Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday, 8th April do adjourn till Monday, 19th April.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I submit that this House ought not to adjourn for the Easter Recess until the Foreign Secretary recalls the Earl of Cromer, Her Majesty's Ambassador to Washington. The representation of this country in the key capital of the Western world and perhaps the most important capital in the world has now become a major scandal. The Earl of Cromer's fashion and, if I may say so, the Countess of Cromer's fashion of representing this country in Washington is becoming a major scandal and his very large salary and substantial expenses account, paid by Her Majesty's Government and authorised by this House, ought to be paid, because he is its man in Washington, by the Conservative Central Office. We knew when Lord Cromer was appointed to the office—indeed, before he was appointed—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must warn the hon. Gentleman. This sort of discussion is not an easy one to control. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to mention some topic which he thinks ought to be discussed and he can put the reasons very shortly. But he cannot make the kind of speech he would make if the topic were being debated.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I take the point, Mr. Speaker. I know that you will keep me in order if I stray beyond it, but I will do my best not to.
When and before Lord Cromer was appointed Ambassador, we knew that he was a committed supporter of the Conservative Party. Indeed, his comportment of office as Governor of the Bank of England under the Labour Government was to try to undermine that Government; indeed, he caused a great many of their difficulties.
The fact that a man is committed politically to a certain party is not in itself a disqualification from appointment as Ambassador in Washington. Other politicians and ex-politicians have been appointed to the post. Mr. John 892 Freeman, our previous Ambassador in Washington, served in this House and was a member of the Government and a committed member for a considerable time of the Labour Party. Lord Harlech, who preceded Mr. Freeman, was a committed member of the Conservative Party and also a former Minister and Member of this House. Both Lord Harlech and Mr. Freeman comported themselves in Washington with all the tact and impartiality that one would expect of Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington. It cannot be said that the Earl of Cromer is doing so. He is behaving not like a representative of the United Kingdom but like a representative of the Conservative Party. Indeed, in view of the statement by the Secretary of State for Employment that Mr. George Woodcock has resigned as Chairman of the C.I.R., I suggest that Lord Cromer be recalled for that job, since few such abject political toadies are available to the Government for cat's-paw jobs of that sort.
The evidence on which I ask that the House do not adjourn for Easter until this man has been recalled is available in the speeches he has been making in Washington, and if he continues during the Easter Recess to make speeches in the United States of this quality and nature he will, during a period when the House is not sitting and cannot question his behaviour, do grave damage to the standing of this country and undermine our relations with the United States which are of such great importance. I want to quote from two speeches he has made and which we cannot be sure that he will not repeat while the House is in recess. Yesterday, the Daily Mail reported him as talking about…Britain's determination to stick to its diet, strip the fat from flanny industrial management and curb union greed.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am delighted that hon. Members opposite cheer those words. It is natural that they should do so. It was, after all, a partisan Tory speech. These are Conservative Party sentiments. They are not the sentiments of the people of Britain. He went on:The country as a whole is beginning to grasp that the mere granting of more money to those who combine to exploit their demands…without regard to their own contribution to increased productivity are in 893 reality impoverishing the rest of the community.This is the language of the Conservative Party. It is not the language of the country. He went on to say that the central policy must be that of change, adding:Above all, change to less reliance on the State.These are the sentiments of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. They are not the sentiments of the country as a whole. I come back to Lord Cromer's maiden speech last month as Ambassador. He was addressing the extremely influential National Press Club in Washington. He said that the present Government were creating a fundamental restoration of freedom in Britain.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a most distasteful and perhaps even slanderous attack on our Ambassador in Washington. Among other things, it is suggested that when Lord Cromer was Governor of the Bank of England he undermined the Government. May the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) not be asked either to withdraw or to repeat his statement outside the House?
§ Mr. Kaufman
You were good enough to tell me, Mr. Speaker, that if I strayed beyond the bounds of order you would correct me, and I have said that I would accept your Ruling.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will endeavour to keep the hon. Gentleman in order. It is, however, a practice of the House not to attack people who are not able to defend themselves.
§ Mr. Kaufman
If I may say so, with respect, since your conduct of the Chair has been such in your period of office as to attract respect from all of us, Lord Cromer is well equipped to defend himself and he speaks in public a great deal.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Whilst the general principle you have just outlined has always been accepted, it is the right of hon. Members, as you well know, 894 to criticise servants for whom the Foreign Secretary is fully responsible, and this of course is what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is doing.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I will not have an hon. Gentleman saying "Come on" to me. He must not shout at the Chair from a sedentary position. We have had this sort of thing already today. This is a difficult matter for the House. It is in order to attack the Foreign Secretary for the behaviour of a public servant. I do not want to be unnecessarily restrictive, but I thought that the hon. Member for Ardwick was getting a little near a personal attack on this individual. I hope that he will be careful.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Early Day Motions have been tabled in the past referring to various public officers, including Lord Cromer, and they have been perfectly in order. I ask you to reconsider what you have just ruled, which is a suggestion that it is not open to us to criticise ambassadors who have been conducting themselves as Lord Cromer has been conducting himself.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Woolwich, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the period of the Labour Government, the then Opposition never hesitated to abuse Professors Balogh and Kaldor on racialist grounds. Neither was in a position to defend himself. What was good for the then Opposition should not be too bad for us.
§ Mr. Speaker
All I can say about them is that I was not then in the Chair but that I would have ruled then as I rule now, whoever the individuals concerned.
§ Mr. Hastings
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The particular objection which I took to the distasteful speech of the hon. Member for Ardwick was when he accused Lord Cromer of undermining the Government when he was Governor of the Bank of England. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary cannot be held responsible for that. 895 My point is that the hon. Gentleman should either be required to withdraw or repeat his remarks outside the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think we have had enough of these points of order. When Lord Cromer was Governor of the Bank of England he worked in co-operation for a great deal of the time with a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that we should now get on.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. As I have said, I shall abide by any Ruling you make on this matter. I should like to continue making the point that you yourself have fairly put—that the Foreign Secretary is responsible for these matters and for the conduct of an ambassador. Therefore, if an ambassador behaves in a way in which it is not suitable for an ambassador to behave—namely, as agent of a political party rather than of the Government and the people of Britain—then the Foreign Secretary, whatever his political complexion, should call him to order and recall him.
I return to the Earl of Cromer's speech in Washington last month. On the basis of that speech, the Foreign Secretary should recall him, and if he does not he himself will be acting in a manner prejudicial to his office. The Earl of Cromer said that the present Government were creating the "new birth of freedom". Those are partisan opinions. There are millions of people in this country who would disagree with him.
He said:We have learnt in Britain, in terms of practical economics, that the removal of more and more economic activities from the pressures and sanctions of the profit motive makes the economy less flexible in the face of change, less responsive to new demands and less dynamic and vigorous in all directions.It is possible to agree or disagree with those sentiments. What cannot be denied is that they are partisan sentiments with which almost any hon. Member on this side of the House would disagree and against which more than 10 million voted at the last general election.
They bear out my submission that the Earl of Cromer is in Washington to represent not the British people, but the Conservative Party as the personal friend of the Prime Minister. I go further than that. It is not only the Earl of Cromer but his wife, the Countess of Cromer, who 896 was recently quoted in the Press as having made intensely obnoxious remarks about the attitude towards human life of South-East Asians, saying that the Vietnamese did not believe that human life was of any importance and going on from that to imply that it did not matter how many Vietnamese were killed in the war in South-East Asia. Those are grave reflections upon Britain's standing.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I will give way to the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), for I said that I would do so.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
May we please have the source and date and circumstances of that speech? Is the hon. Gentleman in a position to provide the House with the text of that alleged speech?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) must not invite the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) to go beyond the bounds of my Ruling. The hon. Member for Ardwick may indicate the general lines of his argument, but if he were to go into greater particularity he would be out of order. He may make a general statement but not make the sort of speech which he would make in a standard debate.
§ Mr. Kaufman
If I may reply to the hon. Member for Chigwell, whose courtesy I appreciate; the text can certainly be produced. I do not have it with me, but one of my hon. Friends has gone to secure it; it is in the Library. It was reported in the Observer of three or four Sundays ago. If it is not produced in the course of my speech, I guarantee to hand a copy to the hon. Gentleman so that he will know that I am not making an unsubstantiated attack.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that the hon. Member for Ardwick can have heard my Ruling, which he professed to respect. I said that he must not go into that kind of detail. What he sends by post to the hon. Member for Chigwell afterwards I do not mind, but he must not develop 897 the point now at such length or in such detail.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, and I move from that to say that I submit that the conduct of the Countess of Cromer necessitates that the Secretary of State should recall her husband in order that she may be recalled and stopped from doing greater damage in Washington than she has done already.
We all recall that during the General Election campaign there was a notorious broadcast on B.B.C. television in which the Earl of Cromer made a party political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party, all the more effective for the fact that it was not billed as a party political broadcast. His Conservative Party allegiance was not known. This broadcast had an enormous impact because he appeared to be the impartial ex-Governor of the Bank of England making an impartial judgment of economic prospects—it was, of course, inaccurate, but that is by the way.
Having made this party political broadcast, he was appointed Ambassador in Washington and so given the largest fee for a party political broadcast that anyone has ever received. If he will not recall him, the Secretary of State should at least tell him that he ought not to go on making these speeches, that there is no longer any need to go on earning the ambassadorship by making Conservative Party speeches because he has received that ambassadorship.
The best thing the Leader of the House can do is to tell the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the conduct of the Ambassador in Washington is becoming intolerable to the people of this country, because he speaks not for the people of this country but for the diminishing minority who support the party opposite. I must advise the Leader of the House that unless I receive an assurance that the Secretary of State will say that he is considering recalling him, I may have to divide the House against the Motion.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I am concerned about the length of the Easter Recess because I am concerned that in the near future we should discuss a Statutory Instrument which will impose 898 devastating and swingeing charges on three sectors of the National Health Service. It will come into operation on 1st April.
I am well aware that the Government are within their rights and that the House will be entitled to discuss the Order so that hon. Members may make representations on behalf of constituents affected by it. I realise that we cannot do that now because of the difficulty of finding time—and I understand the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in recent weeks, for we have all been in difficulty. But for matters of this importance Governments often find time before Orders come into operation, before charges are levied, for Prayers to be discussed in the House.
It is not unprecedented for an Order to come into operation first. What is unusual in this case is that three separate Orders have been rolled into one. On previous occasions when there have been increases, under the preceding Government and when the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was Minister of Health, we have had the opportunity to discuss each separately. On this occasion there are to be increases in prescription charges and in dentistry and optical charges. If each were covered by a separate Order, there would be a total of 4½ hours' debate. On this occasion, however, even if we were able to have a Prayer, the total would be half an hour for teeth, half an hour for eyes and half an hour for prescription charges. The House has been badly treated and I am asking for time for consideration of this subject, even if that means returning from the Easter Recess a little early.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned for the chronic sick and disabled. Charges for the chronic sick are to be raised. A person with Parkinson's disease, or suffering from one of the 68 diseases which most people recognise as chronic, will have to pay these extra charges.
In the last Parliament, the Government recognised those diseases as chronic but, because the doctors would not designate them as such, reached a compromise agreeing that there should be a "season, ticket" by which a person requiring medication for the rest of his life could 899 pay 30s. for six months, or £2 15s. for a year. The most shameful and callous of the increases to be imposed by the Order is on people who are permanently sick. For instance, someone who may have had a coronary thrombosis and who will require tablets for the rest of his life will have to pay an extra 10s. tax on the six months' ticket, or an extra 15s., up to £3 10s., on the annual ticket, which, of course, is the better buy, as the Consumers Association would say.
On the whole range of taxing the sick to help the Exchequer, in the past the House has always given as much time as possible so that the cases may be deployed. The right hon. Gentleman will know that I took precisely the same attitude when I had to pray against the Orders of my Government. I am not proud of the fact, but when unfortunately, under different circumstances and under pressure, a prescription charge was imposed, I prayed against it, had a full debate and divided the House, and the greatest amount of voting I am afraid against my own Government on that kind of exercise was the vote for which I was a Teller.
When I press the right hon. Gentleman about this matter, I am doing nothing that I have not consistently done for a long period. The effect on the dental health of my constituents and everyone in the country is such that this matter warrants more than just one and a half hours after the Order has been put into operation. Registered blind people, because of their low visual activity, need constant optical attention, as do those who wear very thick pebble-type glasses. These are the people who will now be charged more money from next week.
There are a number of other points. The House will be well-advised to have a full day to deploy this argument, and not half a day, nor even a Prayer which could last one and a half hours for each section. If the Leader of the House can find no other way of doing it, I am certain that Members in all parts of the House who are interested in the sick, the disabled, the lame and the halt, the registered blind, and those who suffer from other disabilities and who are now to suffer swingeing increases as a result of this action, would be prepared to give up one day of their Easter holiday to 900 deploy the arguments on behalf of that sector of the community.
I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House on those grounds. I do not ask for half a day or a vague promise for the future. We must have a full day. I urge the House to give up a day of our Easter Recess so that the matter may be dealt with.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order, this being my first point of order, to raise the happy matter which affects 126 hon. Members who have signed an Early Day Motion?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
It would not be appropriate to do so now. It is not a point of order for the Chair.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I draw the attention of the House before Easter to the very challenging position in which railway commuters have been placed because of the withdrawal of grant aid, a decision taken by the previous Government and concurred with by the present Government. In addition to the withdrawal of grant aid, the commuters have to face the consequences which the threatened increase in railwaymen's wages will have on commuter fares. They will also have to face a burden in two to three years' time, if not before, of further increases in fares to perhaps almost double their present level.
For some commuters not in good financial circumstances when compared with others, this will mean that they may have to earn very big gross sums above their present salaries to carry this burden. This is a delicate subject on which to speak at present, and undoubtedly I would press the Leader of the House to make a statement soon about the position. This is something which we all have to think about. It has an effect on wage increases and the granting of them. It has an effect on commuters.
On the effect of the withdrawal of grant aid, only part of which has been taken away at present, what is the exact policy with regard to the capital need 901 of the railways to get the transport system going in the way required? I raise these questions because they are important and worrying, certainly to commuters in my constituency. I have shortly a petition, signed by 1,865 of them, whom I saw last week, to present to the House.
I realise that it is not only a consequence of Government action. It is a consequence of the wage inflation facing the country. Therefore, one has to take the increases that the Government have already faced in relation to the wage demands coming in at present.
I raise this matter before the Adjournment hoping that the Leader of the House will be able to provide for an early debate. It would be helpful if we could have a statement followed by a debate, so that we could deploy this argument, possibly before the Easter Recess.
It is a matter of urgency to get our transport policy right and to know what is happening, and to make people who are negotiating the wage settlement realise that a high settlement will have an additional adverse effect on these people and bring pressure, on their part, for more wage demands. I hope that something will be forthcoming from the Government shortly.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
We should not adjourn the House until the Lord President of the Council has laid before us a Motion setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. We on this side of the House, and, I trust, hon. Members on the other side, regard the setting up of such a Select Committee as a matter of considerable importance and some urgency.
All hon. Members would agree that the work done last year by Tom Steele and his colleagues who served on that Committee was a veritable mine of information and will be used for many years to come by hon. Members who wish to pursue arguments on a variety of topics.
We know that some Scottish Members have not perhaps found favour in the eyes of those who manage the business of the House because of the important discussions which my hon. and right hon. 902 Friends have been having on Scottish education upstairs. But that is, after all, a matter of great importance. We hope that that will not prejudice the setting up of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.
We hope that hon. Members on the Government benches would be willing to serve on this committee at as early a date as possible, in spite of other important Standing Committees dealing with Scottish business. Therefore, we hope that this will be done quickly. We appreciate the embarrassment of the Lord President and the Patronage Secretary about the shortage of Scottish Members on the Government benches, but we hope that perhaps they will stretch themselves a little longer and that we shall not hear anything of the foolish reports in some national newspapers that we should go along to the other place to find a few recruits to serve on a Select Committee of this kind. This is something which we on this side would not look upon with favour.
There are a number of good reasons for setting up the Select Committee urgently, not the least of which is the present very high rate of unemployment. We have the highest percentage—5.7—in the whole country. Had some of the solutions offered in the Report of the last Select Committee been accepted by the Government they would have gone some way to reduce that figure.
The whole question of investment grants versus investment allowances is an example I can think of quickly. The abolition of grants was condemned by all sections of the community in Scotland. We hope that a new Select Committee, appointed quickly, would think about these problems and call before it the C.B.I. in Scotland, employers and trade unions so that we could assess the effect of the change which the Chancellor made in his mini-budget last year.
Further, we would want the Committee to examine the Scottish housing situation. We have been promised that in the next Session of this Parliament the Secretary of State for Scotland will introduce a Bill dealing with rates in Scotland. Before we discuss that subject the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs should meet and should call before it the local authorities, builders and all who are concerned with housing finance in Scotland.
903 In recent days we have heard very odd rumours. In my county of Lanarkshire—my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) will back me up—valuations have risen by 100 per cent., perhaps in anticipation of very substantial rent increases. Before we discuss this important Bill next year we hope that the Select Committee can examine all these problems and study questions of housing finance and valuation in great depth so that we can reach possible conclusions.
I hope that the Lord President will see fit to appoint the Select Committee as a matter of urgency before we rise for the Easter Recess.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I did not intend to intervene in the debate to explain why we should shorten the recess by one day, because that was not my wish. However, on my way into the Chamber I looked in at the Post Office and there received a leaflet which the House should examine, discuss and approve before the recess. It is entitled "Factsheets on Britain and Europe." It is totally appropriate that I raise this matter, because I understand from the Daily Mirror, which no doubt had better access to this information than other newspapers, that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is himself responsible for the leaflet.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
If my hon. Friend likes to think that he has found the accurate information, I cannot stop him, but it is not so. These factual pamphlets are, as I explained at Question Time—I do not know whether my hon. Friend was present—issued by the Government, and I am not personally responsible for them other than as a member of the Government.
§ Mr. Body
The correspondent of the Daily Mirror who had the news item exclusively is usually very careful about what he has printed under his name. Obviously, I accept what my right hon. Friend says. I understand that there must be some Ministerial responsibility for this document. I wish to have some explanation of the principle which enables this leaflet to be published. Much 904 propaganda has been issued over more than 10 years. A large amount has been spent on advertising the virtues of our entry into the E.E.C. In the past I have played a part in the campaign for entry, but it is a matter of some anxiety that another £40,000 or £45,000 should be spent on this campaign.
A few moments ago my right hon. Friend emphasised that these leaflets were of a factual kind. If that were so, one would hope that the facts would be ascertained to be true. On the last page it is stated—this should have been ascertained before the leaflets were published and before the recess—that throughout the Community prosperity and living standards have risen considerably faster than in Britain. I concede that we have perhaps not made much progress in the last five years, but my right hon. Friend will recognise that during that period we had a Labour Government, a fact which no doubt accounted in part for that. He should know that the growth rate is now—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not stray too far. He appears to have gone rather far from the original theme of his speech.
§ Mr. Body
I appreciate that, and I will return to it at once.
I wish that before the recess we could debate this leaflet and ascertain whether the facts contained therein are true. The one which I underline and which we should have the chance of examining is whether the last assertion which I have quoted is right. My right hon. Friend must know that our growth rate is now better than that of the one country in the Six which is comparable to Britain; namely, Germany, where the growth rate has fallen to 2.5 per cent.
I suppose we shall not have the chance of debating this new propaganda drive before the recess. I say "propaganda" deliberately, because it is propaganda. It is substantially the same as the European Movement is issuing and as is being issued by the whole network of European bodies. We have been having such propaganda for the last 10 years, and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent. Now taxpayers' money is being spent. I object to the fact that we have not authorised the expenditure of 905 this money. I realise that the Post Office is no longer a Department of the Government but is a nationalised body. I understood that as a result of the Act passed in the last Parliament—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman appears determined to stray from the only theme that would be admissible.
§ Mr. Body
I conclude with a plea to my right hon. Friend to give some account of why we have not had the opportunity of discussing this before the recess. In particular, perhaps he will give some explanation why the House has not been informed about it beforehand and on what principle the Post Office is now being enlisted for this purpose. I realise that there have been Government publications about venereal disease and other such non-controversial topics issued by the Post Office. I hope that this is not sui generis. This is the first time that a matter which divides the House and the country has been published in this way. My right hon. Friend assures me by a nod that this is not so. In that case the House should be told. Many people would be grateful for the information.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris), during business questions last week, mentioned our short debate last Thursday, in which 15 back-benchers spoke about urgent matters. His grievance was that there was no attempt to answer questions. One might excuse the Minister, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), except that he read a brief. With these urgent questions in our minds, we felt that an attempt should have been made to answer them, and I want an answer before the House rises.
I have never before sought to speak in a debate like this, but I am concerned to ensure that the thousands of men whom I represent should have some assurance that they will not get redundancy notices over a short period. I am concerned about what might happen at Ravenscraig; I am not concerned with Hunterston now, since it can be discussed on another occasion. We want to know what will happen to the thousands employed in the steel works in the consti- 906 tuency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) and my own.
Can those men be assured that there will be no question of six months' notice of redundancies? The Steel Corporation said that where major redundancies arise from rationalisation there would be at least two to three years' notice. We have been concerned to see that the present depression in the industry should not be used to knock out a number of those steel works. This could happen at any time, and the plea put forward that this is because of the temporary depression. These men understand that they have been operating under an agreement—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I thought that the hon. Gentleman knew that to go too deeply into the merit of what he is proposing would be unwise.
§ Mr. Lawson
I do not think that it would be unwise, but it would be out of order. I am trying to convey my anxiety. These men understood that if rationalisation brings closures there will be two or three years' notice and that the only reason for redundancies will be rationalisation and not a temporary depression in the industry.
I hope that the Lord President will use all the power of the Government to see that this is clearly carried out. I would have raised the question of the Select Committee—he knows how concerned I am about this matter—but my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen has put it so well that I am sure the Lord President will reply that he is setting it up right away.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) started the debate with a bang, much to the consternation of certain hon. Members opposite, but he need not apologise, because he was on a very important constitutional issue. A number of my constituents have approached me on the very same theme about what they call this very expensive party hack who is now our ambassador in the United States. I cannot recall any case in all my time in the House of an ambassador of this country behaving and speaking in such an obviously partisan way in such a short 907 time as has Lord Cromer in the United States.
I am not blaming him. He has his party preferences like many other people, but I blame the Government and the Foreign Secretary for appointing him, knowing that he was likely to make that kind of partisan speech, which was a Tory Party broadcast made in America—on behalf of the Conservative Government, not of the British people.
I hope that the Leader of the House will convey these feelings, which are not lightly or frivously expressed. They are deeply felt by many people. The man might be making the same kind of speech during the Easter Recess, when we would not be able to challenge the Foreign Secretary on whether his views represented those of the Government. My hon. Friend has done the House and the country a service in using the debate for that purpose.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) will get a favourable reply from the Leader of the House—probably the only one we shall get today. The right hon. Gentleman made favourable noises last week. That does not mean much, very often, from this Government—I have had experience of the Leader of the House himself being nice and polite in saying "No"—but I think that this time he will agree to give adequate time to debate these diabolical increases in Health Service charges, this imposition of swingeing charges on the sick, in order to take that jolly, jolly sixpence off the income tax.
The Leader of the House among others will benefit from 1st April from that reduction. I hope he will rest peacefully in his bed in the knowledge that he will be a few hundred pounds better off and that the sick, of whom my hon. Friend spoke, will be paying a bit more at the dentist's, the optician's and the doctor's. That is the way the Tory Party works: such are their morals and their morality.
The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) was right to ask for a debate in Easter Week. I do not want to come back on Good Friday, but I would come back on Easter Tuesday. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say, "We agree that our legislative programme is in one hell of a mess and. therefore, we shall take advantage of cutting the 908 recess to get some semblance of order into it." The right hon. Gentleman knows better than I do what a mess the Government's legislative programme is in. I had better not say to whom I have talked, but I know that it is in a mess and the right hon. Gentleman's officials know that it is in a mess. We cannot afford to go away for a holiday in the recess, so we should be happy to discuss these matters in the House.
I should be glad to discuss the matter which the hon. Member for Harwich talked about for two minutes and then went home for a long weekend. He referred to the increased fares which commuters in the London area are to pay. The reason for the increases is not the so-called inflationary wage increases given to the railway workers. Many railway workers are living on starvation wages. The reason is the Government's withdrawal of the subsidy from commuter lines. The affected commuters, who are mostly Tories—and therefore it serves them jolly well right—are being asked by the Government to stand on their own feet. The rest of the country has been subsidising their fares and the Government are saying, "You will have to stand on your own feet and perhaps walk on your own feet to London if you cannot afford the fares." For the hon. Member for Harwich to say that the reason for the increases is the inflated wage demands of railwaymen, many of whom are taking home less than £15 a week, is the sheerest humbug.
I turn to the questions raised by my Scottish collagues. Several weeks ago the Leader of the House, in reply to me, promised that a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs would be set up very shortly. I do not know how he defines "very shortly". We think that it should be defined as a matter of weeks. It is no excuse for the right hon. Gentleman to say that because of shortage of numbers in Scotland he will treat the Scottish people with contempt by not setting up a Select Committee. He could do it next week or the week after or while we are in recess. There are plenty of Scottish problems for us to discuss. We do not get enough time on the Floor of the House to discuss the very pressing Scottish problems.
We could use the whole of the Easter Recess week to discuss separate Scottish 909 problems on each day. The unemployment figure in Scotland is 122,000, and it is likely to go up in the Easter Recess. Unemployment does not often increase in the course of an Easter Recess, but it will do so this year. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Rolls-Royce?"] Even if the Government fork out the £100 million, there is no guarantee that the RB211 will be hailed out. In that event, thousands of skilled men in Scotland will be unemployed, perhaps in the very week that we are going away to enjoy the sunshine. This is an intolerable situation.
We could debate Scottish housing policy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) referred. We do not know the Government's policy on Scottish housing. We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government will cut housing subsidies by from £100 million to £200 million by 1975. In the White Paper on public expenditure there is the figure of £150 million, which is the midway figure. But we have been constantly told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that he will not cut housing subsidies. Who is kidding whom? Last week the Secretary of State for Scotland said in the House that, although he does not propose to cut subsidies, he will increase rents by not less than 10s. a week over a period of years. Each council house tenant in Scotland is to be faced with a rent increase of not less than 10s. a week for as long as the Government are in office—and I hope that that will not be too long. A rent of £230 is very steep in Scotland, where wages are traditionally lower than they are in England.
The Secretary of State for Scotland does not say very much in the House. He is hardly ever here. When he is here he lets another Minister speak on his behalf. He does not even sit next to the Minister in order to brief him. We had this situation yesterday when the Minister of Housing and Construction made a statement on house ownership which had very little relevance to the Scottish problem, but the Secretary of State for Scotland was two or three places away from him so that when he was asked questions he could not answer them. Easter week would give the Secretary of State a very good chance to explain what relevance the Francis Committee's recommendations have for Scotland and what relevance yesterday's 910 statement by the Minister for Housing and Construction on owner-occupation has for Scotland. We could have a very lively and informative debate on one of the days in the recess.
I pass to two problems which are related to the matter about the leaflets in the post office on the Common Market. I do not know how many of them we shall get in the Easter holiday. Perhaps the Government will take a chance of pushing in a few more while we are away. It is the Government's policy to try to sell the Common Market. I am inclined to say that I hope that we shall join if we get the right conditions. It is no good anti-marketeers complaining. They have complained for a long time about a lack of information. They have said, "We do not know what is happening. We want to know the facts". Therefore, they should not complain when the Government say, "We will help you out. We will put these leaflets in the post office for you." But the Government must give us some indication of how many they propose to push in during Easter week.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
May I raise a point with my hon. Friend in a friendly way? I have been listening to him for years teaching me that we cannot rely on information which is supplied by any Conservative Government. Is my hon. Friend arguing that the Government's leaflets will give us the true facts about the Common Market?
§ Mr. Hamilton
The facts according to "St. William". The Government are entitled to put the facts as they see them. A quite lengthy pamphlet on the European Economic Community was put out by a previous Government setting out the facts as they saw them. We should be told how many leaflets will be sent out on this occasion while we are in recess.
No doubt the leaflets will tell us by how much prices have increased in the Common Market. We would be able to discuss during Easter week why prices have increased in this country before we join the Common Market. The Government are pursuing an agricultural policy which is designed to follow the Common Market's agricultural policy before we join. That is why we had the price review recently—and, incidentally, we 911 could debate that matter with great profit during Easter week. The Government are deliberately following the Common market's agricultural policy without this House having a chance to debate the matter.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Surely we would not have time to debate that in Easter week because of all the other desirable debates which my hon. Friend is suggesting for that time. Ought we perhaps to sit over the following weekend?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is a point worth considering. We are putting forward these constructive proposals and the right hon. Gentleman is faced with a wide choice of debates. These subjects could even flow over to the Whitsun Recess. There is no shortage of matters for discussion.
The Leader of the House will be the first to say that the enemy of us all in this House is time. Every Thursday he resists demands for debates on various subjects because he has no time, but no other worker in the country will be going away for a week or 10 days at Easter, only us. Yet there are many matters which the people would like to have discussed and thrashed out in the open so that they can be told, for instance, why the Government are deliberately increasing prices.
The Prime Minister today said that we were getting on top of inflation. I do not know who is getting on top. I know who is getting underneath it. The old-age pensioners will not be getting on top of it. Old-age pensioners will say, "Yes, debate during the whole of Easter week the problems of the old folk". Milk is going up, there is to be a new meat tax, sugar, lamb and potatoes are all going up as a direct consequence of the price review, and we were prevented from debating this in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the Government's policy in respect of imported lamb will have the effect as from July of putting 6p tax on the family's Sunday lamb joint?
§ Mr. Hamilton
This is worthy of debate. These matters are extremely important to people on low fixed incomes 912 who are being hit by the Government's agricultural policy, which is akin to that of the Common Market. Farmers in this country might even be killed during Easter week, as they were yesterday in Brussels, because they are not getting sufficiently high prices for their commodities. The Leader of the House should not laugh; it is a serious matter. He comes from an agricultural community, and his hill farmers especially are finding it difficult to live. The farmers of this country might be on the streets, as they were in Brussels last week, if the Government continue with their present policy.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I have only just entered the Chamber, and I apologise for hearing only some of my hon. Friend's remarks. He referred to the Government's policy being akin to that of the Common Market, but the Common Market is nearly self-sufficient, whereas we buy half our food from abroad. The circumstances are so different that we cannot say our policy is akin to that of the Common Market without enlarging on it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has just entered the Chamber and is confused. Perhaps he will relate his remarks to the subject of the debate.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I think I know how to keep in order. The fact that there is confusion about agricultural policy is a good reason why we should spend a day during the Easter week discussing it. My hon. Friend is a great expert, and he will not mind my saying that he has a vested interest in getting agricultural policy right. He knows that there will be import levies which will still further increase prices to the housewife. It is no good the Prime Minister saying, "Restrain your wage demands whilst we put up the prices." He must give evidence of good intent in the matter of prices if he asks the trade unions to restrain their wage demands.
I understand that the question of the resignation of George Woodcock from the C.I.R. was handled this afternoon by the Secretary of State for Employment on the advice of the Leader of the House. I was surprised at the way this was handled, and it is a matter which must be debated. For that question to be raised during Question Time verges 913 almost on contempt of the House. The fact that the trade union leaders are saying that they will boycott all the machinery that the Government are creating in the Industrial Relations Bill and the serious implications of that are worthy of debate during Easter week.
In winding up a whole series of subjects which we could debate in that week, in succeeding weeks and in succeeding recesses, I will refer to two more questions and then I am finished. These are to do not with domestic affairs but with the standing of Britain in the world. There is a mission here from South Africa. We have not been told what it is up to, but it is up to no good. It is wanting to buy arms, possibly from some of the companies that contributed to Tory Party funds in the last General Election. A decision on that might be made whilst we are away, because the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been at great pains to tell the country, "We shall do what is in our interest." It is in our interest, apparently, according to the Government, to bolster up apartheid. If that is political morality, I should not be in politics. The ordinary people of this country do not want to be associated in any way with the bestial policies of the South African Government. For us to appear to connive in those policies would be treachery to the hundreds of millions of coloured people in the Commonwealth and in the world.
The same applies to Rhodesia. There is rumour in the Press that the Government are now conducting clandestine discussions with Ian Smith and his illegal, nasty régime in Rhodesia. What are they discussing? The Government have said that they will abide by the five principles. Ian Smith has said that he wants nothing to do with the five principles. Therefore, they cannot meet. Will a squalid deal be entered into while we are away? I hope not, but there is no guarantee, knowing the Government. They might have to sell out to Rhodesia. They are under great pressure from the Monday Club and that crew to do exactly that.
There is a whole mass of problems, at home and abroad, which the House has the right and the duty to debate, and which we are being denied the opportunity of discussing week after week, month after month—
§ Mr. Pavitt
On my hon. Friend's last point about talks with Rhodesia, if there were any question of that the Leader of the House would surely recall the House. This would be such a change of policy that talks could be held only if the House were recalled.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Leader of the House should let us know, but he is among a gang of thieves, and he is not the master. He would be told to mind his own business if there were a deal of that kind. I know that there is power to recall the House in certain circumstances, but I am afraid that the decision would not be his. My hon. Friend's point is valid, but only to a certain extent.
I do not often take part in these debates, but I think that there are occasions when it is our duty to put to the Leader of the House the great feelings and fears which we have that the House does not debate, largely because it is short of time, matters of fundamental interest not only to the people of this country but, indeed, to the world. I think that we ought to look into not only the Easter Recess but all our recesses and consider cutting them shorter in order to have more debates on important fundamental issues.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
My hon. Friends have raised many problems which warrant abandoning the Easter Recess to give us time to discuss them. I want to add one more subject which presents a very human problem which ought to be discussed in great detail by this House during the time provided for the Easter Recess. I refer to the problem of chronically sick and disabled persons.
The Leader of the House will be aware of Early Day Motion 477 calling for the implementation of Section 1 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That Motion, supported by more than 200 Members, calls for an Order to be made, and it deplores the delay by the Government in not making such an Order. I believe that there ought to be a debate during the period provided for the recess to see that it is carried out.
I remind the Leader of the House of the grave importance of this human problem. Last year, under the Labour Administration, a Private Member's Bill, 915 promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), was passed through all its stages in the House with the consent and help of all hon. Members. It was a non-political Measure which was welcomed by many people. One of the greatest things which, in my view, the Labour Government did was to see that, before the General Election, that Bill was put upon the Statute Book. It was one of the most important acts which could be done to provide a charter for the chronically sick and disabled.
In December last year, in an Adjournment debate, I had the privilege of raising the question of the implementation of Section 1 of that Act. I do not expect the Leader of the House to be aware of all the Sections of that Act. However, I remind him that under Section 2 a great many duties are placed upon local authorities which have to be carried out under the guidance of the Secretary of State. Section 1 provides that there shall be a register of disabled persons. It is necessary to have that register to identify the disabled persons. We cannot provide what is set out in Section 2 unless we know who the disabled are.
In my Adjournment debate in December the Minister specifically stated that it was the intention of the Secretary of State to make the necessary Order soon after 1st April this year. If the Leader of the House consults HANSARD he will find that statement set out clearly. The importance of this point is that nothing can be done under Section 1 by the local authorities unless the Order is made.
What happened? No Order will be made on 1st April or shortly after. We understand, from an answer to a question, that the Order will now be made on 1st October. Why the delay in regard to this most important matter dealing with the human rights of about 1½ to 2 million people?
We are about to adjourn for the Easter Recess; we are going on holiday. I suggest that if we do not do so we shall have an opportunity to discuss this very human problem. These people are waiting for the benefits conferred by the Act to be passed to them. They are waiting for the duties to be laid upon the local authorities. There is remarkable ignor- 916 ance on the part of local authorities and, indeed, of officers of the Ministry of what the Act is about or what has to be done under it.
This Government took office nearly a year ago. What has been done? Nothing. That is why I put forward this plea on behalf of these people. I suggest that our time could be usefully spent in discussing and considering how these things can be done. This country, this Government, ought to realise that millions of people are calling out for help. It is a disgrace and a scandal that the Government should postpone positive action in this matter.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I oppose the Motion put to the House this afternoon.
There are certain areas of this country, of which my constituency is an example, which have not had sufficient time either to put their case or to receive an answer from the Administration in the last few weeks about their serious economic problems.
The House knows that Supply will continue over the recess. We therefore have a duty to raise our grievances at this stage and to demand answers from the Government.
I am surprised that the Leader of the House is left in isolation—I do not know whether sad or splendid isolation; most of the time he looks sad—on the Treasury Bench. In view of the subjects which have been so profoundly raised by my hon. Friends, I should have expected the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and a representative of the Foreign Office to have been summoned to sit with the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench. [Interruption.] We can do without the Prime Minister.
Though I have not often taken part in Adjournment debates over the last 12 years, I have listened to them and I can remember messages being sent out by those who serve the Leader of the House, either through his P.P.S. or in some other way, to bring aid and assistance to him. The right hon. Gentleman is a moderate, modest man and would not claim to be all-knowing; he would not claim to have all the answers ready for the many problems which have been raised.
917 I should like to give notice that, in addition to the important point on domestic policy which I wish to put, I intend to raise a matter concerning foreign policy. I therefore hope that somebody from the Foreign Office will be present to give the right hon. Gentleman advice before he replies to the debate. This is the custom and the practice. It has been done under all Governments whilst I have been a Member. I do not say that the Foreign Secretary should be present—he may be engaged on something very important—but certainly the Minister of State could come and give him advice.
My first matter relates to the steel and engineering industries in South Yorkshire. We had a debate on the steel industry the other day but because of the lack of time hon. Members had to confine themselves to five-minute speeches and even then, although five hon. Members from South Yorkshire wished to speak, only my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) was able to make a contribution and put the case of constituents in that area who are most seriously affected by the steel industry redundancies.
Over 5,000 of these redundancies already officially announced fall upon the people of South Yorkshire. Complaints were made that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not reply fully to the questions which were asked, and there is no virtue in having a short time for debate and make short speeches if the Minister who is to reply does not provide detailed answers to the detailed points raised. I would rather a Minister had more time at his disposal and even fewer speeches were made from the back benches than that a Minister should have lack of time as an excuse for failing to give detailed replies. That does not make a debate, and the purpose of the House of Commons is to debate, not to read out statements drafted by civil servants.
There is an urgent need for a further debate forthwith—it ought to be held either next week or the week after—on the serious position in the steel industry. This is made all the more serious for my constituents since in the well-known firm of Newton Chambers in Chapeltown, part of the Penistone constituency, people are being put on short-time. This has 918 been explained in two ways by the management in meetings with shop stewards and senior trade union representatives. I took part in a meeting with shop stewards of the Newton Chambers works. There were also present two senior trade union officers for that area of South Yorkshire, and it was reported to me that they have been told by the directors of Newton Chambers that the reasons for this short-time working are, first, the non-availability of fine ends and, secondly, the slowing down of certain investment projects in the steel industry.
It is of the greatest possible urgency that this matter should be raised before we adjourn. The Government are clearly under an obligation to provide detailed answers. The explanation is being given that it is their policy which is slowing down further investment and expansion in the steel industry. They have countermanded the original investment policy plan of the British Steel Corporation. We have had no explanation yet how this will affect those who earn their livelihood in the steel industry, region by region.
The Secretary of State referred to a couple of particular cases in his reply but we have had no Government statement about the position in South Yorkshire. There are various means available to the Government, and the Leader of the House is peculiarly responsible for arranging the business of the House, to suit all Members, not only the Government. In this area, he cannot be merely a Government servant. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to arrange for statements to be made on this subject next week, and if he can give a guarantee that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a further statement dealing with some of the detailed points that have been raised about the position in the steel industry I will find it easier to support the Motion. If he can give no such guarantee, it will not be easy.
Then there are the negotiations on the RB211, which very seriously affect the people in my area. I was recently asked to take a delegation of three senior works representatives from the Sheffield area to see the Minister of Aviation Supply, with two other hon. Members. We had a long private meeting. I quote this as an example of the grave concern that 919 exists in my part of the country about the RB211 situation. One of the impressive points made by a senior convenor from the Firth Brown works at that meeting was of the many dangers that threatened not only the project itself but some of the "spin-off" developments that have been undertaken at Firth Brown's and in other parts of the country.
With certain types of material we are two years ahead of the United States in development work. This is material not being produced anywhere else in the world at present, and if the RB211 were cancelled this work would be discontinued because there is no other immediate use for it. We have heard very little about the way in which these negotiations are going.
It is important that we should have a statement about that next week, or at any rate before the recess, because there are redundancies in the Sheffield area which are a direct result of the immediate decision not to go full speed ahead, or so some of the local manufacturers seem to be saying as they interpret the position. I was glad to note that the Government have extended for a further fortnight the indemnity to the Receiver for work to be carried on, to quote the phrase of the Minister of Aviation Supply, "as though we should lose no time if the project were continued". It is essential for the Government to make certain that every manufacturer understands that this guarantee obliges them to continue the work, not to adopt a policy which contradicts that indemnity.
These are matters that the House of Commons should be debating as a priority. We know that the Government have cluttered up the work of the House with their wholly unnecessary and, as it will be proved, totally irelevant Industrial Relations Bill. They have not allowed the House enough time to discuss that Bill. At any rate, they have used the introduction of the Bill as an excuse for not dealing with many other problems. We cannot let the Government get away with that. They are evading and avoiding statement and debate on many urgent subjects.
It is obvious that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are not the least bit 920 interested whether the House of Commons is or is not in Session. Apparently they have no constituents with serious problems which must be raised before the House goes into recess. I cannot recall any occasion when there has been such a complete lack of interest on the Government side during an Adjournment Motion debate. There is no one there today. I cannot understand it. I know many right hon. and hon. Members opposite who are in areas adjoining mine, and they must have experienced problems similar to mine. I do not know where they are.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Is it not usual for hon. Members to have the courtesy after they have made a speech, to wait to hear what the reply will be? Is my hon. Friend aware that two hon. Members opposite have recently made speeches and then left?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I accept my hon. Friend's point, but I was not on courtesy at the moment. This debate is far too serious to worry about the lack of courtesy. I will forgive them that. I am not on about form or decorum. I am on a point of substance.
In mentioning statements made by our ambassador in the United States, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) performed a service in relation to the conduct of public figures. He was challenged during his speech by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who is no longer in his place. He asked my hon. Friend to provide evidence to support what he was saying.
Normally the hon. Member for Chigwell is not unfair in debate, and when I say that he is no longer present I should, perhaps, add that he may have good personal reasons for not being here. He would not normally ask for information and then leave before receiving it.
The hon. Member for Chigwell having made that challenge, I immediately left the Chamber, I thought rather obviously, to get the necessary evidence. I therefore regret that the hon. Member for Chigwell is not present to receive the evidence he wanted. Naturally, the Chair allowed an interval to elapse between my showing signs of wishing to speak and actually speaking. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Chigwell might have been in 921 his place to receive the news I have to give him.
As I say, my hon. Friend raised a matter of grave importance. It is common ground that the conduct and speeches of any ambassador are properly matters for this House. The salary of our ambassador in the United States, to consider the point in its most simplest and fundamental form, depends on Supply, and we are discussing a Motion to enable that Supply to continue while we are not sitting.
The Foreign Secretary was in his place for a few moments at the beginning of the debate and then left, without leaving one of his several deputies in his stead. He listened to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick and then disappeared. I would have expected him back because he must provide the answer which the Leader of the House may be required to give later.
In any event, there is nothing in our rules to prevent the Foreign Secretary from asking for permission to make a short statement. I recall Adjournment debates when, a matter of grave importance having been raised, the Minister principally responsible has made a statement, leaving the remainder of the debate to be replied to by another Minister.
My hon. Friend, I believe rightly, castigated statements made by Lord Cromer as not being properly the expression of opinion of an ambassador, but as representing electioneering statements for the Conservative Party. I need not spend further time on that subject.
My hon. Friend was challenged when he moved on to a statement made by the wife of the ambassador. At no time since coming to this House can I recall referring to statements made by people other than those directly connected with the official business of the Government or their representatives. I am obliged to do so today because the reports clearly state that the statements made by Lady Cromer were made at the embassy to reporters. This was not something said outside Washington during, say, a weekend's holiday at Maryland, which I would not have regarded as the business of any hon. Member to raise or worry about.
I wish to put on record the reasons why my hon. Friend was absolutely right to raise this subject. The Observer, from 922 whose leader writers we do not always get support—that goes for hon. Members on both sides of the House—is, without question, one of the most reputable and reliable newspapers published in the United Kingdom. It said in its issue of 21st February, 1971:Washington, 20th February.From our correspondent.Lady Cromer, wife of the new British Ambassador to the United States, was reported by the Washington Post today as saying it would be a mistake for the United States to leave Vietnam. She is said to have made the remark yesterday at an informal meeting with reporters at the British Embassy.Lady Cromer reportedly went on to say: 'It's a long and terrible war, but saving face means so much more to the Asians than life. Life means nothing, but nothing to them. I love America and I would hate to see her lose face anywhere in the world'.It was a shocking statement, the more shocking as this country and the Foreign Secretary have a special international responsibility in respect of the Vietnam war. The right hon. Gentlemafn, together with the Foreign Secretary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, is cochairman of the Geneva Conference, which is the continuing body responsible for efforts that might be made to make peace in Vietnam.
Here we had the wife of Lord Cromer taking it upon herself, most improperly, to make a statement of that kind. It was offensive because of its reference to the approach of Asian people to human life, obviously including their own lives. My hon, Friends and I are certainly not alone in our view of this, and I pray in aid a further quotation because it comes from a Conservative source.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, but I hope he will continue to relate the matter to that which is being discussed.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I believe that I have just done so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in that by pointing out that the Foreign Secretary is co-chairman of the Geneva Conference, our ambassador in Washington and everybody connected with him must be even more careful before making a statement of that kind, a statement which was inflammable apart from being in deplorable taste.
In its issue of 27th February last the Spectator wrote—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must relate what he is saying to the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am discussing the need for an immediate statement by the Foreign Secretary telling us that he will either recall the ambassador from Washington or will publicly dissociate himself from the statements made by both the ambassador and Lady Cromer. That is the minimum now required of the Government.
I wish to underline that this is not a point of view taken only on one side of the political spectrum, and that is why I wish to quote just one Conservative voice, the Spectator of 27th February:It is easy to see that Lady Cromer, wife of our brand-new man in Washington, was only trying to be nice and helpful when she reportedly said to some journalists at an informal meeting in the Embassy, of Vietnam: 'It is a long and terrible war, but saving face means so much more to the Asians than life. Life means nothing, but nothing, to them. I love America, and I would hate to see her lose face anywhere in the world'. One can just about see what she was trying to say, in her very feminine sort of way, that people really should not be nasty to the Americans simply because of all those Asians they were having to kill and anyway the Asians don't mind being killed and anyhow it's all the fault of the Asians for wanting to save face and anyhow the Americans are far nicer but far nicer really and of course the fox enjoys being hunted and what paper did you say you were from and how nice and you'll have another gin and tonic?In this way, the Spectator, not for the first time in the history of British journalism, has put in its own biting sarcasm the feeling and reaction of many people to those deplorable and outrageous remarks.
The Government know that in all the controversy over the tragic war in Vietnam I have always been one of those who have argued that Britain must do its utmost to make a contribution in peace-making. The right hon. Gentleman knows, because he was usually present during our debates, that I have always held that the key to a peaceful solution is that neither side must be humiliated. This is why I have never joined in any shouts for victory for one side or the other.
It is essential that anyone who has anything to do with the representation of 924 Her Majesty's Government should behave in the most careful and cautious manner. This is so even on the narrowest point, even on the point that the Foreign Secretary must regard as his own self-interest in the conduct of his important office, that he be a credible figure internationally if he wishes to see mediation started to bring this tragic war to an end.
Even from the narrowest point of view, it must be common ground that it is of the greatest possible importance that the Foreign Secretary must be able to show at every point in time—if, for instance, he wished to undertake a new joint initiative—that there is no one connected with our Diplomatic Service who holds any view as between the dignity of Asians and Americans or as between the value of American lives and Vietnamese lives. It must be common ground, surely, that anything which might cast the slightest doubt upon that is evil in relation to any potentially useful purpose which could be pursued by the Foreign Secretary in this tragic affair.
No one can deny that this and the other matters raised call for a serious reply, and a reply which cannot wait. The Leader of the House can hold out no hope of a foreign affairs debate or a special debate on Vietnam either next week or before the recess. What is necessary now is not a general debate in which one travels from post to post and says a few words in a tour d'horizon about Britain's diplomatic attitudes to seven or eight problems. What is required is a special debate on Indochina and Vietnam and a declaration of the Government's attitude on these matters without delay.
The Leader of the House ought to announce that he will do his best with his colleagues in the Government to arrange such a debate. But, more than that, we ought first to have a statement from the Foreign Office completely dissociating the British Government from the remarks which I have quoted and stating either that the ambassador will be recalled or that he will be told publicly that he will not be tolerated as our ambassador in Washington if he continues to abuse the position of ambassador, who ought to be neutral as between the political parties at home and not act as a party agent of the Conservative Party.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) with regard to the observations made in the United States by the ambassador—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that such support as the hon. Gentleman may give will be directed to the subject of the Motion.
§ Mr. Davis
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you anticipated my next sentence. I was about to remark that the relevance of this matter to the debate lies in the possibility that there could be a repetition during the recess of the matters of which we complain. What steps are being taken to ensure that there is no repetition of this party-political propaganda by the ambassador and his wife? What opportunity shall we have to debate the issue if there is a repetition during the recess?
No doubt, the absence of hon. Members opposite is due to their being away at this moment trying to get through to Washington to explain our views to the ambassador. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary is at the moment recalling him. We know not. Let us hope that he does.
An important constitutional issue arises here which we ought to debate.
Ever since I have been a Member, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has regularly announced on a Thursday that we have no time to debate this, that or the other, all of them important matters. Hon. Members refer to Early Day Motions and ask for a debate, but I recall no occasion when the right hon. Gentleman has found opportunity for the House to debate one of those Motions.
I have said before that I consider that our recesses are too long. If we cannot find opportunity to debate matters of the kind raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), this is a sad commentary on the House, for recesses are far less important than the probing job which we as back benchers have to do.
The remarks of hon. Members opposite, now absent, criticising my hon. Friend for raising this matter were unworthy. If we as back-bench Mem- 926 bers were unable to inquire into such matters, nothing would ever be done. The present issue would never have seen the light of day in the House. It is a sad reflection that hon. Members opposite decided to leave the Chamber before they were given the opportunity of seeing some of the evidence which they were so urgently demanding a few minutes ago.
I turn now to matters at home. In London, we have an urgent problem of homelessness. It is a problem which causes anguish daily to many thousands of people. We have had no adequate opportunity to debate the issue in the past few months. There have been the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill and one or two other matters of that kind, but hon. Members have not enjoyed the opportunity to debate the problem of homelessness in depth. I can see the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) whispering to the Leader of the House, and I know what he whispered—that I spoke for 55 minutes on the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I have had occasion before to point out that the hon. Gentleman is my representative in the House. He represents some areas in London which are extremely badly housed, and instead of being amused by what my hon. Friend has said he would do better to support him on the matter.
§ Mr. Davis
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity later rather than now. Certainly, he has these problems in Marylebone, as we have in all the Inner London boroughs, and the question of homelessness is by no means confined to London. Why have we not had the opportunity to debate it? Because of shortage of time, because the Government's legislative programme has been so immense? They have wasted a lot of time in debating a number of issues that are largely irrelevant. The Greve Report is to be published very 927 shortly, perhaps during the recess. What assurances shall we have that there will be adequate opportunity to debate the Report, affecting each one of us, certainly in the urban areas, when we come back? The local authority in my constituency has cut down on its provision for homelessness. We see in our surgeries how this situation affects people, in the anguish written across the faces of those who come to see us and who feel bitter because nothing is done.
We have not yet debated the Francis Report. The Government have said that they must study it in depth, but it is now two or three weeks since it was published. The recess would give us an unusually good opportunity to debate this matter, which will affect many millions of people.
We are told that there are 500,000 furnished tenancies in the country, but that estimate is based on the 1966 census. The probability is that there are very many more than that now. There is no doubt that uncertainty affects a very large number of them. Many of the tenants, as has been conceded by the Minister, are uncertain whether their dwellings are furnished or unfurnished, because the law is uncertain. The matter demands urgent attention, but the Government say that they must go on pondering a Report which by now they could have understood and formed a judgment on. That is to be denied us for a further period.
I turn to another very urgent issue concerning the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. Many of us have become aware that a minority of the police in the metropolis do not abide by the Judges' Rules. This has attained a certain degree of notoriety with regard to a case that I cannot go into because it is sub judice. What I can say about the inquiries governing that case, namely, the one at Barnet, is that a very large number of people were detained and subsequently released but denied the opportunity to consult their legal advisers. This is a matter of current concern which we should be debating, but which the Government have found no time for us to debate. The Easter Recess would have enabled us to debate it.
It is a matter of grave concern when civil liberties are impaired in this way. The way in which the police carry out 928 their functions is a matter of vital concern to all of us. As a practising member of the legal profession, I have always believed that by and large the police in this country perform their duties in a way which is a great credit to them. One of the ways in which we in this democratic assembly can ensure that is by probing, inquiring and rooting out difficulties.
I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has returned at this point. It is by probing in this way that we can assist the cause of civil liberty. The recent occurrences at Barnet are a grave reflection upon the police officer who was carrying out the inquiries. I hope that the Government will conduct an investigation into the situation there. A number of my professional colleagues have complained to me that they were personally affected by that officer's conduct, because he categorically refused to allow them to see their clients.
§ Mr. Davis
I respect your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the point I am making is that because this is a matter going on now the House should have an opportunity to debate it during the period occupied by recess.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) was proposing to raise the matter of an announcement today, I understand, but I gather that he has been obliged to see some very important people and has been called away. It has been announced that a fund is to be established to cover people affected by the collapse of Vehicle and General. I do not know the details, and I believe that it would have been appropriate for an announcement to be made in the House today. The news could have been made available to us. There are many people all over the country deeply affected by the collapse, and we should have had a statement and an opportunity to debate the matter, but there will be no time. I have had many letters from constituents who are aggrieved by the situation, as many other hon. Members on both sides will have done. Our constituents want to know what their rights are, and it is a matter of urgent 929 importance. I am told that the fund will not extend to deal with damage to property belonging—
§ Mr. Davis
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not going into the merits of the argument, but merely seeking a reply from the right hon. Gentleman, trying to draw his attention to the urgency of the matter so that he can tell us whether we shall have a debate on the matter, possibly during the Easter Recess. If I may complete the sentence, I will then leave the matter. The situation is that third parties whose property has been affected by uninsured drivers are uncertain about their position. I gather that the fund will not extend to cover that. It is important that the Government should make their position clear since hitherto it has been unclear. The Government should now rush to the House to make it clear that they will support such a fund and will make a statement at the earliest possible opportunity to clarify the position for those unfortunate people who have suffered through no fault of their own.
I refer lastly to the growing problem of unemployment. We all know that the figures are rising daily and no doubt will rise during the recess. When are we to be given an opportunity to hear the Government's policies on the reduction of unemployment? So far we have heard nothing. The Government seem to be paralysed. Perhaps that is what they meant when they said they would deal with unemployment "at a stroke"—total paralysis.
Will the right hon. Gentleman in reply tell the House what is to happen during the recess. Will the Government announce policies then, or before the House rises? When will we be given an opportunity to debate these matters? This affects 800,000 and more people who are suffering torment—because that is what unemployment means. The Government have shown a total lack of concern for the human considerations governing this terrible crisis in a person's life. It is a scandal that in these circumstances this House should be putting the importance if its recess above the liberties of those people who are so adversely affected.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) and others have sought to criticise the fact that I have sought to remain alone on the Front Bench to reply to this debate. Surely this is reasonable. As a member of the Cabinet I am collectively responsible for all matters raised, and as Leader of the House I am entirely responsible for all the matters which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule to be in order about the length and timing of a Recess Motion. If I am responsible on both those fronts it would not seem unreasonable that I should reply to this debate.
I do not pretend that I shall know all the answers to many points. Very few right hon. Members and hon. Members would be unwise enough to pretend they knew all the answers, but I am entitled to feel that on this Motion I should reply to the debate. Had I wished to have any of my right hon. Friends with me on this occasion, I would have asked them to come along and help me, but I felt that I should handle the matter myself.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
Nobody was making the charge that as a member of the Cabinet the right hon. Gentleman was constitutionally not entitled to reply. We wanted the right hon. Gentleman to be fortified by some of his colleagues so that he should know more about the answers that he is now saying he will know when he comes to deal with the points which have been made.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
But I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that I said no such thing. I said that nobody in this House would be so unwise as to pretend that he knew all the answers. I did not go so far as to say that I did not know any of them, which is what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. That is a rather different matter.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), supported by the hon. Members for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), Penistone and Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) raised the question of statements made by Lord Cromer, and indeed by Lady Cromer. The first point that must be 931 made is that an ambassador is the representative of the British Government abroad. Some hon. Members have suggested that he is a representative of the British people, but that is not the position. Constitutionally an ambassador represents the British Government—[Interruption.] I am simply stating the constitutional position as a starting point so that it should be plainly on the record because that is the situation under all Governments. I do not think anybody will dispute it.
I am entitled to resent some of the accusations which have been made against Lord Cromer. I would remind the House that he has had a distinguished record of service to his country. When I hear criticisms made about Lord Cromer during his time as Governor of the Bank of England, I reply by saying that I would be surprised if any senior Ministers in the previous Government were likely to have criticised what Lord Cromer did for his country when he was Governor of the Bank of England.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I would not wish to contradict the right hon. Gentleman were it not for the fact that there are on record from senior members of the previous Government criticisms of Lord Cromer's conduct, unfavourable comparisons being made with his predecessor Sir Leslie O'Brien.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think there were many criticisms of much that he achieved on behalf of the previous Government when he was Governor of the Bank of England. That was the matter to which I was referring.
If I may take up what was said about various comments made by Lord Cromer, I would not think that some of the material quoted by the hon. Member for Ardwick as coming from Lord Cromer are very different from those which were made by the present Leader of the Opposition when Prime Minister and by many members of the Labour Government in advocating their prices and incomes policy. I respect the fact that the hon. Member for Penistone did not like that policy, but that was what the Government and the leaders of Government were saying at that time and some of the remarks were in much the same context. Some of the criticisms 932 of Lord Cromer were extremely unfair, and on behalf of the Government I wish wholly to repudiate them.
When it comes to Lady Cromer, I would make it clear that her remarks were made at a private tea party and I understand have been quoted wholly out of context. It is only fair to Lady Cromer to say that that is the fact. The hon. Member for Ardwick may consider that his remarks are justified, and he is entirely responsible for what he says in this House. All I am saying, in controverting what he says, is that Lord Cromer has a distinguished record as somebody who has served in many capacities with great skill and with benefit to this country—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
—and one is entitled to say that.
I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), who spoke about the National Health Service charges Orders, as did the hon. Member for Fife, West. I made clear in answering the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition last week that there would be discussions through the usual channels on the amount of time which would be made available for a debate on these Orders, and I said that it would not be the normal time devoted to a Prayer but longer. Since the discussions on the length of the debate and the timing are now taking place, I cannot at the moment say exactly when or how long that debate will be. But I can give one assurance for which I was asked, namely, that the debate will certainly be longer than the normal time on a Prayer. If the time to be allotted were to be the normal amount of time on a Prayer I could have allowed for a debate when the Orders were introduced, but if there is to be extra time devoted to such a debate I hope that the House will await an announcement as to the outcome of the discussions.
I note what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) about the problem of railway commuters, and I will see that his remarks are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) and others asked 933 about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I have promised that this Select Committee will be set up and I stand absolutely by my promise. As it happens—I do not think that he will mind my saying this—I had the opportunity of a personal conversation about the work of the last Select Committee with our former colleague, Tom Steele, because I wanted to acquaint myself fully with its work. My intentions are therefore clear. I am taking an interest in this Select Committee and I wanted to find out from Mr. Steele, to whom I pay considerable tribute for his work as Chairman, how he felt the Committee should work in future and about other factors, including its membership. I cannot say exactly when it will be set up, but, as I have said before, now that Scottish Members are perhaps less closely engaged in legislation than they have been during recent weeks, the Committee will be set up very soon. I stick to that promise. I cannot say whether it will be before or after Easter, but I will make it as soon as reasonably possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) raised the question of the pamphlet about the Common Market. As I pointed out earlier today, there has recently been a great demand—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, West—for more information about the E.E.C. Indeed, the demands have come in perhaps the strongest terms from those who openly say that they are opposed to the project. It seemed therefore right that this desire for information should be met. As a result, the Government are making available, as they did during the 1961–63 negotiations, factual pamphlets about the Community in answer to the requests for information. I assure my hon. Friend that they will be factual and that they will be put out in exactly the same way as they were put out during the 1961–63 negotiations.
The hon. Member for Fife, West asked me whether a pamphlet would be put out during Easter week. I understand that the answer is, "No". The broadsheets are being issued at roughly fortnightly intervals. It is planned, therefore, that the next one should appear about April. If the hon. Gentleman will 934 work out the timing from his calendar, he will see that it is unlikely that the pamphlet will come out during the Easter Recess. The second pamphlet will be entitled, "How the Common Market Works". The third will appear about the 22nd April and will be concerned with the background to our application for membership.
§ Mr. Body
But my right hon. Friend surely recognises that there is a distinction between the situation in 1961 and that of today, and that Parliament now requires commercial criteria to be applied to the operations of the Post Office. Are the Government paying the Post Office now for these deliveries? Will the service be available to others to put out factual documents about the E.E.C.?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I will check up on the facts about payment and let my hon. Friend know. But the principle of the matter is that hon. Members want the information—indeed, they are constantly demanding it—to be as widespread as possible. This is the most effective method of reaching as many people as possible, and I would have thought that it would receive the warmest support of my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) raised some points about the short debate on steel which we had last week and some of the questions that were asked during it. In fairness to my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, I remind the House of what he said then in reply:Shortage of time prevents me from making reference to the many individual and constituency points raised during the debate but, as hon. Members will understand, we shall be giving them careful study when they are available in the OFFICIAL REPORT."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1911; Vol. 813, c. 1723.]These latter words have not been mentioned in the debate and it is important for me to put my hon. Friend's statement in context.
The hon. Member for Penistone said that on the whole he would have preferred my hon. Friend to have spoken for longer rather than have heard backbenchers. There is a great dilemma in a short debate like the one we had on steel. Obviously, we all wish to give as many hon. Members as possible the opportunity to voice the anxieties of their constituents and make their contributions. 935 But it is fair to point out what my hon. Friend said on that occasion.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
This is a fundamental point. I said that we did not want a Minister to use as an excuse for not replying to important detailed questions the fact that he thought that he did not have enough time. That is rather different from saying that I told the House that I would prefer a Minister to speak rather than back-benchers. I am not, however, prepared to pay the price that a Minister should evade answering details and merely read a Civil Service brief just because he says that there is shortage of time.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
That is a slight change in direction in the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but I note what he says I would not accept his description of my hon. Friend's speech. All the points made in the debate will be carefully considered, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends will be in touch with hon. Members concerned in these matters.
I turn now to the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Motherwell. First, the question of closures is rightly a proper matter for the commercial judgment of the British Steel Corporation. As it has said, the decline in steel orders has led to the speeding up of closures, and these closures are recognised as necessary for the future prosperity of the industry. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Corporation has a careful and elaborate system for giving warning and for consultation, and this will be carried on.
§ Mr. Lawson
The point I want the right hon. Gentleman to answer is that present difficulties confronting the industry should not be utilised as a means of speeding up rationalisation and in doing so departing from the agreed way in which these things were worked out. Although the Corporation has to exercise commercial judgment, it operates very much under a policy laid down by the Government.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I have given the hon. Gentleman an assurance to the best of my ability. If there is anything further that I can give, I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so, perhaps he will have a talk 936 with me later and I might be able to help.
The hon. Member for Fife, West raised the question of the South African mission in this country. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made the position clear. I have nothing basically to add to what he said, except to reaffirm that there is no question of any commitment by the British Government to any arms sales other than the Wasp helicopters already announced. Any further announcement—if any—would, of course, be made to this House. That is the assurance which my right hon. Friend made clear and which I take the opportunity to reaffirm now.
The hon. Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) referred to the operation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. In answer to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the answer when he said:My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained to the House several times that the local authorities have been given very comprehensive guidance on what is required under the Act, that he proposes to give them the reasonable time that is required, because of the reorganisation of the whole of the social services now going on in local government, in order to implement it, and that he will make the necessary order at the appropriate time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1971; Vol. 814, c. 249.]I cannot add to that.
§ Mr. Weitzman
A promise was made by the Secretary of State in December last year that the Order would be made shortly after 1st April. It is now postponed to 1st October. Why?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The answer of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes that position perfectly clear. When the hon. and learned Gentleman reads what I have said, I think that he will find that that is so.
The hon. Member for Penistone mentioned redundancies in the steel industry particularly affecting his constituents. I cannot guarantee that there will be a statement on the subject next week, but I will certainly call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the points made by the hon. Member. Naturally, if some statement on future policy is to be 937 made and is ready, it will be made next week, but I cannot guarantee that it will.
The hon. Member mentioned the RB211. As he knows, negotiations are now proceeding in the United States, and it would be wrong for me to say anything one way or the other, except to reiterate what I said in answer to a debate about ten days ago. I made it perfectly clear that the Government were anxious to negotiate a workable and economic contract; that remains our position. As I promised during business questions, if the negotiations are concluded there will naturally be a statement on the matter before the recess.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central referred to homelessness and the Francis Report and uncertainty. He would be the first to agree that my right hon. Friend gave some indication of the Government's attitude to major points in the Francis Report at once in order to remove the sort of uncertainty which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I note his request for a debate, but I cannot say when it will be.
The hon. Member referred to the Metropolitan Police. Clearly, some of the matters which he mentioned are sub judice.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Not the matters to which I referred; the matters to which I specifically did not refer.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Knowing the hon. Gentleman's profession, I should have chosen my words more carefully. He would be the last to refer to any matters which were sub judice. It is only laymen like me who make these unfortunate remarks. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave some answers to the hon. Gentleman on these matters on 18th March. I note his request for a further statement and, if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers that one should be made, there will be an opportunity.
The hon. Member also mentioned the Vehicle and General Insurance Co. I am informed that the British Insurance Association has today put out a statement on the matter. It is entirely its responsibility and not that of the Government. It has made the statement and that is why there was not a statement in the House.
The hon. Member mentioned unemployment. He would be the first to agree that all matters concerning the economic 938 situation may properly be raised during the Budget debate for several days next week. There are clearly opportunities for such discussions before the recess.
I do not expect there to be any major policy statement about Rhodesia during the Easter Recess.
I think that I have answered to the best of my ability all the points mentioned by hon. Gentlemen. I do not know whether it is something to be proud of, but it is a fact that as Leader of the House I am now responsible for the shortest recesses at Christmas and Easter for a very long time. Whether I shall continue on this basis remains to be seen, but it is a fact that it was the shortest Christmas Recess for a long time and the shortest possible Easter Recess for a long time. On that basis, the Motion is reasonable and I ask the House to accept it.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)
The Leader of the House claims to have been responsible for two short Recesses. I ask him to be careful; events change quickly, as I know to my cost. It may be a good thing for hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have now been the Administration for nearly a year, to have a long rest to refresh themselves so that we may have better administration.
My hon. Friends have forcefully raised a number of issues. There is no doubt that the Government must realise that many matters require urgent attention. I hope that the Lord President of the Council will not be too sensitive about what my hon. Friends said about our ambassador in the United States. After all, the ambassador and his wife must be extremely cautious, careful and above suspicion. I was rather surprised by the reports of speeches I saw in the British Press. If there is to be no recall they will at least have learnt their lesson. They must be extremely careful. The ambassador to the United States is a very important person and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) argued so well, we have a special responsibility in the Vietnam situation. It was right to draw the matter to the attention of the Government, and no doubt the Foreign Secretary will note what has been said.
I am glad that the Leader of the House has given his assurance about the debate 939 on the National Health Service charges. In response to a question by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he said previously that the debate would be much longer than the normal one and a half hours, and we thank him for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) rightly mentioned the problems of the Greater London area affecting housing and homelessness and referred to the Francis Report. The Leader of the House has promised to report what was said to the Ministers responsible.
There are other matters which I should have loved to debate, such as food prices and rising prices generally. No doubt there will be an opportunity to discuss those in the Budget debate next week. The problem of unemployment, too, may then be debated. The Leader of the House and I represent the Northern Region where unemployment is extremely serious and may well get out of hand. I should like to know what the Government's policy will be. We shall wait for some indication from the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Budget de bate. Only then shall we be able to assess the Government's approach to the economy.
I was glad that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) pressed the subject of the European Economic Community. I do not know whether the pamphlets are to give any indication of how the common agricultural policy is working. This is not just a matter of the Treaty of Rome, or even of those parts dealing with agriculture. We are here concerned with administration. Judging by recent events in Brussels, there are some alarming developments.
940 Our farmers will be looking forward to these pamphlets in order to understand a little more what the common agricultural policy means and whether the Government will try hastily to get into the Community at all costs. In the meantime, the introduction of a levy system at home will force up prices and adversely affect our traditional suppliers; so I shall be interested in these pamphlets. If they are factual no one will complain, but it will be a different matter if they are propaganda.
I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) stressed the administration of the legislation dealing with the disabled and chronic sick. That legislation was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), supported by my hon. and learned Friend and others on both sides of the House. It was a milestone, a major attempt to do something for the sick and disabled. But so far there has been a lack of drive in the administration. I hope that the Lord President will take this matter up with the Minister and will use his great influence to see that something is quickly done.
On the important issues of steel and the RB211, I know that my hon. Friends will accept that the Leader of the House will make the necessary representations to each Minister and to each Department. The Lord President has said that he will do this. I know that he will. Therefore, although my hon. Friends have a free hand in this matter, I would advise them to allow the Motion to go through.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday, 8th April do adjourn till Monday, 19th April.