§ [FIRST DAY]
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney North and Stoke Newington)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.May I say first how much I appreciate the honour paid to my constituency and myself in being permitted to move this motion? Many hon. Members, in moving the Loyal Address, have been able to speak of the beauty of the country in and surrounding their constituencies. Alas, I cannot do so, but it was not always so. Indeed, it is said that James VI of Scotland, making his memorable journey to assume the Crown and become James I of England, paused at a hostelry on the summit of Stamford Hill, in the very heart of my constituency. He looked with wonder at the splendour and beauty of the country around and he said in rapturous tones "At last, the richest jewel in a monarch's crown is mine." The keeper of the inn promptly changed the name of the inn from the "Cock and Hoop" to the "Three Crowns". I am not an adept at high finance, but I am sure my Scottish Nationalist friends will recognise this as a direct take-over.
Stamford Hill, indeed, had another claim to fame—or should I say notoriety?—for it was there that many an innocent traveller was robbed by that famous highwayman Dick Turpin.
Hackney, North and Stoke Newington has many a literary and historical associations. It may please the Opposition to know that Benjamin Disraeli, the grandfather of Lord Beaconsfield, had his home in Stoke Newington, Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame, Izaak Walton, and Charles Wesley lived and worked there, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe spent a considerable time there. Charles Fleetwood, the distinguished 54 Cromwellian soldier who married Cromwell's daughter, had his home there. Stoke Newington, indeed, was the home of many well-known Quaker families and a centre for a considerable nonconformist community.
I add a reference to Mary Wollstonecroft, who lived in Stoke Newington. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will surely know that she wrote the famous treatise entitled "The vindication of the rights of women", no doubt in anticipation of the aim, now expressed in the Queen's Speech nearly 200 years later, to end sex discrimination.
Hackney is a mixed community. Jews and Gentiles and many coloured people live together in a harmony which may well be an example to many other parts of the county. I therefore welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to the Government's opposition to racial discrimination at home and abroad.
May I briefly touch upon one or two further aspects of the Queen's Speech. I am sure the whole House will support the efforts of the Government to solve the world-wide problem of inflation and to curb its effects.
Everyone will appreciate what a tremendous effort is needed to solve the problem created by higher oil prices and the need for international discussion. I personally have no doubt that at home a true belief in, and support for, the social contract and all it stands for as against captious criticism and ill-meant scepticism will make its fulfilment, as the Queen's Speech says, "an essential element" in the "strategy for curbing inflation." Hackney has a proud record in its programme of house building and its social services. From 1945 to 1973 more than 27,000 dwellings have been constructed in the borough and it has led the way in slum clearance. Yet in 1974 there is still a waiting list of over 12,000 families.
No one listening last week to the words of Lord Goodman, when giving the Dimbleby Lecture, could fail to be horrified by the picture he painted of our housing situation and its effects. It is a tragic state of affairs, affecting the lives of our people in no uncertain way, and calling for urgent action. I therefore welcome the reference in the Gracious 55 Speech to the Government's intention energetically topursue their policies for encouraging local authorities and housing associations to provide more homesand above all in this connection, to introduce legislationto enable land required for development to be taken into community ownership".I welcome, too, the pledge to make further provision for the disabled. I well remember the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill through this House in 1970, piloted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) now, happily, the Minister for the disabled. I had the privilege of assisting in the drafting of that measure, and I recollect with pride how Labour Ministers leaned over backwards to assist and how the Labour Government, before they went out of office in 1970, made certain that that Bill would reach the statute book. Everyone will agree that the provision of what has been described as a "Charter for the Disabled" should be implemented as fully as possible.
One of the difficulties is that some local authorities appear to be reluctant to carry out the provisions of the Act. Indeed, some seem to be unaware of its existence. I am happy to say that Hackney has an excellent record in this respect, but I hope that the Government, as one measure of assisting the disabled, will do all they can to ensure that local authorities carry out their duties under that Act.
The Gracious Speech speaks of support insearch for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East".I am sure the Government will not lose sight of the efforts of that lone democracy in the Middle East—Israel—seeking only a peace which will preserve its existence within secure borders.
I cannot resist the opportunity to make one final point which I have always longed to make to as large a House as possible and which I would urge upon the Government. I have, on many occasions, protested at the way in which our Acts of Parliament are couched in complicated and intricate language. After all, everyone is supposed to know the law. I may be accused of diminishing the 56 earning power of my profession but I earnestly suggest that in the interests of the layman an effort should be made to see whether words of a statute are as simple and meaningful as they can be.
As one who had the privilege of being a Member of the House in those days, I look back with nostalgic admiration upon the remarkable performances of the 1945–50 Labour Government. History will surely recognise that when, at the end of the war, England was on the verge of bankruptcy, that Government not only brought recovery but enacted many great measures which were and are the basis of future progress.
Today, as at the end of the war, we have an economic crisis of severe dimension and the terrible threat of growing inflation. Again, as in 1945, a Labour Government are called upon to rescue this country, which we all dearly love, from the evils which have fallen upon us and to place it upon the road to recovery.
I trust and believe that, as in 1945, this Labour Government, initiating and building upon the proposals in the Queen's Speech, will successfully perform that task.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
I beg to second the motion.
This is only the second debate on the Queens' Speech since I joined the House and I find my task doubly daunting because my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), who has so ably moved the motion, has been a Member of the House since before I was born.
Perhaps it is not widely known that my hon. and learned Friend was bred and educated in Glasgow, the rival city to Edinburgh, and as he has demonstrated today, he has triumphantly overcome that unfortunate start in life.
Hackney, North may not be a beautiful place now but those Members who have been to Edinburgh will be aware that it is a city of immense beauty and great contrast. It is my misfortune that the Boundaries Commission, from whom the Lord deliver us all, has in its wisdom given most of the beauty to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) and most of the contrast to myself.
57 Most of my constituency was built at the end of the last century and built rapidly to accommodate an explosive expansion in the birth rate of the urban proletariat, or socio-economic groups 4 and 5 as we must now learn to call them. It contains stone-built tenements, each stairs containing 16 to 24 flats, each flat comprising only one room and a kitchen, flats in which I am ashamed to say that whole families are still brought up today.
The centre of Edinburgh has a long history that goes back well beyond the last century and it is a rich and turbulent history. As late as 1831 in the Reform Election my constituents rioted and attempted to cast the Lord Provost from the centre span of the North Bridge because of the sheer effrontery of the town council in returning a Tory Member to the House.
Happily my constituents have a more constitutional method of dealing with Conservative candidates today and in their use of it have shown themselves people of discretion and sound sense who have returned a Labour representative to the House for 30 unbroken years. I regret to say that this sound political judgment is not shown by the major manufacturer in my constituency.
For centuries there have been two breweries built on the springs in Central Edinburgh. They are now expanding into what will be one of the half-dozen largest brewery complexes in the whole of Western Europe. I confess that my constituents look upon this development with ambivalent feelings, not least because of the haunting fragrance by which most people remember my constituency.
However, we console ourselves with the knowledge that McEwan and Younger are names known throughout Scotland as the makers of the finest beer in Britain. Belhaven ale is a very inferior brew indeed. Yet the curious paradox is that the men who have made this magnificent contribution to Scottish culture nevertheless remain so perverse in the political purposes to which they devote such a generous proportion of their profits.
Erskine May assures me that it is no longer necessary to answer each paragraph in the Queen's Speech. I am sure the House will join with me in accepting that hint and I will, therefore, confine 58 my remarks to only three paragraphs. Convention has it that I must be noncontroversial—but why should I break the habits of a lifetime? I propose to begin with the penultimate paragraph, which I particularly welcome:Other measures will be laid before you".I take it that by this the Government are signalling their intention to extend the rents freeze to privately rented accommodation. If that is the intention of the paragraph, it will be strongly welcomed by thousands of my constituents who on 1st January will face a five or six-fold increase in their rents. I hope that the administration will be willing to extend the period, at least until we can deal with the injustice that landlords may multiply rents without spending a penny on modernising the flats.
Secondly, I wish to echo the welcome my hon. Friend has given to the section on housing. Housing is the principal problem in my constituency. I recall a slum tenement I visited a week before the election where half the occupants had been rehoused. The other half had been waiting for two years for an offer since the property was condemned. I remember that tenement particularly vividly because on the night of my visit the tenants had received a leaflet from one of my opponents—I shall not say who—containing the single message that if they returned him, he would see that the rate of interest on their mortgage was reduced from 11 per cent. to 9½ per cent.
It so happens that the majority of my constituents are owner-occupiers, but I invite the support of the whole House when I say that, unfortunately, they do not pay a rate of interest of 11 per cent., or 9½ per cent.; they pay a rate of 14 to 15 per cent., because they have to obtain a loan from the local authority which is obliged to charge that rate by the Public Works Loan Board. In the Gracious Speech we are promised action on mortgages. I hope that that action will include a measure to deal with the fact that those of the most modest means are those who have to pay the highest interest.
I should like to refer to the paragraph which says that urgent preparations will be made to set up a Scottish assembly and a Welsh assembly. I welcome this commitment.
59 I welcome also the statement issued by the rump—I use the word in its parliamentary sense—of the Scottish Conservative Party, that it no longer opposes that in principle, either. I therefore hope that it will be possible through the usual channels to agree that this measure be given the priority it deserves. I am conscious that there are those in the House who disagree fundamentally about this matter. I respect their views, although I do not share all their hopes for the future.
I hope that I shall not be thought controversial if I refer to an election leaflet delivered to me in February by their candidate canvassing for my vote. It promised what would be mine in an independent Scotland. One promise was that eggs would not crack under a Scottish Government!
The argument ran thus: from North Sea oil—all their policies commence from this starting point—we could get a special yeast feed for hens. When fed this special yeast feed, the hens lay eggs with a harder shell. And, lo, when the eggs come to be boiled, they do not crack.
I hope that those who have ravished the Scottish electorate with the prospect of future prosperity will not rat on their commitments. I hope that when we introduce Labour's plans for an assembly, plans we have been told will not work, North Sea oil will still curdle and eggs still crack, and I hope that those who have said this will vote against us in principle, and that we shall not find those who believe in separatism taking part in debates on devolution.
For my part, I remember the words of one of our older poets, and I am sure that anything said more than 300 years ago cannot be controversial. I remember the words of William Drummond, of Hawthornden, who said,Brethren, Take a view of the map of the earth, there ye shall find that Scotland is not all the earth; and that England and it together make but one not immense isle.We have a very full Gracious Speech. Those with a more practised eye than mine tell me that it contains 26 Bills. I suspect that when we meet a year hence we shall have done very well indeed to have finished with them all. I hope, however, that we have a very good try.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)
It is my privilege to be the first to offer the warmest congratulations of the House to the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) on their admirable speeches. I think that most right hon. and hon. Gentlemen would agree with me that seldom at the opening of Parliament have we had two more enjoyable speeches than those to which we have just listened.
Before I pay further tribute to them I believe that the whole House would want me to offer its sympathy to the Minister for Sport on the dastardly attack made on his wife and family, and to congratulate them on their escape. We in public life know that we face risks and hazards that are not always political, but senseless and cowardly attacks of this kind rouse both horror and anger in the nation, just as did the monstrous bomb attack on the soldiers' club in Northern Ireland yesterday. We would express our deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
This is the price which Her Majesty's Forces pay in the fight against the most ruthless urban guerrilla force which the Western world has yet seen, and it stresses the importance of that paragraph almost at the beginning of the Queen's Speech emphasising the determination and decisiveness of the Government to fight terrorism and lawlessness wherever it may appear in the United Kingdom. In doing that, I can assure the Government that they will have the wholehearted support of the Opposition.
Mr. Speaker, as has already been said, the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is one of our most senior Members. He was not only in the House before the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central was born; he was here five years before I came into the House. I have learned since that he has brought to our debates both specialised knowledge and wise advice. The House has always been fortunate in this, and impressed with his moderation.
Today, we have heard his wit, we have sensed his love of London, his pride in 61 the community relations in his constituency and his concern for the welfare of his constituents. All these things shone through his speech. It shows how he has maintained his hold over his constituency as a very worthy Member of Parliament. We thank him for his contributions in the past and congratulate him on his speech today.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Central is one of the youngest Members. It is interesting that both mover and seconder today come from the two capitals. The hon. Member for Edinburgh Central joined us in February 1974. It was quite natural that, as chairman of the city housing committee, he should speak of conditions in the city. It is not for me to take exception to any controversial remarks that he may have made, and I do not propose to answer them. I enjoyed the charm and humour of his speech, which I hope will often be repeated in the Chamber so long as he is a Member—and I think again that the whole House will agree with me in paying genuine tribute to the speeches we have just heard.
Both hon. Members have naturally been complimentary about the Queen's Speech. It is quite natural and appropriate that they should be so. Perhaps I may make one introductory remark. Seldom have I read a Queen's Speech in which I found myself asking more often, "What is the precise meaning of this?" Indeed, words seem sometimes to have been used to conceal rather than to explain Government policy. Therefore, we shall listen with particular interest to what the Prime Minister has to say this afternoon, particularly about the meaning of the paragraphs on energy, on education and on defence, to see what the Government's real intentions are. Or do the words in fact conceal differences within the Government?
I shall, if I may, subject the Queen's Speech to a harsher test than that used by the moved and seconder. My test is this: how does it meet the requirements of the country at a time of national crisis? The election was fought by all parties in agreement that we face the gravest crisis since 1945, but on reading the Queen's Speech nobody would feel so. It conveys no impression of determination to deal with the crisis. Indeed, there is an air of unreality about much of it 62 when one considers the conditions in which the election was fought and the condition of the country today.
Apart from a passing reference to the gravity of the economic situation, there is nothing in it to continue to bring home to our people the nature of the problems that we face, nor yet to show that Her Majesty's Government have the determination and will to grapple with them. Indeed, anyone reading the Queen's Speech would see that the reverse is the case; many of the measures proposed are irrelevant to our present situation and action on many of them would be positively damaging.
It is interesting that during the election the Prime Minister often seemed to be in two minds about the way in which to deal with this problem. He talked of the crisis—the grave national crisis. He then blamed his opponents for discussing it in detail because he himself moved on to a promise to the electors of "peace and quiet" were he to be returned to office—without, of course, specifying the price which would have to be paid for the peace and quiet were he to be able to obtain it.
In fact, the right hon. Gentleman really fought on a phrase and a figure: "peace and quiet" and 8.4 per cent. Peace and quiet must have had a very hollow ring for the people of Scotland during these past two or three weeks: transport at a standstill and now a wage settlement which, if accepted, will put up haulage charges by 25 per cent. and will undoubtedly put many firms out of business; garbage piled high in the streets; a million gallons a day of raw sewage being discharged into the Clyde and ruining many years of work which have been done there against pollution.
So, the promise of peace and quiet has already been broken. The rate of inflation was down to 8.4 per cent., said the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Mr. 8.4 per cent." is how he will go down to history. Given health and strength and the full co-operation of all concerned, he promises to bring it down to 10 per cent. by the end of next year. That is the achievement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How much he must now regret having produced that bogus figure of 8.4 per cent. It has in fact demolished entirely the credibility of the Chancellor 63 of the Exchequer, for everybody knows that inflation in this crisis is running at a figure nearer 20 per cent.
We are facing a national crisis, and what I ask the Government to do is to produce as fully as possible the facts and the figures and to do so fearlessly, so that the nation can be led to grapple with the problems which we now face.
During the election I emphasised that unity was necessary in order to overcome this crisis—to prevent those who were selfish, wherever they may be, from damaging the rest of the community. What I welcome now is the Prime Minister's conversion to this theme—his conversion, in the ministerial broadcast—[Interruption.] It is quite unnecessary for me to repeat an election speech—the Prime Minister is now repeating mine for me. He appeals for the unity of the whole nation, but the question is this: is the unity which he is asking from the nation a reality or is it just a rhetorical phrase? We can judge this from the Queen's Speech.
The Queen's Speech shows that the Government are not prepared to put on one side, even temporarily, any single divisive aspect of the policies in their manifesto. They are going to pursue the divisive policies of nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, and of oil—if that is what it means—and land; there is to be the intervention of the National Enterprise Board, the amendment of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—to remove the safeguard on individual rights in trade unions. Let hon. Gentlemen cheer at that—at removing a safeguard of freedom in this country.
It is now clear that in a national crisis the party opposite is not prepared to put on one side any single aspect of its policies which are going to divide the nation. This, of course, puts in doubt the Prime Minister's declared desire to achieve national unity. I must say to him that all the signs are that without national unity this nation will not be able to beat inflation. There is no chance of getting at the roots of home-generated inflation unless we can have national unity to deal with it.
Moreover, the national unity of the United Kingdom will itself be put under 64 strain because of the competition for jobs—the competition for a share of the wealth of the nation. As a result of this strain, we may then see grave divergencies in the different parts of the United Kingdom —and, however important devolution is, it will not be enough to deal with the strains in the United Kingdom brought about by an inflation continuing at the present level.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of "the nation". I have been returned here, with others of my colleagues, to represent the ancient nation of Wales; some on this bench have been returned to represent the nation of Scotland, and between us lies the great nation of England. We all share one common State—the British State. Of what "nation" does the right hon. Gentleman speak?
§ Mr. Heath
I recognise the point which the hon. Gentleman is making, and which is shared by others who think like that. What I would say to him is that a very large number of us have been returned in order to maintain the unity of the United Kingdom. It is for that unity that I appealed—a unity for which I was hoping the Prime Minister, for his part, was also going to appeal and which he would be prepared to take the necessary steps to achieve.
But the Government, apparently—from the Queen's Speech—are not prepared to do that. In order to deal with our problems they are relying on the social contract. The most important part of the Queen's Speech sets out those requirements from the social contract. They are relying on the social contract for curbing inflation, reducing the balance of payments deficit, encouraging industrial investment, maintaining employment and promoting social and economic justice.
If the social contract is as important as that, I hope that the Prime Minister will not pronounce it unpatriotic if we inquire what it is. There is a certain lack of clarity in thinking on the Government Front Bench about the social contract. If I may quote the Foreign Secretary's words,It is the social contract or nothing which stands between the nation and ever higher prices and heavier unemployment.It must therefore involve wages. There can be no other interpretation of the Foreign Secretary's remarks.
§ Mr. Heath
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman nods in agreement. This is bound to involve wages. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, sitting one seat away from him, declared:The social contract is not to keep wages down.The Chancellor of the Exchequer believes exactly the contrary to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and has also made it plain. He ties success in lowering the present real rate of inflation to the success of the social contract in modifying wage demands. It must therefore be concerned with wages.
The Prime Minister said in his broadcast:No member of our national community has the right to seek to take out of our national income more than he puts into it by his work and effort and skill.But the question which arises, and which is arising constantly now, is this: what happens when he does so seek? And what happens when he succeeds? That is the present situation in this country There are members of the community seeking and succeeding in getting more than the Prime Minister has described as what is right.
In the Queen's Speech reference is made to a "contract". If it is a contract, the House and the country are entitled to ask: what are the two sides of the contract, and how is it to be implemented? These are the questions we want answered by the Prime Minister and his colleagues who speak in this debate on the Address, because this is the nub of the whole matter in dealing with this crisis. Will the Government now tell us who are the parties to the social contract? It is said to be between the Government and the trade unions. It is said to be between "the useful people", and those who, apparently, are not so useful. It excludes the employers. [Interruption.] I understand how nervous the Prime Minister is, but perhaps he will pay attention for a little while.
I understand that the Prime Minister has had a meeting with the employers to discuss the question of employers coming into an arrangement of this kind, but I must ask how employers can be expected 66 to join in any arrangement of this kind when one of the obligations undertaken by the Government is apparently massive nationalisation and further Government intervention through the NEB. It is obvious that if the Prime Minister wishes to get, in the true sense of the word, a national contract, in which there can be an arrangement to deal with these problems, he has to think about the other aspects of the contract which apparently he has already accepted. If there is to be an arrangement of this kind, it must be opened up if it is to succeed, and divisive matters should be put on one side.
The Queen's Speech emphasises—I return to this point—that the most urgent task is toseek the fulfilment of the social contract".What does "fulfilment" mean? To what have the Government committed the country? What are they expecting in return from the trade unions, and what happens if the Government do not receive in return what is expected? Have they any contingency plans to deal with the crisis in which we are now involved? The report today is that 27 out of 30 wage awards have broken even the TUC guideline of a year between settlements. It is true that the guideline says that this will normally be the case. The use of the word "normally" provides a loophole through which, quite obviously, large wage settlements are now being made. If one looks at the increase in the rate of earnings with a comparative stagnation in total production for the year, one cannot see any alternative but a massive rise in prices during the coming year.
The Prime Minister described the social contract as "the boldest experiment in civilised government that Britain has ever seen". What I am saying to him is this: the House and the country are entitled to know the details of this; indeed, those who are carrying out wage negotiations are surely entitled to know what the Government expect of them in carrying out the social contract. They are also entitled to expect the Government to show the country how this will deal with the grave problem of inflation with which we are faced and with the unemployment which is bound to ensue from it. If it is an experiment, the country is entitled to know the precise nature of the experiment before it finds that the laboratory itself has been blown up.
67 We do not know the contents of the social contract, but what we do know is the state of British industry and British agriculture today—and much of it is perilous. It is clear now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's spring Budget was disastrous for British industry, and the failure of the Minister of Agriculture to keep his promises to this House in the last Parliament has also proved disastrous for sections of British agriculture.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech to bring any comfort either to British industry or to British agriculture. In industry, there is to be nationalisation, State intervention, further nationalisation, new capital taxes, and concessions on labour relations. There is nothing about action to restore company liquidity, nothing about restoring company profitability, and nothing about changes in price control to allow firms to have the resources to save themselves. None of those things are in the Queen's Speech. There is nothing there to give any comfort at any time to British industry in its present parlous state.
There are commitments to increase Government expenditure—quite heavy commitments. The commitments on social services in themselves are welcome. Perhaps the legislation on the Houghton Report is particularly welcome to many in this House, and if there is to be a change in family allowances I suggest that the Government should at the same time look at the whole question of the present vast expenditure on food subsidies. This is an opportunity for dealing with these matters together. There is no proposal in the Queen's Speech to lighten the forecast burden on the ratepayer for 1975–76.
We come back to the point that there are in the Queen's Speech heavy commitments for increased expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's borrowing requirement for the present year is far higher than he told the House in his spring Budget. What will it be in 1975–76 with the additional commitments here in the Queen's Speech far higher than those for this year? These are the real matters that affect the country, together with the battle against inflation and the question of industry's having the 68 resources with which it can meet its requirements.
Again, the Government are relying upon the social contract to help industry. How can the social contract encourage investment when firms have neither the cash to invest nor the profitability which would make it justifiable? The Government rely on the social contract to maintain employment. How can it maintain employment when firms are squeezed between a rigid price control and what has, in fact, become a wages free-for-all? How can the social contract reduce the balance of payments defiicit when firms lack the resources to carry out the orders they receive?
This is the main issue in this Parliament and at this time: how British industry is to be allowed to keep the resources by which it can develop its own investment, production and exports. These are the matters with which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should deal. The Government must reformulate their attitude and their policies towards British industry in order to allow it to succeed and to serve the nation. Action is required urgently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.
There is little encouragement either for agriculture. There is to be a "further review" instead of the immediate review and the cash injection which is now required in sections of British agriculture —particularly in respect of the hill farmers who now face a very difficult winter indeed.
Finally, we can judge the Queen's Speech on its ability to inspire confidence overseas. Our allies will judge us on the maintenance of our defence forces and what the defence cuts are to be. This uncertainty, I say to the Secretary of State for Defence, must be removed. If there are divisions in the Cabinet, they must be overcome. We on the Opposition side will certainly oppose major cuts in defence expenditure because we are determined to protect the security of the realm and to play our full part in the NATO alliance.
As I understand the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs may be speaking in the debate on the Address, there is one point in passing 69 which I should like to mention. It seems that the Government have now changed their position on Rhodesia and moved away from the six principles to a question purely of African approval of any settlement which might be made. If that is not the case, will the Prime Minister make it clear? It is a notable change in wording in the Queen's Speech from the maintenance of the five or six principles to the present wording, which is dependent only upon the African attitude.
Of course, the major aspect is the policy towards Europe. There is nothing on this, except continuing attempts to cover up the division within the Cabinet with even vaguer phrases. The nearer we get to decisions on Europe the vaguer the language becomes. The uncertainty here, too, must be ended. It is damaging to industry, it is damaging to exports, it is damaging in our relations with our friends, and it is damaging in our position in the world.
The Community cannot take vital action which is required in its internal policies, in industry, in energy, or in regional development which we require for our own country. All of this is being delayed while the so-called renegotiation goes on. The international action which ought to be taken by the Community on inflation, on energy, and on the development of political policies, is similarly being hindered by the so-called renegotiation.
There is to be a summit meeting at the end of the year. I hope that the Prime Minister will attend. I hope he will not be there just on the sidelines, but that he will go prepared to play a major part in the working of the Community for its good and the good of this country. This, I believe, is essential if we are to maintain good relations with our friends in Europe and the position of the Community in the outside world.
Lord Salisbury said in 1867:It is the duty of every Englishman and of every English Party to accept a political defeat cordially, and to lend their best endeavours to secure the success, or to neutralise the evil, of the principles to which they have been forced to succumb".I hope that I shall remain a cordial man. We shall attempt to neutralise the evil of the divisive policies that we see in this Queen's Speech. We will press consistently, though, I hope, cordially, for an end to the divisive policies in the 70 crisis which we face. We will certainly press for the protection of free enterprise, which creates the wealth which is for us all and out of which the social services have to be paid. We shall press for a clear commitment to Europe and to NATO. We will need the reality of unity. So far we have heard only the rhetoric. We will need the truth about the economic affairs of the nation. So far we have been told too little of the truth, and sometimes we have been told things which are just not true at all.
However cordial, these will be the principles of our opposition. There is a great deal at stake in protecting the balance in our country between economic freedom and social provision, in ensuring our future as a prosperous trading nation, and in maintaining our democratic institutions within a United Kingdom.
Our purpose in opposition will be to protect all these vital interests. It is for these, as a party, that we have always fought. It is for these that we shall spare nothing in fighting in the future.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
The one part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition with which I feel I can totally identify myself was the nobly expressed tribute which he paid to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh Central (Mr. Cook). The House as a whole much appreciated the right hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and his family.
While my Tight hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) is unchallenged as Father of the House, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington is undoubtedly our father in years. All of us know he has spent a lifetime in the service of the people and in his professional capacity in fighting for the casualties of our industrial system, particularly in industrial injuries and compensation cases, even long before State aid was provided for those casualties.
71 My hon. and learned Friend, who is so much loved on both sides of the House, possesses a parliamentary distinction which, so far as I know, is unique. When he remarried some years ago the House was sitting and his first honeymoon night coincided with an urgent representation from the then Patronage Secretary. Greater loyalty hath no man to his party and, indeed, to the welfare of the nation, than that which was shown on that night by my hon. and learned Friend.
My younger hon. Friend, the Member for Edinburgh, Central, who seconded the motion, as he told us in that most eloquently termed speech, has come more recently to the House. I had the pleasure, as did other right hon. and hon. Friends, of speaking for him and others of my hon. Friends in Edinburgh on the Saturday before Polling Day. Though he is a relatively new Member of the House, his reputation came here ahead of him. I first knew him as chairman of the housing committee in Edinburgh when, for the first time—this was very recently—our party secured a majority.
As many hon. Members know, the fair City of Edinburgh has harboured within its walls for decades—and, I am afraid, under successive Governments of different parties—some of the worst slums in the Western world. In March 1964 I was taken by my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State, to see some of them. I found to my horror that they were as bad as, and almost seemed worse than, the slums of Liverpool. Now many of these are gone, and my hon. Friend, as chairman of the housing committee, has played his full part, with others and with more than one party, in redeeming the otherwise beautiful reputation of the capital city.
Before I come to the content of the Gracious Speech, I should like to deal with one or two domestic parliamentary matters. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be bringing forward proposals to the House tomorrow for a normal sessional allotment of time for Private Members' Business—that is, 20 Private Members' days split between Bills and motions and four half-days on motions. There will, I understand, be the normal provision of Supply Days for the Session-29 days in all.
72 My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is also giving urgent consideration to the appointment and reappointment of Select Committees and is looking at the possibility—we want to have consultations about this—of enlarging the scope of the Welsh Grand Committee by giving it power to consider the principle of Bills relating exclusively to Wales, in this way bringing the Welsh Grand Committee into line with the practice of the Scottish Grand Committee.
The form of the debate on the Address tends to follow representations from the opposition party or parties. Contrary to our expectations, I understand that no debate on foreign affairs or the European negotiations is likely to take place in the debate on the Address and this, of course, is not a matter over which the Government have any control. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of tomorrow's general debate, and I hope that there will be a fuller and more specific foreign affairs debate before very long.
I think that hon. Members will have realised, when they heard the Gracious Speech this morning, that the Government are putting before the House a very full legislative programme for this Session. Any reforming, radical Government face two major limitations in carrying out their programme: one is public expenditure and the other is legislative time. We are in no doubt about the burden which will be placed upon all hon. Members by the programme announced today, but nor are we in any doubt about the cheerfulness and resolve which will be shown by all hon. Members in getting this imaginative and relevant programme on to the statute book. Indeed, there were moments when I thought I saw that cheerfulness and resolve shining from the eyes of the Leader of the Opposition.
So the economic proposals which dominate the centre part of the Address, together with proposals for greater social justice, are of direct relevance to the nation's overriding priority of fighting inflation, seeking, in the words of the Gracious Speech,… the fulfilment of the social contract as an essential element in its strategy for curbing inflation, reducing the balance of payments deficit, encouraging industrial investment, 73 maintaining employment, particularly in the older industrial areas, and promoting social and economic justice.It is in that spirit that we are reaffirming as our policy the use of subsidies to keep down certain food prices, further measures for the protection of consumers, a fairer redistribution of income and wealth, improvements in industrial relations, and an attack on the abuses of "the lump" in the building industry.
The gravity of the crisis, so far from reducing the need, underlines the need for measures for the radical restructuring of some of our industries, and our plans are set out in the Gracious Speech. In these, as in other matters, we are consistently following the manifesto which we put before the people first in February and then, updated, earlier this month. In this and succeeding Sessions we shall press ahead with the fulfilment of the pledges we gave in those two General Elections. That this party in office during the past six or seven months carried out the pledges which it had made before being elected to office in February was one of the major facts recognised by the British people in the recent General Election. This is important—not only in a political sense—because nothing does more to create cynicism about our democratic institutions than the failure of a Government to carry out the pledges they made to the people when seeking a mandate from the people.
Clearly, the economic theme is central to the Gracious Speech as it will be central to the work of this Session and the whole Parliament. "The economic crisis Britain faces is the gravest since the war." That has not been questioned by anyone. "For over a year now Britain has been facing a crisis in our economic and industrial life more serious than at any time since 1945 when Winston Churchill said that the soldiers would have a bankrupt Britain to come back to. In a very real sense there has been nothing like it since 1931." Those were the phrases I used throughout the election and the Leader of the Opposition used similar phrases. The first phrase I quoted was taken from my Ministerial broadcast on the day that the General Election was announced. I used it in every other speech I made. The second one I have just quoted was taken from the speech I made to a very crowded meeting at Birmingham Town 74 Hall on 6th October, the Sunday before polling day. That is the end of one of the legends of the Leader of the Opposition.
This week we shall be debating the economic crisis and the Government's measures for fighting it. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be presenting his Budget proposals in a fortnight's time. These were foreshadowed in July, and, as my right hon. Friend made clear both then and in March, they will be directed to dealing with specific problems which have emerged or become more pressing since the March Budget, including, of course, liquidity and cash for industry. The Leader of the Opposition welcomed in March, immediately after my right hon. Friend had sat down, his announcement that, because some of the situations ahead of us seemed so difficult to forecast, there would be a second Budget in the autumn. The right hon. Gentleman welcomed it and I hope that the rest of his party is slowly coming into line with him on that.
I have stressed the vital rôle that the furtherance of social justice must play in the fulfilment of the social contract and therefore in the attack on the economic crisis. Last February we inherited a totally collapsed housing programme with the worst figures of completions and starts for many years and, even worse—almost cataclysmic—prospects for the current year with forecasts showing that we would be back to the housing programme of 1946–47.
That is why the Gracious Speech gives a high degree of priority to housing, including further help for encouraging local authorities and housing associations to provide homes to rent and to improve existing homes, as well as securing a continuing, adequate and stable flow of mortgages at the lowest possible interest rate in the economic circumstances which we face.
It is clear also from the Gracious Speech that the law on rents and housing subsidy will be amended. We shall restore responsibility for their rents to local authorities. Our Bill will get rid of the undemocratic requirement that rents should be fixed not by elected councils but by appointed boards. It will end the requirements that councils should be compelled to increase their rents whether or 75 not they need to and that local authorities could make profits out of people's housing. All of this will be ended.
The Housing Finance Act of the previous Government will, this Session, join the Industrial Relations Act as no more than history on the shelves of the Public Records Office. From what the right hon. Gentleman said in the past weeks—and there was no retraction today—we can expect strong reaction from him and his party against our proposals to take into public ownership all the land required for development and redevelopment in the years ahead. These featured in the Gracious Speech of last February and we fulfilled our undertaking to the House to publish a White Paper, Command 5730, setting out our precise proposals for the legislation which will follow.
During the General Election—and it was generally agreed that I fought the election in a spirit of great fairness and tolerance —I went out of my way to pay tribute to the Liberal Party on many occasions. I want to repeat that tribute today. The reason is that it was a powerful Liberal Government in 1906 which joined with the then infant Labour Party in proclaiming across the country, words and music and all, "God gave the land to the people." Paying tribute to the Liberal Government of 1906, I hope that their successors and heirs, after the grave doubts and divisions they have shown over the past 10 years, will now recover their lost youth and will march united towards the gunfire of 70 years ago.
If God gave the land to the people, He also gave the seas to the people and the treasures beneath the seas. I cannot speak for other hon. and right hon. Members, but I found that throughout the election there were no subjects which created more response, and so far as we were concerned more support, than these issues of land and North Sea and Celtic Seas oil. Most of the audiences I addressed seemed to agree, so far as one can judge these matters, with my finding, following considerable theological and scriptural research, that the first chapter of the Book of Genesis gives no warrant for the view that when these treasures were given by Almighty decree to the people, there was any passage in divinely-ordained small print providing for their alienation by 76 powerful private corporations, whether domestically owned or multi-national.
No Gracious Speech for many years past has contained proposals which will so powerfully shape the future, the strength and the prosperity of this country as the proposals already announced in the House, and shortly to be put before the House in legislative form, to ensure that through majority participation the lion's share of the benefits from North Sea and Celtic Seas oil and gas truly accrues to the people.
In this new Session we shall bring forward the following measures to deal with these subjects. First, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will next month put before the House legislation to give effect to the new profits tax announced in the White Paper. Second, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, as announced in the White Paper, will invite the oil companies to negotiations directed at achieving majority State participation in current licences. These detailed negotiations will be undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who will be assisted in this task by my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General, who the House will recall was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee at the time of the historic report on these matters, and also by my hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State at the Department of Energy.
Third, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will put before the House a Bill to implement the further controls over exploitation announced in the White Paper and to establish the British National Oil Corporation with rights to participate in production licences. Fourth, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be putting before the House a Bill to allow the Government to acquire sites in Scotland which are required for the construction of oil production platforms. This is part of our general policy of encouraging increased participation by our own industry in the development of our offshore oil and gas resources.
Fifth, we shall introduce a Bill to establish a Scottish Development Agency whose primary task will be to promote Scotland's economic development through the regeneration of its industrial structure.
77 With the creation of this agency we intend that substantial additional resources will be made available to support industrial and economic growth in Scotland. We shall also introduce a Bill to establish a Welsh Development Agency which will operate on similar lines in Wales.
These measures as they come forward, will establish a firm base on which the oil companies can plan their future investment in the knowledge that we shall be providing a fair deal for them as well as for the nation.
Another part of the Gracious Speech referred to by the hon. Gentleman related to planning agreements, the National Enterprise Board and our intentions in relation to aircraft, and to shipbuilding and associated industries. I repeat, following what I said in the debate on the Address last February, the words I used in a recent ministerial broadcast, namely thatEverything we do, particularly where the confidence of industry and trade and of all those who work in industry are concerned will be subject, case by case, to complete and effective Parliamentary control".The debates of the coming week will cover our other major programmes, including social security and the National Health Service—all of them to be seen as part of the creation of a social and economic environment which is fair and just, and without the creation of which nobody, no leader, no party, has the right to ask for the co-operation and restraint of all our people in tackling the problems that face us.
As part of that theme, a theme which we on this side of the House, in common with many others, have been stressing, namely, the theme of greater participation by people in the decisions which affect people, this Gracious Speech records the decision, following our White Paper, urgently to implement a programme for devolution in Scotland and in Wales.
Nobody will doubt that in these proposals, following the consultations foreshadowed in the debate on the Address last February, this Government, and this House, will be dealing with measures of a depth and of a nature unprecedented in our history. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is taking personal charge of the further consultations and of the action which will be required to implement this part of the 78 Gracious Speech, and I understand that there will be an opportunity in tomorrow's debate and also on Tuesday, when he hopes to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, so that these matters may be further examined.
The House is entitled to expect—and again the right hon. Gentleman referred to this matter—an early debate on the deepening tragedy in Northern Ireland. Every hon. Member will have been deeply shocked by the brutality and horror of yesterday's explosions. The arrangements for debating the Northern Ireland question and legislation generally will be discussed through the appropriate usual channels.
It is not possible this afternoon to cover all the proposals in the Gracious Speech, but I want to draw attention to the measures which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be bringing forward aimed at ending discrimination on grounds of sex. The previous Government gave a good deal of consideration to this matter, but I am sorry to say that their proposals were pallid compared with the more robust measures set out in my right hon. Friend's White Paper.
The time-honoured phraseOther measures will be laid before youhas never proved in any Parliament to be a formality. Perhaps in this connection I should refer to the Government's intention to introduce in this Session a Bill to make illegal the revolting practice of hare coursing. We hope that it will be uncontroversial—[Interruption.] The nation will be divided on this question, will they?
Hon. Members with some years of service in this House will recall a pleasing habit of Mr. Harold Macmillan in his vintage oratorical years. Both when Chancellor of the Exchequer and when Prime Minister, when replying to a major debate, perhaps in the closing minutes before 10 o'clock—or, as on this occasion, replying to the Leader of the Opposition at the begining of the debate on the Address—towards the end of his speech he would put on a pained look of surprise at the fact that, contrary to his expectations, so uncontroversial a matter as the Government's policies had been the subject of contumacious, even party political, remarks by the Opposition spokesman. He would go on to say that while he had intended to keep the debate at a high 79 and uncontroversial level, he felt that such conduct on the part of the Opposition called for a reply. He would then take from his left-hand jacket pocket the material for just such a reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is much better since it refers to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
The right hon. Gentleman's stock in trade in the election campaign and in his Ministerial broadcast reply last week sought to suggest that the Government and I played down the crisis during the election and recognised its importance only when the election was over. This cannot be sustained. We were warning the country of a crisis a year ago when the right hon. Gentleman's every utterance was totally complacent. A year ago he made no suggestions to the nation at all of the gravity of the crisis of which we were then warning the country. We warned in two censure motions last autumn of the crisis. Throughout the February election we made clear the precise nature of the crisis which the country was facing, and we also did this when in Government.
At the Chequers Conference of Socialist leaders and Socialist Prime Ministers last June I said:The plain fact for most of the nations represented here today is that we shall do well to maintain our domestic standard of living this year and for the year or two to come. It will require statesmanship of the highest order to ensure that the damage to the standard of living is minimised.In July I told 170 Labour candidates, when giving them their marching orders thatas a nation we cannot look for any substantial improvement in the standard of living in the years immediately ahead. Indeed, it will require the utmost statesmanship and a united national effort to preserve the standard of living against the oil surcharge".I said exactly the same thing to the Parliamentary Labour Party at the last meeting it held before the General Election.
When I spoke to the TUC on 25th September I said this—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Conservative spokesmen to have gone through the election saying that we did not say these things. [An HON. MEMBER: "What action have you taken?"] All the action in the last Parliament. I am seeking to deal with 80 the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman and every one of those charges will be wiped off his face before the end of this debate.
As I was saying, when I addressed the TUC on 5th September—and this is a test of what the right hon. Gentleman now calls "honesty in politics" and involves what one says to one's friends not what one says about people behind their backs —I said:I have said that there is no disagreement among the main parties about the gravity of this economic crisis. The Conservative leadership has recently endorsed what I have repeatedly said this summer, that because of the crisis we face, including the oil surcharge, we cannot expect any significant increase in living standards overall in the next year or two…".The Leader of the Opposition never addressed the nation in those terms when he was Prime Minister. Therefore, he cannot sustain this new legend which he is putting forward. Whatever he may claim he said in the election, how can he, in face of this crisis, defend his election bribes of 9½ per cent. mortgages by Christmas, the abolition of rates, and the rest, which so clearly failed to carry conviction with the country?
Another of his new-found claims—and some newspapers are printing this—is that it was only after the election that I and my colleagues adopted his theme of national unity. That is an extraordinary remark. Has he forgotten the February election when it was the Labour Party who were fighting for a united people, working together, while he was busy digging vast ditches for himself and his party to die in, in defence of his demand for a divided people and the healing virtues of industrial confrontation. Has he forgotten the actions we took in the short Parliament to heal the wounds that had been inflicted?
I could—but, unless tempted, will not —weary the House with quotations from the recent election campaign—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am not at all surprised the Opposition do not like it. They have been dishing it out and they are going to get it now. I could have quoted all the times we were pressing for national unity when the right hon. Gentleman was still seeking to divide us. That is what the election was about and it is what the social contract is about.
81 I was deeply touched when the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues went so far as to say that they wanted a social contract, too. They found it was popular, so they wanted one. The right hon. Gentleman the Shadow Employment Secretary took part in a "Panorama" programme during the election campaign relating to the social contract. He was asked how it was to be brought about and he mentioned some bits of machinery, but nothing of what the social contract would contain. Then he was asked what he thought would be in it. The right hon. Gentleman replied—and I checked the transcript this morning:Well, I think it is very hard to spell out before the election.The interviewer pressed him further and the right hon. Gentleman replied:We can't spell it out in detail before the election but I think the public understands.Too right, they did. So the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being—I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is still Shadow Chancellor—went further because, only 10 days ago, he said on BBC radio:I support the idea of a voluntary agreement with the unions because I don't want a return to statutory controls if we can possibly avoid it… that's why we must work hard for a social contract and that's what our policy now is in the country.The trouble was that, despite my most earnest entreaties during the election, the Conservative Party would never for one moment begin to tell the country what would be in its social contract or, as it sometimes called it, national contract.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
Will the Prime Minister tell us what is in the social contract from his side?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, Sir. It has been published. I will be happy to send a copy to the right hon. Gentleman. It was available to Tory Central Office. Every word of it is on record and has been for some time. But I will be happy to send the right hon. Gentleman a copy. Perhaps in return he will send me a copy of his. The Conservative Party would never explain what would be in it.
I wished during the General Election, and again after hearing the speech today 82 of the Leader of the Opposition, that, in the right hon. Gentleman's own interest as well as that of the country, he would say what he wanted to see in it and would not keep on trying to give the impression, as he did during the election and again last week, that he has some kind of vested political interest in any problems that are faced in the fulfilment of the social contract. He was quick to adduce, throughout the election, problems—such as Fords or the ITN journalists—as proof that we had failed. He was at it again in his Ministerial broadcast a fortnight ago and again when he rushed to the tapes with his statement last Friday. But he had told the country that he would like a voluntary agreement with the unions. He had told the country that in 1972, though he did not call it a social contract in those days. But he was never prepared to make such changes in his economic and social policies to make it possible. Perhaps he will tell us what it is that he would like to see in the social contract which is different from what we are doing.
Can the right hon. Gentleman not tell us what more he would be prepared to contribute or would wish us to contribute that he refused to contribute two years ago when he could have had a voluntary agreement with the trade unions? Can he not tell us, if he regards our social contract as inadequate and unworkable, what more he would offer to get a more effective and workable social contract? Have the Opposition got the elixir which would enable the TUC to give instructions to trade unions? Is that what he wants? If so, how would he do it? Have they got a magic formula under which the TUC could instruct the individual unions, and the unions instruct recalcitrant members to return to work and accept a particular agreement? If so, what is their secret formula? We know what theirs was, however much they denied it in the election.
We shall not get it by the cure-all policy of the Opposition that involved the arrest of the five dockers. That will not solve the problems. Let the House be clear that we shall not do it by the tomfoolery of the rail ballot, which they imposed once but never dared impose again. Nor can it be done through the rigid machinery of the Pay Board and directions under the Pay Code.
83 Surely we all agree—the Opposition have said this on a number of occasions—that it can be done, in a democracy, only by leadership within the unions, by understanding; and by satisfying people who, for the moment, may be—for whatever reason—bloody-minded, that their long-term interest lies in not pursuing what they think their short-term interest may be.
We have all said that, in this situation, there is no prospect of any general increase in living standards. If any section, whoever they may be, in whatever part of society, try to take more out of our national resources than they put into it, there is bound to be less for everyone else. It is a time for earning money, not making it. We cannot afford the power of the "big battalions" on any side of industry. That was the theme of my speech to the TUC, and I said it to the TUC—not about it, behind its back.
Neither can we afford unscrupulous attempts to corner national resources by financial manœuvres. In August, when the morale of the City seemed to fall so low, I read in a national newspaper the following:This has been a week of pure senselessness in the stock market, reflecting my warning of a fortnight ago that share price levels have fallen so far beyond the argument of analysts or the prediction of chart-readers that the worst thing we have to fear is fear itself.x2026It went on:Bear selling was an important influence last week: men selling shares they do not own to drive the price down so that they can buy back cheaper a few days later. Well-known merchant banks were at it. And so was at least one syndicate of stockbrokers, of the speculative sort most of us thought were wiped out.Shortly afterwards, when stupidity and senseless rumours spread total gloom and despondency about a million ICI shares being about to come on the market, a few brave and far-sighted men decided to test the rumour by offering to buy up a million shares, and they were not there. But the spreading of the rumour no doubt served its purpose. [Interruption.]
About the future? There is no future solution of these problems when greed and self-seeking of that kind is part of the system of our society.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested that we played down the gravity of 84 the situation in the election. The situation is still grave. We have never disguised that. But do not let us talk this country down in an atmosphere of gloom and doom and selling Britain short. The balance of payments situation is grim because of the oil situation. It was the grimmest on record before a single oil producer had raised his price or turned off his tap.
In the fourth quarter of last year our non-oil visible balance of payments deficit, before the quadrupled price of oil had really begun to hit us, was running at £240 million a month. The non-oil deficit in the last three months, still very grave by historic standards, has been running at £89 million a month, just over one-third of what it was in the fourth quarter of last year, when the right hon. Gentleman was proclaiming that all was well in the national economy. But I repeat what I said in every speech in the election, that there is still a long way to go and that it will be tough going for a year or two.
Prices are still rising. But they have been rising a good deal less in recent months. Year on year the RPI, excluding seasonal foods, is now 17.1 per cent. up on last autumn, including half a year for which the Conservatives were responsible. But over the last four months it has risen at an annual rate of 10.9 per cent. against 16.3 per cent. in the last four months of the previous Conservative Government. The rate of price increases for the past four months would be 2½ per cent. higher but for action taken by the Government through stronger food price controls, food subsidies and the action we took on rents.
Since the House will undoubtedly be debating the question of inflation later this week or early next week I should mention that honourable Members will have available to them on Thursday the latest quarterly report of the Price Commission, set up by the previous Government. But as it is not yet public I am obviously not free to quote from it. I should prefer hon. Members on both sides of the House to form their own impressions about the progress of the battle on inflation from the report of the Price Commission. But all the evidence available to us, including evidence coming since the General Election, demonstrates what we and many independent commentators 85 have said: that while over the past year, as we so vainly urged on the previous Conservative Government, it was food prices, together with their own doctrinaire rent increases, of course, that were forcing up wages, now, as we have repeatedly said this year, the danger in the period ahead, as import and other costs are beginning to settle down, is that undue wage increases could give a new twist to the inflationary spiral.
I should also like, in trying to discount a little of the gloom and doom in which hon. Gentlemen opposite think that they have a professional advantage, to mention unemployment where the situation is a little obscure. [Laughter.] That is no laughing matter. Anyone who has known people who are unemployed would not laugh at that remark. We inherited the most fearsome projections of what the situation would mean this year and next. They were very fierce predictions indeed.
Unemployment is not at this time increasing as we had been told that it would. During the last two months there has been a significant improvement, though against a somewhat bewildering background—no one can be confident about what the figures mean—of high unemployment accompanied at the same time by labour shortages to a degree which cannot be explained entirely by regional differences. This is a problem. It is not as bad as was forecast, but it is no doubt a serious problem for the future.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
Will the Prime Minister tell us about underemployment, particularly amongst textile workers in my constituency and in other constituencies in Lancashire who are now working four days a week and, I understand, are about to be threatened with three days a week?
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman and I have the privilege of representing Lancashire seats. Unemployment on Merseyside is higher than in almost any other area of the country, and it was recently scheduled as an SDA. In the county that we both represent there are wide differences. Some textile firms are still importing labour from abroad, while in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire there are problems, to which he referred, which are not entirely dissociated from great anxieties about the rules for im- 86 ports from abroad, particularly from developing countries, as well as Common Market problems. That was part of what I had in mind when I said that it was very bewildering at the moment. There is no simple problem of unemployment or even of short-time working. A great deal more needs to be known about it. All I can say is that the national trend has not been going up as much as we were told generally, although there is a lot of anxiety about the future.
We all know, and here at least all of us on both sides of the House can agree and have said, that how the nation comports itself on inflation, however we may disagree about policies, will be the ultimate determinant of the level of unemployment.
There is one last point I should like to make arising from the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman since the election. We read that his friends in the Press are hard at work inserting into his survival kit a new invention on his part called "truth in politics". This was a new invention presented by the right hon. Gentleman just before or during the election. In my quiet and bipartisan way I have been expressing some doubts about how, for example, he could throughout the election advocate a social contract without once saying what was included in it.
I should like to give the House a recent example—the right hon. Gentleman referred to it again today—of the new policy of honesty or truth in politics from a fortnight ago today, since the election. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to what I had said about "useful people". Let us see truth in politics at work.
In his reply to the ministerial broadcast on 15th October—the right hon. Gentleman was echoing it again today—he referred to what I had said about the "national family". In that context he interpreted my words as meaning that Ihad seemed intent on divorcing that family into the useful people who supported himthat means the people who voted Labour, I presume—and the rest of us who were, presumably, useless.That was the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what I said in the election. He said it again this afternoon. That was a total perversion of the truth, as he 87 knows. This phrase "useful people"— [Interruption.]—I will prove it to him in a minute—was taken from that moderate of moderates, Herbert Morrison, not one of the right hon. Gentleman's neo-Marxists about whom he was talking in the election. I defined this phrase, "useful people", before the election in the ministerial broadcast on the day that the election was announced, 18th September. The right hon. Gentleman had it available to him when he perverted it. I said—
§ The Prime Minister
I am addressing these remarks to the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite sure that some hon. Gentlemen opposite owe their seats to this kind of misrepresentation. The right hon. Gentleman has given his account of what I said. I will now repeat what I said when I defined "useful people". I said:That is what the social contract is about. It is an alliance of all the useful people in the country, all of them: people at every level in industry"—that does not mean only Labour voters—who produce for our own use or for export; people who make possible the services needed by the community—an alliance of all of them with those whose needs are greatest—the old, and the sick, the disabled, the handicapped. It is when the going is tough that a country is judged by the compassion it shows and by the help it provides for those most in need of help.That was my definition of the useful people. Then we had the perversion which has been spreading through the country, and again today, because it suited the right hon. Gentleman's current party purposes.
§ Mr. Heath
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that his definition of the social contract was an arrangement between the Labour Party or the Labour Government and the unions. He then said that the social contract was an alliance between the Labour Government and useful people. It therefore follows quite naturally that the unions are the useful people.
§ The Prime Minister
No. I should have thought that instead of wriggling off in that direction the right hon. Gentleman would have withdrawn what he said. I told the TUC that it was with all 88 people on both sides of industry. The right hon. Gentleman did not cover himself with much glory there.
Since the right hon. Gentleman has made this issue of honesty in politics the main issue in these early months of this Parliament, I put to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that the real test is whether a party in Government honours the pledges that it made to get elected.
Taking our record against the Conservative Government's record, we all remember 1970—"at a stroke". We remember the right hon. Gentleman on radio saying that that was meant as a joke in the 1970 election and was not to be taken seriously. At least he was honest about it. He referred to the Government, prices, mortgages and house prices. The real test of honesty in politics is what a party says in government.
Let us go back to November, just a year ago. [Interruption.] I am trying to help the right hon. Gentleman. This was at a time when the crisis had developed. No one can say that the crisis began after 1st March. This crisis was endemic and getting out of hand last November. I will give the facts to those who deny it.
When making a speech to the Institute of Directors on 9th November the right hon. Gentleman said:There are two kinds of problems and they feel very different. There are the problems of failure and there are the problems of success. Today, if only we could all realise it, we are facing the problems of success.That was what the "honesty in politics" merchant said when he spoke on 9th November. At that time he knew that, despite all his claims about growth, financed by an unprecedented printing of money, which mainly got into the wrong channels, his industrial growth had totally petered out. All the figures have proved it. The index of industrial production was no higher than the previous spring. The retail price index was just about to leap forward at the highest—[Interruption.] It is because right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to make impossible by their sneers the job of getting the country united that I am dealing with them this afternoon. [Interruption.] We have a policy and the country has accepted it.
The retail price index at the time the right hon. Gentleman spoke was about to leap forward at the highest ever rate 89 in peace time. Our balance of trade deficit—and this included only £60-odd million for increased oil payments—in that fourth quarter in which he was speaking was £1,019 million, and in a single quarter it was a quarter of the annual deficit we inherited in 1964. The right hon. Gentleman's property-owning democracy was facing a doubling of house prices compared with three and a half years earlier, and the mortgage interest rate had risen to an all-time record level of 11 per cent. This was the record of the right hon. Gentleman who, speaking of honesty in politics, said last year that the only problems we faced were the "problems of success." So much then for the claims and charges of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. It is right so soon after the election that these should be exposed because he is still trying to maintain his campaign on a false version of what happened in the election, a false version of our policies which the country has now accepted.
In the debates of the coming week it will be for the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench colleagues to pick up the pieces from their claims in the General Election and from the even more pathetic excuses and alibis we have had from the Conservatives since 10th October. By long tradition the course of the debate on the Queen's Speech follows the programme which the Shadow Cabinet, by its amendments and its generally expressed desires, feels should condition our discussions.
We are prepared to accept that, but the debate beginning today is about the policies we have put before the House in the Gracious Speech and which we put before the country in the election. Those policies have to be judged against the policies, whatever they may be, which the Opposition put forward without the gold backing either of performance or new policy. On every issue facing the nation, particularly the means to conquer this crisis, my right hon. Friends and I are ready to meet them in this debate and throughout all the years of this new Parliament.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
One aspect that stands out from the Queen's Speech are the words at the end about the proceedings of the House possibly being broadcast or televised. If the Prime 90 Minister's speech had been televised before the election he would have been sitting on the Opposition benches now. He has said nothing today about the way in which the crisis we face will be tackled.
Many of us have grave misgivings about measures in the Queen's Speech and we are none the wiser after the Prime Minister's contribution this afternoon about how he will fulfil what he has written. We are clear on one issue, however, and that is our total opposition to nationalisation. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman put such emphasis on North Sea oil and nationalisation shows just how much further away is the realisation of hopes we all have for an improvement in the nation's finances through the great opportunity we shall have in the future with oil.
I am glad that the Gracious Speech clearly sets out the Labour Party's conversion to an assembly for Scotland. The Conservative Party has been a pace-setter for devolution for many years. [Laughter.] Those who laugh do not know their history. It was the Conservative Party which started the great devolution of power to St. Andrew's House, and it was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who made an important declaration at Perth which set this whole movement in train. That is why we on the Opposition benches are glad to see in the Labour Party the greatest conversion since St. Paul, which means that it will join us in moving towards an assembly.
Today, however, there are far more important things to deal with in Scotland which constitute the crisis the country faces. The country has had a serious period of industrial and professional unrest over the last few weeks. The situation has been continuing for far too long, and it is particularly disappointing for the Government to have shown that they are so little interested in what is happening in Scotland.
There is hope that there will be a significant improvement over the road haulage strike. I speak without knowing whether peace terms have been accepted this afternoon, but if they have we must not allow that improvement to cloud the other disputes which are throwing the country into an unholy mess. No buses are running in Glasgow; the Clyde is now an open sewer; and mountains 91 of refuse have grown in the Glasgow streets which it will take weeks to clear up. We are glad that there is now a moratorium in that strike.
The road haulage strike has been the most critical and we must face up to the indirect as well as the direct consequences of it. Perhaps 30,000 people have been laid off directly in recent weeks and countless thousands have faced the loss of jobs. I cannot understand the Government's reluctance either to take action or show concern. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may scoff, but I have had a letter from one of the Ministers responsible which said that the Government were not prepared to intervene in Scotland's difficulties.
There are limits to the inconveniences, frustration and loss of income which people will suffer. That point has long since passed. By lack of leadership the Government have lost all the credibility they possessed at the time of the General Election.
I wish to deal with three main aspects of the Queen's Speech—industry, education and agriculture. The situation in each case is too urgent to await legislation. Let me deal first with industry. The difficulties here have been created by industrial disputes and also by Government action. We hope that the road haulage industry will quickly be back into its stride, but we must not brush aside the damage that has been done or the consequences of the settlement, directly in the steep rise of costs and indirectly by the effects that the stoppage and the pickets have had on individual industries.
It is certain that there will be lower output in the coming months—and probably unemployment—as a result of the stoppage. There has been a marginal fall in unemployment this month and I welcome it, but it is patchy. In my constituency, unemployment has risen by 200 over the last year. That is an increase of 20 per cent. The important thing is that the trend is upwards, and it must be reversed. Government action—or, perhaps, inaction—has not helped. The Government have acted to make things worse. Wage settlements are in the 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. bracket, and that has been highlighted by recent agreements, including the proposals to the road haulage industry in Scotland today.
92 If the social contract means anything, is it to be that settlements of this order are to be the norm? If so, we are heading for very serious trouble. There may be cases—although so far I have not heard of any—in which restraint may have been used by the unions or by these unofficial negotiating bodies that have arisen over recent months. But, inevitably, the steep increases—perhaps three times the increases of a year or more ago—will mean higher prices next year. Then we shall see what the true rise in the cost of living has been.
The Government have attempted to restrict reasonable profit and, even more devastatingly, have stepped up taxation on companies which already have liquidity problems. Order books are declining. It is no use sweeping these facts under the carpet. Of course we do not want to talk ourselves into a crisis worse than that which exists. But let us not brush things aside, as the Prime Minister sought to do this afternoon.
The Chancellor must be aware of the situation. He has had ample warning from the CBI, from Members of Parliament and from industry. He must take appropriate action, and we hope that he will do so in his Budget next month. He must look at the effect that his actions in the spring have had and, through corporation tax and advance corporation tax, are having on companies now. Industry must be allowed to keep more of its own money to tide over this difficult period and to be ready to invest and expand again as soon as possible.
There is one point of which I hope the Government will take particular note —an effort to continue the construction of advance factories. Started in the early 1960s, this has been a valuable policy of both Governments—particularly in the special development areas in Scotland. When the next programme is considered I hope that Scotland will have high priority and—the one constituency point I make—that the Government will consider the special development district of Sanquhar, where the advance factory programme has been such a success.
I now turn briefly to the subject of education. In Scotland the situation is in turmoil. Teachers and pupils have been involved in a steadily deteriorating situation since the spring—whether it be over salaries, conditions of service, or the 93 failure of the Government to introduce a new designation scheme.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)— is aware that the designation scheme expired at the end of July. This scheme attracted teachers to areas where they were most required. Since then the Minister has had to postpone or continue the scheme month by month, because he has not been able to introduce a new scheme acceptable to the teaching profession. It is most disheartening, at a time when there is a teacher shortage in certain areas, particularly in Glasgow, Lanark and Renfrew, that the new scheme has not been brought forward. I share the criticism of the teaching profession that this delay has taken place.
At the moment, strikes by teachers and working to rule are continuing week by week and are now commonplace in Scotland. Children are being sent home from school. Strikes are sometimes unofficial, by action groups. The Educational Institute for Scotland has an official strike on Thursday. Again, there has been not a word from the Government. Have they made representations to the Houghton Committee to speed up its recommendations on teachers' salaries? When is the committee likely to publish its report? What action will the Government take on it? What decision have the Government reached—perhaps even today—on the conditions of service? Have they decided what to do on the teachers' application for an interim 10 per cent. increase, or on the request by the action groups for a £15 per week increase? All these are burning topics in Scotland. But, whatever is decided, I regret that the reputation of education in Scotland has suffered a severe blow over recent months.
On the figures for entrants to colleges of education in 1972 and 1973, there was every likelihood of a substantial increase in the number of teachers coming into the profession. There were 3,000 last year, and 3,000 qualified this year, but with the militancy and general criticism of the profession, sometimes by officers of the teaching associations, intake has dropped this session. That is a serious blow to the future programme that the Government must have in mind.
The profession must, however, look at what it is doing to itself. I accept that in a relativity situation the teachers are 94 lagging behind, and I welcome the fact that the award to the teaching profession will be backdated to the end of May. But teachers should think carefully before they escalate the situation still further. I urge them to think of the long term as well as the present problem of weekly expenses. I know that it is not easy to call for patience when financial stresses are great, but teachers have a special responsibility to Scotland, and I hope that that will be recognised by Houghton.
I deal next with agriculture, because this has been the worst six months that many farmers can remember. We know that this time last year costs began to escalate because of the rise in world grain prices, subsequently aided and abetted, of course, by the increased cost of oil. But the tremendous loss of confidence began after the February election, because—
§ Mr. Hooson
What the hon. Gentleman says bears no relation to the facts. I happen to represent the constituency with the largest number of farmers in the United Kingdom. Last year they all complained bitterly about the situation in agriculture. It has since become worse, but that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that the worsening has occurred since the February election is absolutely rubbish.
§ Mr. Monro
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not listen to what I said. I prefaced my remarks by explaining that the situation began to deteriorate a year ago. I went on to say that the extreme loss of confidence happened after the election in February, when the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) went to Brussels and, for some astonishing reason which he has never adequately explained to the House, removed the floor from the beef market by removing intervention. From then onwards, the real crisis developed.
95 Hon. Gentlemen must accept that that is true. Any hon. Member who goes regularly to the markets and meets farmers frequently knows that that is the case. Indeed, had intervention still been in operation—as it is in eight out of the nine countries in the Community—the price would be about £20 today. That would be much better than what we are achieving in the market today, even with the headage payment.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that had the Conservative Party gone ahead and provided the facilities for intervention buying, that method might have worked? The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) had no option but to give up intervention buying, because no facilities were provided in this country for such an operation.
§ Mr. Monro
At this stage of my speech I must not get dragged into the agricultural policy of the Scottish National Party, which leaves so much to be desired. On the particular point raised by the hon. Gentleman, it so happens that, due to the confidence of the industry right up to March, we had no need to bring in intervention buying. Had it been necessary in March, it would have been on a minimal scale.
What farmers are concerned about is that when the right hon. Gentleman introduced various new policies from time to time throughout the summer, none of them proved effective—whether it was the increase in the calf subsidy or the headage premium which everyone now agrees has been a raging disaster—and that his more recent effort of advancing the hill-cow subsidy is, in many ways, a confidence trick because it will not improve the situation at this time next year. Certainly it may help over the December and January period, but we shall be in great difficulty in a year's time.
Every hon. Member who represents an agricultural constituency knows the extreme problem facing all farmers today. During the past six or seven months, many beasts have been sold at a loss of £40 or £50 in the fat ring, and for correspondingly low prices in the store market The urgency of the situation is critical.
96 My hon. Friends have been bringing the matter to the Minister's attention ever since May, but delay and procrastination seem to be his watchwords. The right hon. Gentleman now says that no further steps will be taken until March. This cannot be true. I do not think he appreciates the crisis that is facing agriculture throughout Britain—whether it is the farmers in Wales, in Holyhead, in the South-West or the North-West of England, or farmers throughout Scotland and in the Islands, who are also affected by transport costs.
Without doubt, there is now the most critical situation that farmers have ever faced, not only in relation to present prices, but the future that they face under the capital transfer tax and the wealth tax, and the loss of their tied houses which is proposed in the Labour Party Manifesto.
All these things will have a most damaging effect on farmers. Speaking as a farmer myself—and I declare my interest—I call upon the Minister to take action, if not this week, certainly by next. I said this to him in August and again in September, but still we have had this piecemeal effort, and nothing further is promised until next spring. How can farmers plan next year's programme, when they are having a fiendish struggle with their banks to survive this winter?
We have stated clearly during the past month that we must have a floor in the market. We must have a cash injection and a special price review, and we must remove the fear of the CTT and the wealth tax. These are all vital issues that I have mentioned today for industry, education and agriculture, and all three sectors in Scotland are feeling particularly hard done by by this Labour Government.
Today we have had the Queen's Speech. In it there are a number of valuable proposals, but we shall have to wait to see the legislation before we can accept them at face value. The issues that I have spoken about can be dealt with by administrative action and dealt with next week, and that cannot be too soon.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)
I endorse the remarks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for 97 Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) in welcoming all the provisions of this comprehensive Queen's Speech.
Following the recent General Election, it seems to me that the provisions of the Gracious Speech arise out of a mandate which has been given to us by the electorate—a mandate for change, rather than upheaval; a mandate to make steady progress towards a fair and just democratic Socialist society. One could sum it up in a phrase—reform, not revolution; moderation, not masochism.
First, it is the Government's task and duty to deal with inflation. This can be done only upon a basis of increasing productivity, and this involves, basically, an increase in investment in this country, together with—as the Prime Minister mentioned—some sacrifice in our expectations for a year or two.
I should like, during the course of my speech, to touch on two or three matters in the Gracious Speech and one or two which might be included under the heading of other measures.
The mover of the Loyal Address, together with the Prime Minister, laid special emphasis on the provision of housing. I welcome this very much indeed, for we cannot create a good society in this country if people are not living in decent housing conditions. In my own constituency I have particular problems. There are large housing estates, and local government reorganisation has not helped in this respect. I welcome the provisions whereby the Government intend to encourage local authorities to provide better housing. Believe me, some local authorities will require kicking rather than encouraging, and I hope that our Ministers will have the steel to carry out this task.
On some of my estates it is impossible to get repairs carried out to local corporation houses. Street lighting is virtually non-existent in some places. People cannot get their streets swept, nor can they get their grass verges cut. This is simply not good enough, because we cannot ask people to improve their standards when their environment is deteriorating. I believe that the situation is so urgent and so serious as to demand a special Minister in the Cabinet with respon- 98 sibility for housing, if I may suggest that to my right hon. Friend.
A parallel problem, particularly on large housing estates, is that of vandalism and hooliganism. This seems to be compounding itself; were there is a deteriorating environment, so this problem becomes worse.
I can again quote from my own experience. Gangs of youngsters are roaming housing estates committing housebreaking and burglaries. When they are caught, they are sent to a local authority home from which they promptly abscond and commit housebreaking and burglaries on the same night. A large number of these youngsters are under the age of 14, and, therefore, it is extremely difficult to deal with them in the magistrates' courts. Some magistrates in Yorkshire are on the point of resigning in frustration because they are unable to deal with these cases, and I know that some magistrates have left the juvenile bench for this reason.
It is a shocking commentary on the conditions in which some of our people live when many of our citizens, in particular senior citizens, are literally afraid to leave their houses during the hours of darkness. We must do something about this, and I urge my right hon. Friends to take this on board. I can suggest two measures. First—and I put this to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—we must make strenuous efforts to build up the police force by improving its conditions of service and the remuneration which its members enjoy so that we can recruit sufficient men. These problems of hooliganism and petty crime can be dealt with only by having sufficient constables in the locality.
Secondly, this effort can be backed up by either the Home Office or local authorities being urged to provide secure approved schools or secure approved homes for the youngsters who are caught, because often, unfortunately, their parents are unable to control them. It seems to me, therefore, that they must be put in a disciplined environment where they can be taught to be responsible citizens of our society.
I welcome the sentence stating that there will beadditional provision for the disabled".I am particularly interested in the mentally disabled, and I urge my right hon. 99 Friends to provide further resources to deal with those problems. Throughout the land there are families who, because one member is mentally disabled to a greater or lesser degree, are suffering what almost amounts to disruption—at any rate, enormous inconvenience. All too often such families find little or no support from the medical services or from the social services. This is becoming an increasing difficulty amongst families, and again I urge my right hon. Friends to do everything possible within the somewhat restricted circumstances in which they find themselves—to provide a medical and social back-up to help families in such difficulties.
Finally, I turn to the question of pensions. I welcome the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) to introduce an earnings-related pension scheme. I suggest to the Opposition that this measure can be the subject of all-party agreement. My constituents desperately yearn for a national pension scheme which will provide them with some stability and enable them to reckon fairly easily their entitlements following the completion of their working life.
Millions of people at present find it impossible to estimate what their pension entitlement is likely to be from the various occupational schemes and the graduated pension scheme. In fact, one of the banes of my life since 1964 has been attending a church meeting or visiting a club or a pub, because almost the first question one is asked is "When are you going to get rid of the graduated pension scheme?" I believe that my right hon. Friend's proposals will do just that, and will produce a stable pension scheme tied to some kind of indexation which will provide a just reward for people who have invested a lifetime's labour in this country.
I go further. This principle might be applied somewhat more broadly—for instance, to taxation structures, because I believe that over the last 20 years or so it could be argued that we have had too much government too quickly. There has been a great deal of change. Each time Governments have changed, taxation structures particularly have been changed, and this has helped to induce 100 a certain instability in our society. It is to be hoped, in the at least four years which lie before us of Labour government, that we can settle some of these matters and induce people to think in terms of planning ahead for future years on a stable basis, thus helping this country back to the prosperous stability which it deserves.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The first thing I should like to do is to proffer my own congratulations and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the mover of the Address, the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), and the seconder, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). I have listened on a number of occasions to movers and seconders opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, and I thought that today was a unique occasion. Both hon. Gentlemen provided a great deal of relaxed charm in their contributions, and they came up to our fullest expectations on such an occasion.
I have always been an opponent of the idea of televising the debates of the House, but I feel that both those speeches would have been much appreciated by a wider audience. I cannot say that for the two speakers who followed them. In fact, if I were ever close to being converted to the idea of televising the House of Commons, I should have had that feeling today listening to the speech of the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition and to that of the Prime Minister. They were still raking over the irritations of the General Election. They were stirring up the ashes, something that the country wishes to forget. An election has been decided, but they were arguing the whole time as to who was right in the past, and very often on a question of mere semantics arising from the election.
No one would have thought from their contributions that this country was facing a very serious crisis—in fact, a crisis for democracy. If the leaders of the two main parties in our democratic system cannot do better than that, the prospects for democracy are pretty poor. I cannot believe that they would have made those speeches if the proceedings of the House 101 had been televised, so I came near to being converted to the idea to-day.
I refer next to the very good speech made by the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford). The great concern of our country today is not that we cannot agree that social reform must be achieved. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome those parts of the Queen's Speech which are concerned with social reform. Of course, we want social reform, but the major problem before the country is how we pay our way at the present time. It was to that theme that the Prime Minister failed to give his mind today. But that is what the country is worried about. We are borrowing money from the Shah of Persia. We are borrowing money from the Arabs. When is it to be paid back? Are we to have paper social dreams on borrowed money? This is the reality of the situation facing the country—how we are to pull together.
The electorate gave the Labour Government a mandate, and we do not want another election in the near future. An appeal for support by the Prime Minister for measures calculated and intended to overcome our crisis and enable the country to pay its way would have general acceptance in the House. But there was no such appeal made today, and that was one of the sad features of this occasion.
I want to devote the rest of my speech to one issue, and it is a matter in which I declare two interests. I represent the constituency in the United Kingdom with the largest proportion of farmers per head of the electorate, and I farm myself. I do not think that the House fully appreciates the terrible nature of the distress felt in the livestock section of agriculture at the present time.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, happen to know my constituency, and you know that there are many thousands of small farms there. When I pass them these days, I wonder how many of them will be occupied this time next year unless something is done urgently. Right hon. and hon. Members have heard on the news today of hundreds of farmers besieging Holyhead harbour to try to prevent a shipload of cattle from Ireland being landed. We know that farmers are 102 going to Birkenhead, Liverpool and so on to try to intercept shipments of cattle. Why is this? Why is it that a section of the community, normally extremely peaceable people not given to this kind of demonstration, have so erupted in the last few weeks? It is because they face ruin. It is as simple as that.
I have had farmers in my constituency approach me, with tears in their eyes, asking if I can possibly get some help for them, for their children at school taking A levels. Can they possibly have some help for school meals? A farmer came to me the other day who has to find money for school meals for five children. On his income last year he is not entitled to help; his income this year is non-existent. Another farmer in my constituency has sent away every in-calf cow he had to the barren market because he has not the fodder to keep them this winter.
That is the reality of the situation in agriculture today. It ill becomes Members of Parliament to argue across the Floor about who is mainly to blame for the situation. It has been deteriorating for the past 18 months. The real question is: what are we to do about it? The Government have already allocated hundreds of millions of pounds to alleviate the situation in agriculture. But the truth is that the money has been ill spent. The Minister of Agriculture may go to the Cabinet for money, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say to him that the Government have already advanced whatever the sum is for the beef headage payment. And that would be true. The Government have allocated money to alleviate the situation in agriculture, but the money has not alleviated it.
I agree with the Minister of Agriculture that our old guaranteed price system is preferable to the intervention system. But, because of a great deal of playing about in politics, our farmers have been deprived of both the intervention system and the guarantee system. The Liberals have said that we need a temporary guaranteed price in agriculture—[Interruption.] It is useless the hon. Member doing from a sedentary position what his Leader did today, raking over the past rather than suggesting remedies for the future, which is what worries the country.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
Nevertheless, the fact is that the present problems of agriculture in this country arise from our entry into the Common Market. The Liberals, whose vote nut us into the Common Market, have nothing to say on the subject.
§ Mr. Hooson
I find that a very sad intervention. As somebody who voted against this country going into the Common Market, I know that it is a half-truth to say that our present agricultural problems arise from that. There is a certain degree of truth in it, but a great deal of trouble arises from the fact that we are half in and half out. Our farmers can survive in and they can survive out, but they cannot survive half in and half out.
Let me tell the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) that we have been deprived of Common Market prices for agricultural products. Our hay is being exported at present. Our sugar beet pulp is being exported to France and to Germany, where farmers receive much higher prices for their products and, therefore can buy fodder at prices our farmers cannot afford to feed their animals. That is the situation, and the Government bear a good deal of responsibility for it, as did the previous Conservative Government.
But I am more concerned to find what can be done at present. It is said that the Minister of Agriculture, at the meeting on 2nd October of EEC Ministers in common with all the other Ministers of Agriculture, gave an undertaking to Germany that their countries, and our country in particular, would not take unilateral action to support farming in return for Germany withdrawing its veto on the increase in agricultural prices in the Common Market. If that is so, then the Government had given an undertaking before the election that they would do nothing before 1st March to help agriculture.
In the meantime, thousands of farmers, particularly small farmers, will be ruined. The very people one would expect a Labour Government to help and support are being ruined. It is said that the Minister of Agriculture has been an anti-Common Marketeer. If that is so, it is very strange that he should give that undertaking on 2nd October on behalf of this country when this country has not 104 even been paying Common Market prices for its products. The Minister of Agriculture introduced a headage, a system which in itself contravenes the Common Market rules, but the Common Market Ministers agreed with this Government's suggestion that it should be introduced.
M. Lardinois told me that this country had not proposed that we should have a temporary guaranteed price, so Common Market Ministers never had an opportunity to consider whether we needed such an arrangement.
What has happened with the headage payment? For every month that the head-age payment has been in force—and it has been increasing every month—the market price of animals has dropped by about the same amount as the headage. And though it is costing the Government a great deal, it is a most wasteful use of public money. It has not restored confidence to the market at all. What happens to live Irish cattle coming to this country? Do they not get the headage payment? Of course they do. Not only is there a subsidy from Ireland, but we are paying headage on those animals, at the expense of the British taxpayer, when they go through the hands of people in this country. The whole system has broken down, and I ask the Government to revise their whole attitude towards the agriculture industry. Farmers are really in despair.
Farmers who grow a lot of grain have made a great killing. There is a great difference between the price of grain and the cost of production. Members of the farming community do well, and I think that most of them acknowledge that certain sections of the industry have done very well indeed.
I am concerned about the livestock section, in which most of the West's small farmers are involved. They are facing ruin, and the Government should introduce urgent measures to restore confidence. If the Minister of Agriculture gave an undertaking in Brussels, he should make it plain to the House that he did so, and state why he gave it. I feel that the Minister should go back to the Ministers of the EEC and ask for permission to introduce special meaures such as a guarantee in Britain.
I say again what I have said to my colleagues many times. If we have to 105 choose between the dots and commas of the Common Market agreement and the ruin of agriculture and this country's farmers, there is no doubt which we should choose—to save our own people. There is no member of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, however ardent his enthusiasm for the Common Market, who would disagree with that proposition.
Now that the election is over, it is right that the Government should examine the state of British agriculture, find out the true facts if they do not already know them, and, in conjunction with all Opposition parties, agree on necessary measures to prevent total ruin for thousands of farmers. They should do that not only to prevent ruin for farmers but to meet the tremendous upsurge that will occur in food prices in the next couple of years in this country.
It is not without significance that the price of sugar went up by more than £40 a ton in world markets yesterday. Yesterday, too, this country asked the Common Market not to impose its import duty on white beans, which form the basis of baked beans and are apparently part of this country's staple diet.
The price of white beans has risen enormously in Canada and the United States, and this will happen with all agricultural products. This is only another sign. Yet we tolerate the situation in this country that thousands of in-calf cows and thousands of in-pig sows have been slaughtered because farmers simply need the money. Once there is a scarcity, prices go up in the shops.
The Government will be taking the most short-sighted view, not only of the future of the agriculture industry, but of the guarantee of this country's future food supplies, unless they do something urgently and drastically in the agricultural sphere.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I wish to join speakers who have preceded me in congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) on their speeches. I must confess to having somewhat similar feelings to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) in that I wish it had 106 been possible for both the mover and seconder of the Address to have made the speeches that were made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The Gracious Speech pinpoints the need for Scottish government in this period of social and economic crisis. I am relieved to find in the speech several references to Scotland. With the trouble over the past month, I had begun to think that Scotland was a part of the world geography in which the Government were as much interested as Easter Island. Had the strikes been taking place south of the Border—and the Scottish public have clearly got this message—there would have been midnight parties with beer and sandwiches at No. 10 in an effort to settle them. My party wishes to see Scottish government coming about through the ballot box and rational negotiation, not through the abdication of responsibilities by the British Government while we are still supposed to be part of the United Kingdom.
The reference in the Gracious Speech to the assembly is disappointing to say the least. There is no indication of the time scale that the Government have in mind, and I warn them that if the suggestion of five years made by a Minister in the post-election period is what the Government have in mind then they will need to have another think. We should like to have further details of what the powers of the assembly will be.
We must express disappointment about the references to Scottish oil. The Government still do not recognise the ownership of this off-shore resource. Will the oil revenues go direct to the development agencies referred to in the Gracious Speech? That is a question I should like a Minister to answer.
No provision has been made for control within Scotland of the rate of extraction. There are many complaints that oil companies are proceeding without regard to communities, to environment, to fishing grounds, and so on. Fishermen on the east coast have complained to me that areas which had been cleared over generations by themselves and their forefathers are now becoming polluted with debris of all kinds dumped overboard from the oil rigs and from vessels on the way out to the rigs.
107 Referring to public ownership of land, I should have preferred to see the suggestion for compulsory powers left in the hands of local authorities.
On local government, we welcome the promise that there will be another look at the question. I hope that that means that the Government will take a realistic look at the enormous Strathclyde region and do what is felt throughout all parties in Scotland should be done, namely, that this region should be broken up into a rational and manageable unit.
I do not want to spend the time I had intended to spend on the question of farming because it has already been eloquently dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I simply want to back his assertions. This is a crisis and it cannot be overcome, like some crises, by an injection of money overnight. We shall feel, for many years to come, the damage of what is happening now. In my area, because of the difficulties that the industry is facing and the high transport costs, crofters are slaughtering cattle and are deciding to go out of cattle once and for all. Cattle farming has made a great contribution to their income and to the national larder. This is a critical situation and, whether it is in accordance with Common Market procedure or not, the Government must take instant action to ensure that the farming beef industry is saved.
I am sorry that there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to a new system for transport to the Scottish islands. Unless there is an improvement on the system operated by the Scottish Transport Group, we shall be in very considerable trouble, and the whole economy of these islands will collapse.
I welcome the social measures proposed in the Gracious Speceh—the promise that family allowances will be increased, that provision will be made for the disabled, and so on. There are many omissions, which proves the need for a Scottish government. Many of the Scottish references in the speech simply confirm the message which has been given by the Scottish electorate—that choosing between the Conservative and Labour Parties has the same relevance as deciding on the deck of the "Titanic" to move ones deck chair from A to B.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I fully support the proposals in the Queen's Speech for further legislation during the coming Parliament. But I do not agree with what is said in the Queen's Speech about Northern Ireland, and I should like to query that very much indeed. The statement in the speech begins:My Ministers will continue to work for a political solution in Northern Ireland.Well and good. It continues:The proposed Constitutional Convention will provide a means by which those elected to it can consider what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community; any solution must, if it is to work, provide for some form of genuine power-sharing and participation by both communities in the direction of affairs in Northern Ireland.That is the general policy of the three main parties in this country.
I believe that it does not take account of the facts of political life. It is obvious from the results of the General Elections in February and this month that elections to the Convention of Northern Ireland will return an Ulster nationalist majority, despite proportional representation, to that assembly. That assembly will on no account agree to have any kind of power sharing with Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, power sharing is really a chimera. It cannot possibly happen, given the wishes and the views of the majority of people in Northern Ireland at the present time. My own view is that when the Convention comes forward with proposals, those proposals will be quite unacceptable to this Parliament and to the people of this country. We must therefore face the fact that there are two different peoples living in Northern Ireland—Ulster nationalists and Irish nationalists—and they are irreconcilable, in my view.
The Irish nationalists no doubt represent in origin the great majority of the Celtic population of that country. The Ulster nationalists are mainly of English and Scottish origins and represent quite a different element in the population. They have been in Northern Ireland longer than the Americans have been in New England. They feel it to be their home country and have no intention of 109 giving it up. The great difference between the two countries is that the Red Indians have never been able to make a comeback, whereas the Celtic Irish on the whole have recovered the greater part of their island. But that does not alter the fact that there are still two distinct peoples in Northern Ireland. Any policy that we pursue in this country must take account of these facts of political life.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said after the troubles last summer that Ulster nationalism was a major force now and one that we should have to take account of, and that it would be foolish to ignore it. That was after the Protestant workers' strike in May last year. That strike, which brought down the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, showed that Ulster nationalism was a grass-root nationalism. It was not based just upon the old ascendancy families, which many people in this country believed were the basis of Ulster nationalism in the past. These are facts that we have to consider when we are considering what is to be done about Northern Ireland.
I would say also that we have to recognise the fact that this is not fundamentally a religious difference. Religion is used as an excuse in support of these two rival nationalisms. A great deal of discredit has been brought upon religion by the fact that priests and presbyters of some of these churches have supported one or other of the nationalist causes. They have paid lip service to the Prince of Peace while encouraging murder, or at least looking the other way when the murder of innocent people takes place. That kind of thing has not brought credit on religion in this country as a whole, and certainly not in Northern Ireland, in this struggle.
We have to consider what is to be done in the future. If, as I think likely, we get a Convention which wants a separate Ulster nationalist State and is unable to agree on any kind of power sharing, we must accept that there is no room in modern Britain for seventeenth century Ulster. We shall have to say to seventeenth century Ulster: "You must go your own way."
First we must accept the fact of a majority having been elected in the Convention; we must accept a Govern- 110 ment responsible to that Convention and ask them to go ahead with proposing what kind of constitution they want. We should then say that within three months we will withdraw British troops from Northern Ireland, leaving them to make their own arrangements for maintaining law and order there in future. We should have to terminate all subsidies from this country to Northern Ireland. We should have to insist that all border areas such as Newry and the Bogside that may want to go into the Republic should be able to go into the Republic.
We should encourage exchanges of populations elsewhere. We shall have to bear in mind the fact that if two peoples cannot live together peacefully, they must live separately, as has been proved with the Greeks and Turks. They had exchanges of population. Unfortunately, that was not carried out in Cyprus, and Cyprus still carries on the old feuds.
I should say that people who wish to transfer themselves, either by the communities on the border, or individually from Northern Ireland into the South, to this country, to Australia or elsewhere should be guaranteed the right to full British social services for which they have paid. They should be able to claim them if they leave the country, or if they stay in Northern Ireland. A guarantee of that sort should be given by this country.
To sum up, there is no room for the seventeenth century Ulster that we have in 20th century Britain. Such an Ulster horrifies us with its intolerance, its religious bigotry and its bloody murder. If the people of Northern Ireland are to continue with this kind of thing, we should listen to what was said by their great hero, Oliver Cromwell:Depart, I say and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) spoke about the sombre events in the unhappy Province of Northern Ireland, and I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him into those affairs because my knowledge of them is so limited that I might well say something which would not be helpful.
111 I should like to recall one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition today. He asked what is the precise meaning of many of the proposals in the Gracious Speech. The Prime Minister's speech gave us no inkling as to the precise meaning of these vague phrases. Indeed, we do not know whether we are dealing with the Prime Minister of the election campaign, the leader of the most Left-wing Labour Party we have had in our country for years, or the Prime Minister of the ministerial broadcast immediately after the election, in which we heard a very different tune.
It emerged clearly during the election that two fears were prominent in people's minds. One was the fear of confrontation and the lights going out during the winter; the other, conflicting, fear was of militancy, wholesale nationalisation and regimentation. To give the Prime Minister credit, he was able to make the first fear more vivid and terrifying than we made the second, and it was on that basis that he won the election, although the margin was extremely narrow. No less than 60 per cent. of the electorate voted against him.
But one cannot run a Government on campaigns and fears of that kind. In the Prime Minister's broadcast after the election the scorn which was poured on policies of national unity suddenly gave way to something very different. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the voice in that broadcast was the voice of the Prime Minister but the words were those of the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, if the Prime Minister keeps on at this rate, perhaps we shall have 9½ per cent. mortgages from him—perhaps not this Christmas but by next Christmas. Could it be that we have in the making a coalitionist Prime Minister? We have seen it before from Labour Prime Ministers.
It is a certainty that one of the salutary jobs that will have to be done by the Opposition during this Parliament is to protect the Prime Minister from his Left wing, which is already rumbling somewhat ominously in the columns of the newspapers and will no doubt do so in the House before too long.
What of the Liberal Party? It is good to see here the hon. and learned Member 112 for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who made a speech about farming with which I very much agree. The Liberal Party must realise by now that it has missed the bus. It missed it, of course, in February. Nobody is going to listen to the Liberal Party in this Parliament. The harsh reality is that nobody is going to need its votes. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) will no longer be able to hold the Press on tenterhooks by hinting that someone is about to defect from the Labour Party. He will no longer be able to tantalise the headlines. Another unhappy reality is that the Liberal Party will no longer be able to rely on by-election boosts, because when by-elections come it will not be the Liberal Party which will win them.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does the hon. Gentleman not recollect that this kind of speech has been made many times in the House before and has always been found to be wrong? Is not he ignoring Father Time and the by-elections and what might happen with a majority of three?
§ Mr. Dean
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is being extremely venturesome and no doubt understandably so, in trying to make the best of a bad job, but he knows only too well how disappointing for him and his party were the results of the last election. He knows equally well that the Liberal Party does not prosper when we have a Labour Government in office.
I turn now to the main point which I tried to make in every speech during the last election campaign and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has made far more eloquently than I recently—namely, that the essence of our problems is moral and not economic. People are bored with politicians crying economic woe; they do not see the relevance for them of balance of payments, terms of trade and other economic jargon. Such words are like water off a duck's back; they run off, leaving no mark. Of course we have economic problems but they are symptoms, not causes; there are important but deeper problems behind them. I give four examples of what I am trying to convey.
First there is the lack of confidence in ourselves as a country. We are in danger of becoming so obsessed with our weaknesses that we are blind to our strengths. 113 This is a moral problem and not in essence an economic one.
The second example concerns the hooliganism and disrespect for the law which has already been mentioned during the debate, whether it be thugs at football matches spoiling the enjoyment of others and endangering life, or Clay Cross councillors in Derbyshire defying the law because they do not happen to like it.
Thirdly, there is the selfishness and greed which we find amongst certain powerful sections of our community at present, trying to grab more than their fair share, with the result that other sections of the community—the weaker sections—suffer thereby. It is the old problem of the over-mighty subject, which we have had to fight time and time again throughout our history.
Finally, there is the feeling in our country that it is more worthy to scrounge than to toil or to spin, that the State tends to encourage the scrounger and to penalise the worker and the struggler. One example that I am sure every hon. Gentleman met during the election campaign is the widow who goes out to work and now feels strongly that she is being taxed up to the hilt because she is trying to help herself. Another case is that of the single woman who has sacrificed her job and her prospects to look after an aged parent. Such people contrast their lot with the position of young, fit men who, they judge, are finding that it pays to live on the dole rather than to earn their living.
In essence, these are moral problems. They undermine our morale as a community; they eat into our society as corrosive acid eats into metal, or as ivy gradually strangles a tree; they threaten our democracy and our parliamentary government because of the tensions that they create within society; they drag down our economic performance.
I believe that we have to give a new meaning to individual and corporate responsibility. Governments—all of them —have tried to do too much. As a result, they have disappointed expectations. The power of the Government, particularly in these complex days, is limited. As Burke said very wisely many years ago:Laws go but a little way".We have to concentrate more on creating conditions and on providing stability in which the vast resources of energy and 114 skill in Britain can be harnessed for family and for country. This means encouraging, but not interfering; it means encouraging initiative and success; it means providing good rewards for good work. Certainly, it cannot be done by nationalisation or more regimentation and State control.
There is no problem that we in this country cannot solve, given a little more confidence in ourselves, a little more backbone, a little more emphasis on the age-old virtues of work, thrift, tolerance, honouring contracts, and responsibility. There is no recognition of this in the Gracious Speech. What Labour will not do today, the Tories will have to do tomorrow.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I was rather fascinated by the speech of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean). Most of us share a great deal of his concern about moral values, and he was right to express it. Many of us agree with his comments on the dangers in our present society of selfishness and greed, and how widespread are these dangers. There is probably almost unanimity in the House about that, and, indeed, about some of his sense of social priorities. He referred to his concern about the position of the widow and others. In our constituencies and elsewhere, we have all met individual cases in which there is a sincere, vigorous and great sense of grievance. I hope that this Parliament will right some of these feelings of grievance, however difficult we know—and the hon. Gentleman knows—it is to do so, without creating new feelings of unfairness in attempting to correct problems within the wide scope of social security.
However, I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman should regard the Gracious Speech and the Government's programme for the coming year as in some way fuelling that situation. Rather it is the reverse. There are many elements in our society—basic, alas, to our society—which stimulate a sense of greed and avarice.
The whole problem of our gambling nation—gambling has become one of our great industries, alas—is compounded by the fact that gambling is now a great commercial enterprise. Many of the 115 more modest weaknesses of our society are built up into great dangers by the very fact that they are fuelled by the commercialisation and profit-seeking allied to many of these elements in our society.
Whether we are talking about gambling and the great empires built up on it, or whether we are talking about the problems arising from sex and other social issues for which it is difficult to find sane solutions, we find that many of them are made infinitely worse by the pressures of our profit-seeking society, in which money values are raised to such a high level that it is a struggle to get other values accepted.
Whether we look at the Gracious Speech in terms of its contribution towards fighting the social evils in our society, or whether we consider it in the perhaps narrower terms—but vital today —of its economic contribution in the fight against inflation, the trade deficit and so on, I believe that the Gracious Speech will be seen to be an increasingly highly relevant document as we proceed. I am sure that constituents of mine in South Shields, where they still, I am glad to say, mine coal, still build and repair ships, and still do most of the vital things on which this country's wealth is based, will feel that this Gracious Speech is relevant, and will wish us well in carrying its main proposals through as rapidly as possible.
One of the major concerns in our society today must be the much more effective use of our manpower and material resources, and none of us can pretend that the situation is satisfactory. We start with the resource that is so pertinent in my own constituency and the constituencies of so many of my hon. and right hon. Friends—coal. Clearly, the hope there for the future must lie in the success of the newly established "Plan for Coal" which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is striving to see carried through, with all the difficulties that we well understand. But those difficulties would have been compounded unutterably if by any mischance the other party had been in office at this time. What hope could there have been, in those circumstances, of getting our natural resource of coal that we so vitally need today developed, in conjunction with 116 the other energy resources that are vital to us?
I welcome the pledge to carry through the undertaking given by the Labour Party to bring shipbuilding and ship repairing into public ownership. We have started this operation in my constituency where there are some major ship repairing firms which have been taken over consequent to the failure of Court Line. The Court Line failure is an example of the danger to our economy of a private profit-seeking operation which can damage private industry just as it damages the expectations of employment among my constituents.
It was no fault of the ship repair yards, some of them among the most efficient in the country, nor was it any fault of the workers in those yards, that they became part of a wider empire-building concept on the part of the private owners. It was no fault of theirs that their future was in danger. It was nothing to do with ship repairing which endangered it. We have here a vital example of the way in which we hope and believe our programme of public ownership may develop. We have a test case.
Already in those yards works councils have been established and for the first time the men there are expressing their views about how the industry should develop. Valuable contributions and ideas are coming from the shop floor. This is what we want to encourage. But the full development will have to wait until new powers are provided by new Acts passed by this House. So far we are working only with existing powers. I am sure that I speak for the overwhelming majority of my constituents when I urge the Government to get ahead as rapidly as possible with these new proposals for the shipbuilding and ship repair industry.
We believe that those new proposals will provide the opportunity for a major contribution to be made from the shop floor and for utilising ideas which it has not been possible to apply in the past. A new contribution is desperately needed and the Government's proposals can make that contribution. The proposals in the Gracious Speech present exciting possibilities.
Housing is another area which deeply concerns my constituents. Like many 117 industrial areas we suffer from a heritage of bad housing conditions. At long last we are seeking to tackle the problem of the ownership of the land. I very much welcome the clear confirmation that a Bill is to be brought in soon to deal with this matter, which is crucial to the effective development of a housing policy—and to much else besides in local government development—at a price that can be afforded. I hope that many so far unresolved matters will be quickly resolved.
I very much hope that in carrying through our land proposals we shall ensure that the local communities are the main, although not the only, beneficiaries. It is crucial that we should get the co-operation, goodwill and understanding of people living in the area, who should see the benefits flowing from the new developments which can be provided if the local authority is allowed to acquire land at existing use value.
I accept that the local community cannot be the only beneficiary. However, I trust that the Treasury will not claim the major part of any increased value in any negotiations which follow. If that happens the danger is that the local community will lose interest. We shall want to know also which body will act if, as may happen, some local authorities are not particularly eager to develop a land acquisition policy. What measures can be taken centrally, or perferably regionally, to ensure that the policy is carried through?
Here we can benefit from the experience of the last Conservative Government, which insisted on having housing commissioners to enforce its policies. We may be able to learn from that kind of statutory provision. I am sure that there will be many examples of ways in which we can pick suitable elements from earlier legislations which will be of benefit in our social developments.
The land policy can make a major contribution towards the house building programmes. The most urgent need is the building of houses to rent in our cities and towns. We must also make available the possibility of buying houses thus getting out of the appalling situation we were landed in by previous Governments.
The use of manpower is one of the most vital issues. We still cannot be satis- 118 fied with training facilities in our main industrial areas. It is absurd when there are unfilled vacancies, that we cannot provide the skilled manpower to fill those vacancies. We still do not offer the range of training facilities provided by many of our Continental and Scandinavian competitors. It is odd that we should still make it difficult for a yong man leaving school to take up training at a local technical college and elsewhere. We do not offer him encouragement. Indeed, we cut back on such things as unemployment allowances. This needs examination.
Among the matters rightly referred to in the Gracious Speech are those questions dealing with the use of resources and particularly the conservation of energy.
I should like to refer to the wider question of the war on waste. The Labour Government a short time before the election published a valuable Green Paper on this topic to enable us to express our views about ways in which we can save some of our resources and to make better use of them. I welcomed that document, and I hope that during this debate my right hon. Friends will be able to give a great deal more practical detail as to how all this is to be carried through.
These are pertinent matters in our present situation. It is absurd that in these times we should allow waste of critical and costly resources on the present scale. The form of our society encourages waste in many ways, as illustrated, for example, by the question of built-in obsolescence. Provided that something is regarded as being profitable to the private owner, it is thought to be all right, but it is not all right in our society in the present situation. We cannot afford this scale of waste.
I hope that not only in energy matters and in the use of oil resources but in many other areas we shall lead the way to a new critical examination of the use we make of some imported resources, as a precursor to a vigorous campaign towards a more economical and a saner use of those resources for real social needs. Recycling and all the rest of it must play its part in this campaign. We have the basic programme to tell us what is needed. We have a great deal of evidence in documents published before the election showing the amount of thought which is going into this subject, and we very much welcome this approach.
119 We still need a much greater sense of urgency about the kind of crisis we face. It is useless for us to imagine that we can give extra rewards to those engaged in vital work, such as the nurses and other groups to whom we are trying to offer benefits, unless there is some sign throughout the community that we are willing to accept some of these urgent priorities. I suggest that some of us in the community, including hon. Members in this House, who have earnings of £3,000 and over, should be expected, and indeed be called upon, to hold back on any fresh demands on the community during the coming year in order that the priorities which we have already established should be effectively carried through.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I shall endeavour not to go all over the ground covered by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) in a speech reminiscent of a Fabian from a previous generation. I shall try to stick to the point I wish to make.
The Gracious Speech contains all the failings of practically every other Gracious Speech we have heard since the war. It offers the country too much legislation and will cost too much money. The fundamental requirement of the Government at present is to look at the national financial position and, before anything else, to cut back their own expenditure.
The hon. Member for South Shields waved before the House the Green Paper dealing with conservation and stopping waste. He remarked obliquely that it was part of the Government's electioneering propaganda for the Press to put out. That Green Paper and a great many other Green Papers churned out by the Government immediately before the election were issued for electioneering party political purposes. It would have been an exceedingly good thing if that sort of Government expenditure had been avoided.
The main point I wish to make relates to the saving of Government expenditure. The Gracious Speech contains three comments on food and agriculture, two of which are direct and one is oblique. The direct comment runs as follows:The use of subsidies to keep down prices of certain foods will be continued. Further measures for the protection of consumers will be brought forward.120 All this is costly and is by no means the most economic way of protecting people.
Secondly, on the subject of food the Gracious Speech contains the following comment:My Ministers recognise the value to the nation of expanding domestic food production economically and efficiently, and will continue their discussions with the farming industry …Nobody wants discussions; we have had too many of those already. We want a little action. I believe that the Conservative administration would have done precisely what we promised in our manifesto, namely to put a basic price into beef to enable the beef producer to know where he stood and to inject cash into agriculture, as we did in 1970. Unless British agriculture gets a direct boost and a clear lead showing where the Government mean the industry to go, the industry will go floundering around in the dark, in the same way as the present Minister of Agriculture is behaving at the moment.
The third reference in the Speech to the subject of food is oblique and deals with the Common Market. It says that the Government will continue renegotiation of the terms of entry, but the Minister of Agriculture does not know what he is doing over sugar; he does not know whether he is coming or going. Until there is greater clarity and greater determination as to the way in which to protect the Commonwealth and the sugar producers of the developing countries and to give them the assurances they need, then it is pure hypocrisy for the speech to talk about giving those countries assistance. That part of the Speech reads as follows:My Government recognise the economic problems confronting developing countries, and will seek to increase the provision of aid.Unless the Government assist the sugar-producing countries directly and seek to maintain a sugar industry, there will be continuing problems. Therefore, it is imperative that the Government should give a clear and decisive lead on agriculture. Sugar producers of the Commonwealth should know where they stand, not next year or the year after that, but in 10 years' time. There must be assurances to provide protection for those people in the future.
Dealing with the situation nearer home, there is continued uncertainty in my constituency about many items. I have 121 spoken about agricultural uncertainty, but there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of the Channel Tunnel, nor is there any mention of the proposed rail link. It may be that the Government believe that these projects should be shelved, but if that is so then they should have said so. There is total uncertainty in all these matters, and I am urging that we should cut back expenditure so that we may be able to promote those home industries, such as agriculture, which will help our economy. The Government should give a clear lead and not be so vague and indecisive. They should not be seeking to thrust on the country a mass of legislation such as that outlined in the Gracious Speech.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
The Gracious Speech contains a great deal of important suggestions and promises by the Government. I should like to deal with three of them which, as I discovered in the election campaign, are greatly troubling my constituents.
I refer first to the incidence of income tax on low-wage earners and people on low incomes.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at this closely with a view to making some revision. A fair redistribution of income and wealth is needed, and we could well begin here.
One hon. Member referred to the case of the widow who goes out to work as a school cleaner or helping to serve school meals and who earns, say, £8, £9 or £10 a week. One would assume that such people would be free of any income tax liability. But I know of instances where they have been paying £2 a week on a meagre income of that kind. That is the kind of situation that we want to see revised. Then again, the threshold at which people begin to pay tax should be raised in line with other measures that we are to take. If a family is entitled to family income supplement, it is ridiculous that there should be any liability at the same time to income tax. That is a matter which needs urgent attention.
Housing is a major problem, especially in Scotland. But it is not only the shortage of houses which gives rise to difficulty. Other problems arise in areas where local authorities have built houses 122 but where, because of a lack of amenities and because of bad management policies, the housing schemes are nearing a situation where the only solution is demolition. In saying that, I am not talking about merely one or two council houses. In Ferguslie Park, Paisley, nearly 800 houses have been demolished already, and it is clear that, until there is a vast injection of money into schemes of this kind, the demolition will continue whether it be done by the local authority concerned or by the voluntary demolishers who get to work on empty houses. The reputation of some of these housing schemes is such that no one is prepared to accept a house in certain areas. As a result, houses are not being used, they bring in no rents and they are a burden on the ratepayer and the taxpayer. Unless action is taken quickly the problem will grow.
I turn now to what must be the most important question affecting any Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency. This was a unique election. It was unique in many ways. To a great extent, the Scottish people deserted their age-old party loyalties. As a consequence, we see the Tory Party in Scotland left with only a rump. In many ways it is lucky to be left with the one or two seats that it has. When one thinks of the policies put forward by the leaders of the Tory Party at national level, including a 9½ per cent. mortgage rate which was never related to Scotland's housing problem, the reaction of many thousands of voters to the Tory Party in Scotland is not surprising. I ought not to complain about the effect of that, and I do not, but it suggests that the Conservative Party framed its policies unaware of the reality of the situation in Scotland.
Indeed, it is not only the Tory Party which appears to be unconscious of the effect of policies devised in London which have no application to other parts of the country. I believe that the proposal for a mortgage interest rate of 9½ per cent. was a genuine attempt to buy a few votes. No one can complain about that. However, it is clear that no one consulted the Tory Party in Scotland. If that is not the position, the only conclusion that one can draw is that the Tory Party in Scotland does not know the time of day, either. In any event, that policy was not related to the facts in Scotland, and it had 123 a devastating effect on Tory voters in Scotland. It put the lid on the Tory Party's coffin in Scotland in the election.
Although the Gracious Speech makes many promises, I wish to voice a little anxiety which I feel when I read the words and wonder what are the intentions. It would be as well, for instance, if the Labour Party, myself included, admitted that the regional policies which have been applied to Scotland over the past 20 years have not been successful and have not achieved their objective. Something else is needed. We need a new look and a new understanding of the nature of the problems. In the past, we have heard a great deal about the IDC policy, yet a close examination of that policy indicates that between 1967 and 1970 the South-East of England received more industrial development certificates than all the development areas put together. Those were critical years in which we had a Labour Government. It was not for any lack of effort. There was no question of its being badly intentioned. We were unwilling to face the fact that the policy was not effective.
What will be the result of a new development agency if it is given the same tools as the many development agencies that we have at present, including the Highlands and Islands Development Board? It will achieve nothing. It is good practice and in sociological terms it is accepted that in an area of deprivation it is not enough to ensure that there are fair shares. We have to ensure that there is a massive injection of capital into the area for various projects if it is to climb out of the condition of deprivation.
If Scotland is to catch up with England, it needs a tremendous injection of money. I have in mind not only housing but many other areas as well. It is possible, for instance, to travel by road from a mile or two away from here right up to Carlisle on a three-lane dual-carriageway motorway. However, as soon as one crosses the border there is an A-road to within a mile or two of Glasgow where there is another little bit of motorway. If we are serious about Scotland's industrial future, we have to think in terms of a motorway from the border up to Glasgow and on to Inverness running through the centre of the country and linking Scotland with its customers.
124 Again, it is not enough just to worry about the lack of employment round Glasgow and in the West of Scotland, although that is a very serious problem. We have to arrest the depopulation of the borders and of the Highlands and Islands. There is only one way that that can be done. It is by the creation of industrial growth areas in the Highlands. I have in mind the establishment of specific areas with the idea of creating industrial conurbations which will have a life beyond that of the oilfields and which will continue to draw populations into the Highlands in order to make better use of the land area of the Highlands.
It is all very well to sing about the shieling in the glen. It would be much better to have modern houses and good jobs. I am not prepared to spend much money on training waiters and gillies to keep a lot of people happy holidaying in the Highlands. I prefer to provide people there with good jobs and certainty for the future. If it means that certain parts of Scotland have to be bashed about, it is too bad, but it just has to be. After all, one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, the valley of the River Clyde, had to be sacrificed to find jobs in the coal and steel industries. I do not want a steelworks on top of Ben Nevis, but greater industrial growth at Fort William and more thought given to creating a massive industrial area around the Moray Firth and Nig Bay area. By the injection of some kind of industry in the northernmost part of the Scotland I want to see communities which will create conditions of growth. Whatever may be the situation, that is what we must do if we are to solve Scotland's problems.
I do not believe that this place can find the solutions to Scotland's problems. I do not believe that the will to solve those problems resides here. Therefore, the question of a Scottish Parliament becomes of paramount importance. I am pleased that at long last this promise is contained within the Gracious Speech. The Labour Party has supported the idea of a Scottish Parliament for quite a long time. I hope that on this occasion it means what it says. But I press my right hon. and hon. Friends for some urgency in the matter. If this proposal is not carried out with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency, then the Labour Party will rue the day. The Scottish people will never 125 forgive it. Therefore, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to get on with the job, to produce the proposals, and to establish a Scottish Parliament before I retire from this House.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I shall not take up the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) in his discourses upon the difficulties of Scotland, because the South-West has particular difficulties, too. I would offer only one comment. The hon. Gentleman would be misled if he compared industrial development certificates given in the South-East with those given in Scotland as a measure of anything. I understand that, the whole of Scotland being a development area, IDCs are not required anyway. Therefore, that would be a somewhat misleading parameter. In development areas all that is required is planning permission.
There are two elements in the Gracious Speech to which I want to draw attention before moving on to the main gravamen of my speech. One item states thatLegislation will be brought before you with the aim of ending sex discrimination.One of the greatest aspects of sex discrimination in this country is the different treatment of men and women for national insurance purposes. At current rates of national insurance contribution a man pays about £2,300 more than a woman to purchase an old-age pension which begins five years later. This can only mean that the Government intend to bring the age limit for men's old-age pensions to 60 or the age limit for women to 65, or perhaps both to 62½. I should be grateful if the Minister who is to reply will tell me which of these steps will be taken. Unless this gross anomaly is remedied the statement thatLegislation will be brought before you with the aim of ending sex discrimination.cannot possibly be carried into effect. As national insurance contributions are increased, so the disparity of having five years less receipt of old-age pension and paying insurance contributions for five years more as between men and women will increase rather than reduce.
§ Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of his argument is that we should suggest 126 that women die four years younger as well because of their greater longevity?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
No. That does not happen to be within the legislative control of Parliament. The Queen's Speech claims that legislation will be brought before this Housewith the aim of ending sex discrimination.I have pointed out a major area of sex discrimination which it is within the power of the Government of the day to remedy. If the Government of the day mean what is said in that statement in the Gracious Speech, this anomaly will have to be legislated out of existence.
The Gracious Speech, on page 3, contains this phrase:and to set up a new earnings-related pension scheme.The point that I want to make as strongly as I can is that the Government should ensure that this does not discriminate against self-employed people compared with employed people. There is a myth in some sections of our community that if a man or woman is self-employed it implies that his or her income is, for an unspecified reason, larger than it would be if he or she were employed. There is no causal connection between these. Indeed, taking average figures for self-employed persons, we may find that they are lower than for employed persons. For instance, farmers, however small, are generally self-employed. Small shopkeepers are self-employed. Quite a number of secretaries are self-employed. Yet to penalise self-employed persons who do not enjoy the same unemployment and sickness benefits as those who are employed is totally without equity or merit.
Therefore, a Gracious Speech which claims to concern itself with securing a greater degree of social justice must make absolutely certain that it does not increase social injustice by discriminating against the self-employed. Even if such discrimination begins not at zero income but at a higher level it is nevertheless an artificially-created social injustice if, at any level of income, there is discrimination against self-employed people by making them pay a contribution which is not reflected in the benefits which they received—a contribution which employed people or their employers do not have to pay—when they do not receive commensurate benefits.
127 My major point turns on the third paragraph on page 4 of the Gracious Speech which, devastatingly complacently, states thatMy Ministers recognise the value to the nation of expanding domestic food production economically and efficiently, and will continue their discussions with the farming industry to this end.I first misread it as "to the end." I am happy to see that it is "to this end" instead.
This calls my memory back to the late 1960s, when, under the then Labour Government, the little NEDC reported on the contribution to the balance of payments that increased agricultural production could make. It also pointed out the capital injection which would be necessary to achieve it. The then Labour Government grandiosely announced that they accepted the recommendations of the little NEDC, but they omitted to provide the cash injection which would have enabled the recommendations to be carried into effect.
A most crucial position is facing our agriculture industry in the livestock sector, where farmer after farmer has simply run out of working capital. The situation is as simple as that. In Devon there is a three-weeks' queue for the slaughterhouses. Farmers who have neither the fodder nor the money to buy fodder to feed their cattle are having to shoot them and bury them because they cannot afford to feed them for another three weeks while they queue for a place at the slaughterhouse.
I heard on the BBC yesterday that elsewhere in the United Kingdom the delay before cattle can be accepted at slaughterhouses is as much as six weeks. By next year we shall be in the position where beef is desperately short and the consumer will be lucky to be able to purchase cow-beef. Yet what do the Government say? Do they say that they will take immediate action? No, they say that they willcontinue their discussions with the farming industry".The industry does not need discussions. It needs an immediate floor in the market and a cash injection with which farmers can buy fodder to last the winter through. There is no alternative. The industry needs money and it needs it now. If it does not come forward now more and 128 more cattle will simply be slaughtered and buried, an unavoidable consequence as animals are left to fend for themselves on the edges of moorland already grazed to nothing. The horrors we have seen in the past when the snows have prevented farmers from feeding their stock may at the time have been regarded as unavoidable. What may happen this winter is avoidable, but only by an immediate cash injection and by putting into the market an effective guarantee —not this ridiculous payment per head which does nothing to help prices—which will enable farmers to borrow money from the bank knowing they will be able to service the interest on that money.
The tenant farmer in livestock cannot borrow the money from the bank. He does not have a farm to offer as security, nor has he any reasonable grounds for supposing that if the bank lends him money the use to which he puts that money in buying fodder for the animals will even cover the cost of the fodder when the animals are sold, let alone the interest on the borrowed money. This is the crisis in which we are. Do not let us waste time arguing about who should have done what. The duty we owe the farmer and the consumer is to secure immediate action from the Government and not to waste our time in recrimination.
I was appalled to receive a letter only yesterday, in answer to a telegram I sent to the Prime Minister a week ago last Wednesday, which complacently said that discussions would take place and pointed out that for us to restore a livestock guarantee would require the unanimous consent of the Common Market Ministers. It did not say that the British Government had sought that consent, and there is no reason to believe that they have. It is therefore hypocritical to give us, as a reason for doing nothing, the argument that the consent of the Common Market Ministers is required if they have not been asked for that consent.
When the Italians were faced with this position a few months ago they imposed a ban on imports. That is what Britain should do as well. Such a ban should operate until other steps can be taken, with the agreement of the Common Market Ministers. The same rules apply to us as apply to the Italians. What Italy can do, Britain can do.
129 Our horticulture industry also faces an increasingly desperate position. There are simple souls who think that horticulture is concerned primarily with the production of flowers. It is substantially to do with the production of food, and there is nothing any Government can do about the fact that, on average, Britain gets less sun than Italy, Holland and the Canaries. Whereas the Common Market countries, particularly Holland, subsidise the cost of natural gas and oil to horticultural producers, in Britain there is no subsidy—as far as I am aware—on natural gas. There are certainly no special provisions which would enable our industry to compete on an equal footing with the industries in Holland and elsewhere in the Common Market—and the Common Market is supposed to be all about competing on an equal footing.
The oil subsidy is supposed to be of a limited duration, but our horticultural producers do not know what will happen when the limited life span of the small amount of oil subsidy now paid comes to an end.
On 1st August the Select Committee on Public Expenditure published its unanimous recommendation on milk production, which was that as soon as administratively possible the price to the producers should be increased by 8p a gallon. That recommendation has not been executed. It could have been announced by the Government that as from 20th September, when the Milk Marketing Board sent out the cheques for milk produced in August, an 8p a gallon increase would be given to the producers. No such announcement has been made. The months have gone by and the increase is obviously not to be paid on August milk or September milk.
Later there will be an increase in price to producers, but it will be less than 8p per gallon. The Select Committee did not recommend unanimously an increase of 8p per gallon to the producer, with some of it getting lost on the way in Milk Marketing Board costs. The Select Committee unambiguously recommended an 8p per gallon increase to the producers and warned that this action should be taken as soon as administratively possible—in other words, on cheques sent out on 20th September—and that if not we could be in such a desperate position in terms of milk production by next February that 130 the housewife would be fortunate to receive as much liquid milk as she wanted and there would be little or nothing left over for production of cream and butter.
One hundred thousand people gain their livelihood in milk manufacturing and the distribution of milk products. Many of these people in the West Country and in Scotland have no alternative source of employment, because the milk factories are located in places which are comparatively remote from other sources of large-scale employment. The delay in implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee and the failure to implement them in full has already increased the hazards to the housewife as well as to the milk producer. Let it be remembered that the figure of 8p recommended by the Select Committee was based on evidence taken up until the first week in July. The Select Committee commented that it was unable to predict the extent to which costs would continue rising, and therefore reviews more frequently than once a year would be required. Already those costs have increased more than the Select Committee had reason to suppose on the basis of evidence submitted to it that they would rise.
Grain prices, fuel prices, fertiliser prices, electricity prices, thresholds on agricultural wage costs, and the cost of agricultural machinery, continue their remorseless rise. Therefore, the check in the unnatural flow of cull cows on to the beef market, already so desperately ruined, has continued needlessly and avoidably. That is why I have today handed in to the Table Office an amendment to add at the end:but deplore the absence of immediate and specific action to refinance the livestock sector of British agriculture and support the beef market, without which our beef supplies next year will suffer irreparable damage, and many producers become bankrupt.I have never known bank managers so worried. They have had to lend farmers second overdrafts with which to pay the unpaid interest on their first overdrafts, and the farmers are now unable to meet the interest payments on the second overdraft advanced to finance the interest payments which cannot be paid on the first overdraft. That is the position in which the agriculture industry now finds 131 itself, largely through the escalation in costs, which is the fault of no Government in Britain but is due to the absence of effective steps being taken to remedy the situation—steps which lie within the control of the British Government.
Therefore, the greatest, glaring defect in a Gracious Speech which will go down as full of glaring defects must be the complacency with which this country's food supplies, the contribution they can make to the balance of payments, and the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of our citizens are placed in jeopardy with the complacent, offhand comment that the Governmentwill continue their discussions with the farming industry.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
In following the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I shall not comment on everything he said concerning the farming industry, but as someone who represents a constituency with a considerable beef industry as well as a milk industry I concur with what he said about the nature of the crisis we face. That crisis will be solved only by a massive injection of cash well before the winter is out. I hope the Government will understand that that point of view does not emanate only from the Opposition. Everyone who knows something about agriculture is aware of the present state of the livestock sector.
The only comment I shall make on other speeches is that, with one or two of my hon. Friends, I shall particularly welcome the day when the Labour Government bring forward legislation to abolish the graduated pensions swindle once and for all. That will be a red letter day for the working people of this country—one to which we have looked forward since 1961.
I shall concentrate this evening on two issues—one far-flung from the United Kingdom and one within it. I turn first to the area furthest away—the important colony of Hong Kong, mentioned in the first paragraph of the Gracious Speech. Just before the General Election I was associated with a group known as the Hong Kong Research Project. The group's purpose was to publish a book entitled "Hong Kong: A Case To 132 Answer". That book was a deliberate, open attack on the misrule of that colony both by successive British Governments and by the non-elected business and financial cabal which is the real ruler of Hong Kong.
I point out the disturbing fact that while other British colonies have made significant progress in terms of self-government, the people in Hong Kong have been completely overlooked—nay, I should say deliberately overlooked. There has been phenomenal economic growth in Hong Kong and much wealth has been generated in that part of the Far East. In economic terms, Hong Kong occupies a place second only to Japan. That wealth has gone mainly to the ruling oligarchy in the colony. Part of the wealth has been used here in London to prop up the British pound, but the working people of Hong Kong, who have actually produced the wealth, have had a very raw deal.
Despite its economic success, placing it among the top 20 trading economies in the world, Hong Kong's labour laws ignore important ILO conventions. Its social provision is grossly inadequate when seen against its ability to meet need, and the disparities in wealth distribution are obscene.
In this country today we have a Labour Government who propose to introduce a wealth tax, and a Labour Government who have asked a Royal Commission to examine the justification for the payment of salaries over a £10,000 per annum limit. That is the position in this country—a democracy with one man one vote and a much more progressive tax system than that which operates in Hong Kong. If a wealth tax and an examination of top salaries are justified in Britain—as they are justified—the case for them to be applied to Hong Kong is irresistible. I hope to press my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on that subject fairly frequently during the Session.
If we have a Labour Government in Britain pursuing an avowedly Socialist manifesto for the people of Britain, and if social progress and a fairer distribution of wealth are needed for the British worker—as they are—that Labour Government should not turn aside the argument that such policies are needed as well for the ordinary working people of Hong Kong, for whom this House has ultimate 133 responsibility. The Labour Government and the Labour Party cannot evade that issue. Conditions in Hong Kong are our responsibility and no one else's. In the final analysis we are the Government of Hong Kong. There is no point in the Labour movement working itself up into a fury about conditions in South Africa, South-West Africa, or any country in Latin America, while we have the unacceptable face of colonialism within the British context, depicted by the internal situation in the colony of Hong Kong.
So far I have concentrated my remarks on the economic and social factors in respect of Hong Kong. There is, however, the overriding political question, too. By that I mean the question whether Hong Kong has any future as a separate entity from mainland China. When we look at the heart of the matter we see that Hong Kong as a British colony will cease to exist whenever China believes that the time is ripe to end what she terms the unequal treaties, starting with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.
We can actually fix a date when Hong Kong will cease to be viable as an entity and when this House will be required to face the facts of life out there. In 1997, only 23 years from now, the New Territories revert to Chinese sovereignty. As the New Territories make up nine-tenths of the total area of the colony it can easily be appreciated how unrealistic it would be to imagine that the remainder—Kowloon, Stonecutters Island and Hong Kong Island—will continue to function under a colonial régime. Our position in 1997 will be untenable. It may be that China will not give us until 1997, and that British politicians will be made to face the problem much sooner than expected. That would be in line with the history of this House's dealing with colonial possessions.
It would be wise, therefore, to start thinking seriously about the Hong Kong problem now, and to start preparing people in the colony for the change which is inevitable. While the mind boggles at the long-term problem—I believe that the mind of the Foreign Office boggles more than most—we must exercise our responsibility to ensure that while capital makes its pile by exploiting workers in Hong Kong we act decisively, as a Labour Government, in the interests of the workers.
134 I turn from Hong Kong—thousands of miles away—to the position inside the United Kingdom, in Scotland. I welcome the part of the Queen's Speech which refers to the urgent preparations to give effect to our commitment to create a Scottish Parliament. I particularly welcome the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing). I expect to be welcomed as a prophet in that fine burgh of Falkirk when I return there, because on the Sunday before the election I prophesied that ere we met in the Houses of Parliament my hon. Friend would be a Minister in the Labour Government. I know that he is as deeply committed to the question of devolution as any person in Scotland, and will do his utmost to speed up the necessary legislation.
I suggest to my hon. Friend and the rest of the Government that this is an urgent matter and that we should start legislation this Session. I know the difficulties involved in trying to find the area of responsibility between Westminster and Edinburgh on trade, industry and employment. I therefore put this suggested timetable to him for his consideration. First, we should have a major Bill this Session, which would become an Act about the end of July or September next year. That Bill should state the number of Members of a Scottish Parliament. It could state the date of the election—perhaps June of 1976; it could provide us with the Boundary Commission to draw up the necessary constituencies; it could state the date of operation, which might be September 1976.
The Bill would transfer the functions of the Scottish Office to the Scottish Parliament. It could transfer the Lord Advocate's functions from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament and it could make a start in tackling certain aspects of economic powers, such as ports, shipping, the Industry Act grants and air transport. It could make provision for the ultimate transfer of the Scottish Development Agency from the Secretary of State to the Scottish Parliament, and could also easily set out the system of finance and the relationship between this House and the House in Edinburgh with regard to the financing of the Budget.
All this could be achieved by this time next year. That would be a massive 135 advance towards the creation of a Scottish Parliament. It would be a legislative demonstration to the Scottish people of the Government's determination to give the matter priority. This could become very important politically, given our small majority.
By October 1975 this would, first, put us in the position of having a Parliament firmly established. Secondly, we would have a Civil Service in the process of changing over to operate the machinery of government in a Scottish Parliament. Thirdly, the political parties would have a clear election programme and would have time to prepare election material. Fourthly, it would leave this Parliament in Westminster with a further eight or nine months in which to bring forward the second Bill, which could become an Act in time for the Scottish Parliament to take up its full functions and deal with the more difficult problems of dividing trade and industry between London and Westminster.
In this kind of time-table there is an advantage of early positive action, plus time—to quote my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—to "get it right the first time." That was one of the first things he said when he became a Minister.
I hope that the importance of this matter is clearly understood. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Robertson) earlier made reference to the fact that the Conservative Party is now a rump in Scotland. We in the Labour movement must understand and recognise that in less than a decade we have gone from 48 per cent. of the total vote in Scotland to just over 36 per cent., which is something that no political party anywhere can choose to ignore.
So far my remarks about Scottish government have been placed in the context of the United Kingdom only, but in more ways than one this will be the year of Europe and of the Common Market. It will be necessary to examine devolution in that context also. We may be forced to come to very different conclusions about the type of Scottish Parliament we shall need if we remain inside the EEC.
I have always argued—I am on record as having argued here on 3rd May 1972 136 —that devolution within the sovereign State of Britain is one thing, but that it is quite another thing within a United Kingdom increasingly transferring power from Westminster to Brussels. If the renegotiations between ourselves and the Common Market are not fundamental—that is, if they alter only the terms of entry but not the bases of entry, which are the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Accession—part of the price of entry may be an end to the union as we know it. I emphasise the words "as we know it." I doubt whether, within an EEC basically unchanged in its power structure and power relationship between the Council of Ministers and home Parliaments, it would be in the best interests of Scotland to keep sending representatives to Westminster. In the circumstances just outlined we might need to go to Brussels as a separate entity, like the Danes, the Belgians and the Southern Irish. Otherwise, we could not be sure that the Scottish nation would be treated on a par with the other nations making up the enlarged Community.
I hope that that never comes about. I emphasise this, because I have always voted against entering the Common Market. When the referendum comes I shall advise my constituents to vote against it; I want the country to come out. I hope that the renegotiations will be fundamental, and that after them the EEC's basic foundations—the Treaty of Rome and the Treaty of Accession—will be completely changed, and that that will make it unnecessary for us to contemplate anything more radical than a Scottish Parliament within the continued unity of the United Kingdom. If the renegotiations are not fundamental, I believe that our problems in Scotland are only starting.
I end by referring to an article in the Glasgow Herald by its political correspondent, John Warden, who speculated the other day about the future of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. He quoted an old Scots saying from one of the Stuart kings that it "Cam wi' a lass" and it might "Gane wi' a lass". He had it slightly out of context. I think it would be more apt, although less poetical, to say that the Union came with one treaty establishing a common market—the British common market; it could go with another treaty to establish another 137 common market—the European Common Market.
I urge my right hon. Friends to ponder that fact seriously when they seek to renegotiate fundamentally on Common Market entry.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
It is tempting to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) into some very controversial spheres. However, I must not be tempted at this stage, except to say that, having been to Hong Kong myself on a number of occasions, I am sorry that he should have referred to the colony in so short a time. He missed out some very important facts, such as the incredible achievements of absorbing, housing and finding employment for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Communism over a period of years, by means of land reclamation and so on. If only we could manage our economy as Hong Kong does we should not be having debates about crises as often as we do in the House. Heaven forbid that his brand of Socialism should ever get hold of Hong Kong's economy!
I must return to the Gracious Speech. It was not all that surprising to most of us, because we had expected a good deal of lip-service to the need to overcome inflation. Of course, we had expected also irrelevancies such as the apparent need, according to the Government, to get on with nationalising industries rather than let them run as they are at the moment while we deal with the essential matter of inflation.
In company with other hon. Members, I was very depressed that the Prime Minister, on this occasion—the first on which he spoke to the House this Session —chose to go back to a lot of electioneering instead of giving us the clarion call and explaining exactly how he would go about defeating inflation. He told us nothing new whatsoever.
I want to pursue a matter that worries me very much, and which we may hear about later—though I doubt it, because it is something from which the Labour Party runs away. We know that the Prime Minister is, in his own view and that of his party, the custodian of the Labour Parfty manifesto, but we wonder how far he is, wittingly or unwittingly, gradually becoming also the custodian of 138 the Communist Party programme or manifesto.
I am delighted to see Ministers shaking their heads and tittering, because this is something that they ought to face, unless they are those who connive at it and wish it to be so. First, I remind them how the Labour Party got into government in February. We heard a lot about confrontation at that time, but we heard a good deal less about the way in which that election came about. It will be remembered by many hon. Members, because it was mentioned in this House, that in October of last year, about one year ago there was a meeting of the liaison committee for the defence of trade unions—a Communist-controlled body—at which it was decided that in the New Year, as indeed happened, the coal miners, the power workers and the engine drivers should be called out on strike so as to deny industry its power. [Interruption.]
This was all published in the Morning Star. If the hon. Member does not read it he should, because we made mistakes, like not reading "Mein Kampf", in the past. It was made quite clear that the object of that strike was to bring down the Conservative Government and replace it with a Left-wing Labour Government.
The extremists responsible for that meeting and who were successful in bringing about that strike were also successful in getting rid of a Conservative Government and electing in its place a Left-wing Labour Government. To back this up I have only to report the programme of the Communist Party announced on 14th January in the Morning Star, setting out an eight-point programme before the election was called. It advocatedSolidarity with the miners to win their claim in order to solve the energy crisis. Solidarity with the train drivers. Smash phase 3—restore free collective bargaining—repeal the Industrial Relations and Counter-Inflation Acts".All these have been done by a Socialist minority Government.
§ Mr. Goodhew
This was the Communist Party, not the hon. Gentleman's party, but I doubt that it makes much difference now. But to continue—A wages and pensions offensive to improve real earnings, pensions and benefits. End the 139 three-day week—full pay or full-time work. Strict price control—food subsidies—a rent freeze. Reverse Barber's tax concessions to the wealthy—a steep tax on wealth and property development.All these have either been carried out or are promised now in the Queen's Speech.Increase taxes on company profits"—which we have had—Cut arms spending A big extension of public ownership"—which, on this very Speech, we are now debating—A General Election to win a Labour Government committed to left policies.With that record, should not we ask ourselves whether the electorate was really voting into office 10 days ago a Labour Government or the vehicle for the introduction of Communist policies?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)
Some of the things that the hon. Gentleman has been reading out are, in fact, Labour Party policy. We should still have to carry out our policy, that being our intention, whatever the hon. Gentleman may think.
§ Mr. Goodhew
I gladly accept that this is also Labour Party policy. I am pointing out that we are going steadily down the Communist road and I am anxious to find out how far down it we are intended to go under this Government. We are not learning anything from the Prime Minister today. He did not tell us anything that we did not know already. In fact, he was careful not to tell us anything at all.
We now have proposals for the nationalisation of major industries, to be implemented in this one year, and we also have a situation in which a carefully contrived crisis created for private enterprise has brought most private industry and commerce to the verge of bankruptcy. It is no coincidence that at the very time when we are facing these nationalisation programmes private enterprise is put in a state in which it is possible for Ministers to point to it and say that it is inefficient and cannot manage.
These conditions can be created by allowing wages to go through the roof while at the same time pinning down prices and therefore profits and, in addition to that squeeze, increasing corpora- 140 tion tax and making advance corporation tax payable on top of that. By doing all that, of course, one can make even the most efficient business inefficient or non-profitable.
That is the position now, and the Government say "We shall do something to try to create a better liquidity situation for businesses". At the same time, there is pressure from the Left wing of the Labour Party saying "No, you are not to give them financial aid". All it means, really, is not taking away so much tax from them, but it is put the other way round—that one must not give them financial aid unless the Government themselves will take a State holding in these companies. This is a further incursion into private enterprise. It is increased Government control. If one takes that on top of the policy of gradually nationalising the large industries, one is going down the road to a Communist-style State.
It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side to shake their heads. I wonder how many on their side are fully aware of this and are happy for it to be so. I hope that I shall elicit some comment, but perhaps I shall not.
§ The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)
The hon. Gentleman invites me. Has it escaped his attention that the proposals in the Gracious Speech were in an election manifesto which has received the endorsement of the British electorate?
§ Mr. Goodhew
It has received the support of 40 per cent. of the British electorate, but even they did not have it presented to them as the road to a Communist State—which is what I believe the majority of hon. Members opposite are wishing for. It is certainly a road down which they are taking us.
If one then looks at Labour's foreign policy one finds equally a predisposition to help those in the Communist world who are our avowed enemies. Labour is anti-EEC, we are told; this is official Labour Party policy, although it is now to be put to the people. We do not yet know whether it will be by referendum or a General Election. We do not yet know which way the Labour Party will recommend the people to vote, but we do know that it has played an anti-EEC game all 141 this time and has given much aid and comfort to the Russians, who are very much opposed to our going into Europe. That would seem to me to be a good reason for our being in, as anything the Russians think bad for us I should think good for us.
In the defence sphere, we have been kept in mid-air since February. Nobody on the Government side has dared to say how many hundreds of millions of pounds are to be taken off the defence budget. There is no question or discussion of this in the House. We are prevented from debating the matter and from knowing what is in the Government's mind. We see reports that they may be going to knock it down by £250 million, by £500 million or even by £1,000 million. We do not know what the final figure will be, but we do know that the Government are determined to cut down our defences by a drastic amount. All right hon. and hon. Members opposite who study and understand these matters must know that such cuts would be absolutely fatal and destroy entirely the credibility of our ability to defend ourselves.
In the Gracious Speech the Government talk of using NATO as a weapon of détente as well as defence. One cannot use anything for détente while gradually cutting away one's power in it. One can gain concessions only if one has the power in one's own hands to influence the other side.
Then there are gratuitous insults to South Africa by the Foreign Secretary. Why does he demean himself by making comments about the visit of the Royal Navy to Simonstown at a time when even President Kaunda is congratulating Mr. Vorster on making speeches helpful for the future of Southern Africa? That must give aid and comfort. The hon. Gentleman talked about the right hon. Gentleman giving aid and comfort to Apartheid, but what the Foreign Secretary was doing was giving comfort to the Queen's enemies—to Russia. The Solicitor-General smiles mockingly. He should not do so. He must know the Russian objective in the Indian Ocean. He must know why they now have the biggest fleet in that area, and why there is anxiety that we should protect the oil route through which many other essential supplies come. He must know the Russians realise that, 142 from a strategic point of view, South Africa and Southern Africa as a whole are incredibly valuable, as are the natural resources there. Anything that we do to weaken the Government of South Africa when they are trying to overcome their problems is only of aid and comfort to the Queen's enemies.
Then there is the gratuitous stone thrown in the teeth of the Government of Rhodesia. They may be an illegal Government, but the fact remains that we have gone back on the five principles, and instead of saying that we shall try to negotiate a settlement with them the Government's attitude is negative. They say they will not settle unless the settlement is acceptable to the Africans. The Government have retreated from yet another position, and if they have their way they are likely to create chaos in Southern Africa, and that will be of comfort to the Communists, who are our avowed enemies.
§ The Solicitor-General
Would the hon. Gentleman recommend a settlement in Rhodesia which was not acceptable to the African population?
§ Mr. Goodhew
No. I am saying that the original Labour Party line—the line of all parties in the House, upon which party unity had been based—was the five principles, and that there should be a settlement acceptable to the majority of the people in the country. We now see the five principles disappear from the scene, and instead of a positive proposal to negotiate there is, instead, a negative statement that we shall not settle "unless". That is, again, a move in the wrong direction.
Whichever way we look at it, at home or abroad, we see that the Labour Party is running close to being a friend of the Communists, who delight in everything they see being done. If members of the Labour Party succeed in taking us further down the road to a Communist-style State, which I believe to be their intention, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, although protesting that he is balancing the party, will have a heavy responsibility to bear. I only hope the electorate will wake up to what the right hon. Gentleman is up to before there is another election.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
I understand that in making a maiden speech it is customary to refer to one's constituency and also one's predecessor. I have recently been elected as the Member for Ilford, North. So far as my predecessor is concerned, there are many in the House who know of his wide range of interests. Let me say that the previous speech was one after his own heart. If the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) suggests that nowhere in the country was the issue put to the electorate as he has put it to the House today, I must tell him that in Ilford, North the matter was put in exactly those terms and that the person who put it forward was rejected.
My immediate predecessor was Mr. Iremonger, but I should like to go back to an earlier predecessor. Helping me in the election in Ilford, North was somebody who was elected to the House in 1945, Mrs. Mabel Ridealgh, of whom I am very proud. During two election campaigns this year she has been my constant aide and supporter in the struggle to win Ilford, North.
I am particularly anxious to mention her because I see from the records of the House that in a debate which she initiated as far back as 1949 she spoke about housing in Ilford. She spoke about it in terms which I might use in describing the situation there today. She talked of sad cases which came before her, of young couples coming to her in tears telling her of their parlous housing conditions, of the overcrowding which they suffered, and of the breakdown in relationships which occurred within their family circle because no housing was available. It is a great tragedy that now, 25 years afterwards, the children of that generation are in exactly the same situation.
In the Gracious Speech the Government say that they will continue their policy ofencouraging local authorities and housing associations to provide more homes to rent.I know only too well, from my experience in local government as well as in working in my constituency, how vital this is. The Government must look beyond encouraging authorities, be they local councils or housing associations, and ask themselves, if these agencies fail, whether they should 144 consider other ways of meeting the serious housing problem which, as the Prime Minister said in the House today, is perhaps worse than it has been since the immediate pre-war period.
For young people waiting for homes the opportunities grow less. With the decline in rented accommodation, the ever-increasing cost of repayments on mortgages and the spiralling cost of house purchase, young working people give a hollow laugh at the idea that a 9½ per cent. mortgage repayment would be of any help to them.
In a situation in which the initial deposit on a house costs them thousands rather than hundreds, even the inducement offered by Conservative candidates of a gift towards the deposit means nothing to them.
This means that the Government have a duty, which they have set themselves today, not merely to ensure that there is a stable flow of mortgage funds but to make certain that those funds are available at a level which young people setting out in life, starting their families and facing mortgage repayments on one wage are able to meet.
As long ago as the time of their grandparents, this very issue was before the House. I believe that many of those grandparents who were promised homes "fit for heroes to live in", have their own type of housing problem. For the most senior members of that generation it can take one form or another. First, they may be living in miserable, cramped and unsuitable accommodation in their declining years. The other side of the picture is represented by those who, after waiting for years and years to be rehoused, found houses with sufficient room for their families but now find that their children have grown up and moved out. The result is that many old people are living against their will in houses which are far too big for their needs. That is the lot of the generation of grandparents. Again, many parents have their married children living with them. This causes the strains and tensions which this kind of existence brings to so many families in our society, and I have already described the plight of the youngsters themselves.
The words in the Gracious Speech will not be sufficient. Far too often Governments talk about housing as an important 145 social need and pay lip-service to their intentions to provide it. I shall not be satisfied with my term in the House until I have seen the Government put as their top priority the provision of homes for all who need them. If we fail in this we shall deserve the rejection of those people who are so cynical about politicians today. I believe that if we have the will we shall provide the homes for all who need them.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
It is my pleasure to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller). It is the first time in 15 years, since I was first elected in 1959, that the privilege of congratulating a maiden speaker has been accorded to me. I say to the hon. Lady straight away that her knowledge of social matters and housing is profound and very much in the forefront of her mind. But, with humility, may I remind her that her predecessor was also very keen on those same matters and worked very hard on them. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal from the hon. Lady and I admire her for making a speech so early in this Parliament. When I came to the House I was far too frightened for at least three months to dare to open my mouth, except for the occasional question. I congratulate the hon. Lady on not only a clear but also a very confident speech.
Although the Gracious Speech is not particularly spelt out, the terms are very clear. It gives the Government a wide choice of programme. Although it may not be specifically qualified, it gives sweeping powers—even without the last sentence, promising thatOther measures will be laid before Parliament".Two questions immediately come to mind. The first is: have the Government the authority to do what they propose? The second is: is it advisable in the present financial climate?
Turning first to the question of authority, it is perfectly clear, as the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science said earlier, that most of what is in the Gracious Speech was contained in the Labour Party manifesto at the last election. The Government gave a pledge that they would carry out that manifesto. It is embodied in Her Majesty's Speech. 146 As long as the Government have the parliamentary majority to carry out their programme they have the right to do it. It is not a question of the number of votes cast in the country but of their majority in this House. We shall have to see whether they are able to carry it out by a vote of Parliament.
But I ask myself something which goes much deeper. Is the policy laid down in this Gracious Speech the right one having regard, as the Prime Minister himself said, to the very serious financial position in which this country finds itself? The Prime Minister compared it to 1931. I think the situation is as serious as that of 1931, though the circumstances are not the same. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the situation is equal to that of 1931.
Secondly, is the Government's policy likely to inspire confidence at home and abroad? Thirdly, can we afford it? I believe that we require a far more serious look at our economy before we embark on the schemes and the projects advanced in the Gracious Speech. There is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said, no mention of agriculture. Although I have a comparatively small number of farmers in my electorate, I have a large agricultural area and am extremely worried, as are many other Members, about the immediate future of agriculture. Those points were so well brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton that I do not wish to labour them.
I have spoken of the necessity for looking at our financial position clearly, and it may come as a surprise to the House that I condemn the Government for their short-sightedness on defence policy. I welcome their statements about their co-operation with NATO and an obvious desire to look for international peace. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) said, if we fail to pay our contribution towards defence in NATO, slowly but surely the Americans, who are at the moment providing our umbrella, will say to us, "Look, why should our taxpayers pay for too high a proportion of your defence costs in Europe?" I believe that the right course is not to cut our defence expenditure but to reach an agreement with our allies in Europe whereby we share the cost and pay only what we can reasonably afford. With the build-up of Russian naval forces 147 all over the world, we cannot afford to drop our guard at this time. It could only result in lack of confidence overseas.
The second matter on which I criticise the Government—as hon. Members opposite know, I very rarely do criticise them —is the danger of the uncertainty about the future of the European Economic Community. I do not detract from what the Minister of Agriculture has been doing in Europe. He has been renegotiating, very successfully, which is part of what we originally intended to do. What I condemn is the general attitude of uncertainly which is making it very difficult for people to appraise our position in the world. I do not believe that this kind of thing enhances our position abroad, and it is important that we should preserve confidence abroad.
I welcome the statement in the White Paper that we shall see further co-operation with Southern Ireland. I have spoken many times in this House about the necessity for very close co-operation between the Garda in Eire and our own forces north of the border, because I believe that only by such co-operation can we possibly hope to eliminate this ghastly terrorism.
The Gracious Speech, to give it its credit, produces some very good minor points. I turn to a few of them. For example, we all want to see conditions at work being improved.. There is also the reference to the need to protect our people holidaying abroad. As the House is probably aware, I have already raised this matter following the Court Line affair. Many of my constituents, as a result of Government assurances about Court Line, paid deposits, and I am glad to see that most of them will get their money back. But it is clear from the Gracious Speech that the Government have seen the wisdom or perhaps the folly of what they said in the House and are now going to look into this whole problem much more carefully.
I am a little worried when the Government and their supporters talk of the importance of law and order, which was one of the planks of most Conservative platforms in the General Election. But if they are to talk about the enforcement of the rule of law they must forget things like Clay Cross, they must forget the £10 million rebate, and they must go back to the fundamental principles that the courts 148 of this land are independent and it is about time that people, whatever their walk of life, observed the rules, because the restoration and maintenance of law and order is a primary responsibility of the Government and is in the interests of every person in this country with the exception of the criminal.
Earlier, mention was made of the social contract. Would the Government be prepared to lay a copy of this document in the Library of the House of Commons? The Prime Minister said that it was available. I cannot believe that the document can be so private, so sealed, that it is not to be available to the public. It should be made available in the Library of the House of Commons. I ask the Government to think about my suggestion very seriously.
The social contract is not the be-all and end-all. What is fundamentally necessary is a co-operation between management and labour—all levels of management with all levels of labour. I have said on many occasions that our industrial situation is not altogether the fault of labour; it is the fault of both management and labour. Somehow or other, we have to get something bigger than the social contract. We have to get a conception of a work force which is a partnership between management and labour. Until we achieve that aim I do not believe that we shall see any improvement in industrial relations.
I strike one discordant note with hon. Members opposite. I have always believed —I have put it in my election addresses and I have said it in the House—that it is right that strike pay should be paid not by the taxpayer but by the union. It would make unionists much more careful before they went on strike, because it would be their money that was in jeopardy, and not the taxpayers. In other words, the unions should pay.
I do not for a moment suggest that their families should be deprived, but I believe that the responsibility and the onus should be removed from the taxpayer and placed on the shoulders of the unions. I do not see anything wrong about that. It would have a better effect on labour relations, and I also believe that that should be combined with co-operation between the two sides of industry. They may sound inconsistent, but in fact they go together.
149 These are the sorts of things we have to have in this country. We cannot continue with prolonged strikes. They are harmful to our economy and they set us back and put us in a position which is no longer competitive with that of our rivals.
We must also look at the long-term and short-term interests of this country. I do not believe that in the short term or the long term the present policy set out in the Gracious Speech is likely to help us. I cannot believe that this is the right time for further nationalisation. I do not believe that it is right for further State control.
Nor do I believe that a wealth tax is likely to create more wealth nationally. The sort of society that I want to see—this is where I differ from hon. Gentlemen opposite—is a society in which thrift and savings are encouraged, because it is on thrift and savings that this country has been built up. What we need is confidence in industry, confidence for people to invest in industry, but they will not invest if they are to be penalised.
Looking further ahead, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) said, if we are to restore confidence in this country we have obviously to restore confidence overseas. But, secondly, we shall have to take radical measures to put our economy right in the immediate future. The three things we have to do is to cut public expenditure, have some form of wage restraint, and restrict the money supply—and they are all unpalatable. I say glibly, "cut public expenditure." What does that mean? It means cuts on schools, roads, and everything else. But surely it is better to cut them now than to go forward into a catastrophic situation.
We should be taking stock of the situation like a businessman, and saying that we are in a very difficult situation and that we must cut our costs, even though to do so may—as I think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said today —temporarily halt the rise in our standard of living. It is worth doing that, because upon such a strong economic platform we should be able to reap a long-term advantage.
We have to do two things. We have to restore confidence abroad and we have to 150 use all our skills, initiative and resources to make sure that we are ready to leap forward the moment the opportunity arises. I believe that this country can survive, that we can go forward and expand and produce all the things that everyone in this House and the country wants—more schools and better roads improved industrial opportunity and social benefit. However, the situation is so serious that each and every person in this country has to sacrifice something. The unions must realise that in the long term it is better to have a mark-time policy now in order to have wage improvements later, rather than let inflation go ripping through the roof, resulting in complete and utter economic chaos.
These are the sort of things that I believe to be right—a short-term tough going, no nationalisation, and no tax which might in any way adversely affect our economic position. Having stabilised ourselves, I believe we could go forward.
I hope that this can happen, but I issue the warning that, whatever the Government's parliamentary majority may be, if circumstances overtake us and the Government are not able to surmount the crisis as a one-party Government, I would not rule out co-operation between the two major parties to fight what is the greatest crisis this country has ever met.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on an excellently delivered and well-informed speech. We all look forward to hearing her often in the future.
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) has spoken about making drastic cuts in the money supply. Does he mean by this that the drastic cuts should be made, for example, on farmers? They might as well be on them as on bricklayers, builders, joiners or anybody else. Would he still be as enthusiastic about it, or does he reserve these cuts only for particular sections of which he personally disapproves? If one makes a cut which results in making idle someone who would otherwise be doing profitable work creating goods of value, I cannot see that that can in any way improve the financial situation of this country. It is surely better to have people producing goods that are useful.
151 If the hon. Gentleman were to argue that we are producing the wrong kind of goods, if he were to argue that we should stop producing some things and produce instead other things with that labour, I should consider that a sensible argument. However, he has not argued that. He has argued that we should simply cut the money supply, produce unemployment and have people doing nothing when they could be doing something useful. I cannot see how that can possibly help the finances of this country.
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Gentleman has rightly picked on a point in my speech, and I am perfectly happy to answer it. I said that I believe the situation now is so serious that we cannot afford to go on pumping money into the economy, because this will lead to further inflation and further problems. What I have suggested is that we should take a look at all the points. It may mean—I say this quite openly to the House—a small degree of unemployment now, but I believe that it is better to cut back now than to go forward with massive inflation to such an extent that we see an unprecedented level of unemployment perhaps in a year's time. I believe that it is better to take the problem now and halt it before it is too late.
§ Mr. Doig
With all due respect, the hon. Gentleman contradicts himself. He advocated, on the one hand, that we should spend far more money on farming, and, on the other, that we should not go ahead with nationalisation. Let him look at the Gracious Speech. First, there is reference to shipbuilding. Let him look at the record of shipbuilding in this country. We have gradually lost our share of the world shipbuilding market. Clearly, there is a need, an urgent need, that we should take steps to put the industry on an efficient basis and capture far more of that market that we have been losing for years. I should think that just as important as spending more money on the farmers in order to produce more food. It is equally important for the welfare of the people in this country.
I do not want to make a long speech about what the hon. Gentleman said, but I should like to pick up one other point, which was made also by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), in 152 relation to defence expenditure and the cuts that we are to make. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the Gracious Speech he will see that it says that we should reduce costsas a proportion of our national resources.That is quite different from what has been suggested by both hon. Gentlemen. We are suggesting a cut in the percentage of our national resources which we spend on defence. Everybody knows that for years and years we have been trying to keep up a defence expenditure which was beyond this country to sustain. Everybody knows that we have to make cuts in our defence expenditure, but we must try to do it in a way that does not endanger our defence, and that can be done only in the way outlined in that paragraph of the Queen's Speech.
I come to a matter which is not in the Queen's Speech, but which I think ought to have been in it. During the recent election I received complaints from many constituents who had not been able to cast their votes because they were away on holiday. They were told that they could not have postal votes when they were on holiday. The Government ought to have another look at this. I see no reason why people should not have votes when they are on holiday.
I go further. I cannot see why anybody who wants a postal vote should not be able to elect to have one. It might cost a little extra initially, but at the end of the day it would probably save money. The vast majority of people would want to exercise the right to use a postal vote. For most people it would be much more convenient, and it would not require as many polling stations, the staff to man them, and so on. There would be compensating savings which would mean that it would cost no more. I see no reason why, at some time during the life of this Parliament, we should not take the first step towards allowing postal votes for people who are on holiday.
The position has become acute. Long ago when there were elections in the autumn, winter and spring, very few people were on holiday and so there was no difficulty. Gradually, there was a change. There used to be a one-day holiday in the autumn. Then it became a holiday weekend. Even fairly low-paid workers, such as the jute workers in my 153 constituency, gradually developed the habit of going away on a bus trip—perhaps to Blackpool, or somewhere else, for the weekend to see the illuminations.
People do not now go away for a weekend. They go away for a week because they have a week off work. During election week the jute workers in Dundee had a week off work. I have no doubt that many of my votes were lost in Blackpool because my constituents were not allowed to vote there and in many other places.
It was not only the jute workers who were on holiday during the election. On our industrial estate in Dundee new firms such as NCR, a large employer of labour, also had a week off, and it happened to be election week. Perhaps I was unlucky, but in future elections somebody will be unlucky whenever the election takes place, because more and more people are being given a third holiday week in the winter. An election could come any time. No Prime Minister could possibly pick a date for an election which would not coincide with somebody's third week's holiday in the winter.
That being the situation, it is time to have another look at this matter and to face the reality that more and more people can now afford a third week's holiday. They are getting it from their firms, and they can now afford to go away. That is a good thing, but people should not be denied the right to vote because of it. As a first step, the Government should grant a postal vote to people who know they will be away on holiday, and they should grant postal votes to all those who want them and elect to have them. I see no objection whatever to that. There may be a slight extra cost initially, but it would soon be compensated for by the reductions that could be made thereafter.
I draw attention to the part of the Queen's Speech which says:A Bill will be introduced to provide Public Lending Rights for authors.This disturbs me. If it means that royalties will have to be paid to authors each time somebody takes a book out of the public library—and I think that is what it means, though I may be wrong—who will pay for it? Will it be the person who borrows the book, or will it be the people 154 who own the library, usually the local authority? Who will pay for it? Frankly, I am very disturbed about it.
There was a great campaign because a charge was imposed for entrance to museums and art galleries. It is equally important to preserve people's freedom to make use of libraries. After all, authors gain from libraries buying their books, and I imagine that their largest customers are libraries. If a book is of any use at all, libraries all over the country will buy it. I see no great need for this measure.
There is a further danger here. If a charge is made when people borrow books from libraries, what will be the effect on those who read magazines and newspapers in reading rooms in libraries? Should those authors be compensated? After all, the principle is the same. If one compensates an author who writes a book, why should one not compensate a newspaper editor who writes a newspaper? In logic there is absolutely no difference.
I know that initially nobody would ever dream of paying compensation to newspaper owners, and yet it might become necessary in view of the number of newspaper owners going bankrupt and out of business. This practice could become widespread in the future and we should be chary of this proposal and examine it closely.
Another passage in the Gracious Speech refers to measures:to improve the law and the administration of justice".Apart from the mention of Northern Ireland, this appears to be the only reference to the rate of crime in this country. This subject merits far more attention than it is getting. It is important that the Government pay far more attention to the increase in crime and consider steps that could be taken to help to lessen it.
For example, I have myself advocated in the House that people should be allowed to use dog repellants to defend themselves. In many cases these repellants do no permanent harm whatever. Why should not people be able to defend themselves, not only against dogs, but against thugs? The repellants are equally effective against them.
155 Only recently, I read in a newspaper about the case of a woman who came from abroad bringing with her what was legal in her own country—a little teargas spray that could be squirted into the face of anyone who attacked her. She was attacked; she used the spray and successfully defended herself. She was charged and convicted for defending herself against a thug. Is that the way to cure crime?
We have to start taking another look at this matter. It is said that possessing something like that or a dog repellent is a contravention of the Firearms Act. Presumably that means that it endangers the security of the State. What utter rubbish! Such devices do no permament damage to anybody.
The other argument is that these devices might get into the hands of the thugs themselves. If they do, as they do no permanent injury, it is better for thugs to use them than to kick in somebody's ribs or face. I should think they would be a decided advantage. The Government should think along the lines of allowing people to defend themselves with weapons that do no permanent injury.
The danger from dogs has been highlighted recently by attacks from guard dogs, which are usually vicious, not properly trained, not properly supervised, and which have caused a number of deaths and serious injuries. The Government need substantially to tighten up the control of guard dogs. They should be licensed for a start. Owners should have them very tightly controlled. They should be in places from which they cannot get out. There is scope for a great deal of improvement.
During this election, one of my canvassers was viciously attacked by a dog. He had to go to hospital. Such an attack is not a rare occurrence nowadays. I have tried to get statistics dealing with attacks by dogs on postmen. The evidence is that these attacks are increasing. I have tried to get statistics from hospitals because when someone is injured in this way they end up in hospital. I cannot see why hospitals cannot make a separate entry of these things and supply figures to the Government so that the extent of the problem can be appreciated. 156 It is a far bigger problem than anyone is prepared to admit.
I come to the most important matter, that of prices. In 1959, before I became a Member of this House, when I was a candidate in Aberdeen, I suggested that the Government should set up a costing department to check excessive price rises and profits by manufacturers and retailers, be they supermarkets or small street traders. I recently took up a case with the Department concerned. Legislation prevented the small shopkeeper from sticking a label on top of another one to increase the price of an article. Yet at the same time there was a vast increase in petrol prices and the multi-national petrol companies, with their huge profits and reserves, made colossal killings because they did not have the price stamped on their petrol. They were allowed to increase prices overnight, including the price of their stocks bought at the lower rate. This happens regularly.
It showed up when firms published their balance sheets because their profits had rocketed astronomically. When asked how it had happened they said it was as a result of the vast stocks they had when the price of petrol went up. They were doing the same thing as putting new labels on their product and they were allowed to do so. But the small shopkeeper earning about £30 a week is prosecuted if he does it.
I took up a case with the Department concerning a firm which is almost a household word in this country which was allowed to increase its prices and, by previous agreement, notify the Department afterwards. All the smaller firms had to notify in advance. It is wrong to allow any company, however important, to be exempted in advance from the necessity to notify price increases.
The Government force up interest rates —and without doing anything the banks substantially increase their profits. Where does the money go? No doubt some of it is taxed but a lot remains in the hands of the shareholders and is paid to the executives who draw large salaries for running the banks. It must be obvious to the Government when they authorise an increase in interest rates that there will be a big killing for the banks and 157 others who lend money. Why do the Government not take steps in advance to prevent that happening by taking a large amount of the money back, making sure that there is no large unearned windfall for these companies?
The Government could do a lot more by checking unnecessary price increases, thus bringing down prices. I am sure it would start the ball rolling. It is time we began to look at this from the point of view of controlling unnecessary price increases.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
I do not think that the House would thank me if I took up all of the points raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) in his forthright speech. I agree with the point he made about postal votes. I have written a letter about this to one of my party organisers today because I had exactly the problem which he described. I hope that this will be examined by Ministers, because it is felt by electors to be an increasing injustice.
The first of the four parts of the Gracious Speech to which I wish to refer deals with agriculture. Those of us who represent rural areas are only too well aware of the appalling state of the beef sector. Several hon. Members have already mentioned this. We must be fair to Ministers who inherited a difficult situation because of the massive increase in feedstuffs last year, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) was negotiating with the Community when the change of Government took place in February.
Regrettably I must say that I believe that the Minister of Agriculture has completely failed to tackle the problem effectively. When in March, as a deliberate policy, he refused to use the weapon of permanent intervention without substituting any alternative monetary guarantee, he left the beef market without any floor. By June it was clear that his proposals had failed to restore confidence. Thus it was that the right hon. Gentleman came to this House with his headage payment scheme for clean cattle. It must be placed on record, and I do not think it has been so far, that in June the right hon. Gentleman expected his headage payment 158 scheme to produce an average price of £18 per live cwt.
He said:We need to be in a position to give producers the assurance over a period that their returns will not drop below about £18 per live cwt. for clean quality cattle. That is the right way to deal with the problem of short-term over-supply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1593.]The reality is that that figure of £18 per live cwt. has never been achieved. Indeed, in my constituency, in the Melton Mowbray cattle market which conducts business every Tuesday, the average price for fat cattle over the past five Tuesdays, excluding today, has been as follows: 24th September, £15.52 per live cwt.; 1st October, £13.47; 8th October, £13.47; 15th October, £13.67; 22nd October, £13.42. Those are utterly ruinous prices for any farmer buying Welsh or Irish stores last year and selling them now, or rearing calves over the last year and a half. The object of the right hon. Gentleman's scheme was to keep half-finished cattle out of the market to sustain the price. The truth is that it has been a failure and it is about time that was admitted.
Therefore, it is less than encouraging to beef producers in my constituency when the right hon. Gentleman returns from Brussels with slightly higher headage payments under exactly the same scheme, which has already been a serious failure. The House cannot afford to let producers lose up to £60 per fat animal any longer. If forward confidence is to be maintained in the beef sector it is important that the right hon. Gentleman introduces a floor price of at least £22 per live cwt. as a matter of urgency, otherwise he will find the market firming up next year because of a shortage of beef, as is happening in the pig sector now. The House knows what that means for the consumer.
Secondly, I should like to say a few words on the section of the Gracious Speech dealing with the wealth tax. If this proposal is to proceed, there must be proper protection for farmers and timber growers. It is not good enough to promise to defer wealth tax, since this simply puts off the evil day.
Agriculture in Britain has long consisted of large numbers of viable units which, in total, make for a healthy contribution to the national economy. The 159 combined effect of wealth tax and capital transfer tax is bound to lead within a few years to a nation of smaller and less economic farm holdings as land is sold off to pay taxes. This fragmentation will rapidly undo all the good work which has been undertaken painstakingly over the years in streamlining British farms. It would also be a complete reversal of the policy of successive Governments which have spent money in order to encourage an increase in the size of holdings.
Thirdly, I wish to say something about the part of the speech which deals with land nationalisation. I have long admired the knowledge and expertise of both the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Planning and Local Government, whose family name is much honoured in planning circles. But I do not believe that those right hon. Gentlemen can be happy with the proposals in the White Paper on land since those proposals clearly have not been properly worked out. They have received an almost unanimously bad reception, first, from some Labour Members of Parliament who think that the proposals in the White Paper do not go far enough; secondly, from builders who believe that the proposals will increase land prices and reduce the supply of land; thirdly, from many experts and commentators who know that local authorities simply cannot administer the scheme because of shortage of resources.
It is perhaps an eloquent commentary on the scheme's half-baked nature that the newspaper Estate Times—a publication which deals with property development, and which would not be favourite reading of Labour Members—carried an article on 20th September entitled, "Crosland—the Developers' Saviour". The argument was that henceforth local authorities would take on the risky and messy job of site assembly for town centre, shopping and office schemes and then lease the land to developers who would make excellent and relatively risk-free profits out of designing the schemes, constructing and letting the property. I do not suppose that developers would mind that proposal too much since it already happens in some areas, but I doubt whether it is what the Tribune Group had in mind for land nationalisation. The article finishes with the words 160Once again, the established property companies are likely to find themselves in a situation where they can't lose—whatever happens.The Secretary of State for the Environment knows that before I entered the House I was very critical of the proposed land hoarding charge put forward by the Conservative Government in April, 1973, not only because it was undesirable in principle but because it was unworkable in practice. Mercifully, that scheme was dropped. I strongly suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he does the same with his land proposals and sticks to the development gains tax at a maximum rate of 52 per cent. As his proposals now stand, I believe that they will gravely damage the housing programme.
Finally I turn to the housing programme itself. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment has taken several measures since March to stimulate private house building. He has held down mortgage rates to 11 per cent. by making a £500 million loan to building societies, and he has encouraged local authorities and housing corporations to buy unsold houses from developers. The latter scheme does not appear to have been much of a numerical success, and indeed there are strong arguments of equity and financial responsibility which can be advanced against it, but what matters is results—and these are very gloomy.
Every house builder knows that the key to forward confidence is the level of housing starts. The figures show plainly that so far the Government's measures have not been successful in pulling up the rate of private house building starts. The Government's own statistics for the period June to August of this year show a 12 per cent. decline over the previous three months and a serious 51 per cent. decline over the period June to August 1973.
As the President of the House Builders' Federation, Mr. Dick Sinfield, said on 19th October, total private starts this year could be as low as 100,000 compared with 215,000 last year. Clearly there was no basis in reality for the public statement on 27th August by the Minister for Housing and Construction that… the decline in private sector house building has at last been halted".161 As is well known by everybody, the truth is that mortgage money is now widely available but purchaser and developer confidence is non-existent. Hence the dull and static market which exists at present. Because of his recent remarks during the election, I do not think the Secretary of State for the Environment will be putting forward a proposal for 9½ per cent. mortgages as envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).
The Gracious Speech says that the Government…will take action to secure a stable and adequate flow of mortgages.But that is not good enough. What is necessary is to restore purchaser confidence, and the Government should accept Mr. Sinfield's proposal and give a pledge that the mortgage rate will not be permitted to exceed 11 per cent. If that is not done, I believe that the total level of housing completions in 1975 will be nearer 200,000 than 300,000—that is to say, back to the levels of 1950.
Inevitably, discussions on the Gracious Speech are mainly concerned with the great issues of economics, but agriculture and house building are two of the most important and sensitive industries in this country. It will be the urgent task of Ministers in this Parliament to repair shattered confidence, and this work must be begun at once.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
The terms of the Gracious Speech were predicted in the Press and by many of my Labour colleagues, and I do not think that we have been let down in many important respects. What many of us look forward to is next year's Gracious Speech and what it will contain.
The particular areas of this year's Speech with which I want to deal are the Common Market and the subject of industry. On the Common Market we are told that the Government will "energetically continue their renegotiation". Since the wording of a Gracious Speech is chosen carefully, the word "energetically" seems a little out of place. If we have not been energetically renegotiating, what have we been doing since February? If we are only to start energetically renegotiating now, how is it that we can make a promise that we shall be 162 ready to put the issue to the British public in 12 months' time? Therefore I believe that there is more than meets the eye to the use of the word "energetically".
I look forward to the referendum on the Common Market, as do many of my constituents. I am pleased to say that this subject was raised with me on many more occasions during the recent election than it was raised in February. It became an election issue for the first time. In 1970 the question of the Common Market was hardly an issue. The then Labour Prime Minister certainly did not make it an issue, and the Conservative Leader of the Opposition then took the view, "We will negotiate, no more, no less." In the February election when Labour Party Members attempted to raise the issue of the Common Market the then Tory Prime Minister said, "The matter is closed. Since we are already in the Common Market, the issue is not open for discussion any more." Therefore, in the recent election the Common Market for the first time was a major issue. In this respect many of us who wanted this subject to be an issue earlier are grateful for the chance it gave us to discuss the matter with our constituents and to tell them why we wish the matter to be a decision of the people and not a decision of professional politicians.
I cannot conceive of the decision being taken through the ballot box on this issue by way of a General Election. It is inconceivable that the present Prime Minister would go to the country on one issue having seen what happened in February when a Conservative Prime Minister went to the country on one issue. It is not possible under our system to have a General Election on one issue or for a Government to maintain that the issue is the Common Market and nothing else, ignoring the subject of prices, unemployment and all the rest of it. The situation can be somewhat confusing if the nation wants to talk about a subject as fundamental as the Common Market.
There are many arguments against the idea of a referendum. The scare articles have already started to appear in The Times. One argument is that it is not constitutional. However, my reading of the situation is that if we in this House pass a Bill providing for a referendum, it will be constitutional. In other words, 163 The power lies here in this House to create that part of the constitution.
Then it is argued that if we have a referendum about the Common Market, we shall have to have referenda for many other matters dear to our hearts. My answer to that is that the electorate are right to say to us, "We elected you to go to Westminster to make our laws. Get on with it. Do not come back asking us about it." That is all very well if all the laws come from this House. If the electorate do not like what we are doing they have the chance to chuck us out, because there is no such things as a safe seat any more.
However, there is one fundamentally different feature about the Common Market. Laws are created and affect the electorate which do not emanate from this House. This House has no control over them. In that way, the situation has changed. If the British people wish to be governed partly from Westminster and partly from Brussels, that represents a fundamental change in the way that we govern the country and in my view we are right to say that it is so fundamental a change that the people must decide whether they wish to be governed in this way. I do not think that the argument that the need for referenda can come up on all sorts of other issues necessarily stands on that.
During the election, I thought of one or two examples of issues going outside the control of this House which I could cite at election meetings. One which came to mind was that in the future the United Nations might become a much more powerful institution than it is today and that it might be necessary to hand over to it control of sections of our armed forces for international policing work. Such a matter should be decided by means of a referendum because it would be a fundamental change in the way that we govern ourselves.
Whatever the result of the renegotiations, I look forward to the issue being put to the country for the people to decide so that the Labour Government can say on this issue, as on many others, that they have kept their promise.
It will be a novel departure for this country to have a referendum. We had one in Northern Ireland, although that 164 was no precedent. But there are many arguments about how votes shall be counted and about how the decisions of electors are to be made known. Some suggest a constituency basis. Others propose a regional basis or one which lumps together the whole country. It is a subject which will occupy many hours in this House. But, whatever happens, in the end the issue will be decided by the people through the ballot box.
Another argument against a referendum is that people will not understand the pros and cons because they are not sufficiently educated and have not read enough about the subject. However, that does not hold water. Any hon. Member could go to his constituents and ask what were the main differences between the parties on any number of issues and they would not be able to answer in any detail. Basically, the decision of any voter at an election is a gut reaction. By and large, he believes in the policies put forward by the party of his choice and he votes accordingly. In my view, the Common Market issue will be decided on the same basis.
I welcome the Government's decision, knowing that within 12 months we in this country are to have hustings in a slightly different and novel form from that to which we have been accustomed. Like a great many of my colleagues, I look forward to its implementation.
One other important matter in the Gracious Speech is that relating to planning agreements. The Government hope that such a policy will help in managing the economy and setting industry to rights. We hear arguments about State intervention, control, interference in industry, the shortage of profits and the zero level of liquidity. I spoke about the situation during my election campaign. Someone in the audience took from his pocket a copy of the Business Section of The Sunday Times setting out week by week the profits of various different companies and giving details of their profits in the corresponding weeks in the previous year. At the moment, profits are running at a level 42 per cent. higher than a year ago. Of course, the list includes companies making substantially greater profits, others turning in much the same level of profits, and some making lower profits.
We have to study the largest companies, which may not be controlled by 165 people in this country. I have in mind the multi-national companies which do not seem to have problems in setting price levels in any country in which they operate and do not have the liquidity difficulties of many smaller businesses. They control a large sector of our manufacturing output. I can think of two examples in Birmingham, where there is a growing need for the planning agreement system.
All that the planning agreements will require is that a company discloses its plans for the next three years in terms of investment, marketing and employment. In Birmingham there is a company employing more than 1,500 people. It is part of a large national group. It cannot say what it is planning to do for the next two years, let along the next three. It could be involved in one of the largest growth sectors in the country, supplying equipment for use in connection with North Sea oil. However, the company is not planning in the next two years to take on any more business. It could not say what it is planning to do in the next three years. It could not go that far.
It may be argued that that is the way in which the economy is run, that firms should be able to make their own decisions and that if they want to plan ahead only two years they should be allowed to do so. But what about the 1,500 people employed by such a company? I do not think that it is a good idea to have firms planning only two years ahead. What is more, the workers concerned do not think that it is a good idea when they know that their firm is planning ahead only two years.
A large multi-national company with its headquarters in Birmingham is investing so much in countries abroad that its workers in Birmingham are fearful for their jobs. The company is not only spending money making products abroad. It is having the effrontery to import those products and sell them in Birmingham shops. In branches of Halfords, motor accessories can be purchased marked "Made in Italy", "Made in Germany" or "Made in France". The packaging of those products is printed in Birmingham. People are given the impression that they are buying a branded product made in Birmingham when the company responsible for their manufacture is spending millions of pounds abroad but hardly a 166 penny on new equipment and factories in this country.
I hope that the planning agreements will get to grips with the short-sightedness of management which makes our country almost unique among Western industrialised nations. We are about the only country in Western Europe without a system whereby the Government know what is happening. The planning agreements involve no State take-overs or the buying of equity in companies. The cry of "State control" does not work.
The people of Birmingham look forward to the implementation of this aspect of the Government's policies. That is shown by our results in the recent election. We see the greatest victory for the Labour Party in the history of Birmingham politics. If the Gracious Speech is anything to go by and if the Government live up to the promises in their election manifesto, I look forward to four or five years' growth in the Midlands. There will be a chance for workers to take a hand, indeed control, in the direction of their companies and industries. Those are the elements in the Queen's Speech which appeal to me and will appeal to my constituents and to the people of the Midlands.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)
In speaking on the Gracious Speech this evening I should like, first, to deal with what strikes me as a glaring omission and, secondly, to fill out in a little more detail some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).
Before dealing with those two main points, I should like to express my disappointment at the tone of the Gracious Speech. We have heard from both sides of the House about the lack of confidence that is affecting people in all spheres of endeavour, whether in agriculture, building, industry, or any activity. This lack of confidence has spread to the political process. This was one of my main concerns during the recent campaign. The reason was well evidenced by the Prime Minister in his speech this afternoon—a shameless example of petty party politicking which had nothing to do with the seriousness of the situation or the crisis confronting the country, to which he paid some lip-service. The task 167 before us is to get across to the ordinary people in the street the fact that we understand the situation and have the measures to deal with it. I find the Gracious Speech sadly defective in these respects. I will develop that theme later.
To my mind the most glaring omission from the Gracious Speech is anything to do with our rating system. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House from their own experience, their mail bags and meetings, will agree that the most spontaneous popular political groundswell that most of them have ever seen has been the interest suddenly aroused in the unprecedented increases in rates that came into effect at the beginning of this year, added to by the deliberate act of the Secretary of State for the Environment. Increases of about 50 per cent. were quite common and in some areas of Worcestershire up to and over 100 per cent.
Yet we find no mention of any proposal for dealing with this increase in rates on a day when we read in the Press that local authorities now producing their budgets for next year are looking forward to another 50 per cent. increase in rates. That is an intolerable burden not only on the domestic ratepayer but on the industrialist and the shopkeeper. I hope that we shall hear from the Government Front Bench something that is relevant to this very real concern of ordinary people.
The Gracious Speech lacks any realisation of a need for incentive and discipline. People in this country are quite capable of facing a crisis, but they are looking for a lead. They are looking for some incentive and a sense of discipline to be brought back into our society—a sense of discipline whether in school, at work, or in law and order. We hear a lot about improvements in measures of justice. I submit that most people are looking forward to some realisation that terrorism in this country merits the reintroduction of capital punishment. We read about football crowds and about elderly people being afraid to go out at night. Those are the matters that concern ordinary people. Where do we find anything about them in the Gracious Speech?
168 I come back to the question of incentive. Why do people work? They work for their children, for their homes, and for something for retirement. They do not want to be burdens on the State. I believe that we must look into the possibility—I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a start towards considering this suggestion in his Budget—of lower taxation on income from savings. The importance of savings in tackling inflation cannot be overstressed. After all, the savings have already been made out of taxed income. I consider that widows and pensioners need a reduced rate of taxation on income from savings in place of the present high rate of tax on so-called unearned income.
The same principle needs to be spread to earnings. It is useless to expect a man to work overtime if his earnings are taxed at a high marginal rate. That, in effect, is a complete disincentive to extra work. If we pay attention to tackling these ordinary everyday problems of life we shall have more respect in this country for the political system and a better chance of tackling inflation and the general disintegration with which we are now faced in our society.
I turn to the question of industry and the reference in the Queen's Speech toencouraging industrial investment, maintaining employment, particularly in the older industrial areas".The West Midlands area faces a serious situation. I pay tribute to the manner in which the West Midlands County Council, although not of my political persuasion, the Economic Planning Council and local newspapers have been treating this subject. The West Midlands area faces the beginning of an industrial decline. For too long we have taken the prosperity of the city of a thousand trades for granted. These reports have made plain the decline in profitability, investment, productivity and industry in the West Midlands. I hope that I shall hear something from the Secretary of State for Industry about the report entitled "Time for Action".
The references to the action proposed in the Gracious Speech do not give me confidence that the problems of industry will be tackled with the necessary resoluteness and speed. Indeed, I find a considerable non sequitur in the paragraph 169 dealing with industrial investment and expansion, because it goes on:For this purpose, legislation will be introduced to provide for the establishment of planning agreements and a National Enterprise Board; and to enable the shipbuilding and aicraft industries to be taken into public ownership.There is no connection between the planning agreements, whatever the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr may have told us, and nationalisation and the encouragement of industrial investment and expansion. We have had too much argument about the means and too little concentration on the ends. We must give an assurance to people who are beginning to be worried about their jobs. It is no use complaining that investment is taking place abroad rather than in this country. What should we expect industrialists to do in the present situation where inflation has eaten so much into profits? And it is no good talking about paper profits which come from stock appreciation. We need to restore to companies the ability to replace their equipment and to reinvest. They are not doing it now because of a deplorable industrial relations record coupled with inflation.
There is every need to do something about that industrial relations record. In the motor industry alone the loss of production in terms of cars this year has already exceeded the figure last year. This is what I mean about a sense of discipline in work, in carrying out and honouring agreements freely entered into. There has to be a realisation that these agreements must be kept for their specified duration.
Apart from lost production—the figure last year was 465,000 cars in the motor industry—there is the question of restoring to companies and to all who work in them, management and labour, the confidence that is needed that investment can bear fruit. These people need to know that work will continue uninterrupted and that the wage packet will be received 52 weeks in a year, not, as unfortunately happens at the moment, 36 weeks or some other period more relevant to the parliamentary timetable more than an industrial timetable.
On planning agreements, I hope that the Government will fill out for us details of their purpose, the sanctions which are proposed for non-compliance and so on. One company chairman told 170 me that when he was in front of the Secretary of State for Industry he was informed that in the event of non-compliance he would be forbidden to raise his prices.
At that stage the chairman burst into laughter and left the room because if his prices were kept down and those of his main competitor were raised his main competitor would be eradicated from the scene with a loss of jobs. I had better not say how many jobs would be lost because that might serve to identify the company.
I returned to the House on Trafalgar Day and I was reminded of that famous signalEngland expects every man will do his duty".I hope the Government Front Bench will remember those words.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
I, too, will employ the quotation to which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Red-ditch (Mr. Miller) referred, because my constituents believe that the Labour Government will do their duty for the citizens of Ince in particular and the North-West in general. Anyone reading the Gracious Speech will pick out those parts which suit his political philosophy, or will argue that there are omissions. I begin in chronological order and say how much I welcome the commitment to the concept of power sharing in Northern Ireland. This must be the cornerstone of the Labour Party's policy in Northern Ireland, because without it tragedy awaits us there.
I am particularly interested in the passage in the Gracious Speech which says:At home, My Government, in view of the gravity of the economic situation, will as its most urgent task seek the fulfilment of the social contract as an essential element in its strategy for curbing inflation, reducing the balance of payments deficit—".It goes on to refer tomaintaining employment, particularly in the older industrial areas, and promoting social and economic justice.Later there is a reference to making available more money to improve the National Health Service and, following consultations, to introducing proposals on democracy. My constituency has too many bad houses, too many old school buildings and totally inadequate hospital facilities.
171 We have too much derelict industrial land. All these things are encompassed by the statement that the Labour Government will pay particular attention to areas with social and economic problems.
My constituency is typical of those covered by that statement. In it there are schools which the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), as Minister, in 1971 said it would be her target and task to abolish—that is, all schools built before 1903. I do not think the Conservatives did anything about that. They abolished free school milk which saved about £9 million. I have asked the education officers in my constituency to draw me up a list of all the schools which were built before 1903. I know most of them and have visited quite a lot. Some of them were built as long ago as 1823. Some of them are legacies of the old church education. We have Unitarian, Wesleyan and Methodist schools, some old Church of England schools and Catholic schools. They present particular problems and are difficult to deal with because trustees are involved with the school buildings. Some of the schools are controlled. They should not be allowed to exist, and they exist in areas which are already socially deprived. They represent one part of the cycle of deprivation.
The children who attend them are not getting a fair chance in life. That is why, as the report "Strategic Plan for the North-West" proves, the North-West has the smallest number of children qualified to go on to university education. Part of the cause lies in the fact that our schools are totally inadequate.
If we want to help children who have already had a bad start in life, one way is to give them the chance, through nursery education, to get to school that bit sooner. When they are at school they must be given facilities which are second to none. That does not happen in many of the schools in my constituency, and that is why I make the plea to the Government that when we refer to comprehensive reorganisation we should not forget the starting base, namely, the primary schools.
One can go further back and say that the starting base should be good nursery education. I believe that we must get 172 industrialists far more involved than they are now. When the Government give grants to factories, they should make it a condition, especially where many women are employed, that nursery facilities must be provided. But we shall still need local government involvement, because it would be ludicrous to expect a factory owner to provide nursery education where only a small number of women are employed. Particularly when grants are given, and in new town areas, the Government should make that contribution and perhaps say "This will be a condition upon you to provide some nursery education." To help our children in areas which are socially deprived we need to tackle at grass roots the problem of nursery and primary education.
I have mentioned the poor record of the North-West in the number of children qualifying for grammar school and university education. The North-West also has the worst record of infant mortality, and it is top of the league, in the wrong sense, for general mortality.
The North-West includes some of the most salubrious parts of the country—Cheshire, and the Peak District. It is to the old industrial Merseyside-Manchester belt that I refer when discussing these statistics. The North-West has the worst record for infant mortality, general mortality, children qualifying for grammar school or university education, for pollution, for doctor-patient ratio—that is, more patients per doctor in the Manchester-Merseyside belt than in the whole country—and also the worst record for people awaiting treatment in hospitals.
The record is, therefore, the worst for the essential areas which I believe go a long way towards making up the quality of life. I sincerely hope that when the Government, as they say, in the Gracious Speech, make plans for better hospital facilities, nursery education, and comprehensive education, they will say that the North-West, having the worst record for all these things, will be given the massive injection of public funds which we so desperately need if we are to catch up—not get in front of, but catch up—the other areas of the country, because that is what is needed.
I submit to my hon. Friends and colleagues from Scotland and Wales that it is time that we in the North-West had a 173 little nationalist muscle, because it is not always true that people from Wales and Scotland are badly off. The industrial areas of England—I imagine that the situation could be repeated in the West Midlands, and particularly in the old mining areas—have a similar record of "worseness", if I may use the word—top of the league in the wrong sense—in all those things that go to make up the quality of life.
I hope that the Labour Government, if they live three or four years, however long they survive, will enable us, particularly in the North-West constituencies and especially myself as the Member for Ince, to say that we helped in some small way to urge them along the road to giving top priority to places that need it. I hope that we shall hear what is the Government's strategy for the North-West on another occasion. I hope that we shall have at least one full day's debate on the subject, because it is long overdue. When that debate takes place, I am sure that even Tory hon. Members will support us in our contention that we need a massive injection of public funds if we are to put right many of the matters that are wrong.
I give another example. In some towns in my constituency over 25 per cent. of the land area is industrially derelict. In spite of funds provided by the Government for reclamation of land, it is a crippling burden to old ex-mining areas to rehabilitate that land, nothwithstanding that in some cases the grant is as high as 85 per cent. Why should the old mining areas have a crippling burden placed upon them when the nation benefited nationally from the coal produced —in Ince and the Wigan area, for example?
It is a crippling burden for many local authorities, in spite of local government reorganisation. In one town, Skelmersdale, there are so many old mine shafts that to make them safe, even with the 85 per cent. grant, is a colossal problem and financially crippling. The Government should say that they will take on the burden. People in Brighton and Bournemouth benefited. Therefore, the Government should say that they will not leave us to pick up the bill. I hope that the Labour Government wilt say that during this Session.
174 I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch. He went off on what I call the usual Tory "dustin-the-eye" philosophy of law and order, the rates burden, and so on. If the hon. Member will not mind my saying so, he has brass-faced cheek, because when the Labour Government came to office last time, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment had about a week in which to deal with the rates bill that the hon. Member's Government had left to us. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to imply that it was the Labour Government alone who caused the 100 per cent. and 50 per cent. increases.
The hon. Member will remember that in the week that he had in which to deal with the matter my right hon. Friend brought forward an order that everybody agreed was a form of rough justice. It was about the best that could be done in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Hal Miller
In no sense did I say that the Labour Government were entirely responsible. I merely said that in many places the action of the Secretary of State made the increase worse. The justice was indeed very rough in a large number of places, although metropolitan areas benefited greatly. I was not trying to cast mud on the scene. We find no mention in the Gracious Speech of any action to do something about this crippling burden.
§ Mr. McGuire
The hon. Gentleman has agreed that the burden was left by the Tories. What he is disagreeing about is that the justice was, perhaps, a bit rougher than he would have liked. The Tories had four years in which to deal with the matter. They are on record as stating that there was no need to do anything about it. We have at least set up a commission. If a commission is set up and it is asked to report urgently, it should be allowed to get on with the matter. When the commission reports to us, I am sure we shall see speedy action. There is no point in making pronouncements until the results of the commission are known.
The people of my constituency are hopeful of great things from this Labour Government. If we really believe in improving the quality of life in that narrow band which I described as the Mersey-Manchester belt—I have quoted 175 the national statistics which prove that the quality of life is the lowest of the low in mortality, education, health, and doctor-patient ratio—I hope that we shall do something substantially to improve it.
In particular, I look forward to an early announcement that the Skelmersdale hospital, which is long overdue in my constituency and which should have been built by now, will be built, and that the Government will take the matter on board, as they have taken on board other special priorities for special reasons. It will help in my constituency to reduce some of the statistics which I quoted tonight. I hope that the proposals in the Gracious Speech will improve life for the people in the North-West, and particularly for my constituents with regard to the items that I have listed.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
In making my maiden speech, I would pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. John Brewis, for his quiet unobstrusive work in the constituency which is remembered by many of his constituents. Mr. Brewis was a Gallovidian by adoption and by choice. I am a Gallovidian by necessity, because I was born there. But I venture to think that, if I had been consulted beforehand, I should still have chosen to be born a Gallovidian.
I could praise Galloway, and I am bound to praise Galloway, for many reasons, but I can mention only a few tonight. Galloway is called the cradle of Scottish Christianity because Ninian came to Whithorn in the fourth century to preach the gospel there to the British tribes which then inhabited Galloway.
Galloway is also called the cradle of Scottish independence, because in the fourteenth century came Robert the Bruce who in 1307 began in Glentrool the campaign which he was to bring to a successful conclusion at Bannockburn seven years later. So it is small wonder if I welcome the Gracious Speech where it speaks of directly elected assemblies for Scotland and for Wales. In the seventeenth century Galloway was torn by the religious wars of the period, but today Galloway is a place of peace and relative quiet.
I ought to praise the landscape of Galloway with its rich diversity ranging from the high hills of the Stewartry of 176 Kirkcudbright, across the undulating plain of the Machars of Wigtown, with the Moors reaching up to the Ayrshire boundary behind the Machars and then across in the far west to the green hills of the Rhinns which look across to Ireland and Kintyre, reminding us in Galloway that we once belonged to that Gaeldom which stretched from the south of Ireland to the north of the Western Isles.
Galloway, then, is a microcosm of Scotland; but lest it be thought by hon. Members that Galloway is a little paradise without a flaw this side of heaven I shall mention certain matters which exercise the minds of my constituents in these days.
First, I refer to agriculture, because the prosperity of our ancient province depends upon the prosperity of the agricultural community. At the moment, the agricultural community has fallen between two stools, because one administration removed the old support system and the next administration failed to implement the new. It is said in the Gracious Speech that there will bediscussions with the farming industry".I suggest that the time for discussion is past and the time for action has come.
Then I should touch upon rural depopulation. I was formerly a teacher and aware that many of my pupils, especially the boys, had to leave Galloway to find work. I hope that some of the revenue from North Sea oil will be used to revitalise industry in the rural areas. I welcome therefore the mention in the Gracious Speech of the establishment of a development agency in Scotland and trust that Galloway will benefit from this agency.
I am bound to mention the A75, which runs in the constituency from Dumfries to Stranraer. The A75 does duty both for itself and for the railway which formerly ran between the same two towns. We welcome the traffic going to and from Ireland because the prosperity of Stranraer and the surrounding area depends so much upon it. But we should also welcome by-passes round the centres of population on the A75. During the election campaign I stayed in an hotel in Glenluce into which a juggernaut lorry had run by crossing the road and mounting the pavement. As the proprietress said, she had no objection to people 177 coming in for refreshment but she preferred them to come in by the door.
Finally, I should like to mention the matter about which my constituents have written to me most, namely, television reception. In my home village I have no television set because the reception is so abominable that it is not worth having. That means that constituents in my native village do not even get a look at me on the occasions when I appear on the television. Indeed, I cannot get a look at myself. There are other areas which receive only BBC and ITV television from Ulster. This means that the party political broadcasts for my party, which are allegedly beamed to the whole of Scotland, do not reach those areas.
May I urge any hon. Member who has not yet visited Galloway to lose no time in doing so and to share with us, even for a short time, the peace and unhurried attitude to time that we have in Galloway.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. James Marshall (Leicester, South)
"Another maiden speech", I thought I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) murmur.
I understand that it is a custom of the House to mention by name one's predecessor. I follow that hallowed custom and name my predecessor, who was Mr. Tom Boardman, perhaps a name not unknown to the House and throughout the country. He was also well known as one of the leading lights of the Government which fell in February this year. He served the Leicester, South constituency from February to October of this year, and before that he represented the old Leicester, South-West constituency from November 1967. I am assured that my predecessor did much good work on behalf of all his constituents and was held in high regard.
I understand, too, that I am allowed to make reference to my constituency, and this I am particularly pleased and proud to do. I represent the southern third of the great Midlands city of Leicester. There is some debate over which is the prettiest of the Midlands cities. We vie with another city not far distance from Leicester, but in my humble opinion Leicester is the great metropolis of the Midlands.
Hon. Members are probably aware that Leicester has gained a reputation as a 178 relatively prosperous city, a prosperity which in no small measure must be attributed to people of the present and of the past. This prosperity has been founded on a diverse number of industries: engineering—from the production of knitting machines to nuclear engineering—footwear, textiles, hosiery, plastics, and so on. Some of these industries are facing difficulties, which I hope will be short term, but I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to these difficulties and hope that he will take them into account when framing his Budget two weeks hence.
I agree, too, with the statement made in the Gracious Speech about the need to liberalise international trade. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will investigate the effect of low-cost imports on the level of under-employment in some of Leicester's traditional industries.
I have already mentioned that Leicester is relatively prosperous, but that must not hide the fact that there is still in the city a great deal of hardship, need and poverty in the midst of relative plenty. It is towards relieving these hardships that I believe the Gracious Speech will do most good,
I welcome the housing proposals. Leicester faces a chronic housing situation. There are 12,000 applications on the waiting list—which means 30,000 human beings waiting for a new and decent home. The list grows day by day. As in other cities, many of those putting their names on the waiting list are newly married couples who face the somewhat daunting prospect of having to share accommodation. This arises because there are too few homes to rent, in both the public and the private sectors. In addition, the present high prices of homes effectively rule out the average newly-married couple from the private owner-occupier sector.
The lack of accommodation in no small measure gives rise to many of the social problems people face in large cities. Overcrowding and the attendant social problems lead in some cases—and I do not wish to over-estimate my case, as some right hon. Gentlemen have done in recent weeks—to broken homes, and that is intolerable in this day and age.
179 If we are realistic about the situation, we must face the fact that only local authorities and, in the private sector, housing associations can provide the accommodation required. The Government have, over the past six or seven months, done much to help local authorities and housing associations. From what the Gracious Speech says, we can expect that level of help to continue and additional help to be given to places like the fair city of Leicester.
I welcome the proposals to reform the law relating to rents in England and Wales. I believe that this means the repeal of the Housing Finance Act 1972. Many local authorities at that time felt ill at ease about the implementation of that legislation; others made their feelings somewhat more obvious and more drastic. There was a feeling among Labour Party members, whether Members of this House or members of local authorities, that the Act was a deliberate attack on the independence of local authorities. I welcome the repeal of this iniquitous and notorious legislation, because it will give back to local authorities the power to fix their own rent levels in the light of their particular local circumstances.
To some extent, the housing problems of cities like Leicester—which is a large, self-standing county town surrounded by rural sisters—are to some degree exacerbated by the lack of provision of housing accommodation in the more rural neighbouring areas. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep this situation under review, so that if evidence does accrue that the district councils surrounding cities such as Leicester are not fulfilling their correct and proper share of the house-building programme, measures will be taken to try to improve their ability to build homes.
The Gracious Speech also refers to education, and I welcome the development towards fully comprehensive systems of education throughout the country. I hope that it will be sufficiently flexible to allow for differences in approach within the same local authority area. Here again I speak on behalf of my own constituency and for the city of Leicester as a whole.
Prior to the reorganisation of local government, the former county borough of 180 Leicester submitted to the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, after lengthy consultations with both parents and teachers, a system for the reorganisation of secondary education based upon sixth-form colleges. In my humble opinion that submission was turned down purely on political grounds.
Reorganisation of local government has now overtaken us and the new county area is discussing a form of comprehensive reorganisation for within the city which is totally dissimilar to that which the city itself wished to implement only two years ago. Not unreasonably, the parent and teacher associations in Leicester are alarmed at the apparent lack of consultation and have made their feelings well known through the local Press and at meetings which have been hurriedly called to hear their complaints.
It appears that the people and teachers of Leicester want a system such as was adequately and fully discussed two years ago, namely, one based on sixth-form colleges. This is not at present compatible with the type of systems operating in other parts of the county, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will admit to some flexibility and accept that the wishes of the parents and teachers in the city of Leicester must be taken fully into account before any final decision is taken.
Finally, I refer to that section of the Gracious Speech opposing racial discrimination at home and overseas. Those who know Leicester well probably realise that within our city we probably have one of the highest percentage immigrant populations of anywhere in the country, and I should be foolish to deny that there are real social problems. There undoubtedly are, and in the long term they can be solved only by an ample injection of central Government funds, a point which I hope my right hon. Friends will again bear in mind for future reference.
Nevertheless, over the past 18 months or so, there has been a growing basic realisation amongst all the people of Leicester that our future is together within the city. We shall have to work together, not only for the good of the people of the city but as a city as a whole irrespective of our colour. But there are those in the city and in the country as a whole who wish to oppose such working 181 together. We must oppose these institutions, these pseudo-political parties, and the individuals, whether represented in this Chamber or not, who attempt by their behaviour and public utterances to exacerbate racial tensions rather than to improve race relations.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)
During my 15 years' membership of this House, this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of following a maiden speaker. Not only that, because tonight I am following two maiden speeches, and I should like to pay my tribute to both the Members concerned.
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), though they may not realise it, have at least one thing in common. They are members of different parties, but they both defeated the party which held the seat previously. The hon. Member for Galloway, I thought, made a lucid and humorous speech, and I think that most Members in the Chamber enjoyed it thoroughly. I disagree violently with the basic philosophy of the Scottish National Party but I welcome the hon. Gentleman here and I hope that we shall hear him on numerous occasions.
With regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South, I think the House will agree that he was both clear and sincere, and obviously very knowledgeable on the problems which affect his constituents. Again, I extend to him a welcome to the House and sincerely hope that he will participate in many of our debates.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) said that the Gracious Speech was sadly defective. I think he also implied that it was ambiguous in parts. All I can say is that the hon. Gentleman obviously has not read the many Gracious Speeches made on behalf of his own Government on previous occasions, otherwise he would have seen real models and examples of defective Gracious Speeches.
The hon. Gentleman's reference to the fact that nothing is said in the Gracious Speech about rates is an indication that he has no desire to look at the problem, because in the previous Session of Parliament the Government clearly indicated 182 that they were setting up a high-powered committee to look into the question of rates. In any case the Conservative Government had four years in which to take action if they had realised that rates are so important, as indeed they are, to individuals in this country.
I welcome the contents of the Gracious Speech. It sets out a more-than-full programme of relevant proposals for this parliamentary Session. Before every recess, a motion is tabled or an amendment is put down saying that the recess should be much shorter than the Government recommend. If we intend to put on the Statute Book all the measures that are referred to in the Gracious Speech, perhaps we shall have no recess at all next autumn.
When I was speaking in the debate on the Gracious Speech in March, just after the election in February, I ended by forecasting that, as a result of their programme during the spring of this year, the then minority Labour Government would be returned at the election with a much stronger mandate than they had at that time. That has proved to be the case. It is certainly not as large as we would have hoped but, on the other hand, when one looks at the numerical size of the major Opposition party in the House one realises that we have a very substantial majority, and the Prime Minister is absolutely correct in saying that we as a Government can look forward to at least four to five years in power.
I am pleased with the reference in the Gracious Speech to the renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership of the Common Market. During the election campaign, many people asked questions about the sincerity of the promise that we were making. Therefore, it is extremely gratifying to see in the Gracious Speech that the Government have laid down quite specifically that within 12 months the British people will have the opportunity to decide, in the light of the outcome of the negotiations, whether this country should retain its membership of the Community.
I am of the opinion that it is highly unlikely that we shall be able to get the kind of conditions that will enable us to remain in the Common Market. I know that many of my hon. Friends, and many people in the country, are of the opinion 183 that the sooner we can withdraw from the Common Market the better it will be for the country.
The paragraph in the Queen's Speech which refers to industrial development and regional policy is also welcome, because if any part of Britain has enjoyed the benefits of Labour Governments, not only now but in the past, it is certainly Scotland. With the return of the Labour Government in March this year one of the first steps taken was to double the regional employment premium which has been of considerable advantage to industry in Scotland, and the promise in the Queen's Speech to maintain employment, particularly in the older industrial areas, is very welcome indeed.
The other measures referred to in the Queen's Speech, for the protection of consumers are also extremely welcome. I would go so far as to suggest that some of the legislation on the statute book with regard to the control of prices can do with quite a bit of tightening up.
A constituent of mine complained to me about going into a furniture shop and while she was looking at an item of furniture which she had intended to purchase she saw a price on the back of it. When she asked the salesman what price would be charged, she was given a considerably higher price than that on the back of the furniture. The matter was raised with the appropriate regional office which investigated the matter and came back with the reply that there was nothing that could be done, because furniture in a showroom was distinct from goods placed in a shop window, and therefore the regulations did not apply in the way that many of us would suppose. Needless to say, the customer walked out of the shop in complete disgust and did not buy the item of furniture.
I welcome, therefore, the reference in the Gracious Speech to improving consumer protection, and to the fact that it is the Government's intention to continue to use subsidies where necessary to keep down the prices of certain foods. This measure has been greatly welcomed by the lower income groups and also by pensioners in the past seven months.
What I believe is particularly pleasing to everyone is the reference to a general 184 improvement in security benefits. I particularly welcome the reference to family allowances. I am not sure whether it means merely an increase in the present rate of allowances, or whether the Government intend to go further and include the first child in the family. I personally hope that that is the intention.
However, I am sure that pensioners, having been assured by many of us during the election campaign that the Labour Government, if returned, intended to pay the £10 Christmas bonus, will be more than delighted that specific reference is made to that in the Gracious Speech, and also that many other people will benefit for the first time in receiving this bonus.
Possibly, the most far-reaching statement in the Gracious Speech, is the reference to the setting up of the new earnings-related pension scheme. This is one of our greatest needs at present. Many people now employed in industry have nothing to look forward to but the present retirement pension, which, even though it is more generous now than it has ever been, still falls far short of the needs of retired people. The only way that they can hope to improve their lot on retirement is the introduction of a vastly improved earnings-related pension scheme such as we advocated during the election period.
The reference to the improvement of the health service is also welcome. Despite the money which has been spent in my area over the past 10 years in building hospitals, there is a crying need for greater improvement. The waiting lists to see consultants seem to get longer rather than shorter. I hope that the economy will improve in time so that the service can be further strengthened and improved.
The reference to democratising the control of the health service is also welcome. At present there are deficiencies in the method of appointing members to the various boards, and, of course, the members themselves are responsible to no one in particular. It is only right and proper that members of public boards of that description ought to have some accountability and responsibility to the people of the area in which they live.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South referred to legislation dealing with housing and rents. I, 185 too, welcome that. It is a great improvement that local authorities should again be given power to determine their own rent levels in accordance with the state of their housing revenue account. That is one important aspect. But the repeal of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, which is on the statute book now, will be an even greater improvement for housing in Scotland. The number of tragic cases which came to my notice during the election campaign was quite astounding in an area in which a considerable number of houses have been built in the past. The fact that the largest burgh in my constituency completed only three houses in the last calendar year indicates the utter failure of the Tory Government's housing policy. It is only the tremendous cost and lack of subsidy resulting from that Act that has prevented the authorities in my area, as elsewhere in Scotland, from providing the much-needed houses for renting. Talk about reducing mortgage levels from 11 per cent. to 9½ per cent. does not affect many of my constituents, most of whom have not the slightest possibility of getting mortgages because of the low levels of income which they have at present.
The setting up of a British National Oil Corporation is to be greatly welcomed, particularly as it is to be sited in Scotland. Irrespective of where oil may be discovered in future in this country or around its shores, the major decisions about the oil industry will be taken in Scotland. I hope that certain people who did not see fit to support Labour candidates in the election will take due note that the Labour Government promised such a move and that the promise is to be implemented, I gather, in the very near future. This is also to be welcomed because in my constituency we have under construction one of the largest rigs ever to be built. The tragedy is that the firm has no further orders at the moment.
Unless the Government's proposals for taking real control over the oil companies and the financing of the search for oil in the North Sea go ahead, it could be that further rigs will be built elsewhere, resulting in unemployment in Scotland and other places where such rigs are constructed. I appeal to the Government to go ahead with this legislation and in the meantime to use all methods in their power to ensure that no North Sea rigs 186 should be built anywhere other than the British mainland.
The setting up of a Scottish Development Agency keeps a promise. It will also ensure that the community receives a fair share of the profits from the North Sea oil industry. The Scottish National Party has been making great play about Scottish oil in the past year to 18 months. The real test will come when the House has before it the Government's recommendations to take the major share in the oil companies. Then we shall see whether members of that party want to look after the interests of the people of Scotland. If they do they will join us in the Lobby and not vote against us. How they vote in this Parliament will to a large extent determine their numbers in a future House of Commons.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ewing) on his appointment as Under-Secretary and I am pleased to see him on the Front Bench tonight. He has been charged with the task of considering the type and form of devolution in Scotland. While the Gracious Speech talks about "urgently preparing" to implement the decision to set up an elected assembly in Scotland, I hope that the interpretation of those words will mean that something of a concrete nature will be done during this parliamentary Session. A great deal of detail will have to be considered when framing the legislation for this assembly.
It might not be a bad thing if the Government were to consider laying before the House a short enabling Bill, setting out the principles for the establishment of this assembly, leaving until a further Session the working out of the details of how the assembly should operate and what powers it should be given. If we were to do this it would demonstrate to the Scottish people the Government's intention of keeping their promise.
There is reference to the handicapped and disabled in the Gracious Speech but I hope that the Government will pay special regard to the needs of one-parent families who have suffered for a long time. They have not been as vociferous in looking after their interests as have pensioners and other groups. It is my hope that the Government will be as generous as possible to this group.
187 Widows and dependent children should also be assisted. I know that the Chancellor has obvious difficulties in deciding what benefits he can give by way of taxation relief at a time when, perhaps, he should be imposing further taxation. It will be of great assistance to this group if he could raise the threshold at which tax is paid even if this means increasing the percentage which will be charged to the capital transfer tax. I congratulate the Government on presenting such a promising programme, one which is designed to meet the needs of the nation.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I should like to congratulate the new Members of Parliament who have spoken in the debate. I refer to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson), who entertained the House with very pleasant speeches. We hope that we shall hear them again.
I welcome the Gracious Speech. We won the election partly as a result of keeping our promises after the February election. In keeping our promises we dealt a blow to some of the cynicism which has been directed at politics in the past few years. A number of people took the view that politicians say one thing on public platforms and another thing when in public office. We at least allayed that fear—[Interruption.] I am not referring to the Liberals, who go from one week to the next in producing their policies; I am referring to the majority party, the Labour Party, which laid down its policy in February and carried it out. In the recent election we set out our policy and it is now put forward in the Gracious Speech. Therefore, nobody can accuse us of not sticking to our election platform once we get into office. This is a major step forward in politics.
I give a particular welcome to the section of the Gracious Speech dealing with the social contract. The Opposition took delight in saying that it did not exist, but then, when they grudgingly admitted that it did exist, they asked "What is it all about?" It is easy to criticise, but the Opposition have nothing to put in its place. This is one reason why the Liberals, who wanted a harsh 188 legislative programme and the sort of confrontation we saw in the three-day working week, and the Tories, who thought they would go in for some sort of national contract, both failed dismally at the polls to win the confidence of the electorate.
The social contract is an arrangement by which there is some degree of supervision as to what sort of programme the Government implement. If we keep our pledge with the working people they will stand by us, but one cannot tell working people to tighten their belts when they see tax exemptions and tax havens in the Cayman Islands. They want to see a fairer and more just society, and some of the proposals in the Gracious Speech are designed to that end.
I wish to commend the proposals on housing. The Labour Government have already taken certain action to try to rescue the deplorable housing situation which they inherited in March of this year. In many constituencies housing is a key issue. It is a matter of great concern in my constituency that in the past three years the number of people on the housing list has increased from perhaps 100 to 600 or 700. One of the contradictions of capitalism is shown by the fact that private enterprise is preparing to close down brickworks when we are in dire need of houses throughout the country.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
Does not the same analogy apply to the steel industry, where, on the one hand engineers are told that there is a two-year delivery for steel but where, on the other hand, the nationalised Steel Corporation is closing steel factories?
§ Mr. Cryer
The Steel Corporation and the Minister concerned are undertaking a review of all the closures which we inherited when we came into office. At least with publicly-owned industries decisions are subject to the review of Ministers and the pressures of Members of Parliament. Decisions are not made in boardrooms 250 miles away by a group of men intent on maximising profits or stripping assets. With Government industries, Members of Parliament have a right of access and can bring pressure to bear in the interests of their constituents.
The contradictions of capitalism are still there, and I find it extraordinary that 189 a member of the Liberal Party should suggest in an intervention that capitalism has no contradictions and that the proposed closure of two brick works in Yorkshire, with the crying need for houses, should be accepted as routine. We do not accept it. One omission from the Gracious Speech to which I draw attention is that the hived-off sections of the publicly-owned industries such as Thomas Cook and the brickworks to which I have referred are not mentioned as being restored to the public sector. That was a commitment that the Labour Party gave when the Tories sold off the profitable sections. I hope that this is a matter which the Government will earnestly consider.
The second part of the Gracious Speech to which I draw attention is that dealing with farming, which says:My Ministers recognise the value to the nation of expanding domestic food production economically and efficiently, and will continue their discussions with the farming industry to this end.The matter is complicated by the bugbear of the Common Market. The sooner we get out of the Common Market and get back to the guaranteed deficiency payments which gave our farmers such confidence the better off we shall be. At the moment, our farmers are extremely worried about the long-term security of our livestock industry, and there is no doubt that this is connected with the Common Market.
§ Mr. G. W. Howells (Cardigan)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the two major parties in Britain had a glorious opportunity to put agriculture on to a sound footing during the past two years and failed?
§ Mr. Cryer
I do not agree. There is no doubt that the post-war Labour Govenrment put British agriculture on to a sound footing with the guaranteed deficiency payments system, which was widely welcomed by the industry. One of the tragedies of our entry into Europe, which is welcomed by many Liberal Members of Parliament, is that it has had sad repercussions in ending our guaranteed deficiency payments system.
One of the important elements in the renegotiations is some revision of the common agricultural policy. My view is 190 that because we are not renegotiating the Treaty of Rome it is very unlikely that the renegotiations will produce terms which will be acceptable to the British people. When the renegotiated terms are presented to them, I think that the British people will decide that we should come out of the Common Market.
The third section of the Gracious Speech to which I draw attention is that which refers to the desireto encourage industrial investment and its expansion within vigorous and profitable public and private sectors of industry. For this purpose, legislation will be introduced to provide for the establishment of planning agreements and a National Enterprise Board; and to enable the shipbuilding and aircraft industries to be taken into public ownershipThis is a crucial part of our programme, and the suggestion from the Opposition that in a crisis we should throw our policies overboard is the very antithesis of what we should do. A crisis is the occasion for implementing our policies, not for throwing them to one side. Our policies were not designed simply for good times when the going was easy; they were designed to meet crisis situations. Because the level of investment in British industry is so appallingly low—even below that of Italy, which is not exactly a leading industrial nation, and below those of France, Germany, Japan and America—we have to increase it. However, private investors will not do it—
§ Mr. Cryer
The reason has nothing to do with the threat of public ownership. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in 1973, whatever the then Government did, investors simply would not invest. He told a meeting of directors this, and he said that the level of investment in Britain was "appallingly low". He was right. The reason is that if people find it more profitable to invest abroad, they do so. They are so patriotic that they will shovel money into the Common Market or into South Africa. They do not give a hoot for the British workman. That is the truth of the matter. We must remedy the failings of private enterprise, because we live in a mixed economy where the majority of the mixture is private enterprise capitalism supported at the rate of £2 million a day by the taxpayer. The National Enterprise Board will ensure that when money is given to 191 private enterprise there will be some degree of public accountability.
I want to emphasise one omission from the Gracious Speech. We must recognise and make sure—those of us who support public ownership are probably the acutest criticis—that the Government do not repeat the mistakes of the 1945–50 period, when industry was taken into public ownership not on the path which was set out by the National Union of Mineworkers as early as 1912 with worker control but on a capitalist corporate structure with God somewhere in London and orders given on tablets of stone to be circulated to the various regions and areas of the different boards. We want to make sure that within publicly-owned industry democratic control is the truth; that it is not just a myth that is talked about. Attempts must be made to involve the people who do the work in the running of the industry.
We must admit that that situation does not obtain at the moment. For instance, we have made crude experiments with worker directors, but they have failed because the worker directors in the steel industry have become part of the management and the workers have treated them with suspicion. We must ensure adequate representation at all levels.
The coal industry is a good illustration. In 1912 the NUM had a plan worked out for a complete democratic structure. I suggest that that plan could be re-examined.
The Transport and General Workers' Union has produced a plan for the democratic control of the docks and the National Union of Public Employees has produced a plan for the democratisation of the National Health Service.
I hope that when legislation is brought before the House to take these various areas into public ownership the fact of worker participation and control will be very much in evidence. In an earlier passage the Gracious Speech specifically refers to introducing proposals on democracy in the National Health Service. We could certainly do with that.
Far too much of our public life is run by appointees without any responsibility to the electorate. We want to ensure that those who are elected to these positions are responsible to the people who 192 put them there. I hope that these kind of proposals will be introduced into the National Health Service.
I should like the water boards, which were hived off under the Local Government Act 1972, to be turned into more democratic structures. They have great powers for raising revenue which is then collected by the constituent local authorities which take the brickbats for the increased rates which are in part levied by the water boards. The water boards consist mostly of appointees. The Bradford Metropolitan District Council, which has over 500,000 people in its area, does not have a representative on the Yorkshire Water Board. This seems quite absurd. Something must be done about it so that people outside this House will know that we are concerned with democratic control, whether in the workplace, publicly-owned industries, local government or the National Health Service.
Lastly, I want to refer to the section of the Gracious Speech which states thatAn early opportunity will be given for you to consider whether your proceedings should be broadcast.I hope that the House will accept the notion that its proceedings should be broadcast regularly. One thing that perturbs me is the way that many decisions which are made in large tower blocks down the road are not subject to approval by this House of Commons.
If we are to improve the House of Commons and make it a truly effective democratic instrument, which is what it should be, supervising the work of the executive, it must move a little with the times so that people outside may have more information about our procedures and what goes on here. Our proceedings are often antiquated and obscure, and that is not good enough. If we are to be the most important democratic institution in the country, which we are, people have to see that democracy is working and they have to be sure that when the Government make a decision it is subject to full and proper scrutiny.
If broadcasting is adopted here it will lead to other useful reforms. For instance, I should like to see some of the decision making removed from the tower blocks down the road, and brought into this House. One of the tragedies of the back bencher is that he has no participation 193 in decision making, apart from taking part in the procedure of actually producing legislation. We do not even have the degree of democratic control that a local authority has in that we do not have the opportunity to serve on committees which have any involvement in decision making.
This, therefore, is a most welcome suggestion by the Government, and it is an indication that they are concerned with the democratic institution and are not going to rely on a Private Member's Bill, which, as we all know, can be subject to all sorts of difficulties, such as Members not returning from lunch soon enough.
I very much welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the "other measures" will include one for the abolition of hare coursing. This was a private Member's measure and, like most private Member's measures, has had a tough time attempting to get through Parliament. It could succeed only with the aid of a generous Government. It is significant that in their democratic attitudes the Government are prepared to help private Members, and I hope that this Bill will have the support of all parties, so that we may ensure that this odious sport is made illegal once and for all.
The Gracious Speech represents a full programme, and it is close to the proposals in our election manifesto. We are keeping faith with the people who put us in power, and if we do that we need have no fears about rescuing the country from the crisis which faces it and no fears about facing the people at any time in the future.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
There are things in the Gracious Speech which the people of Northern Ireland will most certainly welcome. First I shall deal with those matters which are not in the usual controversial run of questions but which are very much in the minds of Northern Ireland Members and which should be in the minds of other hon. Members. Sometimes we in Northern Ireland feel that it is only when some of the things which have been a regular occurrence in our country happen here that people realise just what the people of Northern Ireland are up against.
194 I join with those who have already offered sympathy to the relatives of the two soldiers who were cruelly murdered yesterday in the Ballykinler Camp, and I also express on behalf of my colleagues our sympathy for the wife and daughter of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) over the attack launched upon them. We appreciate how they feel. Some of us in Northern Ireland have been through this in our own homes and we know something of what goes on.
There is one matter which I personally welcome and on which I hope that the Government will keep their word. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said that the public had come to the conclusion that politicians do not keep their word when they make pledges at elections. I am personally delighted that the whole United Kingdom will have the opportunity of deciding the issue of our membership within the EEC. This matter should have been put to the people. We heard much from the Government of the day about full-hearted consent. Those of us who were Members in that House know how close the votes were on those occasions, and it certainly was not full-hearted consent.
The time has come when the people of the United Kingdom, after renegotiations are over, should have an opportunity of saying whether they want to be in the EEC. I take the view that agriculture has almost received a death blow in this country as one of the direct results of the EEC.
It would be churlish on my part if I did not say that the present Minister of Agriculture, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, has listened patiently and sympathetically to some of the very serious matters that concern the farming community in the Province of Northern Ireland. We welcome some of the steps that have been taken, but there is certainly a long way to go for agriculture.
In my constituency we have a serious crisis in respect of beef. Dropped calves not long ago—perhaps a year ago—were fetching up to £30 or £40. Today, calves are being slaughtered. I know of one farmer who, when calves are born, immediately shoots them and has to sell the carcasses or get rid of them for offal. That is a serious situation. I draw the Government's attention to the matter 195 and ask them to look carefully into the situation in Northern Ireland.
We have a serious situation, too, in respect of the slaughtering of cattle. Cattle from the Republic can be brought in for slaughtering, but the farmers of Northern Ireland cannot have their beasts slaughtered. Some of those beasts are starved. They are left in a starving condition until the slaughterhouses are able to deal with them. The farming community in Northern Ireland is in a serious plight.
Unlike any other part of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland farming is our basic industry. If the farming community suffers in this way, everyone in Northern Ireland will eventually suffer. I trust that the emphasis given by the Government in the Gracious Speech to continuing their talks with the farming industry means that the Minister will welcome not only the National Farmers' Union but the Ulster Farmers' Union and take into account Ulster's interests, so that Ulster farmers may put their special case.
I should like an assurance from the Government that the Minister of Agriculture is prepared to meet the farming community of Northern Ireland, because we have now reached the position where the Northern Ireland Office acts as a buffer between Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture. Some of my colleagues have been told that we have no right of access to the Minister of Agriculture to talk about our farming problem, that we must go through the Northern Ireland Office. That is totally ridiculous.
I see the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) nodding disapprovingly. We can produce a letter that one of my hon. Friends received saying that he was not permitted to see the Minister of Agriculture to discuss the agriculture of Northern Ireland but that he should discuss the matter only with the Northern Ireland Office.
I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Vote on agriculture is on the Estimates of this House and that the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland is an agent for the Ministry here. We should therefore have direct access to the Minister of Agriculture here. 196 Members from Northern Ireland should be able to put their case to the Minister of Agriculture and I trust that the Government will look into the matter and clarify the position.
The paragraph in the Gracious Speech referring to Northern Ireland states:The proposed Constitutional Convention will provide a means by which those elected to it can consider what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance thoughout the community;".The people of Northern Ireland would welcome an immediate election to this Convention. The legislation for the Convention has gone through this House, the machinery is set up and the voting system has all been prepared. There is no reason why there should not be an immediate election to the Convention, because at present the people of Northern Ireland are living in a political vacuum. The Assembly has been prorogued and there is no local forum where the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, can comment on the present position or find a way forward to establish democratic institutions in Northern Ireland.
I urge the Government not to drag their feet any longer. We have been promised this Convention; it has been welcomed on all sides that the people of Northern Ireland will have a voice through their elected representatives on the proportional representation system. Some of us do not agree with that system, and I understand that the Government also say that for Scotland and Wales it would be too confusing to ask the people to vote by it.
I take it as a compliment to the Ulster people that we have brains enough to use the PR system. I take that as a real compliment, but I say to the House that there should be no dragging of feet. There are things in the PR system that some of us do not agree with, but if certain people have a majority they will have a majority under any system, and that majority cannot be changed. Whether or not the way people vote is popular is of no consequence because they have the opportunity to vote whatever way they want.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
I did not mean to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the midst 197 of his speech, but he quoted only one part of the sentence involved. It goes on:any solution must, if it is to work, provide for some form of genuine power-sharing and participation by both communities in the direction of affairs in Northern Ireland".Does the hon. Gentleman accept power sharing also?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I shall develop that if the hon. Gentleman will give me time. I welcome the ambiguous terminology of the Queen's Speech on this matter If the House is wise, it will not lay parameters over the Convention. It will allow the Northern Ireland elected representatives themselves to decide what is the form of government that will have widespread acceptance throughout the community.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) did not go on to say that there is no mention of a Council of Ireland, or an Irish dimension, in the Queen's Speech. The language in the Queen's Speech is, in my opinion, such that will not commit the Government in any way, and I do not think that they should be committed. I think that the Convention should be allowed to decide for the people of Northern Ireland what recommendations it makes to this House. That is all it can do.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I cannot give way because another hon. Member wants to speak, and I must sit down as soon as I can. I see Mr. Speaker nodding approvingly at that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I cannot develop that, but no doubt there will be a later opportunity as I understand that there is to be a debate on the Northern Ireland issue and we shall then be able to deal with these matters more fully.
None of my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, had the opportunity to congratulate you on the day of your election to the Chair. The United Unionist Party congratulates you on your election. We trust that you 198 will look with a tender eye on the representatives from Northern Ireland and that your eye will not be dim when we get to our feet. Thank you.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)
I should like, first, to congratulate the two maiden speakers—the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) and the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall).
There are two unrelated matters which I should like to bring to the attention of the Government. The first is the balance of payments problem and the second is the problem of British agriculture. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) spoke at considerable length of the adverse balance of payments. He seemed to blame the problem almost entirely on the high cost of oil. Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, he seemed blindly to hope that North Sea oil will overcome the balance of payments problem.
There are problems much deeper than the cost of oil. There are chronic and basic factors in our balance of payments to which the Government would do well to pay attention. For example, the cost of importing timber is never taken into account, yet it is a cost that goes on year after year. Some figures I obtained from the Minister in the last Parliament show that the cost of importing timber and timber products last year was no less than £1,400 million. Almost a quarter of our balance of payments problem was caused by the import of timber and timber products.
What attempts have the Government made to cut down on oil imports? I understand other European Governments have taken positive steps to cut down the consumption of oil, yet few or no steps have been taken by the British Government to cut down the use of oil. I am not in favour of burning oil.
I deprecate the fact that successive Governments have failed to make full use of water power in this country—one commodity that is the same price as on the day I was born. No Government of any colour have managed to increase the cost of water. The rain as it falls from the heavens was the same price 40 years ago 199 as it is today. It is the one element that can be used time and again. One can use water and abuse water, one can even drink water, but one cannot destroy it. There is as much water the day we leave the earth as the day we came on it. It is the one element that can be used again and again as a power source, if only successive Governments had the good sense to use it.
Another cost that we should be doing something about cutting is that of importing food. I am talking of foodstuffs that can and should be produced by our own farmers. About £1,600 million of temperate foodstuffs could be produced, I understand, by our own farmers. It would be particularly pleasant if the Government were to take definite steps to cut the import of foodstuffs.
British farmers are producing beef, and the market is over-supplied, yet no steps have been taken to shut the door on imports, often of doubtful origin and quality, which have ruined our market week after week. The Government took no steps in the last Parliament to shut the door. I make an urgent plea to them to shut the door temporarily until such time as our own beef market gets into balance. If ever there was an opportunity to save foreign currency, this is it.
I should like to deal briefly with another opportunity that this country has to cut its balance of payments deficit—by recycling many products. What attempts have been made to cut the amount of tin that we use, or the amount of steel that we use, or rubber and all the other imports that we need to keep our industry going? I should like to see Her Majesty's Government set this country a target. There is nothing wrong with this country that strong government and strong leadership cannot put right. I should like to see Her Majesty's Government set a realistic target of 10 per cent., 12 per cent., or even 15 per cent. of recycling that could save the fantastic import bill that we have to meet year after year—these chronic elements that I like to refer to.
I come now to the suggestion that what this country needs most of all is an integrated agriculture policy. Our hill and upland farmers have proved to the nation that they can produce the beef and lamb required by the nation. We should have 200 an integrated policy whereby farmers on the lowlands and the kinder land are encouraged to produce those articles of food that cannot be produced on the uplands and those articles of food that we are at present importing.
I should like to see the sugar industry encouraged much more. It is high time that the Government took a long, hard look at re-opening the sugar industry in Scotland, because the closure of the sugar beet factory by the Conservative Party was the trigger that set off the imbalance in Scotland's agriculture. It is in an attempt to restore the balance that I ask for a properly integrated agricultural policy, so that more and more of the foodstuffs that we at present import can be produced by our own country.
In conclusion, I make a special plea for those farmers and crofters who are producing and have proved that they can produce beef in the islands. At this moment there are many thousands of excellent young calves in the islands that should not be there. In the islands of Orkney and Shetland and the outer islands, there are calves that have been taken to market and have found no buyer in the past 6 to 10 weeks. There was no buyer for them. These animals have been taken back to the crofts and to the farms and face a very dismal future indeed. There is no food for them. There never has been. It has always been the policy of farmers in those areas to produce food only for the breeding stock. No provision is made, and none can be, for the young animals that should have been sold on the markets of the mainland.
I ask Her Majesty's Government to take steps now—not in January or February when the calves are emaciated and a situation involving very real cruelty arises—to get these calves from the islands to the mainland markets. It can be done easily now, while the animals are still in a fit state to travel. It can be done by subsidising in total the cost of their transport to mainland markets.
In this Parliament we have a genuine opportunity to move towards creating a better balance of payments situation, but we can do it only if everyone in the community is given the opportunity to play his full part in this battle of the balance of payments. I commend to the Government the measures that I have 201 mentioned and hope that they take early and urgent action on them.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Dunn.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.