dear Sir,Thank you for sending the passport relating to Robert Dirk Smith…We are dealing with the matter and the documents mentioned above will be returned as soon as possible.Meanwhile this letter may be regarded as authority for the holder to remain in the United Kingdom pending a decision on any application made for an extension to his stay.That was the last the David Brown Corporation heard of the matter until some strange things happened in the middle of May. On 15th May a gentleman alleging that he was a South African who had arrived from Paris telephoned Mr. Hudson and spoke about wanting to 2045 get in touch with Mr. Smith, whom the David Brown Corporation was employing. Mr. Hudson explained that it was not employing him at that moment. Mr. Hudson made subsequent inquiries of Mr. Smith, who had no knowledge of this South African. On 16th May, a local reporter appeared at the David Brown Corporation offices seeking information about Mr. Smith on behalf of theSunday MirrorOn 17th May. an article appeared in theSunday Mirror. Where did the leak come from?
I have here a copy of a letter sent from the Home Office on 18th May, Home Office reference 5306056, saying:Dear Sir,I am replying to your letter of 21 April 1970 about Mr. R. D. Smith.A foreigner wishing to come here for employment or as a student trainee is expected to obtain a work permit issued by the Department of Employment and Productivity in respect of a specific post before coming to the United Kingdom.This was explained to Mr. Smith by the immigration officer who interviewed when he arrived in this country on 5 April 1970. Mr. Smith said that he fully understood that he could not take a job in this country and, the immigration officer being satisfied that this was the case, he was admitted for a visit of one month.In the circumstances I am afraid that we cannot agree to Mr. Smith extending his stay here for the purpose of employment or training…and the " employment and training " was to be employed as a graduate trainee for 12 months‖Mr. Smith called at this office this morning and the decision was conveyed to him. His passport was handed to him.There are certain other factors involved. There is, first, the very strange point as to how the newspaperman came to make his inquiries, because very few people knew the background. I should be very interested to know the source of the inquiries. Was it the Home Office? If not, what could it have been? That is a minor point, but it is disturbing.
Secondly, the notes on the back of form AR 1 (ST) say thatthe student employee shall be surplus to the necessary labour requirements of the employer;That is absolutely the case in this instance.permits are normally granted for periods of up to twelve months on the expiry of 2046 which the foreigner is expected to return to his or her country.There is no problem about that, either.
The Department of Employment and Productivity guidance leaflet, "Employment of foreigners in Great Britain ", AR 100, says, in paragraph 8:Permits are issued to enable foreign student employees (as distinct from students coming for educational courses only) to accept short-term employment with British employers in the industrial and commercial field in order to improve their English and to widen their experience."—It is the second reason in this case—There are special arrangements for the issue of permits for student employment in agriculture, horticulture….with which we are not concerned here. The leaflet repeats some of the things said in form AR l(ST). At the beginning, it says:A foreign worker who wishes to take a job in Great Britain must have a permit issued by the Department of Employment and Productivity.We all accept that.The permit is not issued direct to the foreign worker, but to his employer, who has to apply to the Department of Employment and Productivity for it.So this is not an issue to Mr. Smith specifically in technical terms; it is a question whether the permit is issued to the David Brown Corporation.
It has long been the practice of successive Governments to encourage as many foreign students as possible to come here, for the obvious reasons. It is certainly the case that the David Brown Corporation has encouraged them because it has found them an extended arm of our export effort. It makes it much easier to employ foreign nationals to run our export business; every large engineering corporation will confirm that sort of practice.
Secondly, in the case of the David Brown Corporation there is a general policy made clear in a letter written by it to Mr. G. R. Denman, of the Board of Trade, on 1st January, 1969, in response to a letter asking about the company's policy regarding the training of overseas nationals. I shall not go into the details, but it was made clear that it had long been the practice of the corporation to encourage this for the reasons I have said. In 1966, there were 1,110 foreign nationals employed by the corporation 2047 in 1967, 770; and in 1968, 1,020. On average, it employs about 1,000 foreign students of one kind or another every year.
Then there is the question of form AR 1(ST), the only form to support an application for an alien to receive training in a United Kingdom company irrespective of whether he is in this country or overseas at the time of application. Clauses 2(g) and 4 of the form support this statement. In this case it was made clear to Mr. Hudson by both the D.E.P. and the Home Office that it was not necessary for Mr. Smith to leave the country. I wish to emphasise that. Further, when aliens wish to work in this country there are two forms—one when the alien is in the country at the time of application and one when he is not.
The Home Office reason for rejection ignored the fact that Mr. Smith was already in this country and that it is common practice to resubmit a passport for endorsement so that the conditions may be varied to cover student employment. That is common practice with the David Brown Corporation. They have an almost exact parallel with an Italian student, Mr. Paul Delbosco, who sought a transfer in the form of his visa to remain here in student employment. The Home Office reference is D.64777. Mr. Delbosco was in this country at the time of the application by the David Brown Corporation and his permit to stay was varied and given.
I want to know how many of these permits are constantly given by the Home Office, because it is common practice. The company has made many applications under the Aliens Order, 1953, for permission to engage foreigners as student trainees. These applications have covered individuals in this country at the time of the application as well as individuals not in this counrty at the time of application. All have been successful until now. If there has been any omission or error in David Brown's applications they have not been made aware of it, and they have all been made in consultation with the Department of Employment and Productivity and the Home Office.
The problem which arises, therefore, is extremely serious. Has this been done because he happened to be Mr. Ian 2048 Smith's stepson? That is central to the question.
§ Mr. Donnelly
Let us get it clear. Let us have the denial made clear and placed on the record.
Is it, then, because he is seeking a transfer from one form of entry to another? Is that it? If that is the case —and it is the employer who is making the application; I emphasise that the permit is given to the employer—may we have an assurance from the Government that if Mr. Smith moves from Fishguard to Cork and the corporation applies from there, he will be given a re-entry permit to this country and that the application will be granted? That seems to me to overcome the Home Office difficulty.
Or if he applies from Calais or Boulogne, does that overcome the difficulty? Because if it is not a question of Mr. Ian Smith being involved, that suggestion must overcome the difficulty. How does the Home Office explain the fact that there have been transfers in the past in parallel cases of this nature? That is the whole issue.
In whichever part of the House we sit, we have certain duties to preserve the standards and traditions of freedom and parliamentary democracy. I recall an occasion on which many hon. Members on the other side of the House—and I was sitting on that side of the House at the time—joined together in fighting for Chief Enahoro so that he might be allowed to stay in the country. We do not all agree with all that he has done since then, but the principle was that of the individual, regardless of his views.
I remember another occasion on which the late Sydney Silverman had been denied a visa to go to the United States. At the time this country was being visited by two gentlemen, Mr. Cohn and Mr. Schine, who, so we were told by the newspapers, were investigating Communist activities within the B.B.C. on behalf of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. Mr. Silverman rose from the corner seat opposite and asked the Government to give an assurance that visas would be granted to these men although he himself had just been refused a visa for the United States.He asked for 2049 the assurance so that these two gentlemen would have the opportunity to come here and to see how a tolerant and free society worked. If there is today, therefore, any argument about Rhodesia on the case which I have raised, that is the answer.
If I am told that it is only a question of a technicality—whether Mr. Smith leaves the country or another application is made—I must ask, how bureaucratic do we get? And if he leaves the country, may we have an assurance that he can come back—or will it be as in the case in which the Attorney-General for Ghana gave an assurance in respect of Mr. Christopher Shawcross and then had to go back on it on a certain memorable occasion? If the unfortunate Home Office Minister is to reply from that untenable position, I advise him to study the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 26, verses 38 to 46.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), the leader of the Donnelly Party, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his effort on behalf of—I am not sure whether it was David Brown or Robert Smith. Probably it may have been more on behalf of David Brown.
I want to raise a number of issues which are contained in the Consolidated Fund Bill. First, I notice that the Foreign Office are asking for money to be contributed to international organisations. There is an organisation connected with the sponsoring of, and the attempt to persuade Members during the election to support, Britain's entry into the Common Market. None of the political parties have come out clearly on the issue of the Common Market. We do not seem to be able to get from any of the political parties what are their views. No doubt the issue of the Common Market will be debated during the coming election.
Some hon. Members may already have received—and if not, no doubt they will receive them if they are standing for reelection—circulars issued by an organisation which is trying to push Britain into the Common Market. I have read in the Press comments on the subject. I hope that the Foreign Office can assure other 2050 hon. Members and myself and the country that none of the contributions and subscriptions being made by the Foreign Office is going in any way to support what I term this illegal activity by this body.
Another question arises on the same page of the Consolidated Fund Bill, relating to the Ministry for Overseas Development. I refer to the Report of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. I see that an extra grant is needed. The Commonwealth Development Corporation, I agree, does an excellent job, but I draw attention to some details of expenditure given on page 24 of the corporation's Financial Report and Accounts for 1969. In 1968, the chairman received a salary of £6,642. In 1969, during the period of severe restraint, when everyone was told to be careful about giving salary increases, that figure was raised to £7,042.
The Press always seem to be correct in their leaks—I do not know how that is—and I read some weeks back that a certain right hon. Gentleman was to be appointed chairman of this corporation. I put a Question down on the subject and the Answer was as evasive as I had expected. I asked whether there was any truth in that statement, but no answer was forthcoming at that time. During the recent Whitsun Recess an announcement was made that the present Minister of Housing and Local Government was to be appointed to this post and that the salary was to be £10,000 a year—plus or minus £100 or so, but we like to talk in round figures. Why is it that a salary which was increased so substantially last year has been increased by a further £3,000 this year?
Some other figures in this document are even more illuminating. For example, we read that in 1968 only one of the organisation's employees in the United Kingdom had a salary within the £15.000 to £17,500 a year range, while in 1969 there was not even one with such a salary. However, we learn that while in 1968 there was not one employee in the salary range £17,500 to £20,000 a year, there was one in that category in 1969. In other words, this unspecified person who was receiving between £15,000 and £17,500 a year in 1968 had received a salary increase to bring him or her within the salary range £17,500 to £20,000 in 1969.
2051 This means that somebody received a wage increase of between £2,500 and £5,000 in one year. Unfortunately, the accounts are not broken down to reveal the precise increase. I also notice that the auditors and accountants fees went up drastically.
I am at a loss to understand how we can hear daily of restrictions being placed on the wages and salaries of the majority, and particularly of the lower paid, when there is no complaint whatever about the sort of salary increases I have described. The Tories never complain about increases given to people in the £10,000 to £20,000 a year bracket, but when it comes to the nurses and doctors they complain regularly. We rarely get an opportunity to debate the merits, if any, of the enormous wage increases that are given to the higher echelons.
This brings me to the part of the Bill which is designed to provide further moneyFor the salaries and expenses of the…First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity… salaries and expenses of the National Board for Prices and Incomes… the Monopolies Commission and certain other Tribunals and Committees ".I understand that Mr. Aubrey Jones has had several pay increases and that his present salary of £15,000 a year, about which we have never heard a murmur from the Tories—no doubt because he is an ex-Tory Minister—is to be increased by 33⅔ per cent., giving him a salary of £18,000 a year.
How can a Labour Government and I support at the hustings restrictions on the lower-paid when people like Aubrey Jones can have increases of this magnitude? As soon as a Press leak about his salary appeared, we heard that Mr. Jones was to make a tour of Hungary, Bulgaria and other Iron Curtain countries. Has he been given leave of absence to make that tour, and is this extra money to be used towards his expenses for that purpose?
I cannot see any point in Mr. Jones touring Iron Curtain countries if his job is to look after prices and incomes here in Britain. I only wish that Mr. Jones had been as efficient, restrictive and obstructive with his own salary increases as he has been with those of the lower paid. If he had been, I probably would not be objecting in the way I am today.
2052 Apparently this extra money will help the P.I.B. to do its job. On many occasions I have sent my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity not one or a few dozen, but literally hundreds of cases of very wealthy company directors receiving salary increases of between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. a year, but not one of these cases has been referred by my right hon. Friend to the P.I.B.
I have been in favour of what I call a fair prices and incomes policy that applies to all sections of the population. Bearing this in mind, I am puzzled by the Vote which proposes to increase the salaries and expenses of the House of Lords. The peers have had their expenses increased to 6½ guineas, tax free, per day. Some time ago I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to break down into categories the number of peers receiving between say, £3,000 and £4,000 a year and £10,000 and £20,000 a year as company directors and to equate that 6½ guineas with their salaries, grossed up and taxed.
I was told that in some instances the 6½ guineas represented as much as £18 a day. It is a bit thick when people complain about the dock and Post Office workers asking for more when certain noble Ladies and Gentlemen in another place can pick up the equivalent of £18 a day for just showing their faces in that establishment and immediately walking out. That is going a little too far.
We have never debated that subject nor had an opportunity to pass our opinion on it. I can tell my constituents that I have never supported it. I have never been given the opportunity either to support it or vote against it. So now I am taking this opportunity to tell my constituents that I do not believe that noble Lords, who probably have 20 or 30 directorships, should get the equivalent of £18 a day.
The noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, has attacked the workers for asking for too much money. It is surprising to hear people who are getting thousands of pounds from dozens of different jobs telling the workers to be careful not to ask for too much, " So long as I can draw my 6½ guineas tax-free expenses ".
§ Mr. Patrick Wall: (Haltemprice)
Turning from the other place for a 2053 moment, would the hon. Member say whether he would support a rise in salary for Members of this House?
§ Mr. Lewis
The Government have already announced, with the acquiescence of the Opposition, that they cannot do anything for Members of this House—I do not know why. They will refer the question to the Prices and Incomes Board after the General Election. I do not want to debate that question now, but having been asked my view I can say that if that action is fair for the Commons it might also have been fair for the House of Lords, instead of their Lordships being given this 6½ guineas a day tax free.
Looking again at the Bill, I see that the Post Office is to have extra money in order to provide grants to the B.B.C. The B.B.C. is a very efficient, well run and reputable organisation and I say no word against it. It happens to have as chairman one who, again, is an ex-Tory Minister. It is amazing how this Government love to appoint ex-Tory Ministers to these jobs. The chairman recently had an increase in his salary. Parliamentary Questions are not always answered as I like, but after having the benefit of our admirable Library service—and it is a most magnificent service—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, is the only man I know of who is holding down what is the equivalent of the chairmanship of a State board whilst taking full-time salaries from public companies of anything, and here I speak from memory, from £15,000 upwards a year in addition to his full-time salary of £6,000 a year at the B.B.C., I must assume that if he attends the House of Lords, he, too, claims the equivalent of £18 a day—
§ Mr. Lewis
My right hon. Friend could not have heard what I said earlier. He should have listened. I must repeat it.
I asked by Parliamentary Questions what would be the equivalent of the 6½ guinea tax free daily allowance if one had an income of, say, £15,000 or £20,000 a year. The Treasury said that it would be about £18 a day. My right hon. Friend's agile mind can easily do the mental arithmetic necessary to realise that these noble Lords, whether it be 2054 the noble Lord, Lord Hill, or the noble Lord, Lord Shawcross, and others of their Lordships, are receiving an allowance equivalent to £18 a day, or, to put it the other way, an allowance of 6½ guineas a day tax free.
I do not care which calculation is preferred. If I went to my dock worker, my engineer, my bricklayer, or my carpenter and said, Look, old boy, would you like a job for which, provided you could show that you had attended—walked in and walked out—you would be given either £18 a day or 6½ guineas a day tax free? ", he would probably take the 6½ guineas tax free, but I would let him choose. We would then probably debate whether or not it was right and proper and fair.
This has never been debated or discussed, or referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. I am all in favour of the board having plenty of references. Only in the week before the Whitsun Recess I asked that these continually soaring food prices should be referred to it. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity refused. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State declined my invitation. Nevertheless, I am pleased to see that, for a reason I do not understand, there has been a Press leak saying that she intends to do that very thing. I do not know what has made her change her mind in the interim, but I am pleased that it is so. I should like to see more of that kind of thing happening.
I am sorry that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has left the Chamber, because I have dealt with his future job, and its salary and expenses, and I now want to deal with his present job and the extra sum shown in page 34 of the Bill. That sum is for various things, including grants to local authorities, loans, and so on. In this case, I want to know why the amount is not larger. Speaking advisedly, and with all the emphasis of which I am capable, I must say, and I have given my right hon. Friend notice, that he has been very dilatory, very backward, very weak, and very unkind to my constituents.
As Minister of Housing and Local Government he has been responsible for increasing my constituents' cost of living 2055 by increasing their rents and rates by refusing to fight the Treasury to ensure the reimbursement of those who suffered from the Ronan Point disaster. It is shocking to realise that though we can provide all the thousands of pounds that I have mentioned, when a block of flats collapses through no fault of the occupants, and there has been loss of life, the Minister—and I am glad to see him back in his place—should originally have said that he could not grant more than 40 per cent. I have battled with him consistently on every conceivable occasion, and now I find that he has raised the grant to 50 per cent.
Incidentally, we have never had a debate on that disaster.
The result of the Minister's decision is that West Ham now has to find 50 per cent. of the cost of strengthening and rehabilitating those flats. I do not think that that is fair, right or proper.
We have always accepted in the House that if there is a national disaster the Treasury should foot the bill. My local ratepayers will have their rates increased or both their rates and rents increased because they have to find nearly £1 million. It is true that they will be able to borrow the money, but that will be at rather high rates of interest even with the advantages which the Government give by means of the Public Works Loan Board. They will be saddled with this debt.
My local people have been saddled with debts for the last 25 years. Ours was one of the first areas to be blitzed; it suffered during the whole of the blitz. We lost over one-third of our habitable accommodation and we are still paying for that. The country has never met its full obligation. Perhaps after 25 years one may forget these things, but one should not forget that in this instance West Ham ratepayers are saddled with a 50 per cent. debt for something which was not caused by them.
We have a very serious and difficult housing problem. We have a marvellous council which has done an excellent job in rebuilding, but because of the Ronan Point disaster, as a result of which blocks of flats still remain empty, we are losing rent and rate income and still suffering from the niggardliness of the 2056 Treasury. It is a pity that there is no Treasury Minister present now. However, it is the job of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to fight for his Department. I accuse this Minister for not standing up to the Treasury and fighting the Treasury as he should have done. I hope that when he takes on his new job if he finds any difficulty he will fight the Treasury a little more.
The Association of Municipal Corporations, an all-party organisation, has supported me, as have most if not all local authorities, even those which are not concerned in this problem.
§ Mr. Lewis
Another matter with which I am concerned relates to the county courts, the judiciary and the legal system. Money is to be given to meet the extra cost of Law Officers of the Crown, the Director of Public Prosecutions Prosecution's department, and so forth. I hope that this means that for extra money we might get some productivity and perhaps some improvement in the judiciary system. It is a crying shame that in, as Mr. Speaker said, this greatest democracy in the world—we accept that —in London today men can be keptincommunicadounder arrest for three months or six months by this system by which they are taken to court and then put back on remand.
It is terrible that we have a situation in which people have been in prison for six months awaiting trial although they are still innocent until they are found guilty. We had the case recently of a former colleague. I shall not go into that in detail. He was kept in prison for three months and there was the continual question of remand. I shall not go into the details, because that would be out of order, but I believe in justice and in fighting for what I believe to be right whether that is popular or unpopular and whether my own Front Bench likes it or not. I do not think that we should have an hon. Member of the House kept for two years " on ice " without being brought to trial. His parliamentary career can be ruined because of the lack of—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member is referring to a case which is at present sub judice
§ Mr. Lewis
No, Mr. Speaker I was not referring to any case. I was saying that I do not think it right that such a thing can happen. I was not going into detail in the case to which I referred and which has been settled, that of Mr. Will Owen, who was kept in for three months and then found not guilty.
Anyone who knows the working of the judiciary system knows that it is a shocking situation when cases can go on—I am speaking in general and not in particular —for year after year without a person having the chance to prove himself not guilty. As more money is to be spent in the county courts and the Director of Public Prosecution's department and the judiciary system, I hope that an attempt will be made to improve the whole legal system.
It may or may not be known that £5 million of fines go year after year unpaid. It is the job of the judiciary to see that fines are paid, yet no one worries about this. If a person goes to court and refuses to pay his fine, no one worries; and he can keep on refusing. Eventually, he might get a suspended prison sentence but he laughs at that because it means nothing at all. Hence, I ask that the whole judiciary system should be looked at and this money should be used to improve it. It should be used to expedite dealings in the courts and to see that so far as possible the Department of Employment and Productivity may make an investigation into productivity.
I referred in the House 18 months ago to a case which is notsub judice. It is still being investigated. When I put a Question to the Attorney-General he gave evasive replies. [HON. MEMBERS: " 0h."] Oh yes, I say this because constituents ask me, " What has happened to the matter you referred to 18 months ago?" The Attorney-General knows the case, because he is affected. I refer to cube cutting. There has still been no positive action taken one way or another on that. It is still being investigated to find whether action can be taken.
Of my last two points the first is a small one and the second concerns my hobby-horse. The first is the question of a reference in the Bill to the Home Office being granted extra money for fire-fighting purposes. When the Home Office gets this extra money will it see 2058 that there is fire drill and such activities because, to the best of my knowledge, none of he Government Departments has any fire drill. None of the Home Office staff has fire drill. If the Government want to save the hundreds of millions of pounds which are lost through fires they should see that their own Departments actively pursue a system of regular fire drills. This should be done in schools, too, where it is not being done at present.
I come, lastly, to my hobby-horse. I am glad that extra money is to be given to the Ministry of Transport to deal with the enforcement of road fund licensing. This is an improvement. But will a genuine attempt be made to seek to enforce road fund licensing? A recent G.L.C. survey in three roads in the North of London showed that 15 per cent. of vehicles there were unlicensed. This is wrong. Everyone affected by a tax should pay it. If, as it now suggested, the tax is virtually unenforceable, it should be dropped; and the 85 per cent. should not have to pay the extra money to carry the 15 per cent. who refuse to pay the licence fees.
The Ministry of Transport, the Home Office, the police, the Greater London Council enforcement department, all say that the offence is so prevalent and widespread that they can do nothing about it. They can. If this Government want to be returned at the next election, let them announce that, as this tax is unenforceable, it is to be dropped. This would be, not a gimmick, but an election proposition. Let them announce that, as they cannot enforce it on 15 per cent., they will waive it for the other 85 per cent. This would be good, fair and right, and would ensure the Government's return at the election.
I have raised a number of issues which, over the years, I have tried to raise on the Floor of the House. As this is virtually the last day before breaking up, I now express the hope—God willing and my constituents permitting—that I shall be back in the next Parliament to see how far the Labour Government, when they come back, progress on these issues.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The reference by the hon. Member for 2059 West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) to getting on the Floor took my mind back to the time when he lay on the ground outside the Savoy Hotel. The hon. Gentleman's speech was so kaleidoscopic that I shall not follow him, beyond saying that he was much more impressive when talking about the interests of his constituents after the appalling tragedy of the collapse of the multi-storey block at Ronan Point than when he was being abusive to certain former Members of this House who are now in another place.
I wish to raise a question which is of direct concern to the Leader of the House, because in his capacity as Lord President of the Council he prefaced a recent White Paper dealing with the whole question of the oceanology side of the natural environment. This afternoon the Government have published a White Paper—Cmnd. 4373—entitled " The Protection of the Environment. The Fight Against Pollution ".
The House knows that in two respects I have a deep interest in this question. The first is because I have been Chairman of the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which dealt with coastal pollution problems in the light of the " Torrey Canyon " disaster. Secondly, I was Chairman of another Sub-Committee which reported to the House on 24th July, 1969, in Paper 400, as the Third Report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology—the Natural Environment Research Council.
On more than one occasion during Business Questions I have asked the Leader of the House when we shall have a White Paper commenting on the Select Committee's report. The right hon. Gentleman has made soothing and hopeful noises, but that is as far as we have got. The Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning, when giving evidence recently to the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology dealing with population problems, volunteered the information that the Government regretted that there had been so much delay in producing the White Paper commenting on the Report on the Natural Environment Research Council's work, but that the report was expected at an early date.
2060 It now appears that in the long chain of deathbed repentances which are taking place in the last few days before this Parliament expires the Government will not find time to include a White Paper dealing with the Select Committee's report. I deeply regret this, because the fact that the Government have decided to publish their new White Paper this afternoon indicates their awareness, which I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite is entirely shared on this side, that there is an intensive interest and deep concern amongst the public in the threats to our environment, and not least the threats which taken the form of atmospheric and water pollution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway), whom my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has very propertly appointed to pay special attention to this aspect of the nation's affairs on behalf of the Opposition, is deeply concerned to ensure that appropriate action is taken as soon as possible.
The White Paper published this afternoon makes no mention of the work done by hon. Members on both sides—I pay tribute to the help which hon. Members gave me in my capacity as Chairman of the Sub-Committee—in studying the work done by the National Environment Research Council. Yet many of the matters discussed in the White Paper are cognate to the report from my Sub-Committee.
One of the things we especially mentioned in our report was the whole question of atmospheric pollution, which is of increasing concern. We said in paragraph 124 on page XXXV:We are concerned at N.E.R.C's. lack of involvement in the field of atmospheric pollution. Professor Wynne-Edwards told us that ' We are not at present interesting ourselves in atmospheric pollution. We have done nothing about it.' Research on such pollution is left to M.R.C."—that is, the Medical Research Council—but the Professor admitted that the field was ' fragmented' and would be difficult to bring together. We would have liked to have had time to consider atmospheric pollution, not least to establish whether M.R.C. by itself is capable of ensuring effective action.Since we reported last July there has been, not only the Government's decision to appoint the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) as Secretary of 2061 State for Local Government and Regional Planning with special responsibility for pollution, but also the establishment of a Royal Commission.
All of us welcome the Royal Commission. Our one misgiving—it arises from long experience—is that Royal Commissions tend to take several years before anything emerges from their deliberations upon which action can be taken by a Government. All of us recognise that, however dedicated to its duties the Royal Commission may be, inevitably the implementation of its thinking and its recommendations will be a matter of years rather than of months, still less of weeks. Yet we know all the time that the threat to the environment is increasing day by day.
This is made all the more difficult by the continual rise in the population of this country, and many of our pollution problems are closely allied with population policy. It is, indeed, a tragedy that the work of the Select Committee dealing with population problems was not completed by today and that, therefore, we shall not have a report from the Select Committee on that subject; but at least, it has been established beyond doubt from the evidence already published and made available to the House that this is a problem with which one cannot deal in isolation. It is a complex problem involving population and sociological policies and problems, as well as policies designed to ensure that the proper conservation takes place of our natural environment that we all love so much.
What worries me a little about the publication of this White Paper is this. We have, of course, got to fight against pollution wherever it appears, but there seems to me very little recognition in this White Paper, so far as I have been able to digest it in the short time available since it was published, of the need to exploit sensibly and rationally many of the resources within our environment. One cannot merely say that one is going to fight for conservation—just like that. It is not a black and white issue as between total conservation and total pollution. It is a grey situation in which the most scientific and capable thought available to the Government and, indeed, to individuals and industries must be 2062 brought to bear to ensure that there is a proper and sensible balance to enable the country not unnecessarily to deprive itself of essential raw materials and essential conditions for the furtherance of the strength of our economy, but also to ensure that in pursuing those aims, at the same time, we pay regard to the love of our countryside and the need to preserve all the natural amenities that we can.
My constituents living as they do in the Fens, no one can possibly be more conscious of the pollution that is involved in the scenery as a result of the electrification of this country. If a pylon is erected it can be seen for miles. There is nothing to hide it. These areas are becoming all to reminiscent of bird cages, there are so many wires in the air. Yet one knows that the provision of electricity to various areas throughout the country has made an improvement in the standard of living almost uncontemplated 20 years ago. All these things have enriched the lives of those who live in the more isolated villages. The extension of electricity supplies has brought not only light and heat but the benefits of television. These things matter enormously. Yet we must ensure that we have the right balance.
What I find so distressing—and this is why I am speaking this afternoon—is that a Select Committee of this House has spent many hours taking the highest quality of evidence available and trying to digest it, that it submitted a report to the House as long ago as last July, and we still await a single comment from the Government on that report. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services who, as Leader of the House, put into practical form recommendations which had repeatedly been put to the Government over the years before by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee that there should be a Select Committee on Science and Technology. We all welcomed the creation of that Committee. Yet we find increasing delay in receiving Government comments upon the report, and still longer delay in ever getting a debate on the Government's White Paper and the report.
I should like to say a word about the other report to which I referred earlier, the Report on Coastal Pollution. I recognise that the Government were not 2063 entirely happy about some of the criticisms we made of what happened over the " Torrey Canyon " disaster. I can only say that those criticisms would have been much more severe than they were had we been as free as we would have liked to have been, and had it not been for the court case which was pending in Singapore. Nevertheless there are one or two things embodied in the latest White Paper which I welcome very much indeed. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, known as I.M.C.O., has taken some further strides forward on the international front over the question of not only discouraging but also dealing with pollution from oil at sea. I believe that much that has happened since the report of the Select Committee is consistent with what we recommended, and for that reason I welcome it.
However, reading rapidly through what the latest White Paper has said, I sensed some lack of awareness in the minds of the Government about the importance of considering the insurance aspects of the matter. In our Report on Coastal Pollution we went out of our way to point out how important it is that a full review should take place of the insurance aspect, because up till now the main insurance risk covered has been the hull of the ship. One of the conclusions that we inevitably had to draw in our Report on Coastal Pollution was that in future it may sometimes be more important to ensure that the cargo of oil inside a tanker does not reach the nearest coast, than it is to save the ship herself. The moment one moves into a field of that sort the more one becomes involved with the whole question of insurance policy.
The right hon. Gentleman—indeed the Government, and, not least of all, the Board of Trade—must know that in the City of London there is a wealth of absolutely supreme world authoritative opinion available to the Government on the question of insuring ships and their cargoes. Therefore, I am extremely disappointed to notice that in the latest White Paper there is no mention of this aspect of the matter. Nevertheless, that does not in any way diminish the welcome which I give the progress which has been made by the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation and 2064 the Government's support of what that organisation is seeking to do. Indeed, if there be any justification for the existence of the United Nations at all, I would have said that probably in no field is it more significant and marked than it is in the matter of co-ordination of international efforts to prevent pollution at sea.
I recognise that my raising this matter this afternoon has given the right hon. Gentleman little time in which to brief himself to reply adequately to my remarks. Nevertheless, I stress that the Government have had plenty of time to consider the report of the Select Committee and the right hon. Gentleman has had ample warning that I was anxious to know what are the Government's comments. He himself is personally involved in one particular aspect of the matter, namely oceanography. The National Institute of Oceanography plays a vital part not only in preserving the environment of the seas around us but also in ensuring the proper exploitation of the ocean which, if it were to be used properly and scientifically, could be of immense value to our country's prosperity.
Not very much is said in the White Paper indicating that the Government fully comprehend the enormous potential which lies in the waters around us to enrich our economy and the life of our people. I hope that, in these few observations today, I have been able to convey to the Government that, whichever party forms Her Majesty's Government hereafter, the House of Commons will be 100 per cent. united on one thing, that is, the need to ensure that our environment is not changed more than is absolutely necessary to make sensible and constructive use of the natural resources which we enjoy.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Before coming to the two matters which I wish to raise, Mr. Speaker, may I respectfully remind you that, when you were thanking various people for what they have done, you omitted one name, that of Mr. Speaker himself. I suppose that you could not mention that name, but I know that I have all right hon. and hon. Members with me in expressing our grateful thanks for the wonderful and patient way in which you have guided the deliberations of the House. When I say the two words. " Thank 2065 you ", I assure you, Sir, that they do not in any way adequately convey our appreciation of the service which you have rendered.
I come now to the matters to which I shall direct attention, the first of which concerns the old-age pensioner. I was very worried—I know that the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) was, too, so it is not a party matter—when I found that an extra £4 telephone charge was to be imposed on old-age pensioners, among others. Occupants of the Front Bench and many other right hon. and hon. Members may feel that £4 a year is no great sum and they may be able to bear it. We have broad shoulders. But the old-age pensioner cannot bear this charge, and it may mean that he or she will have to give up the telephone. In many cases, the telephone represents the only link between an old-age pensioner and the outside world, sometimes, indeed, a very life-line when the doctor is needed.
I put this matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications on the day before the increased Post Office charges were debated—I forget the date for the moment, but it was only a short time ago—and he informed the House that if old-age pensioners wanted benefits they could apply to the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I asked my right hon. Friend whether he would institute a scheme so that old-age pensioners would be exempt from the £4 increased telephone charge. In his speech the next day, he said that he would do everything in his power and lie would consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to ensure —he used the word " ensure "—that people who were entitled to supplementary benefits were aware of their entitlement.
I waited a week. Then I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what had happened to the publicity campaign on which he was about to embark. I had the reply that there was no publicity campaign at all.
Many of these old-age pensioners know nothing of their right to receive from the Supplementary Benefits Commission, if necessary, the amounts which they would otherwise not be able to find. I urge the Government either to devise a 2066 scheme to exempt such people from these extra telephone charges which they cannot afford or to make absolutely sure, through the Press, television and any other way they can think of, that these people know that they can receive the extra £4 from the Commission so that they will not be deprived of their telephone. I make that earnest appeal to the Government.
I come now to the question of the North Orbital Road in Watford. Some time ago, when my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State was Minister of Transport, I asked her to come and sit with me on the Rickmansworth Road in Watford. I said that she would be able to sit there because the traffic grinds absolutely to a halt, taking half to three-quarters of an hour to cover half to three-quarters of a mile. The only solution is an extension to the North Orbital Road. Ultimately, there was a meeting presided over by the late Mr. Stephen Swingler, when he was Minister of State at the Ministry of Transport. He assured me, he gave me a solemn pledge, that the North Orbital extension would go through.
Since then, there has been a public inquiry, there have been objections raised, and the matter is still, so to speak, in the pipeline. I ask the Minister of Transport to expedite matters so that traffic will no longer grind to a halt on the Rickmansworth Road in Watford and cause such confusion. I beg him to do it quickly. Watford now has a development plan which it is carrying forward in three stages. When the third stage is reached, we shall have a really good transport system, but it cannot work unless the North Orbital Road is extended. I urge the Minister of Transport to expedite the matter as much as he possibly can.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) when he thanked you, Mr. Speaker, for your kindness to us all, not only collectively as Members of Parliament, but, perhaps more important, individually. We are all—I know that I speak here for all my hon. and right hon. Friends—deeply grateful to you.
I made up my mind to try to intervene in this debate only just before it started.
2067 As hon. Members on the back benches have the right to speak on the Consolidated Fund Bill and put their constituents' views or other views, I felt that it was only right for me to bring to the attention of the House the situation in the smallest and one of the poorest Commonwealth countries of Africa, from which I returned only a few days ago. I refer to Lesotho.
I begin by assuring the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who is to reply to the debate, that I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady the Minister of Overseas Development for allowing me, yesterday, immediately after my return, to speak to her officials and for meeting me personally today. I shall not, in the circumstances, expect a long reply from the right hon. Gentleman. None the less, I think it right to put these matters to the House of Commons before Prorogation and the end of this Parliament.
The background to the matter is that there was a general election in Lesotho last January. There was some doubt about which party won, and there was considerable intimidation on both sides. The Government of the day in Lesotho decided to suspend the Constitution and arrest the Opposition. Perhaps the Leader of the House may feel some sympathy for them when 18th June comes, but, be that as it may, it was an unconstitutional act, and admitted to be such.
As a result, Her Majesty's Government did not accord recognition to the new Government of Lesotho, and they also suspended aid. They were perfectly right in not according recognition if they felt that that was the correct attitude to take, but I believe that they made a grave mistake in suspending aid, for this inevitably means interference in the internal affairs of Lesotho. By suspending aid they have obviously come down on the side of one party or the other—in this case, the Congress Party—and one must accept the opposite argument that, if they restore aid quickly, they will be regarded as coming down on the side of the other party, the Nationalist Party. That is the inherent difficulty created by the action which they took.
I come now to the present political position in Lesotho. I know the Leader 2068 of the Opposition there, and I met him; he was released from detention to speak to me privately. I know the Prime Minister. Also, I met the Queen, who is acting as Regent, and many political leaders on both sides. I believe that the political situation is improving. The leaders of all political parties have met twice to discuss the future, and I understand that they are to meet again soon.
I took it upon myself to say to the Prime Minister that, if he wanted the restoration of aid, he should, I felt, have the report of the Electoral Commission published as soon as possible, he must release the Leader of the Opposition and his parliamentary supporters from detention, and that these steps would show Her Majesty's Government that the situation in Lesotho was returning to normal. There has been no disturbance in the country for the past six weeks, since the bomb plot was discovered in April. I think that one can take it, therefore, that on the political level the situation is improving.
The point of concern which I put to the House now is that this part of Africa is suffering from intense drought. Lesotho is a mountainous unproductive country with precious little agriculture. Most people have to go to the Rand mines to earn money to support their families in their home country. The present position is disastrous. The crop has failed because of the drought. The winter crop has to be sown within the next two or three weeks, and for this fertilisers and seed will be needed. The fertiliser and seed subsidy is part of the aid which has been suspended by Her Majesty's Government, so if the crop is planted at all, it will be only a very small portion. This means that the present serious food conditions are likely to continue to the end of the winter season and the country may then be facing starvation conditions.
In addition, the teachers, who are mainly mission teachers, have been told that Government subsidies cannot be continued after the end of June, and 1,000 teachers have been given notice towards the end of that month. These teachers administer assistance such as the Aid to Children Fund and other children's relief schemes, and there will be very serious repercussions on the children if these acts are carried out.
2069 Many development projects, such as the conservation of soil and agriculture and fisheries—about which the right hon. Gentleman would have some particular knowledge and I believe, sympathy—are gradually running down and will have to be ended unless aid is restored quickly. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, once these schemes are run down, it is difficult to get them started again, and it will take a lot of time and money before they can be as productive as they were when aid was suspended.
One minor matter, which is of some importance, is that the pensions of the Basutoland Pioneer Corps which fought so gallantly in the war are the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for whom the Lesotho Government acts as agent. I understand that no money for these pensions or for the administration of the pensions has been paid since January this year, when aid was suspended. The Lesotho Government are continuing to pay the pensions in the hope that the money will be forthcoming from Her Majesty's Government in the near future. I add that to my catalogue of woes because I do not think that Her Majesty's Government intended this to happen when they took this action which was based purely on the question of recognition.
Lesotho depends for its higher technical advice on expatriots and some of more junior ex-patriots are not signing further contracts. It is now difficult to recruit the doctors and senior technical assistants which are needed because of the suspension of aid.
By next month the situation in Lesotho will be most serious and there will be some starvation amongst the children. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government do not want this and I appeal to them to think again. The new British Government, of whatever party they are, would have to reassess the position and by that time it may be too late to do anything to prevent a crisis. By August Civil Service will have run down seriously, and their could be a situation amounting to anarchy by September if nothing is done.
I appeal to Her Majesty's Government on humanitarian grounds. The right hon. Lady obviously could not express to me a view one way or the other although she listened with great sympathy. A large 2070 number of people may starve within the next few months, which I do not believe is what the Government intended. I hope that they will take action at least to restore some of the subsidies, for example, for seed, fertilisers and education, even if they cannot see their way to give recognition or, as yet, to undertake the whole aid programme as it was agreed some months ago.
I hope that the Leader of the House will forgive me for raising this matter without giving notice, but it is of such importance that I hope he will pass on to his right hon. colleagues in the Cabinet the request that some action humanitarian should be taken well before the date of the General Election.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I desire to support my hon. Friends who have objected to the expenditure of public money on the document called " Britain and the Common Market " which is, apparently, published by Europe House. During the past year many hon. Members have drawn attention to the way in which this organisation spends public money, and the view has been expressed that this has been an improper use of public money. If that be so, the spending of public money when a General Election is upon us is even more improper.
The document purports to set out the arguments why this country should enter the European Economic Community. Many candidates in the General Election, including myself, have grave reservations about our entry, and it would therefore appear that the document might be of direct advantage to those candidates who wish to advocate our entry into the Community. As even those of us on this side of the House who favour such a procedure are far more cautious than hon. Gentlemen opposite, the publication of the document might be thought to give an advantage to certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will ponder this matter seriously when he comes to reply.
Is any of the money concerned to be used to persuade the building societies to reduce the mortgage interest rate? It is several weeks since Bank Rate came down by another½per cent., making a 2071 fall of 1 per cent. in recent months. As yet we have heard nothing from the building societies, although I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is in constant touch with them.
The figures show that money is flowing in great spate into the building society coffers. Whenever Bank Rate goes up, the building societies race ahead to put up their mortgage interest rate. Why has there been no reduction? Is it because the building societies feel that if the rate were reduced they would be intervening in the General Election on the side of the Labour Party?
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government give an assurance that during the next few days he will enter into further negotiations with the building societies, produce the books and demand in strong terms that they immediately reduce the mortgage interest rate? My right hon. Friend has been a most successful Minister of Housing and Local Government, faced as he has been with sabotage by many of the associates of the Conservative Party. It would be the crowning glory of his career if he could bring about a fall in mortgage interest rates during the next few days.
I wonder whether, during the next few days, any money will be spent by the Department of Employment and Productivity on drawing aside the veil which the Leader of the Opposition and the Conservative Party have drawn upon their proposals for a value added tax. If that iniquitous tax were to be introduced—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. On the Consolidated Fund we can discuss administration, but not taxation or legislation.
§ Mr. Roebuck
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I was not seeking to discuss that, but the administrative arrangements of my right hon. Friend the First Secretary and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. With the utmost respect, it is not unknown for Ministers to cost the proposals of the Opposition, and I was wondering what administrative arrangements had been made for such costing.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made an offer to hon. Gentlemen opposite to place at their dis- 2072 posal the whole facilities of the Government to cost their programme. Are there any plans to inquire into the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite to introduce a value-added tax, a matter of important national interest?
The Conservatives have said during the past few weeks that one of the great debates which must take place in the country is the whole question of the cost of living. It is, therefore, important that we see that the money which Parliament votes is properly spent; and it would be properly spent on inquiring into what the Conservative proposals would cost and by how much they would increase the cost of living.
I want an assurance that the negotiations into which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is entering with the doctors will not be affected by certain views which have been expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. For example. in the Budget debates the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) bitterly attacked what he described as recent wages increases.
It is obvious that wages increases given to those who are not productive workers are inflationary, in economic terms if in no other. The right hon. Gentleman attacked recent pay increases, and these have related to teachers, police officers and various other public servants. We need a strong assurance that the Minister will not be influenced by what has been said by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite, the logic of whose argument is that the Conservatives do not want doctors to receive pay increases.
What other efforts are being proposed, as a result of this expenditure, to keep down the cost of living, particularly in the Greater London area? I am concerned, as are my constituents, about the proposals of London Transport, supported by the Conservative-dominated G.L.C., to increase fares. This will have a serious effect on those I represent as on many others in the Greater London Area.
I invite the Government seriously to consider referring these proposed fares increases to the P.I.B. There is no doubt that since powers relating to London Transport have been transferred to the Conservative-controlled G.L.C., there has been a constant threat of greater increases. 2073 At one time the excuse of decimalisation was given. When that was shot down in flames by my hon. Friends, hon. Gentlemen opposite thought of another excuse. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider referring this matter to the P.I.B.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the extra money which it is proposed to give to the P.I.B. under the Bill should be used to enable the Tory-controlled G.L.C. to implement the Labour promise of allowing the aged, the sick and the blind to have free travel on the public transport services of London?
§ Mr. Roebuck
That is another matter to which the attention of the P.I.B. should be drawn.
In almost every area advantage has been taken of legislation, initiated by Labour, to allow our more unfortunate citizens to have concessionary fares. But the G.L.C., dominated by the Conservative Party—dominated by gentlemen who are not noted for their compassion; they are noted perhaps even less for their compassion than for their brain power—has refused to take advantage of this legislation. This, too, has an effect on the cost of living, and in considering my request that certain matters should be referred to the P.I.B. perhaps the Government will consider including this question of concessionary fares in such a reference.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)
I wish at the outset, as Leader of the House, to associate myself with your remarks, Mr. Speaker, about the staff and all employees of the House. I also wish to associate myself with the tribute that was paid to you by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck).
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) appreciated that some of the questions which he asked—this applies to a number of other points that have been made by hon. Members—might not be answered by me in reply. If I miss answering any specific points, I assure the hon. Members concerned that I will bear them in mind and make the necessary representations to the Ministers concerned.
§ Mr. Peart
No. I shall be busy next week on other matters, as will all hon. Members. I have also been busy this week. It will be realised, therefore, that if I miss answering any points, I am not being discourteous.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) raised the case of Mr. Robert Smith. I see the hon. Gentleman sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I was not aware that he had progressed to that position in Opposition. Nevertheless, he has high hopes of being an Opposition hon. Member.
I make no complaint about the hon. Gentleman's raising of this case, of which I was given notice. He was right to raise it and I have taken advice from the Home Office. If, in my remarks, the hon. Gentleman feels that I have not dealt with certain matters, perhaps we can discuss the issue later, when it might be possible for me to pursue the subject.
I wish to make it clear that the way in which the Department has treated Mr. Smith's case has in no way been influenced by his relationship with Ian Smith. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that.
I, too, pay tribute to the David Brown Company. When I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food I always recognised the work of this great company. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about its export success and I pay tribute to it.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I wish to put it on record that the right hon. Gentleman has been a very good friend indeed of the export drive of this particular corporation. I pay tribute to the work he did in furthering this work when he was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
§ Mr. Peart
I made those remarks to ensure that there would be no question arising of prejudice about either Mr. Smith or this company.
Any other foreigner making the same application in the same circumstances would be treated in exactly the same way. Mr. Smith arrived in this country on 5th April with a South African passport. He told the immigration officer at the port that he would like to stay here for three months. He had recently, as the 2075 hon. Gentleman said, qualified as a mechanical engineer at the University of Cape Town and was anxious to obtain practical experience in this field.
The immigration officer explained to him the need to obtain a work permit in advance of his admission into this country if he wished to work here. Mr. Smith indicated that he was mainly interested in working in the United States and said that he had written to two or three oil companies there asking them to reply to him care of South Africa House.
Mr. Smith told the immigration officer —I emphasise this because it is particularly important—that he fully understood that he could not take a job in the United Kingdom, and he said that he would pursue his inquiries about employment in the United States. On this basis he was granted leave to land for one month, on condition that he did not enter any employment, paid, or unpaid.
A little over a fortnight after his arrival a firm applied to engage him as a student employee for 12 months. I have the details of the allowance which was proposed, but I need not go into that. A foreigner who wishes to come to this country for employment as a student is required to have previously obtained a work permit, just as a foreigner must do if he wishes to come here for ordinary employment. The work permit procedure is, of course, the main method by which the influx of foreign labour is controlled in the interests of British workers.
This procedure would be undermined seriously if we allowed foreigners to come here as visitors and then take employment, even if we restricted permission to those cases in which the Department of Employment and Productivity was prepared to approve the proposed jobs. This would mean letting any foreigner come here to look for work, and the situation would get out of control.
That was the main view. The practice on this is rigid. There arebona fidecases in which foreigners come here as visitors without thought of employment or any type of engagement for which the issue of a work permit before arrival is necessary and who then unexpectedly are offered jobs for which they and no available British labour are qualified. In such cases, the Home Office raises no objection to their staying and taking the 2076 jobs, if the Department of Employment and Productivity is prepared to approve them.
When the Home Office received the application for permission to engage Mr. Smith as a student employee, it carefully considered whether the case could properly be regarded as one of the kind to which I have just referred. It came to the conclusion that it was not such a case. It took into account the basis on which Mr. Smith was admitted to this country, when he was given clearly to understand that he would not be allowed to take employment here, a position which he fully accepted.
The firm which wished to take him on was told on 18th May that the Home Office could not agree to his engagement, and the decision was conveyed to Mr. Smith when he called at the immigration and nationality department of the Home Office on the same day. He was given an extension of his stay to 4th June to enable him to regularise his position.
I think that anyone hearing those facts could not think that the decision was unreasonable. The case cannot he compared with the granting of a visa to an hon. Member of this House by the United States Government. The cases are not comparable.
§ Mr. Donnelly
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two quick questions? First, is he aware that the proposed employment of Mr. Smith is as a graduate trainee? He is supernumerary to the requirements of the David Brown Corporation. It is quite normal for anyone with an engineering, medical or any other degree to seek experience for a time before proceeding with his normal career. This is so in the case of Mr. Smith.
As for the American point, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I have had personal experience of the fact that there is a great deal more difficulty in going to the United States and seeking a work permit, in view of the present American recession. That is why Mr. Smith did not go to the United States. He likes this country. I want merely to sort out the position. If Mr. Smith goes to Ireland or France, and then David Brown apply in the normal way, given that Mr. Smith will be here as a trainee, will that regularise the position?
§ Mr. Arthur Lewisrose—
§ Mr. Peart
No, I will not give way to my hon. Friend.
I mentioned just now that a little over a fortnight ago the firm concerned applied for permission to engage Mr. Smith as a student employee. I understand that he was to be paid an allowance of £1,125 a year. However, I will look into the hon. Gentleman's second point. I repeat my assurance that there the decision was not influenced by Mr. Smith's relationship with Mr. Ian Smith.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Perhaps I might refer my right hon. Friend to the almost identical case of a constituent of mine who is a Cypriot. I hope that he will be treated in exactly the same way as Mr. Smith. We must have fair shares for all.
§ Mr. Peart
I am always available in the House and would be delighted to see my hon. Friend. If he gives me details of the case, I will pass them to the Home Office. However, my hon. Friend is an assiduous Member of Parliament, and I am surprised that he has not made his own representations to the Home Office.
I come now to the lengthy speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). It was quite atour de force. He emphasised a number of points. He referred, first, to the Foreign Office contributions to international organisations. We have to be sensible about these matters. The Foreign Office makes several grants to various international bodies. One has been mentioned specifically in the Press, and I think it is to that that my hon. Friend has referred.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) spoke about the grant to the British Council of the European Movement. Grants of this kind 2078 are not unusual. We make grants to the East Europe Centre, to the Royal Commonwealth Society to finance its Commonwealth Interchange Study Group operation, to the Commonwealth Press Union, and to many other bodies. In the case to which my hon. Friend referred, the grant was first made in 1963 following an approach from the Britain-in-Europe movement to the then Lord Privy Seal, who is now Leader of the Opposition. It has been continued ever since.
Fears have been expressed that there would be a danger of intervention into the affairs of our General Election and that the funds would be used to sponsor activities of this kind. I think that all hon. Members agree that this would not be proper, and I accept that. However, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is in touch with the organisation concerned, and discussions will continue. I cannot go beyond that.
§ Mr. Roebuck
In these discussions, will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ask why this document was sent to hon. Members this morning? It is clearly designed to influence the General Election in one way or another. The fact that it is a load of old rubbish and will probably assist those who are against the Common Market, is not precisely relevant. I hope that, in his discussions with these people, my right hon. Friend will inquire why the document has been sent out at this time.
§ Mr. Peart
I cannot go beyond what I have said. I think that what I have said is sensible and satisfactory. My hon. Friend has made his point.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North chided the Government about the salaries of the chairmen of various bodies, and referred specifically to the Commonwealth Development Corporation. However, for a highly responsible position of that kind, I would not have thought that the sum in question was large. It is an important body, after all, and I would resent any attack on an individual who is at the head of such a body.
Mention was also made of the chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes. Again, I do not think that we should attack individuals.
2079 My hon. Friend then referred to some of our colleagues in the House of Lords. I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) answered that effectively. My hon. Friend laid stress on the tax-free allowance. I am not against it. I do not think that my hon. Friend was against the earlier allowance, which was increased to 6½guineas.
§ Mr. Peart
I am sure that if my hon. Friend was there, he would support it. However, it would be wrong for me to pursue this point. People in the other place are not paid salaries, and I think that the allowance is reasonable.
My hon. Friend then referred to Ronan Point and asked for better treatment for his constituents. I understand that Newham Borough Council recently submitted proposals for strengthening six blocks of flats, including Ronan Point, at a cost of nearly £1 million. It applied for loan consent for £553,000 which it anticipated that it would have to meet after grant.
I gather than the council has not yet made a formal application for grant, so it is not possible to say. how much it will receive. I have noted my hon. Friend's arguments about the original 40 per cent., which he stressed, and that the increase to 50 per cent. is not in his view sufficient. I cannot go beyond what has happened. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has acted reasonably in this case.
My hon. Friend went on to discuss many other matters, of which I will take note. He talked about improvement being needed in the judiciary system and of people being held on remand for long periods. Again, I cannot comment on this generally. If my hon. Friend has in mind any individual cases I suggest that he should take them up with the Ministers concerned. If he will give me the details I will proceed as I said I would concerning an earlier case which he mentioned.
2080 My hon. Friend mentioned his old hobby-horse about grants for fire purposes and the need for fire drill in the Home Office and other Government Departments. I note that as well. I have been asked about fire drill in this House. I believe that our arrangements are adequate. I should hate to burden hon. Members with fire drill every week. It might be salutary for some. I will take up my hon. Friend's point about road fund licence enforcement.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely raised an interesting topic which I should have liked to follow in greater detail. The hon. Gentleman referred to my interest in a White Paper on oceanography and marine science and technology. I thank him. I also thank him for the work that he has done on the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Whilst I may disagree with the hon. Gentleman on one matter, I pay him that tribute most sincerely. He has worked very hard and has also inspired many of our colleagues to work hard.
The hon. Gentleman raised questions arising from the new White Paper, " The Protection of the Environment, The Fight Against Pollution." He then dealt, quite properly—I make no complaint—with his Select Committee's Report on the Natural Environment Research Council. In a way, I thought that he repeated criticisms which he has raised on previous occasions. He asked why we had not had any debate and whether the Government had really taken notice of the Select Committee's work.
Concerning debate, as I have often said, we have so many very good Select Committee Reports that the question has been purely one of time available in the House. I really mean that. I have to balance priorities. I am pressed every Thursday by hon. Members to debate many matters. We still have an important Select Committee Report on Parliamentary Privilege which I should like to debate. We also have an important Report on Members' Interests (Declaration). I give those two as examples which affect this House. There is now a new Report on the Bank of England from another Select Committee. We have had some reports debated. But, even if a report is not debated, the Government take note of it.
2081 I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view that probably the Government should have responded more quickly to the report that I have mentioned. I accept that criticism. I will convey these views to the Ministers concerned. But I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed our earnest desire to fight against pollution and that he broadly supports the main aims and decisions in the new White Paper, Cmnd. 4373. I hope that all hon. Members will read it carefully.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I think that the right hon. Gentleman may have been slightly confused. I was trying to put emphasis on the length of time which has elapsed since the Report of my sub-Committee came out and publication by the Government of the White Paper commenting upon it. I fully support the right hon. Gentleman's view that it ought not to be automatic that every report from every Select Committee should be debated on the Floor of the House. However, we are entitled to have the Government's comments on the reports.
§ Mr. Peart
I thought that I had accepted that criticism.
I am also grateful for the hon. Gentleman's tribute to I.M.C.O. The Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation has done some wonderful work, and we must follow it up. I make no complaint about the hon. Gentleman raising this matter. I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman intended to raise it, but just before he spoke he indicated to me that he would be mentioning it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford, who is not present, mentioned telephone charges. Again, I will make representations to my right hon. Friend on the points that he raised about publicity for supplementary benefits.
My hon. Friend also stressed the north orbital extension and asked me to prod the Minister of Transport to speed up road development. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend made a major announcement about road development. However, I will note and convey my hon. Friend's views about Watford to the Minister.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice dealt with the problems of Lesotho. He said that he had spoken to officials and to 2082 the Minister. I am sure that the Department will take careful note of what the hon. Gentleman said, as he has just returned from Lesotho. I agree that if there is a drought and crops are harmed, action must be taken quickly. It takes time to prepare plans and to do something practical. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I regard the matter as urgent. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted action. He said that we must not wait until July because it will be too late.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East, whose point about the document from and publicity by the British Council of the European Movement I answered earlier, mentioned building societies. Incidentally, one of the better manifestos in the General Election contains the views of the Labour Party on this point. My hon. Friend asked about—
§ Mr. Roebuckrose—
§ Mr. Peart
No. My hon. Friend must wait.
Reduction of mortgage interest rates is an important matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is present and he has noted what my hon. Friend said. We are aware of its importance.
I should be out of order if I went deeply into the question of a value-added tax. It is not covered by the Consolidated Fund Bill, but it is an important matter. If it were implemented, it would lead to considerable increases in the cost of living, as we have seen in other countries.
I was asked about discussions with the doctors. I take note of what was said about inflationary wage increases, which has been stressed by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod). I also carefully note what my hon. Friend said about fare increases by the London Transport authority.
In view of the replies that I have given, I hope that we can now get our legislation.
§ Mr. Donnelly
On a point of order. I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were not here, so this places you in a difficult position. But, as far as I recollect, at the beginning of public business no one moved the Consolidated Fund Bill. Where does this leave us?
§ Mr. Donnelly
Further to that point of order. I was watching very carefully. It may be that we are all getting stiff-necked in our old age, but I did not see anybody nod. The right hon. Gentleman formally moves it now, does he?
§ Mr. Peartindicated dissent
§ Question put and agreed to
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee [pursuant to Order 26th May]; reported without Amendment
§ Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time,put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 89 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agred to
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed