§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 15th January and at its rising on Friday 23rd February do adjourn till Monday 5th March—[Mr. Foot.]
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Younger (Ayr)
I beg the House to consider carefully whether this Christmas motion should be accepted. We consider this question at the beginning of each recess but we consider it today against a background of complete shambles in the Government's business programme, at a time when there is not even a great deal of legislation.
What is especially objectionable is that the Government are having to put off, or put on at an extremely inconvenient time, important business which is of great interest to many hon. Members and of great importance to many people. I refer to the decision of the Leader of the House to hold the debate on the rate support grant order for Scotland after 10 p.m. on Thursday this week. My memory is as fallible as anyone's but I cannot remember any occasion since I came into this House when the rate support grant order for Scotland has been considered at that time. The Leader of the House must be aware that this is massively inconvenient to all Scottish MPs.
Most Scottish Members have had strong representations from constituents all over Scotland about this rate support grant order and now have the unenviable prospect of trying to do justice to a subject of immense importance after 10 p.m. on a Thursday evening. There will be very many difficulties.
§ Mr. Denis Skinner (Bolsover)
How can the hon. Gentleman complain about the length of the recess at the same time as he is making the complaint that he cannot stop here on Thursday night, and so do only a four-day week?
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman may not be terribly quick on the uptake. I have sometimes wondered if that was the case. I am not complaining about that; I am complaining about putting a matter of great importance for Scottish voters on so late at night on a Thursday, 237 when it cannot possibly get proper consideration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am with your courtesy, Mr. Speaker, about to be given a few moments to explain that to the House. Perhaps hon. Members on the Government Benches will do me the courtesy of listening to the case that I wish to make.
Hon. Members who are making the noise mostly represent English or possibly Welsh constituencies. They are to have a nice day's debate on Thursday about their rate support grant orders. When they make their speeches on Thursday, they will have time to put their arguments, with a full day in which to discuss the issue. They will be making their speeches when the press and media representatives can take note of what is being said. This will ensure that their constituents have these matters drawn to their attention and that they can be properly aired.
It is grossly unfair on electors in Scotland, not only because it is to be late at night—that is fair enough, and it has to happen sometimes—but because there will only be an hour and a half at a most impossible time of the week for these important matters to be discussed.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
Like the hon. Member, I represent a Scottish constituency. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is a constituent of mine. If, as I suspect, all he is bothering about is the travel arrangements home, and if he is willing to stay here on Thursday night and do the night shift, when he gets to Stirling station on Friday morning I will get my wife to give him a lift home.
§ Mr. Younger
My travel arrangements are much more simple than those of the hon. Gentleman. Whereas I have to travel only between here and Ayr at the weekend, he apparently has to come back from El Salvador to give us the benefit of his advice. My arrangements are simpler, but, if he has any difficulties, as one of his constituents I am sure that I will be able to help him.
My complaint is not about travel arrangements, and I have not referred to them. I have referred to the fact that Scottish ratepayers will not have the chance of having their grievances aired.
§ Mr. Younger
They will not. The hon. Gentleman is making his comments from a position of great comfort. He will be able to talk about his constituents' problems at a decent time of day, with plenty of time to discuss them, but I will not—nor will my other colleagues, from both sides of the House, who represent Scottish constituencies.
§ Mr. Younger
I am overwhelmed by the interest that my remarks are causing. I give way to the Leader of the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Steel
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest, and I support his argument. Since he knows, however, that the rate support grant settlement will become a devolved matter, I take it that he will use the benefit of the recess to campaign for a "Yes" vote in the referendum, so that these matters can be given proper attention.
§ Mr. Younger
It is my business what I do in the recess, but I shall be giving a great deal of attention then to the referendum. The rate support grant, of course, has to be dealt with at the moment on the present arrangements—and will have to be so dealt with for at least one more year. So, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is not relevant to my complaint today.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I have a better suggestion, I hope, than that of the Leader of the Liberal Party. No doubt my hon. Friend knows that the rumour is that we shall have a week's recess in order to fight the referendum in Scotland.
§ Mr. Younger
I am indebted to my hon. Friend. He has unerringly put his 239 finger on exactly the problem. Of course, if the Lord President were prepared to give us some other time later on, it would be very acceptable—but for one point, which is that the Government's arrangements are so chaotic and so badly drawn that there is no chance of any time later on which would not make the debate too late to influence the decisions that have to be taken about next year's rating and the consideration of them by Scottish local authorities. Thus, my hon. Friend's suggestion is absolutely right, but for the fact that the Government have allowed this matter to come up so late that there will not be time for mat debate later on.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
If the hon. Member will allow me, I hope that we may dispose of this point immediately. The original proposition from the Government was that we should discuss the rate support grant on Wednesday of this week. It was in deference to the representations of the official Opposition that we changed that arrangement.
§ Mr. Younger
The Lord President is most unwise to have made that intervention. As he will know, the reason for that change goes back to his sordid efforts and those of his hon. Friends on the Left wing last week to escape a debate that they did not want and a vote that they knew they could not win. Therefore the Lord President—
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have never known such anxiety to get into a debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) will confine himself to the Adjournment motion—as I hope every hon. Member will—and to the question whether we should adjourn or not, and for this period.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
The hon. Member referred to "sordid" tactics by the Leader of the House and his Left wing friends last week. I have to point out that many Back Benchers were involved in trying to ensure that they scrutinised properly £25,000 million of expenditure that was before the House. I was one of those concerned, and I was 240 very concerned indeed. I very much resent the slur that the hon. Member has cast on my character and on the characters of other hon. Members who were properly doing their job.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Member is not prepared to take his responsibility. He may not like it—I do not expect he does, because he is a responsible person—but he is responsible for what took place last week, because he supported his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Younger
Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman supported him. It is interesting to hear about ructions between the Lord President and his hon. Friend. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman was not too hard on him. But the hon. Gentleman cannot escape his responsibility. Nor can any hon. Member on the Government Benches—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I was correct when I pulled the hon. Gentleman up a few moments ago. He is rehashing the debate of last week. This time he must come to the motion.
§ Mr. Younger
My proposal is that because of this unsatisfactory arrangement the House should not rise on Friday this week but should remain in session until at least 10 pm next Monday so that we may have a full day's debate on the Scottish rate support grant order. I think that I have demonstrated to those who have been courteously listening to me that this is necessary.
I hope that no one will think that the rate support grant is a minor matter and that I am making a lot of fuss when I complain about having only an hour and a half to debate it. It is an important matter. A large sum of money is involved, even for Scotland. An even larger sum, of course, is involved for England and Wales.
§ Mr. Younger
I have given way far too often already, and I must conclude my speech.
The rate suport grant order for Scotland is of great importance and on this occasion there is also great controversy. 241 The Government have made changes in it which are unacceptable to the majority of Scottish local authorities, although they may be rather more acceptable to a minority. I and my hon. Friends have had many representations on the subject. It is therefore a matter of grave concern that, because of the Government's tactics, they will shove the order through the House at a late hour on a Thursday night, to the great inconvenience of the constituents of many Scottish Members who are expecting to see them tomorrow in their constituencies and now will not be able to do so. This great inconvenience will spread much more widely than Members of Parliament.
Next Monday would be highly suitable for a debate on the order. It would not greatly inconvenience Scottish Ministers to have to come back to answer that debate. If we had a full seven or eight hours, we could make all the necessary points and Scottish local authorities could feel that they had been given proper treatment by Members of Parliament and that their grievances had been properly aired.
I have great objection to the growing Government practice of putting through generalised grants of this sort and then making it impossible later on to discuss their details. A similar consideration arises in connection with the new system of housing support grants. I have complained all along about this. Once the public expenditure survey and the figures in it are passed by the House, which is often done on the nod or with only one day's debate to cover the whole range of the matter, there is no further way of arguing about the figure allocated for housing.
§ Mr. Younger
The practice extends also to the rate support grant. Once the order is passed late on Thursday night there will be no subsequent opportunity to change it. If the Opposition allowed—I am sure that they would be glad to do so—we could spend a Supply Day talking about the difficulties caused by the order. However good that debate may be, however, there is no way in which it could change the Government's intentions—no way in which it could reverse the rate support grant order or its distribution.
242 Once we have passed the order, we are held collectively responsible for its contents. If we complained about it subsequently, we would be told that we had the opportunity to discuss it when it came before Parliament and that if we did not like it we should have done something about it then. On the arrangements now proposed, we shall be unable to do anything effective about it. Everyone knows that it is impossible to do anything effective between 10.15 and 11.45 on a Thursday night on a matter as important as this.
Something will have to be done, and if the Lord President will not give us a debate on the subject next Monday I ask him to approach the Secretary of State for Scotland to see whether he can hold the order back so that we may debate it on the day we return after the recess. That would satisfy me, provided that the Secretary of State for Scotland would agree that what was said then would have an effect on what he did, and that it would still be in time to make an alteration, should that be the will of the House.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office, is listening to the debate. Perhaps he will advise the Lord President whether that proposal is possible. We cannot be accused of having failed to air a matter of such importance to our constituents. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will try to do something about it.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should have informed the House that I shall call the first amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am grateful for that information, Mr. Speaker.
I wish first to comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). If a Scottish Member objects to the contents of a rate support grant order for Scotland, he should at least have the courtesy to mention that per head the Scots get more than the English, as do the Welsh and the Northern Irish. Since I represent Nottingham, West, even though I am of half Scottish ancestry and half Irish, I think it only 243 fair for the United Kingdom to point out that the hon. Member is objecting to an order that gives his constituents more than my constituents will get. My local county council, controlled by the Conservatives, is protesting strongly at the equivalent order for England. My constituents are doing far worse out of that than the hon. Gentleman's constituents will do out of the Scottish order.
I do not think that it does the House of Commons any good to say that one does not want a matter debated on a Thursday night. I accept that the hon. Member for Ayr has farther to go to his constituency than I have to mine. That is an understandable difficulty, although it does not necessarily take him longer to get there. If he knew the train service to Nottingham, he would know that the air service to Scotland was probably capable of beating it any day of the week.
The important point is that we can deal with matters on a Thursday. When the hon. Gentleman was saying that we could not do things on a Thursday night, one of his hon. Friends was laughing his head off. On which night of the week was it that not only the Left wing but a large number of hon. Members did something? It was last Thursday night. It is possible to do things on a Thursday night if one has a reasonable measure of attention to one's duties.
Why did my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House combine two motions in one? He says that we should adjourn till 15th January, and that is understandable. He says also that at our rising on 23rd February we should adjourn until 5th March. These debates are always regarded primarily as Back Bench occasions. Of course, my right hon. Friend and his Conservative counterpart will reply to the debate, as we want them to. The arrangement that my right hon. Friend proposes, however, is depriving us of one bite of the cherry. This is another small erosion of the rights of Back Benchers. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance that this will not be repeated and that a double-barrelled Adjournment motion will not recur.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not regard this procedure as an erosion of the rights of Back Benchers. It is certainly not intended as 244 such. It is intended to give the House an indication that we think it would be a good idea for there to be a short recess before the referendums take place in Scotland and Wales. I have had a number of requests from different sides that we should give some indication of this, and that is what we are doing. It will not interfere with the subsequent debate on the Easter Recess or the recess after that. I hope that my hon. Friend's objection to what we propose will therefore be removed.
§ Mr. English
I accept that explanation. The point then simply arises, if we are to have an extra recess, why are we not to have an extra debate on an Adjournment motion? I understand my right hon. Friend's reasons, but I hope that in future we shall not have double-barrelled motions of this character.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Has the hon. Gentleman noted that in his motion the Leader of the House speaks in terms of a Winter Recess? That has nothing to do with the referendums. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a precedent that we shall be following?
§ Mr. English
I hope that the hon. Member, who represents the constituency in which my parents-in-law live, since he knows what the winters there can be like, is wrong in his forecast about the weather.
You have placed me in a quandary, Mr. Speaker. Out of the kindness of your heart you have selected my amendment, which seeks to leave out "Friday and insert" Monday ". I am sure that you would never dream of giving reasons for your selection, and neither would I dream of asking for them. However, I am entitled to speculate, and my speculation is that you have selected the amendment because of the possibility that it might be carried—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should have told the hon. Gentleman that he can, of course, advance the argument which is embodied in his second amendment but that for various reasons the amendment is out of order. That is why it was not selected.
§ Mr. English
My comments, Mr. Speaker, refer to the amendment that you selected. I speculate that that amendment might be carried, and that causes 245 me a certain reluctance to move it. I am sure that the kindness of your heart will extend to allowing me to discuss the point at issue without actually moving the amendment. The situation is one that I have explained at some length on two previous occasions.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is confusing the House. We had the impression that you probably called him at this early stage not to recite his family tree but to move an amendment. If he is not proposing to move it, perhaps he will sit down.
§ Mr. English
As I understand it, had I moved the amendment I would not have been able to address myself to the motion because I would have had to restrict myself to the terms of the amendment. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) is sufficiently knowledgeable on procedure to know that that is so.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I shall exercise my discretion and say that the House will be able to have this Adjournment debate without merely deciding whether we adjourn on Monday or Friday. I shall exercise my discretion and hope that the House will support me in that ruling.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has tabled an amendment which he may decide not to move, would it be in order for another hon. Member to move it for him?
§ Mr. Speaker
It would mean Monday, not Friday. It would be in order, if somebody wished to move it, to do so on the hon. Gentleman's behalf. However, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is now in the middle of his speech.
§ Mr. English
I know that many Conservatives wish to complain about the early rising of the House. However, my main point is a serious one.
Hon. Members will have seen Early-Day Motion 113 relating to a debate on the Civil Service. The motion has been signed by every member of the General Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee and in total by over 200 Members in all parts of the House. It has 246 been supported by Members from every party—and in this House that is quite a total. It is within sight of including half the Back Benchers of the House, and it would not be difficult to ensure that the motion was approved of by that number of Back Benchers.
There is a debate which has long been scheduled but which has not happened. I refer to the debate on a report of the Expenditure Committee which was presented in July 1977. I usually say "more than 15 months ago" because, owing to fault on the part of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, a body controlled by the Minister for the Civil Service, the report was not published until the Summer Recess of that year. But it was laid before the House and available in typescript to several people in July 1977—a very long time ago. We have since had the observations of the Civil Service Department on the report and the Expenditure Committee has commented on those observations.
There is considerable pressure in the House to solve the kind of problem that I participated in creating the other night. Incidentally, that did not involve only the Left wing, as was recently alleged by the hon. Member for Ayr. Indeed, I regard some Conservatives as Left wingers when one compares them with, say, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), who took part in the debate last Thursday.
The point at issue is that we have a deplorable set of procedures to deal with financial matters, among other things, in this House. The procedures are deplorable in two respects. First, we are never allowed to discuss public expenditure. The Expenditure Committee in its report on the Civil Service dealt with many matters. Some of them were agreed to instantly.
When we mentioned the subject of pay and said that the Pay Research Unit's proceedings should be reinstituted, that was instantly agreed between all the Civil Service trade unions and the Prime Minister, who is the Minister responsible for the Civil Service. When we mentioned the subject of inflation-proofed pensions, again what we recommended was instantly agreed between all the Civil Service unions and the Prime Minister. But other suggestions were not agreed. 247 The 55 recommendations put forward by our Committee were intended to be a package. There was a degree of controversy over five of those recommendations but no controversy whatever over the remaining 50. Although we said that the Civil Service was being unjustly treated in arguments about pay and that, indeed, many senior civil servants were underpaid, and although we pointed out that such people were being unjustly accused by the press of receiving inflation-proofed pensions when 7 million people—one-third of the entire working population—received inflation-proofed pensions, I must emphasise that we suggested other matters.
Some of our suggestions dealt with the procedure of the House. We asked that various committees should be set up to shadow each Department. Some of those matters related to the audit of expenditure by the Comptroller and Auditor General. We pointed out that whereas in the nineteenth century the Comptroller was responsible for auditing most public expenditure, now, for various reasons, he is responsible for almost a minor part of public expenditure—for auditing only an element of it.
The Procedure Committee, chaired by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Sir T. Williams), endorsed those recommendations, but we have still not debated that subject.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is well versed in the ways of the House. He knows that we must not debate the issues of his Committee's report as though we were debating the isssues that he wants to debate. He must argue why we should not adjourn without debating those issues. That is a very different matter from going into the full detail of the contents of the report.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and, of course, I agree with you. I thought that I was not detailing the reasons for the recommendations. I am merely pointing out that for very much more than 15 months these recommendations have been outstanding without debate. It cannot be said that the Government are now overpressed by business or anything else.
§ Mr. English
I am not sure about tomorrow night, but there is not a great deal of business for the House to digest between now and such time as the next Parliament may supervene. Therefore, a debate on the Civil Service should be held as soon as possible, as should a debate on procedure.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is one of those who say that these considerations are difficult in a House where one is uncertain of a majority. I believe that this is an ideal House of Commons in which to discuss subjects of this kind. I suspect that if a reasonably commanding majority of the House agreed or disagreed to set up Select Committees departmentally-related or to revise the system of audit or whatever it may be, that would survive, whichever party won the next election. In this House the Government do not have an overwhelming majority, nor do the Opposition. Indeed, no party by itself has a majority. This is the ideal House of Commons in which to decide on these reports on the Civil Service—a Civil Service which is not supposed to respond to a particular party but is supposed to serve us all if we are in office—and to decide on the procedure of the House, which is supposed to serve all Members of the House and not only those who happen to be in a majority.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in replying to the debate, will give some hope that the reports on the Civil Service and procedure will be debated. If that is the case, I hope that it will not be necessary to press my amendment.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) moved his amendment. All he told the House was that he did not intend to press it. Having heard him at some length, I am not sure that I would support it. I am not certain that it would be worth staying on much longer to hear the hon. Gentleman once again demonstrating his mastery of the obvious. But perhaps he would say something different if he had the opportunity to make the speech that he wants to make.
249 I wish to intervene only briefly. To begin with, I want to mention one small matter for which I hope one day to be able to find a little bit of spare parliamentary time. I refer to a motion that I am sure a number of Labour Members would very much like to see debated—a motion suggesting that smoking should be permitted in the Division Lobbies. Without dwelling on that subject now, I look forward to the day when such a motion is put forward in the names of the Labour Chief Whip, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and others who seem to be unable to go into the Division Lobbies without lighting up. As we well know, the rules of the House forbid smoking in the Lobbies. But the Labour Chief Whip frequently smokes a cigar in the Division Lobby, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland smokes a pipe, and the hon. Member for Bolsover, who is very democratic, smokes something that he has clearly rolled himself. What is the point of laying down rules only to see them broken?
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House must know that what I am saying is accurate, and I hope that it will not be long before he allows the House to settle the matter in the same way as the Labour Party conference did recently. And I hope that the result will be to stop hon. Members smoking in the Division Lobbies.
I want to talk now about something else—the speech made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) the other day. I shall not argue that the point that he sought to make is one that the House should waste any time debating. I think that it was a disgraceful and unnecessary intervention. I regret very much that in seeking comment on it hon. Members, the media—
Mr. Speaker Order
The hon. Gentleman, who has a very honoured name in this House, knows that he is entering into a debate rather than discussing whether we should adjourn. We cannot enter into a debate on matters other than those that concern us in the motion and the question whether they should be debated before we rise. That is usually the hook on which hon. Members hang their case.
§ Mr. Onslow
I know that, Mr. Speaker, and I do not wish to trespass on your 250 kindness and generosity. However, if the right hon. Member for Down, South has said—not in the House but else where, and in terms—that the future of the monarchy is a subject that should be debated, I think that I am entitled to express my opinion on the urgency of the need for a debate on that subject, but for reasons quite different from those that the right hon. Member saw fit to adduce.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is enitled to express an opinion upon the urgency of the need for a debate, of course. I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to debate the matter in vacuo, without any reference to the Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Onslow
I should never wish to do anything in vacuo, Mr. Speaker.
However, I believe that the subject of the monarchy is an important one. The right hon. Member for Down, South was kind enough to send me a copy of his speech. He ended this by saying that the event that he foresaw, and upon which none of the rest of us feel it necessary to speculate—God knows why he should do so—would signal the beginning of the end of the British monarchy. It would portend the eventual surrender of everything that has made us, and keeps us still, a nation.If there were reality in that threat, we should stay here until kingdom come to debate it, because we are here, above all, to defend the nation, and defending the nation means defending the interests of the monarchy. But if we are to be specific and discuss real threats against the monarchy, I would say that one of these—and we should debate it—is the republicanism that we know to be openly avowed by some hon. Members on the Labour Benches.
Another equally real threat to the monarchy, which we should debate, is the insidious way in which the legislation and the programmes of the Labour Party, over the years, have progressively destroyed the faith of the people in the nation to which they have hitherto been proud to belong.
We know very well that the Labour Party and some of its individual Members are still as dedicated—individual Members to their republicanism; the party, collectively, to Socialism—as ever they were. We, as those who disagree with 251 them and mean to resist them, are surely entitled to claim the right to stay here and to speak against them. We should not be deprived of that right by the great barrage balloon of a Prime Minister who only wants to float up into the sky, where everyone will admire him. I hope that I carry my colleagues with me.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I am slightly puzzled. What has this to do with smoking in the Division Lobbies?
§ Mr. Onslow
I am sorry. I said—I hope that Hansard will have it recorded—that after mentioning, in passing, a subject that irritates me, I wanted to turn to something else, which I freely admit is more important. I hope that my hon. Friend will not fall into the trap of supposing that smoking in the Division Lobbies is the most important of topical issues. That is not what I said. My point is that there are far more important matters that we should stay to debate.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
The hon. Member alluded to the length of this recess being the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Does he recall that the last Christmas Recess of the duration of the one now proposed was in 1972–73? Does he think that that was the responsibility of the then Prime Minister? If so, will he expand upon that matter?
§ Mr. Onslow
I would be out of order to do so. I would also be wasting my time. We all know that the hon. Member is a man of single-track mind and that for him time never moves in any direction at all.
§ Mr. English rose—
§ Mr. Onslow
I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. I am talking about the situation that we face now under a motion to dismiss us, to gag Parliament, and to prevent us from discussing matters of serious public interest and concern which my hon. Friends wish to stay and debate.
There are many such matters. For instance, we might suggest to the Leader of the House that he should take a day to consider what is going on in the Health Service, and the growing evidence that we find that members of trade unions seem to see their self-interest as more important 252 than the interests of the patients. What has gone on at Charing Cross hospital has, understandably enough, made the reputations of the trade union involved less savoury in the nostrils of the public. I am sure that Labour Members who are sponsored by that union would welcome the chance to come here and defend, if they can, what has happened at Charing Cross hospital and elsewhere. Surely that is worth a day. The Secretary of State for Social Services could be persuaded to come and hear a debate, even if he did not want to take part in it.
There are many other subjects that are worth a day of our time. We would not necessarily be calling upon important Cabinet Ministers to tear themselves away from unimportant Cabinet committees and come to the House and hear criticism, as the Secretary of State for Energy was so reluctant to do yesterday. But at least let us, the elected representatives of the people, stand here and speak, as we should—not issuing statements to the press, not writing letters to the newspapers, but speaking in open debate on the Floor of what is still a democratic Chamber.
If we are deprived of this, it can only be a short time before we are told that it is all very inconvenient, that the Government can get on well enough without Parliament, that we, as private Members, have no more chance of speaking on the Floor of the Chamber—unless we happen to be fortunate enough to become Privy Councillors—that all our work will be done in Select Committees, where no one will notice us, and that nothing will be done on the basis of our reports.
What we are really talking about, and what we should debate at any opportunity—and now is as good a time as any—is the future of this Parliament and the extent to which the abuse of parliamentary majority, cobbled up by the Prime Minister and his friends, has destroyed what used to be a Chamber of real influence. It has been and is being reduced progressively. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) may laugh. He is at liberty to be cynical about this if he wants to. But the fact that this House is to be dismissed, sent away for a month, prevented from discussing urgent matters of public importance—from the future of the 253 nation, at the most elevated level of all, down to the question of the day-to-day suffering that trade union members have inflicted on patients in the Health Service —is an insult to Parliament.
I hope that the House will feel that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West is one that deserves some support, whether or not he presses it himself.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
I call the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden).
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
You join us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at a very interesting time. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has been in a right old mood. He was bubbling with indignation about all kinds of things. I hope that he feels better now. He was right to get off his chest whatever he had to get off his chest here in the House of Commons today.
I shall not suggest that the hon. Member's three main topics, the Health Service, the future of the monarchy, with the narrower reference to the validity of the Bill of Rights, and the question whether one should smoke in the Lobbies, ought to be discussed in any detail today. I offer the hon. Member one solution to the problem of smoking in the Lobbies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) will confirm, if hon. Members were to take snuff—which is provided by a Liverpool company—the hon. Member could forget that problem.
When the hon. Member suggested that the House of Commons was being dismissed by an arbitrary Government in order to silence criticism, I wondered where he had been these past months. There may have been a time within the life of very recent Governments, of one side or the other, when the complaints were of the dictatorship of presidential-type government, when Whips drove their reluctant Members through the Lobbies in a very arbitrary fashion, when Members responded to pressures of such kinds, when Governments had built-in majorities of 20, 50 or 100 in Lobby fodder, and whatever we said in this place during the debate really made no difference to the result at the end of the day.
254 Surely that complaint has not been true in the past few years. It has taken my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Government quite a long time to realise that power has returned to the Floor of the House of Commons. I make no complaint about it. The Government of the day may propose, but it is for combinations of Members of Parliament, of Back Benchers, to decide, in their wisdom or folly, which of the Government's proposals will be accepted, which will be amended, and which will be thrown out completely.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Gentleman does not appear to realise that it is for the House, this afternoon, to accept the motion that we go, or not. We cannot amend it. I have a particular point to make, to which I shall come later. I do not think that the two parts of the motion together are very good.
The idea that the Government can tell the Commons what they must do is against the history of the past 18 months. Ministers have to take notice. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does take notice. Indeed, other Ministers take notice. They must attach a great deal of importance to pre-legislative consultation, to taking the views of hon. Members. This is not a bad thing for the Commons, for Parliament, or for the country. It must be very difficult for my hon. Friends, but they must give a great deal more thought to what Labour Members and, to some degree, Opposition Members say when the Government of the day do not have an inbuilt majority.
I have no complaint. I do not think that the hon. Member for Woking was being fair when he said that we were being dismissed—that the rump was being sent out—to make things easier for the Government. I noted that Lord Shinwell, a little while ago, suggested that the best thing for the country would be for the Commons to be suspended for six months. I do not agree with him on that.
My complaint follows one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I do not see why we have to take the two parts of the motion together at this time. We could have had an indication that there 255 would be a proposal from the Government that from 23rd February to 5th March there would be a recess so that hon. Members with interests in the Welsh and Scottish referendums could take part in them. If Welsh and Scottish Members are engaged elsewhere, why should not this place be left to English Members? I could think of enough subjects—
§ Mr. Ogden
The Government do not have a majority. Where has the hon. Gentleman been these past months? That is the whole point. The majority is back in the Commons. Many subjects that we raise quietly and persistently in one way or another could be debated on the Floor of the House. There would be no need to have a vote at the end of the day. I could provide enough useful business to keep the House going, as could every other hon. Member. This may not come about, but if there should be another time when it is desirable or necessary for other Members to be away, that suggestion could be considered. For these reasons I do not like the second part of the motion. But I am reasonably in favour of the first part of the motion—That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 15th January ".It used to be said that Members who intervened in these debates had their bags packed and waiting at the end of the Members' Corridor to enable them to get the heck out of it. That is not true today. But it is true to say that this is the first time in 14 years that I have intervened in an Adjournment debate. Earlier in today's debate I began to think that I was wise to have stayed away from the other 53 or 54 Adjournment debates that have taken place during these past 14 years.
There is one other matter of which I have given notice to my right hon. Friend that I should like to raise. It is proposed that the House adjourns for a month. I ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that he will draw to the attention of our right hon. and hon. Friends in the Departments of Environment, Industry, Transport and Employment the needs of the outer areas of 256 our towns and cities, so that those needs may be considered with some urgency during the Christmas Recess. I want those needs to be drawn to the attention of Ministers, just as hon. Members will give them their attention when they go back to their constituencies.
My right hon. Friend was here last Friday morning, so he will be aware that the first motion on the Order Paper that day was to draw the attention of the House to the needs of the outer urban areas. The motion referred to the peripheral areas of Wallasey and other urban areas—or the "peripheal" areas on the Wirral side of the Mersey. In Liverpool we call them outer areas. Because the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) was unable to be in the House through temporary illness—I am sure that the whole House wishes her a speedy recovery to good health—it was not possible for that motion to be moved.
I was tempted to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss the same subject—not under Standing Order No. 9—but that would have been difficult last Friday morning. There was an opportunity to discuss the needs of the outer areas of our towns and cities. Indeed, the Whips were saying to Labour Members "Tell us more. Take all the time you like. It is time that this matter was debated." They probably had more than one reason for asking hon. Members to go into detail, instead of saying" Shut up and sit down ". However, we missed that opportunity.
Before we go to our constituencies, I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that he will draw to the attention of those Ministers whom I have mentioned, and others, that during the last two or three years the Government have rightly given priority to the needs of inner city areas, that that has been done in partnership with local authorities and voluntary organisations, and that a great job has been done. Some of that help laps over into the outer areas. Real attention having been given to the inner city areas during the last two or three years, the time has come for us to do the same for the outer city areas. Let us have an outer area partnership to do for outer areas what has been done for inner areas—of course, not in competition with, or taking anything away from, the inner areas.
257 We hoped to raise this issue before Christmas, and we have used this opportunity to do so. Before I support the motion, I ask for that assurance from my right hon. Friend.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I should like to raise three matters. I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to speak. One of the traditions of this debate is that those who seek to speak in it do so as briefly as possible.
First, I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) regarding a debate on the rate support grant order for Scotland. This is a matter of considerable importance, particularly to ratepayers in Scotland. My hon. Friend's concern was not over the hour at which the order is to be debated but whether one and a half hours would be sufficient. Under present arrangements, that is all that we should have. I think that we should consider sitting on Monday in order to debate the order at a time which will give an opportunity for all hon. Members whose constituents are concerned about the matter to deploy their arguments.
Whereas rate support grant orders for England and Wales have been debated for a whole day—technically, if taken after normal business, they would be allowed only one and a half hours—Scottish orders have all too often been taken after 10 o'clock, and that has restricted the opportunities for hon. Members to put their views.
Because of a change in the distribution element of the rate support grant order, my constituents in the Grampian region are seeing a reduction of £2¼ million in the amount of rate support grant which they would otherwise have expected to get. That means that services will have to be reduced or that a greater burden will have to be put on the ratepayers themselves. That situation is naturally causing concern.
I want the opportunity, which I may not get because of the shortness of the debate on Thursday night, to deploy the arguments and interests of my constituents who will be sorely affected in consequence of the Government's action in redistributing the rate support grant formula.
258 The second matter which I should like to have debated—if necessary, staying on longer to debate it—concerns a small but important section of local authority staff in Scotland. I have raised this matter with Ministers on numerous occasions, and I suggest that it is important enough to be debated on the Floor of the House.
When local authorities in Scotland were reorganised four years ago, a certain section of industrial staff—school janitors, cleaners, kitchen staff and drivers—did not have their rates of pay harmonised with those who were on better scales of payment in certain of the old county and town council areas. There was a great explosion in the pay of certain classes of staff after reorganisation. Ministers acknowledge the anomalies in the areas of authorities whose staff pay was not harmonised and adjusted. The problem exists throughout Scotland, but I give as an example my constituency, where a janitor can be earning as much as £15 to £25 a week less than a janitor in the same region doing exactly the same job. That is not fair.
I have continually raised the matter with Ministers. They say that it is one for the national joint council to determine locally—this is where the rub comes —within the Government's pay guidelines. I have raised this problem with the noble Lord who is Minister of State, Scottish Office, who says that he cannot resolve it. He puts the responsibility back on the NJC, which replies that it cannot settle it because the unions are not prepared to deal with it inside the Government's pay guidelines. That may be only a small aspect of Government pay policy, but it is one where they are trying to hide behind the NJC, which, because of the guidelines, is unable to accommodate this problem of local authority staff and right a wrong that has existed for too long.
The Government are not showing enough concern about the problem. Those involved are people working in the public service, for which Ministers should show more concern. I ask for more parliamentary time so that I may deploy the case at greater length in the interests of a small but important group of local authority workers who, unfortunately, do not seem to be properly represented in the union negotiations on the NJC.
259 Thirdly, I come to the important question of fishing. Negotiations on the EEC common fisheries policy are at a crucial stage. When the negotiations come to an end, we in the House want the opportunity to express our opinion on the results at the earliest possible opportunity. At the last meeting of the Fisheries Ministers in the Council of Ministers, there was concern among representatives of the industry that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was beginning to shift his ground and not to stand by some of the assurances that he had given to the industry. I say only that that is alleged by members of the industry, because we have not had an opportunity to debate the matter so far. The industry is concerned that the Minister may be achieving a settlement less satisfactory than that which he had led the industry to hope for.
What programme is envisaged during the recess for meetings of Fisheries Ministers in the Council of Ministers? Is it expected that a conclusion on the common fisheries policy will be reached during the recess? If a conclusion is reached, how soon will an opportunity be given for the House to express its opinion on it? I hope that if a conclusion is reached the Government will not ratify it before the House has the chance to express a view on the outcome of the negotiations.
People in the fishing industry feel very strongly about the matter. Unless the House accepts what the Government propose, it has no chance of being carried through, because the industry will not put up with it. I ask for assurances from the Leader of the House that we shall be given an opportunity to say whether we approve before the Government ratify what may be agreed in the Council of Ministers.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
While the House is proposing to go into recess until 15th January and, under the same motion, from 23rd February to 5th March, 1,250 of my constituents made redundant by the Garrard Engineering Company, a subsidiary of the Plessey Company, will have exhausted their 90-day notice. Many of them will go on permanent recess, because there is no alternative employment for them in the 260 Swindon area. But those 1,250 people are more fortunate than the 800 made redundant three years ago, before the implementation of the Employment Protection Act. They were told one morning that they were redundant and were out of the gate the same afternoon. They were very unfortunate.
The people who have lately been made redundant are rather more fortunate. They have benefited from legislation introduced by this Government. They have had 90 days' pay which they would not otherwise have received. They have had time to negotiate reasonable redundancy terms from a position of relative strength rather than of absolute weakness, and they have had the opportunity to adjust to their new situation and at least look around for other jobs while still working.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to see that the Departments concerned with these matters are made fully aware of the position of those 1,250 constituents of mine and that they are given every possible help to find alternative employment.
The people involved are very grateful for the Employment Protection Act, so much attacked by the Conservative Party, an Act which has had such beneficial effects for those now on the dole. Nevertheless, when the announcement of the redundancies came early in September it was made without warning. It came as a bolt from the blue.
We should debate industrial matters a good deal more. We should debate the relationships between Government and industry and industry's decisions that have an effect on ordinary working people, people who are our constituents, whether we sit on the Government or Opposition Benches.
Why should those people have been made redundant at all? They had been making record decks which were world-famous and they would have been happy to continue doing so for a long time. They were a good work force, not given to making exorbitant demands of their employers or to striking at the drop of a hat. They suddenly found themselves one day thrown out of jobs which some of them had held for over 30 years.
We are so often told that workers put themselves out of a job that the House will be interested to hear exactly what 261 happened in the case of the Plessey-owned Garrard company. The company was doing well until 1973. It sold 80 per cent. of its products in America, selling them to Plessey of America, which in turn distributed them through British Industries Corporation of America. The corporation sold many record decks on the United States market.
However, in 1973 Plessey decided that it did not want to continue in that business and it offered the Garrard company lock, stock and barrel to BIC for $35 million—a lot of money then, and a damned sight more now. BIC agreed that it would take over Garrard, but at the last moment Plessey ratted on the deal, pulled out of it and sacked BIC as its main American distributor. Having made a mess of the matter, having sacked its American distributor, Plessey did not put its own effort into the marketing of the product in the United States. That is why the Garrard company now employs 600 people instead of the 4,200 that it employed in 1974.
Great efforts were made by the employees, the unions and everyone else to save those jobs. We brought a deputation to see the Minister of State, Department of Industry, who was most helpful. Not only did he listen to us; he made personal representations to another firm with a view to having it take over the Garrard company. Unfortunately, all those efforts came to nought. That is the sorry story of the Garrard company.
I return briefly to the manner in which the decision on redundancies was made and announced. There was no prior consultation with the trade unions, in the firm or at national level. A decision was made purely on the basis of the financial situation of the Plessey organisation as a whole and the effect of Garrard on the Plessey profitability figures. The position of the Garrard workers and the position of Swindon—with a higher than national average unemployment rate—got scant, if any, attention from the Plessey Company.
One would have expected better behaviour from a firm currently enjoying more than £1 million worth of Government money, some of it in Swindon—and a company which enjoys Government contracts into the bargain. The time has come —indeed, it is overdue—for the Government to introduce compulsory planning agreements with firms which are the reci- 262 pients of large Government grants and are dependent upon Government contracts for survival. In that way, we might find that people such as my constituents in Swindon would not be thrown suddenly on the dole, at the drop of a hat, by a firm which in other respects is doing very well.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)
Like other hon. Members, I wish to protest about the unusual nature of this recess motion. I believe that this is the first occasion since I have been in the House when two recess motions have been rolled into one. There may well be precedents, but I do not recall them. The motion has an extraordinary effect because the number of days between today and Monday 5th March, which is the day we resume after the referendum recess, amounts to 82. We are being asked to rise for 41 of those days. We are turning ourselves into a half-time Parliament for a half-time Government.
Although the Government believe in productivity agreements, it seems to be a strange definition of a productivity agreement to say that, as we are paid roughly half the rate of parliamentarians in other parts of the world, we should therefore work for only half the year. This is what we are being asked to do. The Government, who have demonstrated their love of power over the past few days and weeks, have adopted a policy of survival through holidays. For this Government, the path to success is to go into recess.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will find endless opportunities after 5th March for the House to rise early for Easter and to remain on holiday for a long time. No doubt he will examine carefully other opportunities which are presented by the Christian calendar for further holidays between Easter and Whitsun. This is not the way that we should conduct ourselves.
The Government are cynically sending us back to our constituencies because it is the only way that they can survive, and the Leader of the House knows it. There are many issues which should be debated. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has referred to the excellent report which his Select Committee produced on the Civil Service and 263 which has now been before the House for nearly 18 months. Bits of it have been acted upon. There has been a perfunctory and inadequate reply from the Civil Service Department. We should debate it.
The Select Committee on Procedure has produced a report with significant recommendations. Whatever hon. Members may think of it, whether they support the recommendations in part or in full, there is no question but that the House should debate the report at an early opportunity. This Chamber must be in control of its own procedures. There is considerable anxiety within the House about our procedures.
We have heard that the Cabinet has a divided view upon some of the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure. If that is the case, I make a suggestion to the Leader of the House about how to handle the report. All such Committees are unique in that they recommend to us, as Members of Parliament, how we should conduct our affairs. If the Government cannot reach a conclusion about the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman places on the Order Paper the various recommendations of that Committee so that we may vote upon them, so that we as Members of Parliament can make up our minds. If the Executive want to whip a particular way or recommend their supporters to support a certain proposal affecting procedure, that is up to them. It is a charade for us as Members of Parliament to say that we are in control of our procedures if the Executive of the day decide which part of the procedures of the House we can debate and vote upon. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider my suggestion. Being the parliamentarian that he is, I am sure that he would like the House, rather than the Executive and the Cabinet, to be genuinely in control of its procedures.
Another constitutional matter which I would certainly like to see debated on some of the 41 days during which we shall be in recess concerns the point raised by the Secretary of State for Energy of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. The Secretary of State 264 for Energy has engaged in this debate in a most interesting way. It is not a private affair. It is something which ought to be debated in this House, because as a result of Cabinet decisions Government policy is evolved.
As Members of Parliament we have a right to ask where Government policy is being forged. Is it in the Cabinet or in the national executive of the Labour Party? If it is the latter, it is no concern of this House because no Minister is responsible for the national executive of the Labour Party. Indeed, as far as I can see, no one is responsible for the national executive of the Labour Party. If the Leader of the House can clarify this point in his concluding remarks and tell us where Government policy is being forged—in the Cabinet or in the NEC—if he can tell us whether the Prime Minister is in charge of the party or the party is in charge of the Prime Minister, we shall be grateful.
This is an important matter because one of the proposals we have read about in the past few days has been to do with the lengthening of the life of a Parliament. That ought to concern us. It seems that the Government are toying with the idea of a longer Parliament and longer holidays for hon. Members. That is the cry of the democrat through the ages. I hope that the Leader of the House will explain to us why he has put us on half time for the next two or three months and will say whether we can expect this sort of treatment in April, May, June and July.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I hope that my hon. Friend is not seeking to mislead the House by suggesting that the time which hon. Members do not spend in this place is spent on holiday. Members of Parliament undertake extremely valuable work in their constituencies. If anything, in recent times Parliament has mistaken legislation for government. We want more and better government but less legislation.
§ Mr. Baker
I am only too well aware of the enormous work that my hon. Friend does in his constituency, not only when Parliament is sitting but during recesses. I remind him that we were all elected by our respective constituents not to go into recess but to represent their interests here. That is the purpose of 265 elections. I much regret that the Government are sending us into recess for so long, not so that more time can be spent on constituency affairs but simply because it is the only way that they can survive. It is survival through holidays. I see that one of my constituents wants to interrupt me.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I simply want to put a point to my Member of Parliament about his allegation that the Government have put Parliament on half time. I have been a Member here, with one short break, since 1945. Half of a year is 183 days, and there has been no Session since I have been here when Parliament has sat for as many as 183 days. So it is not my right hon. Friend who has invented this. It goes all the way back to Winston Churchill, and earlier.
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Member is seeking to mislead the House, because he knows perfectly well that we get up to that high figure only by taking the very long Summer Recess. What is quite unusual is that at this time of the year we are being asked to apply the same standard for holidays as applies during the Summer Recess. That is unusual, and I can assure the hon. Member that if he happened to be in Opposition if a Conservative Government ever proposed such a measure—I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has no intention of doing that—he would be the first to make the point that I am making, as, indeed, the Leader of the House would have been when he sat on the Bench below the Gangway.
I therefore rest assured of the support of one of my constituents. I am always glad to welcome him as such—only Labour Members of Parliament can afford to live in my constituency. I can assure him that, as a result of this recess, he will be seeing a great deal more of me in Marylebone. However, the people of Marylebone sent me here to represent their interests.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I shall not detain the House for long, but before agreeing to this motion I think it only right that the House should review some of the harsher 266 events that will occur while we are not sitting. I take only the month of the Christmas Recess. During that month on current statistics, 800 babies will be stillborn or will die within the first week of life. A further 2,000 will suffer a handicap, either physical or mental, that will be with them throughout their lives.
It is wrong that we should go into the recess without having had any chance to debate—either a full debate or on a statement—the perinatal services that we offer in this country. The best services in the world could not save all those babies or avert all those family tragedies, but they could save some of them and avert some of those tragedies. As a nation, we should spend much more of our resources on seeing how we could save those babies and prevent those handicaps.
I do not belittle present achievements. The perinatal mortality rate in this country has fallen rapidly since the setting up of the National Health Service, and the Secretary of State recently indicated that the figures for the first three months of this year showed an improvement, but the rate has been falling even faster in other countries.
In Sweden, for instance, the death rate is 50 per cent. of ours. It is a matter of concern for everyone in the House that there are disparities not only between this country and other countries but within the United Kingdom itself. There are vast disparities between the different regions and between different towns and cities in this country in the risk of death or handicap to babies in the first year of life. There are vast differences—and I say this to anyone who believes that we live in a classless society—between the risks to babies born to mothers in social classes I and II and those born to mothers in social classes IV and V. Similarly, there are vast differences in the risks to babies born to unsupported mothers and those born into two-parent families.
I concentrate, briefly, on the needs of young unsupported mothers in particular because they are the most vulnerable group, more vulnerable even than those in social class V. Their perinatal mortality rates are unacceptably high. That is a matter of agreement amongst all who have an interest in this matter. 267 What action are the Government taking to protect the children of these mothers?
It is beyond dispute that the low birth rate is related to the health and nutrition of a mother during pregnancy. These mothers are the more likely to be dependent on the social security system, and yet that system itself takes no recognition of pregnancy. Maternity benefits are related to national insurance contributions, which is not a relevant fact and is certainly not a fact which attracts the attention and support to the mothers who need it most. The National Council for One-Parent Families has estimated that 80 per cent. of a young woman's supplementary benefit is needed simply to pay for the diet that is recommended by a London teaching hospital during pregnancy, yet we do not give even £1 a week additional dietary allowance during pregnancy.
The Government have consistently said that making the maternity grant noncontributory or increasing it from £25, at which it was fixed in 1969, is not a priority. But what better priority could there be, and what better money-saving priority could there be in the end, if one looks at the long-term costs of caring for handicapped children, than preventing handicap and improving the health of unborn children? To make the maternity grant non-contributory would cost only £1 million a year at present levels. That money would then go to the most vulnerable mothers—those who have not been employed for six months and do not have a husband who has a contribution record on which they can claim.
However, much more than that is needed to solve the problem of poverty during pregnancy, and it is to combat that poverty that the Spastics Society, which is to be congratulated on its recent work in this context, is advocating an immediate increase in the maternity grant to £100. Perhaps most important of all, the society is trying to encourage women to seek earlier care during pregnancy, because in this context late reporting is associated with low birth rate and with handicap. The society is advocating that the grant should be increased and made payable at stages during pregnancy.
In the evidence which the Department of Health has presented to the Expendi- 268 ture Committee on the subject of perinatal mortality there is no mention of the needs of these young unsupported mothers or the dangers of poverty in pregnancy. I do not believe that it is right that this House should depart for the Christmas Recess, and envisage another recess, without putting down a marker to the effect that the perinatal mortality rates in this country are unacceptably high and that we could and should do something about them.
It is not a matter of our not knowing how to tackle the problem. If we put more money into the pockets of pregnant women, if we fed them better and gave them more resources in terms of community midwife and antenatal support, if we improved the neonatal services so that those vulnerable low birth rate babies could be saved, or their handicap prevented, we could make immense inroads into statistics that are appallingly high.
Such statistics may sound remote to us, but for the families with children growing up handicapped every one of those statistics is a personal tragedy. We in this House should direct our attention to seeing how we can avert those tragedies. That is why, before we agree to this motion I ask the Lord President to indicate that a priority for the Government will be to give support to the most vulnerable babies being born in this country and to say that the Government are willing to put more money and resources, and some imagination, into a concerted programme of care.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
When we debate these recess motions we always have a good deal of conventional masochism, which does no harm provided that it meets with no success, and I am not one to complain about the length of recesses. This one is not a particularly long recess. I can remember—and I am sure that the Leader of the House can remember—when the House normally came back in the last week of January. Indeed, it is not so very long ago that Governments stopped apologising in July for asking the House to sit in the autumn. So do not let us get silly about a few days here and there on a recess.
What concerns me much more is that if we are sitting we ought to attend to certain urgent business, and I am greatly 269 concerned that we shall rise for Christmas without having debated the extremely important question of immigration. There seems to be considerable shyness about a debate on this subject on the part of those who control the lion's share of parliamentary time. I do not suppose that every hon. Member—certainly not Labour Members—agrees with my views on immigration, but I am sure that all hon. Members agree that it is scandalous that we have not had a debate on the subject for a very long time.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) referred to the number of Select Committee reports that have not been debated. My hon. and learned Friend will remember the furore earlier this year over the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. One would have thought that the Government would be falling over themselves to have a debate on the subject.
§ Mr. Bell
My hon. Friend is right. The reasons why we should have had a debate on immigration are legion, and the Select Committee report is one.
Another powerful reason is the continuance of immigration on its present scale, bearing in mind that every addition is an addition to a corpus, the size of which must cause the greatest anxiety to every hon. Member. It is a cumulative problem and it goes on whether we give it our attention or find it more agreeable to forget about it. It goes on week by week and month by month.
It is particularly wrong that we should rise for Christmas without having debated immigration, because yesterday and today a Member of the Government, the hon. member for Oxford (Mr. Luard), has been in Geneva at a conference called by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to discuss migration from Indo-China. It is not merely possible but probable, that the Minister will agree that Britain will take many thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of migrants from Vietnam. Emotional considerations arise from that possibility, and the motion for the Christmas Recess is not the proper occasion on which to consider them, but it is a serious matter and we shall probably be committed, 270 through our Government, to a major degree of migration from Indo-China.
There is a parallel from the past. We are often told—I believe wrongly—that we are committed to accept Indians from East Africa as immigrants. They are extraordinarily and irrelevantly referred to as United Kingdom passport holders—on the basis, I assume, of lucus a non lucendo—since passports have nothing to do with it. We are told that we were committed to that by Ministers. There is a great deal of dispute about whether that is so. Lord Duncan-Sandys always said that he never agreed to it, but Mr. lain Macleod said that he thought that a Government had agreed to it. One thing is clear: Parliament was never told and never agreed to anything.
It seems that something similar will happen again. We shall be told that a Minister has agreed or a Government—this Government—have agreed to take in a massive quantity of people from Indo-China on humanitarian grounds, without Parliament having been told or asked or having consented.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that a big source of immigration to this country at the moment is white Rhodesians leaving Rhodesia? Is it his view that we should take a close view of that and, if necessary, impose restrictions and quotas on those people?
§ Mr. Bell
I immensely deplore the mental attitude lying behind that sort of intervention—taking a point and a counterpoint. All I am asking is that Parliament should debate and, if appropriate, consent. I deliberately avoided going into the merits of the issue because hon. Members may take different views of the merits. I should certainly take a different view from the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott). Does the hon. Gentleman therefore think that we ought not to debate the matter? Is it his view that commitments that alter the whole face of this country should be entered into without Parliament being asked for its opinion?
We shall be rising for Christmas this week, and a Minister is at a conference where he may be giving his assent, on behalf of us all, to something which may be of the greatest significance to this country. That is the point that I am 271 making—not the miserable niggling one about whether people are white or black or whether they are British people, as the Rhodesians are.
I ask the Leader of the House to give his attention to this matter. I do not know what we can do about it in the short time that remains before we rise. That is why I raise the question on the motion. Can the right hon. Gentleman perhaps give an assurance that this country will not be committed before we return from the recess, so that we may be told what is proposed to be agreed to on our behalf and have an opportunity of saying whether, after full examination of the merits, implications and consequences, we approve of what is being agreed to in our name?
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
These debates are invariably the occasion for synthetic anger, and no one will have been disappointed with today's debate so far. I exclude the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell), who was honest in his support for the proposed Adjournment. The hon. and learned Gentleman commented on the need for a debate on immigration. I trust that he will recall that on several Thursdays I have joined him during business questions in asking for time for a debate on immigration. I am sorry that the time has not been provided.
However, I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Opposition have within their gift a considerable number of parliamentary days, and I wonder whether he has made representations to the leader of his party for Supply time to be given to debate immigration. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can tell us why the Leader of the Opposition has refused to give time for such a debate.
Whenever Back Benchers urge that time should be given to debate a subject, the Leader of the House and Ministers always tell us that they understand and have every sympathy with our request but that, unfortunately, there is never enough time to debate everything. I understand and sympathise with their problems, but one difficulty that has already been posed in the debate is the smokescreen from the 272 hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker).
Both hon. Members left me with the impression, and I am sure that they wanted to give this impression to the general public, that we were being asked to agree to an unduly long Christmas Recess. I asked the Library to give me the dates of the Christmas Recesses since 1969, and those records show an almost uncanny similarity in the lengths of Christmas Recesses since that time.
When the Conservative Government were in power Christmas Recesses lasted for 24 days, 26 days, 31 days and 19 days. So far under this Government Christmas Recesses have lasted for 24 days, 24 days, 18 days, and 24 days. This recess is to last for 31 days. For a comparable year one must go back to 1969–70, and for a longer recess to 1965–66.
Let us not hear any more synthetic anger about there being a new nostrum of government through survival by holidays. If one looks at the facts, that is nonsense. It is in the interests of all Governments, whether Labour or Conservative, to have long recesses and for Parliament to be adjourned for the maximum available time.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
My hon. Friend says that one must go back to 1965–66 to find a longer Christmas Recess. The Labour Party came back with a majority of 100 after that long recess. Perhaps the same will happen in 1979.
§ Mr. Madden
One never knows. This inclination for long Adjournments has nothing to do with the political colour of the Government. It is a propensity of all Governments to want long Adjournments and to see that Back Benchers, in particular, are away from the House.
I hope that the length of the Adjournment in recent years will stop hon. Members from attacking workers for the lost production that might occur because of their Christmas holiday. I hope that we shall not be treated to the usual lectures which some hon. Members seek to give others who have shorter holidays than Members of Parliament.
There is a long list of subjects which deserve debate in the House. The Guardian today listed a long catalogue 273 of urgent matters which deserve debate. I shall identify a few. The reports on procedure, privilege, broadcasting, the Civil Service and official secrets are some which are of great importance to many hon. Members on both sides of the House. Because of my constituency connection, I am particularly interested in the threat to employment from imports. That remains an urgent worry to those of us who represent constituencies with textile industries.
I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) for her remarks about infant mortality. She said much of what I wished to say. I am particularly anxious about the infant mortality rate in my constituency. I am advised that last year the infant mortality rate in the district of Calderdale in West Yorkshire was the highest in the country. There are serious allegations that this is the result of a shortage of nursing and medical staff in the local hospital service. The situation will not be improved unless there is an increase in that staff.
I have put Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Services on the matter. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield in urging the Lord President to provide an early debate so that all hon. Members can urge the Department to take action to ensure that the infant mortality rate is reduced throughout the United Kingdom.
I hope that the Lord President will also be able to indicate when, within the 44 days provided for in the negative order procedure, he will allow a debate on the Prayer against the recent increase in the price of television licences. The Government's recent decision to abolish the vehicle excise duty is bold and adventurous. It will be of benefit to many motorists, especially those who drive less than 7,500 miles per year. They include drivers in rural areas. The arguments marshalled for the abolition of vehicle excise duty are identical to those which can be marshalled in favour of the abolition of television licences. This is an outdated, old-fashioned poll tax which bears heavily on low income groups, particularly pensioners and others who have the least financial resources.
Vehicle excise duty is an expensive scheme which costs about £25 million a 274 year to administer. Evasion costs about £15 million a year. There are proposals to computerise the system and to renew the detector van fleet because of worries about increased evasion. I hope that the Lord President will ensure that a debate on this subject takes place at an early date. I assure him that many Members, particularly Labour Members, are anxious to press the case for the early abolition of the television licence so that the BBC can be financed from the Exchequer under arrangements similar to those used for financing universities.
I should like to draw the attention of the House—not for the first time—to the problems in the newspaper industry which are causing much anxiety. This is a subject worthy of debate. I hope that we shall have a statement from the Minister before we adjourn on Friday on the situation at Times Newspapers Limited.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has proposed a meeting under his chairmanship of the trade unions and the management of Times Newspapers Limited. This course was urged upon him in a recent debate and I wholly commend it. I believe that we should have a statement on this subject before we rise at the end of this week in order to give hon. Members the opportunity to question the Secretary of State on his initiative, what he is proposing to do and the progress of the talks.
The serious dispute within the provincial newspaper industry has already closed a large number of provincial newspapers. The strike is now extensive. There has been an overwhelming response by members of the National Union of Journalists to the instruction to take strike action. I hope that the Lord President can discover from the Secretary of State for Employment what attitude his Department has taken and what views it has expressed to newspaper employers about their proposal to make a pay offer in excess of the 5 per cent. pay guidelines. There should be a statement on this matter and hon. Members should have the opportunity to question the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Madden
I shall not give way, because I have almost concluded my remarks. My protest at this Adjournment is not a hair shirt protest against Members of Parliament, like anybody else, being able to enjoy Christmas. But I believe that this recess is unduly long and should have been a week or so shorter to allow the opportunity for reasonable debates. Hon. Members have real and urgent contributions to make on subjects which are not of great political controversy and on which majorities are not of paramount importance. These issues should be of concern to all Back Bench Members.
At the end of the day, these matters rest in our hands. It is not for the Executive or the Government to tell us for how long the House should operate. I hope that the gathering revolt which seems to be apace on various Benches in the House will gather momentum and that we shall not be faced too soon with motions to adjourn for this length of time, because it is unacceptable in a modern parliamentary age.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) talked about Members of Parliament getting a longer holiday than some workers in industry. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's position, but when the immediate Christmas and New Year period is over I shall have a wealth of engagements to attend and functions to carry out in my constituency. I imagine that many hon. Members are in exactly the same position. It is wrong that we should give the impression that when we rise for three weeks or four weeks we are going on holiday. The world does not know, although many of our constituents do, that Members of Parliament become extremely busy once they return to their constituencies and have the opportunity to pay visits that otherwise they could not do because of the ties of the House.
The hon. Member for Sowerby made brief reference to a subject on which I shall detain the House for a short time—namely, the proposed abolition of the road fund licence and increased tax on petrol. In some respects I am comforted that the hon. Gentleman is much in favour of the proposal, as it confirms 276 my view that I must be right in taking a diametrically opposed one.
This is an argument that should be debated. At present we have a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. Much more explanation is required from the Secretary of State who has promoted the scheme. It is entirely wrong that, having put forward such a revolutionary proposal, the right hon. Gentleman has not ensured, in collaboration with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that the House has an early opportunity to discuss the venture.
I suggest that the Government's integrity is in doubt. That is why the issue should be debated at an early date. Their integrity is in doubt because they are pretending to cut a tax when they intend to levy it elsewhere. I accept that to begin with a fair number of motorists will benefit. However, that situation will not last for long.
§ Mr. Rooker rose—
§ Mr. Smith
No, I shall not give way as I wish to be brief.
Petrol has recently risen in price and it is likely to increase next year irrespective of Government interference. At the same time, we could well see the inflationary spiral taking over because of outside forces over which, admittedly, the Government have no control. It is only the gullible who will believe that the extra price of petrol—for example, an extra 20p a gallon—will remain for more than a year or two once that becomes the established norm. I prophesy that the majority of motorists will be much worse off by the mid-1980s if the new system comes into effect. We shall be faced with a gallon of petrol costing anything between £1.30 and £1.50. I suggest that by its very nature the new taxation will be selective. It will be unfair and eventually damaging.
We have heard mention of the rural areas. I represent a constituency which has about 34 villages and hamlets. I believe that many of those residents are worried about the scheme. They are at the heart of England and they surround three large towns near the Birmingham and Coventry conurbations. Most of the individuals who live in the rural areas have considerably longer journeys than those who live in towns. They are forced to use their cars because public 277 transport is either extremely poor or nonexistent. Very often the wives have to use cars for shopping purposes because there are not sufficient facilities in the villages.
There is the whole issue of increased business costs as a result of the raised price of petrol under the new tax proposals. A tremendous mileage is covered by representatives, salesmen and executives in commerce and industry. Despite the gyrations of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, there is no doubt that the extra costs will be passed on by the various businesses concerned. They will be passed on and they will become an integral part of the cost mechanism facing British industry in future.
We hear that there will be a registration fee for the ordinary motorist. We are told that it will be purely nominal. We have not been told what "purely nominal "means. If it is purely nominal, for how long will it remain purely nominal? We have seen that type of proposal before. For example, the road fund tax, so-called, was always an anomaly. The tax was supposed to pay for the roads but it never did. That was the position under Labour and Conservative Administrations. It was totally abused throughout the years.
I cannot believe that a Labour Government are setting out to reduce taxation or to do away with bureaucracy. That would be turning logic on its head. The system has been presented as a means of changing taxation and as a means of getting rid of officialdom. However, we are told that the giant Swansea centre will remain. I believe that I am not misquoting the Secretary of State for Transport when I say that there will be a thinning down at Swansea but that nobody will be made redundant. Therefore, we shall see the cost to the motorist gradually increased while we maintain the costly bureaucracy that we have seen built up over the past five or six years.
I recognise that there is an argument to the contrary. I am not so foolish as to pretend that there cannot be a good debate on the whole issue. However, I believe that the various matters that I have put forward require detailed scrutiny. It is right and proper that the view of the hon. Member for Sowerby and my view should be aired in a full-scale debate. 278 By that means we could question in detail the Ministers concerned. We could have an authoritative statement from the Secretary of State and the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) appeared to wish to intervene but it seems that he thought better of it.
A general transport debate is long overdue. We are all worried about the incursion of heavy lorries in our constituencies. We are all worried about the increasing number of accidents that take place in inclement weather on our motorways. We are all worried about the detailed planning of motorways. There are also small issues that seem to lead to an increasing number of complaints—for example, noisy motor cycles. That may sound a minor matter but it is one that should be incorporated in a general debate. However, head and shoulders above all other issues is the revolutionary proposal put forward by the Secretary of State for Transport. It is time that the House had the opportunity to investigate the proposal in some detail.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) thought I was endeavouring to interrupt what he was saying. The truth is that I thought he had ended his speech. I was anxious to make my speech. I was rather sharp off the mark. That does not mean that I was not extremely interested in what he was saying.
I made the astonishing discovery a short while ago that for 1976–77 the House provided that some £89 million should be spent upon the arts and libraries and that only about £83 million had been spent. Therefore, we were underspent by about £6 million. In my personal experience that has never happened before.
At a time when the arts are starved of money, when the National Theatre does not know where to turn to keep going, when theatres in the regions are in equal distress, or are possibly even worse off, although they receive less publicity, when a body such as the Theatre Trust which the hon. Member for Canterbury 279 (Mr. Crouch) was instrumental in introducing is entirely without money, and when we are told that none of those establishments can have any Government funding, it is extraordinary that the House has voted money to the arts which the Minister concerned has not spent.
We have £6 million which we intended to be spent upon the arts. We have £6 million which could take the National Theatre out of its difficulties. We have £6 million which could raise the national collections out of their problems. We have £6 million which could ensure that all theatres in the regions are taken out of their present position of dire financial concern. But the money has not been spent, and I should like a debate on why this is so. Why do we find ourselves with £6 million voted but unspent?
There must be some grave miscalculation. The House does not vote money easily. Estimates are gone through with very great care and finally a figure is agreed which it is believed will be sufficient to cover the period. Sometimes supplementary Votes have to be secured, but in this case the sum voted by the House was not spent and £6 million went back into the coffers of the Treasury. It should not be there. I am sorry that we shall adjourn, according to the motion, without having an opportunity to discuss that.
That is not my main purpose in rising this afternoon. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have not yet got the Public Lending Right Bill on to the statute book. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. Whether or not it is true that this is not an unusually long recess—my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) said it was true and he is always right—it is unprecedented that a Government Bill should have been around in one form or another for a matter of four years and that we should go into recess after recess without having got that Bill onto the statute book. This is surely a unique set of circumstances.
I understand that the closure is to be moved on this motion at 7 o'clock. But unless my right hon. Friend is able to come up with some strong assurances about the Government's intentions in relation to the Public Lending Right Bill 280 in the new year, I shall not be able to support him when the closure is moved. Indeed, I shall be strongly tempted to vote against it.
Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give a firm assurance that it is the Government's intention —and I hope that the Shadow Leader of the House will be able to give equally firm assurances about the intentions on his side of the House concerning public lending right—to do something about this. If he does, I shall not have to vote against the closure.
I do not wish to go into the melancholy history of the PLR Bill. It was introduced originally in the autumn of 1975 in an almost identical form to that which is now before the House. The Second Reading began in the spring of 1976. It was adjourned. The whole of the summer passed and, although the House sat for a good part of it, the Second Reading was not completed until the autumn of 1976. The Bill went through Committee but it got stuck on Report. The result was that the Government found themselves in the position of having to introduce a new Bill. The new Bill is the same as the old Bill, but it has one very great advantage, namely, the figure of £2 million instead of the original £1 million. In the meantime, much water has flowed under the bridge and we are here in exactly the same situation.
The Second Reading has taken place, followed by the Committee stage, and the Government have showed a commendable urgency about the matter. I praise my right hon. Friend for the urgency which the Government have shown—and praise does not come easily from my lips. We then came to a full stop. We are going into recess not yet halfway through the Report stage. We have dealt with only the first part of the 70 or so amendments which a handful of opponents to the Bill have tabled. How will the Government deal with this?
My right hon. Friend may say that we shall have an all-night sitting, but that will not be the answer. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The opponents of the Bill may be boneheaded, but they are certainly stouthearted. They will not be deterred from staying here all night. Therefore, an all-night session is not necessarily the answer. I shall certainly 281 stay. But I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give the House an assurance that if the all-night sitting were to fail he would not hesitate to introduce a timetable motion to carry the Bill through.
It is a mockery of parliamentary democracy if a Bill that is supported by both sides of the House—it is in the manifesto of the Conservative Party, it has been approved by the Liberal Party, supported by nationalist parties and this party could not be more committed to it—can be defeated by three or four hon. Members. That is not parliamentary democracy, but the reverse. There are times when the majority must prevail. When the majority is as large and as widespread as it is on this Bill, it is not fulfilling the process of democracy to have the Bill held up by a handful of hon. Members.
If I were an author, and if the Labour Party on this occasion were to fail to fulfil its function, I might be sorely tempted to say to myself that the only way I would get justice in the long term would be with a Conservative Government in power. I should not like any of my author friends to be driven to that dreadful conclusion. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me the sort of assurance that will enable me to tell them not to contemplate any such dread thought. I would be able to say that my right hon. Friend is not the weeping willow that they think he is. His resolution is strong and his words on this occasion will be fulfilled in the deed. I hope that I shall be able to do that and that it will not be necessary for me to oppose the Adjournment of the House. I look forward with confidence to my right hon. Friend's speech.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
It is interesting to hear that authors should vote Conservative in future because of the dilatory nature of the Government. But I share the view of the hon.. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) that the Government have not been wholly dilatory in this matter, and I hope that they will be able to get the Bill through.
I think that there is something new about the Adjournment debate for the Christmas Recess—a feeling in the House. It was touched on by the hon. Member 282 for Sowerby (Mr. Madden). For some time I have had some doubt as to whether the question of the Adjournment for the summer and other recesses should be wholly in the hands of the Government Whips. I am changing my view about this. I believe that it should be a parliamentary matter and a matter that the Committee on Procedure and others should analyse.
I am also changing my view on whether we should always rise for certain very long traditional periods. They should be substantial because of all the work that is attendant upon a Member of Parliament outside the House. The moment that I leave, for example, on Friday, I shall go round the hospitals because of the appalling situation caused by the Government's inactivity on the National Health Service. I shall examine the situation not merely by seeing the patients but also by seeing the staff. Obviously, there will be quite a lot of work to do before Christmas. In one way or another, many hon. Members will be doing other work next week before they actually start the festivities of Christmas.
There is another aspect of the workings of the House that must change. Next week would give us the chance to raise this matter. First, there is the question of the future of the BBC and the way in which it is being deliberately kept short by the Government—I understand their reasons for doing so—because of an inadequate sum of money for the licence fee. A fee of £25 a year is insufficient, and it is well known that the BBC cannot maintain its worldwide standards on that basis. It is equally understood that an increase in the licence fee would be unpopular with the public. I do not believe that we can abolish it. I think that it must be increased. I suggest that the Government should fix a moderate increase this year, with the fee rising to £30 and then £35 in the second and third years. This would enable the BBC to plan its budget.
The question of the BBC and its position in the future of broadcasting and television should be debated in the House. I have an open view on whether the fourth channel should go to a public or a commercial corporation. I also have an open view as to whether, in certain circumstances, advertising should be used on the fourth channel. Personally, I would 283 be opposed to its being used in the existing set-up. These, however, are all matters on which views are now changing and, therefore, the House should debate them.
Over the past 20 years, we have been almost entirely governed on the question of recesses by the wishes of the Government Whips and, in a more limited way, the Opposition Whips. It now goes even further than that. In these days the Chair itself is approached by the Whips from one side or the other to indicate the length of time that will be taken in the consideration of debates. I want to see a change in this regard.
We should have the extra days next week also to consider whether there should be the extra recess. I do not think that there should be. Even if, at the time of the referendums, a number of hon. Members very properly wish to be away for the Scottish and Welsh referendum campaigns, the time of the House could be put to good use for English Members and others. The Leader of the House could have an invaluable week here, not on matters of highly controversial moment with a three-line Whip, but on the sort of matters which the House would like to debate, such as the BBC and the reports of the Select Committee on procedure.
In fact, the reports of the Select Committee on procedure are paramount. I believe that it is only now, before we get a new Conservative Government—or perhaps a new Labour Government—in the present situation in which the Government are sitting on the fence, that we have the ideal opportunity to consider setting up the type of Select Committee procedures that we want in this House in future. I am a great admirer of the line of policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and of the view that each Government Department should be monitored by a particular Committee. This is the sort of matter which we could debate next week.
These are not by any means the only matters that we should consider. I have had many attempts in recent months to get a debate on the Middle East. There is also the question of debates on our policy towards Cyprus and relationships 284 with Turkey, which are very difficult to air in the House. Iran has hardly been mentioned in the House in the past week, yet the position in that country is urgent. We should see to what extent the Government are trying to help with that difficult situation.
Some hon. Members have rightly referred to the fact that there has been no debate on immigration and hardly any mention of the policy of the Government in trying to assist the different countries in Africa with their economic and educational problems without its being held that we are seeking to uphold in any sense the Marxist doctrines in certain of those countries.
There has been an inadequacy of debate on foreign affairs and of matters relating to Select Committees and public reports. The situation is even worse on the question of the Royal Commission. I have asked the Leader of the House on six occasions to find time for a debate, at some stage in January or February, on the Royal Commission on gambling. Still it has been pussyfooted. There has been no definite Government intention to give us an opportunity to debate this matter, although there are many recommendations in it which affect the interests of millions of people up and down the country. They want to see changes in the laws on lotteries, pool betting, horse racing and many other aspects which are covered in an extremely able report containing many acceptable recommendations.
On the question of licensing, the Erroll report has not been debated since 1973, yet there were many recommendations contained in that report that have never been debated by this House. What is the purpose of the House seeking to set up Royal Commissions to make recommendations, which affect many people in our country and whole industries such as the tourist industry, and then not even paying enough credence to them to give the opportunity for a debate in the House?
The Prime Minister wants the House to sit as little as possible. Therefore, we are treated to a situation in which the Government take 31 days' recess at Christmas—by far the longest that any Socialist Government have allowed the 285 House for many years. Tory Governments sometimes allowed the House to rise for a longer period. That was because of our competence. We did not need the House to sit as long as we do with the immense volume of legislation through which we have to shudder when a Socialist Government are in power.
There are many subjects on which the House is at its best. These are matters of controversy, but not of party political controversy. They are matters such as the reports of the Select Committee on procedure, matters relating to television and radio, the Royal Commission on gambling and the Erroll report on licensing, not to mention the views of the House on how we might assist in a solution to the problems of Cyprus and the Middle East. All these matters will be excluded as a result of rising on Friday instead of sitting for three or four days next week and also as a result of the recess which is to be taken in late February for the referendums.
I hope that in future we shall take a very careful look at the problem of when the House is to rise. I hope that it will not be only in the hands of the Whips but that Back Benchers will have some say on it. Matters which are of paramount importance in the country—although not necessarily to the party regimes—will then have the opportunity to be debated effectively in the House, albeit without the presence always of members of the Cabinet or the Government other than those who are particularly concerned.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
What has come out of this debate on the motion for the Adjournment—and, indeed, what has come out of the many previous Adjournment debates that I have attended—is that the House really must in the future find a better system of managing its affairs.
I have heard it said repeatedly—and again today—that we need more time in which to discuss this or that specialised report from a Select Committee of the House. It has been said repeatedly that we need to discuss this or that important point. For a short spell I was a member of the Select Committee on nationalised industries. We all felt very annoyed that after our quite lengthy research and 286 heavy deliberations had brought forth a massive and, we thought, very cogent report, it was never discussed by the House, so that our efforts seemed to have been a waste of time.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a great believer in what might be called the supremacy of this House as a debating Chamber and that we ought to do most of our serious work and business in this Chamber. That is a view with which I strongly disagree. I believe that today we need to deploy our resources more effectively. This may mean giving more emphasis to a committee system, as the Americans do, and allocating to it some of the supremacy to which I have just referred. The present position, quite frankly, is not satisfactory.
The debate this evening is really about whether we need a recess of 31 days and whether, if the period were reduced, it would enable more effective contributions to be made by hon. Members. If the period were to be reduced, I should like to think that we might, for instance, find time for a debate a subject that is debated only very infrequently and then usually in relation to unemployment. I refer to the regional strategy of this country. I make this plea to my right hon. Friend. I hope that before the House rises we shall at least have a statement from the Government on one of the most important matters on which the Government are sitting at the moment—the INMOS project for the micro-processing industry.
Sometimes we are slowly conditioned to certain possibilities because we read of them in the press. If rumour has it aright, it would appear that the micro-processing industry, with all that it entails, is to go to a non-assisted area. It would appear that it is to go to Bristol. But when Ministers are asked about this they either deny it vehemently or simply deny it and say that no decision has yet been made. The point is that no decision has been announced.
Some of us are from assisted areas of one kind or another. I represent a part of the North-West. If I had the time and if I were in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I believe that I could convince most hon. Members that the North-West has been very shabbily treated in regard to regional aid. I believe that in a sense we in this 287 House have paid political danegeld and that other areas which should not have commanded resources to such a degree have often been given them.
Although no decision has yet been announced concerning the INMOS project, the fear of many Members is that a decision has been made and that the project is to go to a non-assisted area. I believe that if that happens it will destroy any credibility that the Government think they have over regional policy. There should be a debate on this matter at the earliest possible time. Indeed, I should like the House to devote a few days to it after we return from the Christmas Recess.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), in touching on this matter, mentioned the sensitivity of the question of imports to the assisted areas or the development areas. Nowhere is this more crucial than in his own area and in mine. Although a policy of no import controls may be a very good and wise one for a trading nation, it must be recognised that there are sensitive areas which suffer from that policy. If we were able to discuss regional policy more often in the House, some of these points could be made more effectively.
As we have been told that no decision has yet been made on the INMOS project, I particularly hope that the Government will not make an announcement about it during the recess. I hope that when the Government make the announcement, whichever area the project is to go to, we shall have a chance to debate it at the time. I believe that to allocate this new project to somewhere outside the assisted areas would be a total negation of any sensitive and sensible policy of aid to the regions. Indeed, it would be absolutely ludicrous and could not possibly be supported. It could only be understood in terms of paying political danegeld.
Some people might have wished to put the project into Wales. I want to be quite frank about this. On the basis of jobs per 100,000 people, Wales has been placed in a position of considerable advantage over the North-West. I would put it as being about three to one in favour of Wales. In relation to any other area, it is about two to one in favour of Wales. 288 Perhaps by seeking to put the INMOS project as close as possible to Wales, but not in Wales, the Government are hoping to escape the criticism that they are paying political dangeld again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons involved in the decision.
I believe that hon. Member should also take time to discuss what the Government are to do concerning the Boyle submissions. This should be regarded as a Back Bench matter and not as a Government matter. We have not had a clear enough statement from the Government on how they regard the review of top salaries. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, standing in for the Prime Minister last Tuesday, said that the Government wished all speed to the Boyle report, but he carefully avoided saying whether the Government would abide by the submissions. Certainly the Government have never done so before. I think that they have lacked courage, although I can understand why they have chosen, in the difficult periods of phase 1, phase 2 and phase 3, to hold back in regard to the pay of hon. Members.
I believe that we can influence the Government on this, because it is essentially a Back Bench matter. It was shown to be so when we last debated the Boyle report in July 1975. At that time the then Leader of the House, now Lord Glenamara, suggested that we should not go in for linkage, and hon. Members disagreed with him. I know that there is an open argument on this question, but I believe that the majority of Members are in favour of linkage, if for only one reason. The reason is that when the Boyle committee was set up, in response to the plea of one of my right hon. Friends, the Government said that they recognised that the question of giving Members of Parliament reasonable salaries was a sensitive one but that they would refer it to a review body. Unfortunately, the Government have not accepted the findings. They have accepted parts of the report and rejected other parts of it. If hon. Members are honest, I think they will agree that the way to avoid this kind of situation is the way in which we have avoided some of the other associated benefits of Members of Parliament—the living allowance, travelling allowance and so on. No one bothered about that. That was done quite 289 conveniently, cleanly and clinically, and the same can be done in this case.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will listen to all the submissions that have been made in regard to this matter, that he will reduce the amount of time proposed for the recess, which I think all hon. Members want, and that he will include among our debates a debate on regional policy. Whatever the Government's intentions with regard to their statement on INMOS, I believe that Back Benchers should be able to tell them what they think should happen in regard to the Boyle report and as far as possible to influence the Government and persuade them that they have a bounden duty to implement that report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sower-by touched on the question of health resources. It was my intention to claim that the area which I represent in a general sense—the North-West—and certainly the Merseyside-Manchester conurbation have the worst record in infant mortality and in prenatal and postnatal care. However, my hon. Friend seemed to suggest that that sad record is held by his own region. What can be said is that the older industrial areas of the country have the worst facilities in this respect.
I speak as a Member from the North-West. I said earlier that, if they had the chance to debate it, Members from the North-West could prove that that area has been short-changed in so many respects. One of the things in respect of which the Government now admit we were short-changed was the national health allocation to the hospital boards. We in the North-West now get a special extra contribution to make up for past years of being short-changed. As a result of that short-changing, my own constituency has the worst statistics that I have described and does not have the facilities to attend to them.
One of the towns in my constituency is the new town of Skelmersdale. We were promised a hospital, which should now have been operating. It was to have been a small district-type hospital. We are now told that a much smaller hospital is in the pipeline, but because not enough money is available because of previous under-allocation, and because the regional hospital board has to attend to many other demanding matters which have a priority, we shall not get the help 290 which the Government have denied us over the years.
I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will pass on a message to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services that I would welcome an announcement from the Government that the new hospital which we have so long been denied will be provided very soon.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the Christmas Recess or later until it has debated the state of the nation. This should be the supreme issue before us at all times. People keep on asking whether we are still a nation, so great has been our fall over the past 30 years.
Like many other hon. Members, I watched "Richard II" last Sunday and heard John of Gaunt's lament on the state of England during that time. Those words rang more terribly in my ears because of the situation in which we all unhappily find ourselves today in this once great and ancient nation.
We debate many important subjects in this House. Many have been debated today, but not the most important state of all—the state of ourselves. In the last 30 years, in a mere generation, we have lost our empire, our navy and that identity as the nation which we once had, were proud to have and were known throughout the world to have. We have lost our sense of honour. We see that over Rhodesia and in many other matters of foreign affairs. We have almost lost the means of defending ourselves, we can certainly no longer keep order in our great towns and cities, and in one part of the United Kingdom—in Northern Ireland—we seem quite incapable of having the necessary will and ruthlessness to root out treason and conspiracy.
So catastrophic and so spectacular has been our fall from greatness that people are now no longer proud, as they once were, to call themselves Englishmen. Indeed, selfish greed and materialism seem to have superseded patriotism.
These great matters are glossed over here and are seldom, if ever, debated. What will historians think of our conduct in this House of Commons? We continue to pass laws—in my view and that 291 of most of my colleagues, too many laws —many of which put increasing burdens on our people. New words, or new meanings of words, are introduced into our language by these laws, so that words such as "discrimination ", which used to be a word held in high esteem—after all, the whole of one's life is discrimination, in respect of where one lives, one's wife, one's friends and what sort of job one does—have now become socially undesirable if not actually punishable by law.
Who suffers? It is the poorest people in the land. They are the ones who suffer under these laws and who have to bear the burden of immigration almost alone. I am so glad that that matter has been raised. The Lord President knows my views. That matter is never discussed, and that is to the great shame of the Lord President, the Government and this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is discussed."] At the same time, an insidious and ever-increasing attack is made upon our great institutions which were once revered and which made us the country we are. I refer, of course, to the Throne, the Church, Parliament, including, of course, the House of Lords, the judges, the police and the Armed Services.
§ Mr. Stokes
We are the only people who seem to attack these institutions which the rest of the world still holds in great regard. Therefore, can one wonder that foreigners now regard us with amazement and dismay as one by one we abandon those things which we used to hold most dear?
There is, however, a crumb of comfort. As the House will know, I make no party points because I am sure that many hon. Members agree with every word I have said. The one crumb of comfort in this catalogue of woe is that these dreadful attacks upon our history and traditions and upon our nation are seldom, if ever, delivered by ordinary people but are delivered instead by the media, the intelligentsia or the intellectuals and by other rootless souls who are full of guilt and shame at having been born and bred Englishmen.
Fortunately, I find that ordinary people are still entirely sound on these funda- 292 mental matters. They have not been brainwashed and they are still perfectly content with their patriotism and their prejudices. These are the people whom we are supposed to represent here. They are the silent majority who over the past 30 years have watched with dismay the sudden fall of this nation. They did, of course, make their voices known—they have had few opportunities—during the Queen's Jubilee celebrations last year. These people are looking to us for inspiration and for leadership at a time when public affairs and public men are held in low esteem. In the old days, people used to feel better if Parliament was sitting. I doubt whether they feel that way today. I hope that before we go away for the Christmas Recess at least my protest will have been heard here and throughout the nation, although the main newspaper which gave our debates the greatest coverage is alas, I hope only temporarily, not being printed.
It is important that ordinary people feel that there is not such a gap between what they hope, long for and believe in and what we spend our time at here. I hope that when Parliament resumes, if we cannot prolong our sitting, we shall bend all our energies towards working for a recovery of that national spirit which made us feared and envied throughout the world.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) is right to say that we, should debate the state of the nation. I was interested to hear of his concern about what he describes as the decline of the nation. If his anxiety and mine is to arrest that, even if it exists, I suggest that he starts with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and urges her to stop running down Britain whenever she is abroad. I would also suggest that some of his hon. Friends should stop trying to press this side of the House to make further sell-outs to the European Economic Community. These are practical proposals that we should try to adopt to see that any suggestion of decline is stopped.
One of the crucial parts of the state of the nation and its future is the standard of education of its children. I should like to detain the House for a 293 couple of minutes with some matters of national interest relating to the performance of the Staffordshire education committee. Staffordshire education committee is controlled by the Conservative Party. Its performance makes an absolute mockery of the statements heard from Conservative education spokesmen about freedom of parental choice and the involvement of parents in crucial decisions affecting their children. Two matters to which I want to refer are the treatment of handicapped children and the question of primary school teaching methods.
On the handicapped children issue, in my constituency deaf children from Tam-worth are obliged to be residential at a school for the deaf some 15 miles from their homes. They are the only children in my constituency who are obliged to be residential. All the rest are transported to and from the school daily. I have spent two or three years trying to give these children and their parents a basic right and entitlement by ensuring that if parents want their children at home, to benefit from family life with their brothers and sisters each evening, that right should not be denied.
I have many letters from parents, some of them heartbreaking. One comes from a parent of twin boys, one of whom happens to be deaf, explaining how the deaf child, forced by the policy of the Staffordshire education committee to be residential and away from his family all week, is steadily becoming more separated from family life and denied contacts with brothers, sisters and parents. I realise that this does not concern most Conservative Members who believe that the right way to educate children is to send them away from home into boarding school and to separate them from their parents.
As a parent, I am not in favour of this way of bringing up children. Evidence in my possession conclusively shows that, apart from the disadvantage of being deaf and the concern that that naturally causes to the family of the deaf child, the result of an arbitrary decision of Staffordshire education committee can mean the additional disadvantage that the child has to live away from home and not have contact with people who live in a hearing world. The child loses contact with friends and relatives in a home environment and the children next 294 door stop coming round to ask the child out to play.
This is not a crucial matter of public expenditure. In most cases, it would be cheaper for the child to be transported daily only 15 miles than to pay for the expense of residential accommodation. Staffordshire has, however, persisted with its decision.
It is one of a multitude of examples of mismanagement by this Conservative-controlled authority, but the one I have mentioned is particularly serious because of its damaging effects. I believe that the House should debate the matter and that the Secretary of State for Education should do whatever is possible within her power to make Staffordshire change its policy.
Another educational matter of national importance is primary school reading methods. In particular, I refer to the 15-year-old experiment with the initial teaching alphabet, the ITA method of teaching primary school children. As an ex-teacher and former employee of Staffordshire education committee—one who is not on very good terms with that committee—I would say that the period of experiment of this method of teaching has gone on long enough for a decision to be made on whether it should be allowed in primary schools. It is a method of teaching which makes it very difficult for parents to involve themselves in the reading progress of their children. A serious debate is taking place in educational circles about whether to proceed with the system.
In the meantime, at the very least, parents who do not want their children educated by this method, provided there are other primary school places available in the area—that is always the provisio —should be given the option. Staffordshire education committee, true to Conservative principles, does not believe in giving parents the option in this or other matters affecting their child's education. Therefore, the future of the ITA system is a national issue on which we should make a decision.
To make sure that the catalogue of disastrous decisions by the Staffordshire education committee is on the record, I would refer to its failure to improve the Two Gates primary school, Tamworth and its failure to consult with parents on 295 Park infants school, Burntwood and on Hill Ridware primary school. It is a travesty of the mouthings of Tory education spokesmen about the involvement of parents in the education of their children and the proper choice for parents.
The final issue I want to raise will certainly be of national importance at the next General Election. It is a matter which we hope will be included in the Labour Party manifesto. I refer to the question of the abolition of the House of Lords. That will be supported by all who love democracy. I dare say I can exclude a number of Conservative Members.
I would, however, urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to recognise that some preliminary work has to be done. If we are committed to abolish the House of Lords, it may be necessary for the House of Lords to vote its own abolition. For that to happen we need far more Members of the House of Lords committed to abolition than we have now. This Christmas Adjournment debate is an appropriate time to draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, in making any recommendations—I am not sure how this procedure works—about who should be ennobled, he should check first to see whether they agree with Labour Party policy on the House of Lords and would be keen to vote for its abolition.
If my right hon. Friend is short of people willing to give him that undertaking, I can promise that my general management committee, within a week or two or however long is necessary, would be delighted to fulfil that function. I can vouch for its reliability not to change its decision once it has been appointed. I am sure that that goes for every constituency in the land. I would therefore urge the Leader of the House, before we adjourn, to put these pertinent matters to the Prime Minister.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
This has been an interesting debate, although that does not apply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott). He might have said whether all the matters he mentioned were also raised by him with the previously Socialist-controlled 296 Staffordshire county council. I can hardly believe that all the decisions that he says have been made by the dictatorial and out-of-touch Tories in Staffordshire were not made similarly by the Socialists when they controlled the county. I know Staffordshire well. Many of the matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have gone on for a long time, and until not long ago the council was controlled by the Socialist Party. Perhaps that puts his remarks into perspective.
I do not wish to shorten the recess. The longer that the House is in recess, the better work Members of Parliament can do in their constituencies and the less damaging legislation the House will pass. The House should have more debates, but they should be on general subjects, such as the reports of Select Committees, rather than on legislation, which so often damages industry, even the unions, and certainly the prosperity of the country and the well-being of many of its people.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) mentioned immigration. It is a tragedy that this vital subject has not featured as a major debate in the last few months. Whether or not the Lord President accepts it, this issue is close to the hearts of the overwhelming majority of people. If the Government complain about racial unrest, disorder and disharmony, particularly in inner city areas, they should remember that it is the Government—whether Socialist or Conservative—who have ignored this problem and who themselves are creating the difficulties which they so severely criticise in the media and in this House.
The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) made a useful speech when she mentioned neonatal and perinatal mortality. As a member of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which is looking into this matter, I know that hon. Members from all parts of the House share her concern. I am particularly concerned because the rate of neonatal and perinatal mortality in my constituency—23 in every thousand —is much higher than the national average.
This is a tragedy. Many young babies die and create unhappiness and domestic problems. Many, if they do not die, have a handicap for the rest of their lives. 297 This is a strain not only on their parents but on the community as well. I hope that the Government will deal with this problem urgently and, when the Sub-Committee and the full Expenditure Committee have completed this inquiry, will study their recommendations and implement them speedily.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has returned. He said that £6 million had been under-spent on the arts by the Government. I will not say that I should like that money now to be spent on the arts. Rather, I should like it spent on hospitals in the North-West.
Information has come to my district management team and my community health council indicating that the first phase of the Macclesfield nucleus hospital is now likely to be postponed. Only today I received a telegram from the chairman of the Macclesfield community health council, Councillor Sampey, in which he said:An emergency meeting of the Macclesfield Community Health Council was held at 7.0 p.m. on 11th December at which concern and anger were expressed at the possibilities of a delay in the commencement of the Macclesfield nucleus hospital, due to commence on 23rd October 1979. It is felt that the regional health authority have broken faith with the people of the Macclesfield health district and particularly with the Macclesfield community health council who have given full support to the original proposals.The people of Macclesfield have now waited about a quarter of a century for a new district hospital to serve the area. This news has come like a bolt from the blue to shock the whole district. I have been inundated with telegrams, letters and telephone calls over the weekend and subsequently because of the news which has leaked from Liverpool, where the Merseyside regional health authority is based. The community health council and the local Macclesfield district management team, as well as the general practitioners, are alarmed, dismayed and angry over what seems to them a late change of a previously determined regional priority.
I understand that another Liverpool scheme, costing between £2 million and £3 million, for Broad Green hospital in Liverpool—the construction of a cardio-thoracic unit—will be given a higher priority than the Macclesfield scheme. I and the community health council, the 298 district management team and the general practitioners in the area are unable to understand the priority given to this Liverpool scheme for highly specialised work, which will be of only marginal benefit for a comparatively small number of people, compared to the benefits of a whole district being provided with general hospital facilities, which could help to maintain the local population in work and relieve suffering for the growing number of elderly in the population.
I hope that the Leader of the House will look into this matter, before he replies to the debate, because the Macclesfield and Congleton area in East Cheshire has a big and growing population and the hospital facilities are, to say the least, Victorian and Dickensian. Something needs to be done soon to put this right.
Only last week the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, in response to a question of mine, admitted the unsatisfactory conditions in Macclesfield and said that the Department was determined to see that they were rectified at an early date. The population of the district which I serve is growing, while the centre of Liverpool, which is already over-provided with general hospital beds, is losing population.
This information which has reached my constituency is causing a loss of staff morale and making it difficult to recruit adequate staff, including consultants. If the first phase of the nucleus hospital is put back, it is inevitable that subsequent phases will also be delayed. We know what inflation can do. Far from getting a hospital at reasonable cost, we shall not get one in the near future, and when we do get it the cost will be astronomical.
Another important matter that I wish to raise relates to the interruption of a Member of Parliament's duties. I have been advised by my district education officer that mail that I have sent him is not getting through to his office. The education office for the Macclesfield district is in the same building as that of the social services department of Cheshire county council. At the moment, a number of local authority workers, particularly social workers, are taking industrial action. Post Office workers who are in sympathy with the social workers are not delivering mail to Remenham House in Wilmslow, which also houses the district 299 education officer. Therefore, important cases that I have taken up on behalf of constituents cannot be dealt with by the officer to whom I have referred them.
I hope that the Lord President will deal with this matter, which I regard as a grave infringement of the privileges of a Member of Parliament and which means that he is being impeded and restricted in carrying out his duties on behalf of the people by whom he is elected.
I purposely have not raised the matter of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. The Lord President knows too much about that problem already, and I believe that he is doing his utmost to ensure that Members of Parliament can undertake their duties with the minimum of difficulty and interruption. But will he deal with this case which is causing my constituents and me grave difficulty and which means that important matters affecting children in my constituency cannot be dealt with as quickly as they should be?
I fully support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) about parliamentary salaries. This House does itself no service, and the Government do the House no service, by quite wrongly holding down the salaries and remuneration of hon. Members. We have a difficult enough job to do, and if we cannot afford to do it properly we cannot give our constituents the service they deserve.
I hope that the Lord President will do what previous Governments did before we had a prices and incomes policy and put the recommendations of the independent pay review body to the House and allow it to decide whether to implement them. This Administration back-tracked on accepted procedure and said that it was not prepared to implement all the 1975 recommendations of the Boyle committee. That was a tragedy for the House. If we cannot look after ourselves, how can we adequately look after those we serve?
I do not wish to limit the recess, but I hope that in future we shall debate matters such as that which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), as well as important matters of principle and important reports which have been 300 produced after considerable work by our Select Committees, rather than burdening the House and the nation with more legislation.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I do not intend to prolong the debate unduly, but I am flatly opposed to my right hon. Friend's motion. Ministers and civil servants like long recesses for obvious reasons; there is no one in this House tabling Private Notice Questions, initiating Adjournment debates and trying to keep an account of the actions of the Executive. We have heard spurious arguments this afternoon about which party has the longest recesses, but that is not the issue. The issue is more fundamental than that and concerns democracy and how this place operates.
We have heard hon. Members suggesting today that Back Benchers should keep a firmer hold of the Government. I know that the point was made from my side of the House, but it depresses me to hear an hon. Member talking about Back-Bench power and Members' salaries and about Back Benchers having to get together. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) that he ought to come down to the House more often late at night when provisions are slipped through on the nod, and at Question Time. That is when Back-Bench power has to be exercised. There is no point in coming along here for the debate on the Adjournment motion and demanding better pay.
It is distressing and distasteful for me to hear MPs' salaries debated in public I think that most hon. Members feel the same. It is a problem from which we cannot escape, but I do not think that today is the day to raise it, given that we are talking about going away for 31 days. Of course, it is not a holiday. There is plenty of work to be done in the constituencies. But in final analysis we are elected to represent our constituents here, not to represent Westminster in our constituencies. There is a subtle difference of which hon. Members ought to take account.
The fundamental reason why we should not go into recess on Friday is that the House should have an early debate on the report published last week, Cmnd. 7341, 301 the report of the committee on data protection. Important issues are raised in this voluminous report, and I want to draw attention to only one aspect.
It is generally appreciated that much of the Government's involvement with the public is on computer files. What is not generally appreciated—and behind this lies the reason for the setting up of the committee to check how privacy can be maintained and accountability for data can be established—is the information set out in appendix 6 on page 350. This issue did not come to light until the report was published. That appendix contains a table which spreads over many pages. The title of that table is:Government computer tasks containing information about identifiable individuals at 1 March 1978, the number of records held and the authority under which the tasks are undertaken ".There are no fewer than 270 files that the Government have in computers concerning individuals. From these files individuals can be quite clearly identified. They cover all sorts of issues, many of which we never debate. They cover invoices to farmers for artificial insemination, the broadcasting licence, with 21.5 million addresses, the census of population, involving 74 million separate items of information and records, premium savings bonds, driving test bookings in the Metropolitan area, all the health and social security information, prison records, criminal records and masses of other information. Some of it looks quite innocuous, but it represents a massive involvement of the Government in computer files on the individual. We should debate that matter. With such a massive array of information, there is a major danger that one day these files could be interlocked into each other.
There is the question of security and the involvement of the security services with computer files. Clearly the security services must have these files, because they must be efficient. No one on the Labour Benches will argue that the police or the security services should be inefficient. It must be pointed out, however, that there was not wholesale co-operation by the police and the security services in the report. An important recommendation is made on page 222 about the security applications. These matters cannot be allowed to gather dust in White- 302 hall pigeon-holes. With almost every month that passes, this list of computer files is added to. Every new piece of legislation will create one or more new computer file.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
Does my hon. Friend have any information from the report, or could he hazard a guess, as to the number of mistakes that are contained in that computer file material?
§ Mr. Rooker
No, but; I intend to draw attention to the state of the law on privacy, from which it can be clearly seen that many mistakes occur.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important areas covered by the report is that of the information collected on individuals by the police? I think everyone would agree that we expect and, indeed, demand that the police should collect information on criminals. It is known, however, and the police acknowledge, that they collect information, very much of it tittle-tattle and a great deal of it rumour, on all kinds of individuals. On many occasions this can be prejudicial to a person's employment prospects and to his character assessment. If we are to have proper and adequate surveillance of information held on individuals in police computer systems, there must be a thorough investigation of it by an independent body.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. There is no legal right for a citizen to check what is on file about him. The right relates only to credit reference files under legislation passed in 1974. Other than that, there is no right for the citizen to see any of the records contained in 270 separate computer files.
The data protection committee recommended a simple solution to the problem in regard to security services. That committee considered that the Data Protection Authority should contain at least one senior official with a security clearance sufficiently high for him to be able to operate as a privacy consultant to the Home Office and security services and to work out with them appropriate rules to safeguard the system.
What is the Home Office view on that suggestion? The Home Office is not the most forthcoming of Departments. Indeed, 303 it is probably the least forthcoming. However, that important recommendation deserves attention. It is only one part of the files covered in the report, because the general public do not appreciate how much information is kept upon them by the Government on computer files.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sower-by (Mr. Madden) read out a whole list of reports—some of which were published long before I became a Member of the House—which the House has never debated. Unless we keep up the pressure, the report on computer data will not be dealt with.
I wish also to mention the report of the Royal Commission on standards of conduct in public life, the Salmon report. That report, which was published in July 1976, has never been debated in the House. Nobody can claim that the standards of conduct in public life have improved. Indeed, I believe that the reverse is the case and that the standards are falling every year. However, again we are not even allowed to debate that report.
I mentioned earlier the computer files kept by the BBC licence department. We can avoid the difficulties in that regard if we get rid of the licence fee. I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby in asking my right hon. Friend to tell us what are the Government's intentions in this respect. Last week I visited the Midlands headquarters of the BBC at Pebble Mill. I discovered that the BBC charter prevents the BBC making an adequate case to hon. Members.
I asked representatives of the BBC why they did not operate their own PR system to tell parliamentarians that the BBC is being coralled by the Government with increases in licence fees year by year. The implication is that the Home Office and the Civil Service have coralled the BBC in that way. When I asked the BBC representatives why they did not go over the heads of the Government and approach hon. Members, they told me that they were prevented from so doing by the BBC charter.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the BBC regularly meets hon. Members from all parts of the House at BBC headquarters?
§ Mr. Rooker
I was concerned with the BBC putting over its general case, in addition to meetings behind closed doors. I was told that one of the regional controllers of BBC, the man who is in charge of Radio Birmingham, was not allowed to broadcast on Radio Birmingham to talk about the problems involved in the splitting up of broadcasting, but he was able to give his view in a commercial radio broadcast in the Midlands. There is something crazy about the whole system.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the BBC is not empowered to explain its own structure to listeners and viewers? Surely this deprives people of the opportunity of being educated about a public institution.
§ Mr. Rooker
My hon. Friend is correct. I have no doubt that if she manages to intervene in the debate a little later she will elaborate that point. My hon. Friend was with me at the meeting last Friday at Pebble Mill when we gathered some useful information. This is an important point and deserves the attention of the House before we go into recess for 31 days. However, there is always a chance that the motion may not be carried this evening.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) made some important points about the road fund licence. I agree with the principle of abolishing the road fund licence, but there is an important group of people who will be put at a disadvantage if the road fund licence goes. I refer to disabled people, who were relieved of the payment of the licence. Therefore, the disabled have paid £50 less for their motoring compared with other motorists. However, if we abolish the road fund licence and in the process increase the price of petrol, disabled people will have to pay more for their petrol at the pump in common with everybody else.
A concession which this House gave to many thousands of disabled citizens will be removed, but no Minister from the the DHSS has come to the House to explain the situation. This has all been done quietly behind closed doors and without debate in the House. This important point must be made, and not enough people are making it. No doubt some of my hon. Friends will continue in this vein in their remarks. The abolition of 305 the road fund licence will mean an increase in the cost of living of disabled citizens. This should not take place without a debate in this House—preferably next week.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
I wish to support the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and Ayr (Mr. Younger) to the effect that the one and a half hours devoted to the Scottish rate support grant debate on Thursday, somewhat late in the day, is inadequate. The suggestion that we could deal with this subject on Monday next makes sense in view of the concern felt by so many people and local authorities in Scotland on this grant.
I wish to make the point that the House should not adjourn until the Lord President has had an opportunity to reveal whether Ministers have any Christmas spirit to offer football supporters in Scotland—a large and well-known group of people who are renowned throughout the world for their high spirits and devotion to the national game. The spirit of Christmas coming in Scotland is being threatened by a Minister who is fast gaining the reputation of a present-day Scrooge. I am referring to the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. As we are also debating the motion for the referendum recess, it is even more important that the House should not rise before the damage which that Minister has inflicted on Scottish football is remedied.
I refer to the granting of work permits to footballers from non-EEC countries, and in particular to the case of Isak Refvik, a Norwegian visitor to Scotland. Mr. Refvik signed amateur forms for the Hibernian football club a few weeks ago and application was made for a work permit. This was refused under criteria laid down in a departmental press notice of 28th September this year, which states that overseas players must have an established international reputation. The interpretation of "an international reputation" is not disclosed, but in this case it was decided that only full international caps would do. Therefore, Mr. Refvik's eight under-21 caps were totally ignored. I should add that the application for a work permit had the full support of the players' 306 union and the football authorities in Scotland.
My complaint is that the criteria applied may be suitable for English first division clubs which can sign top international players—we read in the press this morning that Manchester United intends to spend £1 million on two footballers from the Argentine—but are totally unsuited to the financial situation in Scottish football and, I suggest, to other English divisions.
As there is no appeal against the Minister's decision not to grant a work permit, I wrote to the Prime Minister on 30th November asking him to intervene. As a result, a meeting was held yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for Employment. The meeting was attended by the Minister with responsibility for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Hardaker of the Football Association, Mr. Walker of the Scottish Football Association, Mr. Croker of the League, and union representatives from Scotland and England. The purpose of the meeting was to have talks with a view to rewording the regulations governing the issue of work permits. However, apparently nothing happened yesterday to give any hope in respect of Refvik's application.
This matter is of some significance in Scotland, if not in England. The headline in The Scotsman this morning highlights the problem and the feeling that exists in Scotland on this matter. A leading article in that paper describes the Minister's refusal to allow Isak Refvik to play for Hibernian as "Tinpot Government ", which is an apt description.
One thing that concerns me about yesterday's meeting—I hope that the Lord President wil be able to help me with this—is that yesterday afternoon's edition of the Glasgow Evening Times gave an account of the meeting. I quote just part of the report. It said:Isak Refvik, the young Norwegian refused permission to play for Hibernian, must stay on the touch-line. That decision was repeated at a soccer summit today when Employment Minister John Grant met with representatives from Scotland, England and Wales. He said that the Government do not intend to alter permit regulations which protect British jobs throughout every industry.My point in reading that is that the meeting took place at the Department of Employment at four o'clock yesterday, yet this newspaper was printed before that 307 time. Part of the evidence for that is that the newspaper includes the result of the 3.30 race at Nottingham.
What I should like to know is why the Minister called representatives of the Football Association and the League from Scotland, England and Wales to discuss a subject on which his mind was permanently fixed, with no intention of changing his mind. It is, at the least, a very grave discourtesy to everyone who was invited to the meeting.
I would suggest to the Lord President, who is a man who wishes to crown his parliamentary career by providing Britain with three Parliaments instead of one, that he must know that this is just the kind of petty behaviour which can fire the flames of nationalism quicker than any number of lofty arguments about devolution, the block grant, the referendum or anything else. The Lord President will know that nothing in the Scotland Act would devolve this kind of decision.
The point is that one insensitive Minister, caring or knowing little about what goes on in Scotland and about Scotland's historically close links with Norway, can undoubtedly damage the reputation of this House throughout the United Kingdom. I wonder whether the Lord President can tell us why the Minister is so stubborn and insists on clinging to rules which the football authorities in Scotland and England agree are hopelessly impracticable as far as Scottish football is concerned.
I understand that yesterday's talks are to be continued, and perhaps the rules may be changed in the weeks or months ahead. In the meantime, the Department of Employment seems determined to keep Isak Refvik out of Scottish football On the other hand the Home Office has no objection to him. He is a perfectly respectable young man and, of course, an excellent footballer.
I ask the Lord President to appeal to his colleague the Secretary of State for Employment to lift the restrictions on Refvik immediately so that he may continue to play as an amateur while new and more practical rules are prepared. I ask this not merely in the spirit of Christmas but in the spirit of the sort of devolution which really matters in Scotland—for example, the right to 308 choose for ourselves who plays football in Scotland and to pick our own teams.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I know that we are coming towards the end of our debate, but I begin by commending both the Lord President and my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) who have both sat here, throughout the many hours of this debate, listening to a wide variety of points made across the Chamber.
One could discuss for ages the reasons why we should not adjourn. En passant, I just mention that I saw on the tape earlier today that apparently Italy has decided to join the European monetary system, leaving only Britain and Eire outside that system. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) referred to losing our sovereignty. It seems to me that it is as a result of the Government's activities during four and a half years in office, rather than as a result of anything that has happened on the other side of the Channel, that Britain has become the world's first Euro-cripple.
There is one point that I want to discuss and I think it is an illustration of other points that have been raised by hon. Members. We spend a lot of time in this House discussing legislation which is important, but we fail to discuss those fundamental issues of human behaviour and activity which concern many of our constituents and citizens. I take one specific instance, and that is what is happening on our streets, particularly what happened in London yesterday, when we had an extraordinary situation with armed policemen trying to extricate armed criminals from a building.
There seems to be an unwillingness in this House to recognise what has been going on up and down this country since the abolition of capital punishment. I know that capital punishment is an emotive subject. I do not wish to make an emotive speech about it as such, and I recognise that there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument. Members of Parliament, perhaps, have the strongest views of all on this subject, but our constituents also have views on the matter.
I want to examine very briefly not the effect on our consciences of the abolition 309 of capital punishment, not even the effect on the murder statistics of the abolition of capital punishment, but what has happened to the activities of the police and the criminal community since the House removed the deterrent of the death penalty.
There are two points which I wish to bring to the attention of the House which I hope are not too controversial, even for those who are strongly opposed to any discussion of capital punishment. The first is that for the criminal there is now no extra deterrent against carrying an offensive weapon or firearm. Secondly, since the abolition of capital punishment there has undoubtedly been a statistical increase in violent crime. The House decided to abolish capital punishment, which has been delightful for many criminals but diabolical for the police, who, after all, are the people who ultimately have to bear the responsibility for maintaining law and order. Members of Parliament should never forget that.
I realise that those who enjoy taunting and decrying the police may well revel in the sight of armed police on our streets if this helps reduce the standing of the police in our society. The sight of armed police on British streets is something which, frankly, I find deeply disturbing, and it is wholly unacceptable that we should not discuss it. The one thing that we have always had in this country and of which we can always be proud is an unarmed police force. The more we find occasions on which the police have to be armed, the more we are doing away with one of the most precious and priceless assets of our society.
We may well have to consider, and certainly debate, the after-effects of the abolition of capital punishment. I think that we may have to consider not a wholesale reintroduction of capital punishment but whether the murder of policemen on duty, murder by firearm during armed robbery and murder of prison warders are not wholly exceptional crimes which appear to be either on the increase or liable to be on the increase as the result of the actions of the House some years ago.
If we found ourselves in a position where we were debating, and ultimately restoring, capital punishment for these limited offences, the result would not be 310 an upsurge in capital punishment but, I hope, a decrease in the numbers of people carrying firearms who are bent on criminal activity. That is the one thing which I believe we have to study and discuss in this House. We have not done so to my satisfaction.
If the price of salving our consciences on the issue of capital punishment is an increase in violent crime, we may be asking the police forces and the people of this country to pay too high a price for our consciences.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
There are a number of matters with which the House ought to be concerned before having a Christmas Recess, particularly when many people outside the House will wonder how it is possible for us to attempt to persuade workers to raise productivity while at the same time we cheerfully go away for 31 days. There is little productivity involved in that.
One could address oneself to the problems that were illustrated in the House last Thursday and which arise in regard to the debate tomorrow on a Government motion on inflation. However, I understand that one of my colleagues will deal with some of the procedural questions that arise from those matters.
I have only a local matter, which is at the same time a national matter, to raise, which I think the House should consider before it takes a holiday. I refer to industrial democracy in the British aerospace industry.
Hon. Members will recall the lengthy sittings of the Standing Committee that dealt with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill and the attempts made by hon. Members, particularly from the Labour Benches, to ensure that within that Bill a clear duty was placed on the British Aerospace Board to establish a form of industrial democracy in that industry in the near future. In fact, a report from the industry was due a little while ago.
The shop stewards executive, representing 12,000 workers employed in the Preston-Warton-Samlesbury division of British Aerospace, invited me to a meeting quite recently to enable me to hear about the problems that have arisen. It is true to say that a document emanated from discussions in the Confederation of 311 Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions with which some of the unions were satisfied in terms of the effect that it would have within the industry, but the whole question of consultation in regard to the setting up of this system of industrial democracy left much to be desired. A document which purports to present a new industrial democracy structure within the industry and the reality of what exists there are quite different things.
Particularly at Warton, Preston and Samlesbury, it seems clear that the managers, who are largely the managers of the old British Aircraft Corporation—and some of those very senior managers were appointed erroneously to the British Aerospace Board—believe that the concept of managers' "right to manage" means managers' sole right to manage and that it can never be changed. The discussions that take place between managers and representatives of the work force in the various trade unions are about pay, hours and manning, and things of that description. But when the workers want to talk about the planning of the factory, the way in which labour is utilised in the factory, the need for retraining in certain skills, the whole question of recruitment of skilled labour, policies in regard to the product itself and whether diversification may still be possible in spite of a commitment to the multi-role combat aircraft, all those issues are considered by the management to be its prerogative.
§ Mr. Thorne
I think that the hon. Gentleman is illustrating the point that I am trying to make. They are more removed. I suggest that the responsibility for that lies mainly with an unwillingness on the part of management to accept that it is operating, in an entirely new situation.
I do not want to speak at great length at the expense of other hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate. If we cannot make any real progress in 312 instituting a form of industrial democracy in public enterprises, what prospects have we of making any progress in private industry? Clearly, management in private industry will consider that no commitment exists to introduce new methods of ensuring that workers have a right to participate in the decision-making process at all levels within their plant or industry.
It is for those reasons that I think we are obliged to reconsider the whole question of adjourning on Friday and returning on 15th January.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) spoke from below the Gangway today. He may be above the Gangway in the not-too-distant future. He indicated that it might be necessary to divide the House on this issue. I go along with that.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
It often seems unfair to me that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is expected in these debates to answer questions and points on all manner of subjects of which usually he can have no direct knowledge. That is why I have chosen to enter this debate to raise two matters which I think are very much within his province and which concern me gravely.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) referred to the length of the recess and spoke of it as a holiday. I disagree with him about that. The recess is not necessarily a holiday. It depends entirely on what one does with it. I pride myself on achieving considerable productivity during the recess.
§ Mrs. Wise
I am concerned about the effectiveness and the productivity which arise from our procedures while we are in session. My feeling that we should not break for this recess arises from the 313 fact that we have a great deal to do to get our procedures into a more satisfactory order so that we can be more truly productive while we are here, and so that the opinions and wishes of Members of this House can more effectively be determined.
I should like to raise two points in this connection. The first relates to the negative procedure for dealing with orders. My right hon. Friend will remember that on 30th November he had occasion to comment on a point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) in connection with orders under the negative procedure relating to the married women's non-contributory invalidity pension. A Prayer had been tabled by the Opposition Front Bench but no time was given for it within the statutory 40 days.
I understand—I have no objection to this—that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has referred this matter to the National Insurance Advisory Committee. All well and good, provided that that does not mean that the House is deprived of the opportunity not only of debating this matter but of coming to a decision on it, and an effective decision.
I have been trying to find out whether that is so. I find myself profoundly puzzled. Perhaps I may refer to Hansard for 30th November. Some of the cause of my puzzlement can clearly be seen there. My hon. Friend the Member for York referred to the need to have this matter debated within 40 days. He said:There should be some way by which the House can bring the Government to order on this matter.My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said that there was now a custom that a matter could be taken even outside the 40 days. "Taken" was the word used.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agreed with that. In referring to the matters raised by my hon. Friends the Members for York and for Nottingham, West, he said:It is an important constitutional question that they have raised, and I am very conscious of it."—[Official Report, 30th November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 713–4.]The one thing that was established without any doubt was that there could be a debate on this matter even outside the 40-day time limit. I think it was 314 established also that there can be a vote. But it does not seem to have been established that there can be an effective vote.
To try to fathom this out I have looked at "Erskine May" and referred back to a debate in 1951. The mystery simply becomes more profound. The reference in "Erskine May" takes us back to a complex debate in which no fewer than nine Prayers for annulment were before the House. All but one were out of time. Only one was in time. Mr. Speaker ruled that it was in order to debate them all. The difference was that the carrying of the Prayer on the order which was in time would result in its being instantly annulled. There seemed to be silence about the result of carrying the other eight Prayers. No further clarification seemed possible from that debate, because in the event all the Prayers were withdrawn.
I find myself in a state of genuine puzzlement and extreme worry over this matter. I am totally unconvinced by statements which have emanated from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in Written Answers that no woman would be disadvantaged. As hon. Members may or may not know, the order is in being. The insurance commissioners clarified the position and we moved from the situation that some women were granted the benefit, on terms which the DHSS thought were too easy, while others were not. The insurance commissioners ruled for a more liberal interpretation of the rules.
It seems impossible to say that no woman will be disadvantaged if the rules stay in being or if they are altered late. I do not know what happens about retrospection in this kind of case. There is far too much mystery. I might be wrong, but I have a horrible feeling that the Goverment Front Bench have a profound hope that it will all go away.
I shall try to put my right hon. Friend into the picture regarding the time scale. Deliberations by the National Insurance Advisory Committee are apt to be protracted. It has just made an announcement on an order which was referred to it many months ago. The closing date for submissions on that order was 27th May of this year. It took from May until the end of November for a conclusion to be reached. I am not criticising the National Insurance Advisory Committee; I am 315 simply pointing out that it is not a speedy procedure. During all this time the new, more rigorous rules have been in operation. Married women who would have received this benefit had the insurance commissioners' view of the law been accepted by the Department are being deprived of it.
If we find that we can debate and vote but that, whatever we do, an order cannot be annulled, the procedures of the House will have reached rock bottom. I should like a great deal of clarification. I should have liked a rethinking of the whole matter, but I should certainly like clarification of the strict procedural issues involved.
The other point that I wish to make concerns matters which recur regularly—we shall have an example tomorrow evening—when there are motions on the Order Paper, often in the name of the Government but sometimes in the name of the Opposition, and one amendment only is taken, discussed and voted upon. This matter again seems to be shrouded in mystery.
I have been spending some time looking through "Erskine May" to find an explanation. I should like to know what binds Mr. Speaker and the Government, if they are bound by anything, either in Standing Orders or in "Erskine May ". It may be that, given unlimited time to read and study "Erskine May" from cover to cover, the whole matter would become clear. But this rule, if it is a rule, seems even more obscure than most of our procedures. Some of the procedures of the House may appear puzzling to outsiders, but they become clear and may even be seen to be sensible in the end. However, this procedure seems mysterious and highly undesirable. I should like my right hon. Friend to give a clear description of how this rule arises and, if it is a rule, what it is based on. I should also like him to consider its effect.
If it is a rule, it appears to be based on the view that when matters come before the House—such as the matter that we are to debate tomorrow—there can be only two views, that of the Government and that of the Official Opposition. It appears that we cannot vote on other views on such occasions. There are several minority parties in the House, yet 316 their views cannot be voted on. Time after time Government Back Benchers have tabled amendments, which on occasions have drawn 100 or more signatures, and yet there has been no opportunity to vote on them.
Coming back to the effective use of our time, it is self-evident that it is a highly ineffective use of hon. Members' time if, at the end of a debate, there cannot be a clear expression of their view. I think that must sometimes cause considerable embarrassment to the Government. I suggest that my right hon. Friend and his right hon. and hon. Friends would sometimes find it easier to conduct Government business if they were not stuck with this rule, or the interpretation of this rule. It seems totally unacceptable that the business of the House should be conducted in this way. It seems totally unacceptable also that the views of numerous Labour Members and minority party Members should remain unexpressed. We are given the choice of being either in the frying pan or in the fire. That is not a choice which Labour Members welcome. Indeed, we should not be faced with such a choice.
As this matter is well within my right hon. Friend's province I should be obliged if he would give a clear explanation of how this rule arises and, if it is a rule—which I doubt—what will be done to alter it.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), because she questioned the procedures of the House. She asked whether they served the House and the people's representatives effectively in enabling us to carry out our job of proper representation here, with proper emphasis of representation. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) also questioned whether our procedures were correct in every way. Will the Leader of the House now seriously consider whether the time has been reached when Parliament must find time to consider its procedures and decide what reforms are necessary?
This debate is one of four such debates a year. They are debates in which we consider whether we should pass the Prime Minister's motion that we should adjourn 317 and go away for a feast and holiday, returning on a certain day, in this case 31 days later. I know that Governments of all complexions—to some extent, I suppose, supported by their opposite numbers on the Opposition Front Bench—do not like this debate, because it has been described as a waste of time. It is said that no executive action is being carried out by the Government and that this is merely a day when Back Benchers can air their grievances on the pretext that we should not adjourn because those grievances have not been dealt with.
If their impatience is hidden, I believe that the Government show a certain amount of tolerance in allowing us to have such debates at all. There is another debate to follow which will go on through the night. I suppose that in many ways it is much more important.
We have reached a stage when Parliament is becoming very frustrated. We are frustrated not only over the state of the nation and because we have not had an election for the people to decide whether we need a change of Government and a change of direction but, increasingly, because we cannot do our jobs here. We must look to the Leader of the House to recognise that that frustration exists and is building up into a certain amount of anger because we do not see more reform.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have given many reasons why we should not go into recess at the end of the week. They have instanced many important matters that should be discussed, arguing that there is no good reason for us to take 31 days off. We have heard about Select Committee reports and Royal Commission reports that have not been considered, about health, education, foreign affairs and so on.
When the Leader of the House used to speak from below the Gangway, he really was a leader of Back Benchers. He used to deliver speeches with a vigour and fire that stirred us. He stood up for the rights of Back Benchers. He was concerned then about reform. He was concerned to stop the Government in their tracks. Where are the vigour and the fire from the right hon. Gentlemen today? We thank him for being here for the whole debate and for listening to us. I know that he will make a proper response, but at the end of the day the debate will have been another joke debate, be- 318 cause the Government will go on in their own sweet way. We shall not have succeeded in stopping anything. I do not think that any of our speeches today will do more than to wander away into thin air and into the dim columns of Hansard, not to be looked at very much or taken note of—more is the pity.
We need more time to consider reform. A predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman as Leader of the House, Lord Peart, uttered on many Thursdays three famous words when we asked whether we could debate this or that subject: "Not next week ". There were many subjects mentioned by hon. Members today that we should like to debate next week, or at least after Christmas, perhaps returning a week earlier, but the Government will tell us that they have decided what is to be done.
Who runs Parliament today—635 Members of Parliament freely elected by the people? No. We no longer run Parliament. We are run by a dictatorship from the Government Front Bench, by an authority which tells us when we are wanted and when we are not, which tells us" Now go away on holiday and do not come back again for a good month."
The Government would keep us away for even longer if they could. They have nothing to tell us and nothing to give us. They have no legislation to put before us, no reform. My complaint is that this is doing harm to Parliament. It is not only frustrating us as Members of Parliament but is making this Parliament a joke in the eyes of the people.
Parliament is not wanted. It can go away. It must go on holiday and stay away. If the Prime Minister has his way, it would stay away for as long as possible, until he was ready to say "Let us have an election." He does not want hon. Members here, questioning anything that might come up, whether they are Opposition Members or his own Back Benchers. I hand it to them. They are sometimes a vigorous lot against their own Government—and quite right too. I listened today to a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House saying that there was much that we should he doing for our constituents.
There is much that I could go on about, but I do not intend to do so. Parliament must assert itself. Parliament itself must determine that we begin to 319 reform this place and put pressure on the Government. Reform takes time. We can do much in Parliament's time. It is not the Government's time, as my hon. and learned Friend said. We do not necessarily have to return just when the Government want us to, to debate Bills that they are presenting to Parliament. We need time for Parliament itself to tell the Government how we want to see this place reformed. It is time Parliament stood up to the Government and asserted itself.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
May I begin by expressing my strong agreement with the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) in that extremely powerful speech.
I do not wish to speak for too long, because this is a private Members' day. I suppose that this is not the most dramatic occasion of the parliamentary year. I should be guilty of exaggeration if I said that it was. But I think that it is one of the most important, because it is the occasion on which Back Benchers can speak about the matters about which they feel most strongly. After all, parliamentary life is a species of business. It is not all fish, thunder, sparkle and excitement. What has been said today is of great importance for the future of the House.
I should be the last person to want to prolong a parliamentary Session unnecessarily. We are probably the hardest-worked and lowest-paid Parliament in the whole of Europe. I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) that a recess is not a holiday in the sense of going off and seeking relaxation in a sunny clime. It is as much a part of parliamentary life as the Sessions when we are here. It is a time of preparation, a time of mending fences in the constituency, if that is necessary, a time of learning what is going on in people's minds. It is, indeed, a time for study, particularly if one is involved in constitutional matters. All of these things have to be done, and occasionally one finds a moment to catch up with one's own affairs, which are often neglected because one is spending so much of one's time trying to deal with the affairs of other people.
320 It is possible to do nothing. That is one of the difficulties about our life. Being a Member of Parliament is rather like being an Anglican parson—one can do more than anyone else or less than anyone else. The thing that we have in common is that we are paid inadequately. Naturally, I would normally welcome a recess. I do not believe that this is an excessively long recess by parliamentary standards. I accept what the Lord President has said about that. But this is not a normal situation. We have had an abnormally long Summer Recess. As we have seen from the Order Paper, as we have heard during business questions and as we have heard again today, there is a backlog of subjects to be debated. We have heard that there is a list of such subjects in The Guardian. I wish that I had read it. It would have saved me a lot of work in compiling my own list.
I have added quite a few subjects to my list during the four hours that I have been listening to this debate. There is report after report which needs to be discussed. There is the report of the Expenditure Committee for 1976–77, dealing with the Civil Service and mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). This is a most important report about the audit of public expenditure in the Civil Service. A total of 200 hon. Members have signed the motion relating to this on the Order Paper, yet 15 months have passed and nothing has happened.
Earlier in the debate today we heard a plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who said that it was totally inadequate for the rate support grant as it affects Scotland to be discussed in one and a half hours on Thursday evening. This point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). I do not reproach the Lord President about the arrangements for Thursday, because he was perfectly correct to say that it was for the convenience of the Opposition that that day was chosen. Among other reasons, the Leader of the Opposition is fulfilling an engagement of long standing on that day.
We appreciate the courtesy of the Lord President in meeting our wishes, which were expressed to him not by my right hon. Friend but by me. No one flies backwards and forwards across the 321 Atlantic in one day for pleasure. I have just done it and I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are many more pleasurable ways of spending one's time. The argument about the Scottish Assembly is irrelevant to the debate which is to take place on Thursday. Irrespective of whether the Scottish Assembly is established, there will be no opportunity to discuss this aspect of Scottish affairs other than during the truncated period of one and a half hours on Thursday.
We heard a strong plea from the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) concerning the Public Lending Right Bill. Here again, I have no reproach to make of the Lord President. No one could have acted more swiftly than he did. I was unflatteringly surprised at the speed with which he acted. In the past we had to wait a long time for the Bill. It went through Committee stage in two sittings, because of a combined effort on the part of the Government and the Opposition.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The Whips were not necessary. The Bill returned to the Floor of the House and, alas, at a psychological moment the Government appeared to lose their nerve and adjourned the proceedings. We could have had a day on that Bill next week. Let us have an all-night sitting, if necessary. It is worth it, provided that the Government will keep their supporters here to vote for the legislation.
It has been suggested that we should have a debate on the monarchy. We do not want such a debate. What a ridiculous suggestion that is. The monarchy is the one part of our constitution which is working totally satisfactorily. It is the final irony of our long parliamentary history that today the monarchy is supporting, with its prestige and popularity, the whole of the parliamentary system. No one cares very much about the House of Lords, and we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that we were the most popular people in the country. The monarchy is upholding the parliamentary system, and that is not the least of its great services.
§ Mr. English
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and for what he has said about a debate on the report of the Expenditure Committee. Does he 322 realise that the suggestion of a debate on the monarchy came from his own side?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am not interested in what side a suggestion comes from. I am looking at this from the point of view of the value of the suggestion. We do not want any debate, either, on the matrimonial affairs of the Prince of Wales. That is something which would be quite unsuitable in this House.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Never mind where it came from. We do not want to have it. Marriage is a private affair—and it should be as cheerful as the circumstances allow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hales-owen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) suggested a debate on the state of the nation I am sorry that he is missing a tribute to himself, because that was a valuable suggestion. A debate on the Health Service was also suggested. The Health Service is facing problems greater than at any moment since its inception under the National Government of 1944 which planned the National Health Service. [Interruption.] Yes, they did. The National Health Service was planned by the National Government.
We have had the case of the Normans-field hospital. There has been the neglect of our mental hospitals. This is a national scandal which would make a good subject for debate.
We have also had mention of the fishing industry and its relations with the EEC. There has also been talk of the White Paper on broadcasting and the important report from the Committee of Privileges. There have been demands for debates on industrial matters as well as a strong plea for a debate on foreign affairs. We should debate the threat to the whole security of the Western world which has arisen as a result of the situation in Iran. Even today the position has deteriorated. That would have made a suitably urgent subject for the House to debate.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) has spoken of the need for a debate on immigration. There has been no debate on the National Land Fund report. That is an important report for the future of our heritage. The 323 Opposition have made it clear that they support that report and its recommendations. So far there has been no response from the Government, except the noise of some departmental wrangle going on behind the scenes between the Departments of Environment and Education over who should carry off the spoils. If that wrangle goes on for much longer, there will be precious few spoils to carry off.
We have also had the Renton report on legislation—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It may be out of date. It reported in 1975, and an extremely good report it was. We still have not debated it. What has happened to the Weights and Measures Bill? I think of the line in" The Tempest "concerning the masque. The Lord President will remember it:" They vanished strangely ". What has happened to that Bill? What are the Government's intentions?
We have had pleas for debates on gambling, handicapped children—a most important part of the educational scene—and a whole host of other subjects too numerous for me to mention. Quite apart from all those subjects, which cover such a wide political spectrum, there is plenty of other work to be done. For example, there has been no debate on the eight reports of the Sessional Committee on Procedure.
There has been no debate on the procedure for establishing the order of Oral Questions. The Lord President has welcomed the report, but we have not been able to discuss it. There has been no debate on the report on the order of preference of Private Members' Bills, which recommended no change, the tabling of Questions, access to the Table Office, the calling of amendments for Division at the end of a debate and the method of raising points of order during Divisions, which, I agree, is not the most important topic in the world but which should be debated. More important, we have had no debate on the report concerning voting on Opposition motions on Supply Days. I hope that, following recent events, the country is better informed about the disadvantages under which the Opposition labour in such circumstances.
324 There has been no debate on the business of the House on motions or on the report on Questions to the Prime Minister. We have not had the chance to discuss the operation of Standing Order No. 9, the eligibility of hon. Members successful in Ballots for notices of motions and Bills to take part in subsequent ballots or on the tabling of amendments to a Bill on the day it receives a Second Reading. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that that is quite a bad record.
Perhaps the worst omission is that we have had no debate on the report of the Procedure Committee. That is one of the most important reports produced by the House in recent years, and surely the events of last week should show how relevant is that report. I am not accusing anyone of collusion. I have no evidence of that and I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. It may have been convenient for the Government not to have had a vote the other day, but I have never accused the Lord President of collusion in that respect.
While I have little sympathy with the attitude towards defence of the hon. Members who undertook that parliamentary operation last week, I had a great deal of sympathy with them in exercising their rights as Members of Parliament. I have never denied that. Unfortunately, in exercising their rights they did away with the rights of the Opposition as Members of Parliament. There was a conflict of rights. That is all the more reason for us to get on with implementing the Procedure Committee's report because its proposals for Select Committees would prevent that sort of operation having to be mounted.
We have no written constitution. We have procedure, and, far from being dull and technical, it is the most important thing that we have in the House. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, who said that the Government do not dare to produce any legislation—and we understand the reason for that. I do not reproach them, because if we were in a similar position we would be equally coy. Why do they not take the opportunity of making this a great reforming Session for Parliament? We would then see the interest in the House revived among hon. Members and people outside. All that would be at the 325 price of no Socialist legislation—a price which one could pay with equanimity.
Parliament has never governed. It has never claimed to govern because that has not been the role of Parliament. Its role is to check and control the Executive and to protect the liberties of the subject against encroachment by Executive power. But we are no longer able to do that. That is the great reproach of the House of Commons. We have a professional Executive and an amateur Parliament. Hon. Members do not have the facilities to match the Executive which has developed and gone on into the latter part of the twentieth century while hon. Members are still struggling with a situation more suited to the nineteenth century.
One of our great disappointments is that the Lord President has not seized the opportunity to ensure that the procedures of the House are reformed. Nothing is more urgent. We have a great opportunity, and if we cannot have a debate before Christmas I hope that we shall have a debate immediately after we return.
My proposal is modest. It is that we should have a few more days of debate before we rise. That has met with great support from both sides of the House. The Secretary of State for Energy has made a much more radical proposal—namely, that we should do away with the five-year limit on Parliaments and go back, I assume, to the Septennial Act. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, should be suggesting that Parliament should last longer. The cry of the radicals throughout the ages has been not for longer Parliaments but for shorter Parliaments. The Lord President will remember that the great cry of the Chartists was for annual Parliaments and elections. Even worse, members of the Labour Party want the annual reselection of parliamentary candidates. It is strange suddenly to see the suggestion that we should go back, perhaps to the Septennial Act of 1715, which was modified in 1911.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
If the hon. Gentleman wants to know what Bagehot said about it. I can tell him.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Very well. I refer the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) to volume 4, chapter 5 of my work.
The Septennial Act is quite a good parallel because that Act, which the Secretary of State for Energy apparently wants to reintroduce, was passed to enable an unpopular Whig Government to keep out a popular Tory Opposition. We suspect that the same motivation is operating today. There is the further legal point that it is extremely doubtful whether a Parliament that is set up for five years can prolong itself as it wishes.
Perhaps we could have a debate on the House of Lords, which the Secretary of State for Energy has suggested should he abolished. That would be extremely foolish, because the House of Lords is an essential revising Chamber. We could not get through even the paucity of legislation from this Government without the aid of another place.
The House of Lords is a most effective revising Chamber and also has the great merit of being a place for hon. Members to go after they have given the best of their services here. We should encourage people to leave the House of Commons at an early opportunity in order to allow other people to serve in this place. It is not desirable to have hon. Members hanging on to an advanced age when they could give services of value to the nation in another place.
We could have a debate on the Labour programme for 1976.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I agree that it no longer applies, but it has been replaced by something worse. The "Keep Britain Labour" campaign makes the Labour programme for 1976 look like a manifesto of the Primrose League. Events have marched on, unfortunately. The Prime Minister referred to that programme as an electoral albatross hanging round his neck. The Secretary of State for Energy, showing a capacity which he has not shown in increasing our fuel supplies, has incinerated that albatross. I might be mixing my metaphors, but it has risen like 327 a phoenix from the ashes. The situation is worse than ever before.
The Lord President is a reasonable being. I have the good fortune to have had dealings with him. I find him an eminently reasonable being—almost as reasonable as the Secretary of State for Education and Science, with whom I previously had dealings. The right hon. Lady was reasonable in another direction.
The Lord President would please the majority of hon. Members and dismay a minority if he said that he had listened to the arguments—I know that he has because, like myself, he has been here the whole afternoon—and said" Right. The House has made its wishes clear. We shall have an extra three days during which we shall debate some of the vital subjects which have been raised this afternoon."
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
I shall seek to reply to all the speeches, but if I replied to them fully I should inflict an appalling horror on the House. I do not wish to do that. I shall comment on most of the speeches. However, if I do not examine them all fully I hope that I shall not be accused of discourtesy. I shall try to reply roughly in the order in which the speeches were delivered. I shall begin with some of the earlier speeches, not because they have special eminence but because they belong together.
The hon. Members for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and some of my hon. Friends referred to procedure. It is not, as the hon. Member for Canterbury implied, that there is no legislation this Session. Over the past month or so we have probably introduced more Bills than have been introduced in comparable periods. Most of the measures are much desired by particular groups of people, which is why they have been welcomed. Such Bills deal with merchant shipping, public lending right, education and Northern Ireland, for example.
Such legislation satisfies the legitimate demands of many groups in the country, as has been shown by the Second Reading debates on those measures. The sugges- 328 tion that the Front Bench is dictating to the House about what goes through and that there is not a series of important legislative measures coming forward is misconceived. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Canterbury gives credence to that suggestion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) mentioned procedural matters. I hope that we shall have the long-awaited debate on the Civil Service report—for which he was primarily responsible as Chairman—in the first week that we return after the recess. My hon. Friend has pressed for such a debate on many occasions.
I hope that at an early date—but I cannot say that it will be in the first week —we shall have a debate on the Procedure Committee. The House should discuss that matter. I am not seeking to prevent that debate. Such a suggestion is misconceived. But it is right that the House shoud express its view on the Procedure Committee's report before the Government give their final views. I realise that that is not the normal procedure for all Select Committee reports. But it is right in this case. The Government must pay attention to the views of the House on this issue, as we must on all other matters.
I refer now to the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), although these questions do not affect whether the House should rise at the suggested time. I do not pretend that my remarks will cover every aspect of the matter. My hon. Friend asked important questions about which there is anxiety, particularly on this side of the House.
My hon. Friend mentioned the negative order for the invalidity pension. My remarks in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), following questions from the Opposition Front Bench, were intended to convey not that the procedure of the House laid down that there would have to be a debate on the report from the National Insurance Advisory Committee, but that the Government would have to commit themselves to a debate. Since the matter was referred to the Advisory Committee," the negative procedure was exhausted and the Government had to give a commitment that there would be such a debate.
§ Mr. Foot
Since the operation of the negative order procedure would be exhausted, the Government would have to make some provision so that if a vote upset the previous situation steps would be taken to make that effective. There have been occasions when the period of a negative order has been exhausted and the Government have made the necessary arrangements.
I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) an undertaking that we shall have a debate on television licences. That is a matter in which the House is interested. I hope that that debate will take place within the required period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West raised another matter. I cannot comment on it in a way that could interfere with any Question that might be put tomorrow. I am not in a position to reply to my hon. Friend now about what appears in "Erskine May ". Since her speech I have not had the time to look up what "Erskine May" says about that matter.
§ Mr. Foot
"Erskine May" often does not mention such matters. "Erskine May" provides guidance for the House. It is not the final arbiter of what happens. That is a matter for Standing Orders.
If more than one of the motions on the Order Paper were to be called for debate tomorrow, a Government motion would have to be tabled to make that possible. Such a Government motion would be debatable before the proceedings began. I am not sure that that 330 would be the right way to proceed tomorrow. It would also be difficult for such a motion to specify one particular amendment, and several other hon. Members would wish to move their own amendments. It would involve a considerable alteration in the procedures which the House has found desirable.
I know that my hon. Friends and some hon. Members have urged that there should be a change in the procedure. These are matters which the Procedure Committee will be able to consider again. The official Opposition have a case. Their case is not of the same character as that of my hon. Friends, but it touches on the issue of how a motion should be called. I am not sure whether I or my hon. Friends will agree with the propositions that will come from the Opposition Front Bench, as there are other difficulties to take into account. I am not opposed to the issue being referred to the Procedure Committee, but that will not solve the problems of tomorrow's debate.
I turn to the intervention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher). I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has departed. If he has, I am not sure that I should make any further comment. The hon. Gentleman communicated with me before the debate started. I shall leave the hon. Gentleman's contribution aside, because he may return later.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has already been answered by the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman was answered so effectively that I do not think I should intervene in such a happy arrangement. It seems that the arrangements were made to accommodate the Opposition Front Bench. The timetable for discussion of the rate support grant from the Scottish point of view is no different from the arrangements that have been made on numerous occasions in the past.
I am happy not to be able to see the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). Therefore, I am happy not to comment on what he had to say.
It seems that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, 'West Derby (Mr. Ogden) has left the Chamber.
§ Mr. Ogden rose—331
§ Mr. Foot
I am glad to give my hon. Friend the undertakings for which he asked, and almost in the terms that he requested. The Government are concerned to ensure that there is proper examination of the outer areas. Although we have had special reference to inner urban areas, that does not mean that we are opposed to a proper examination of the outer areas. I am prepared to give my hon. Friend the undertaking for which he was asking.
The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) put a question to me, but I understand that he has tabled a Question which will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper. I do not wish to anticipate the reply that he will receive.
§ Mr. Foot
Even if it is not reached tomorrow, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be given a most satisfactory answer in due course. It is not necessary for me to comment further upon it.
Several Opposition Members referred to fishing and fisheries. I recognise, as has been recognised in a whole legion of replies from Ministers, the importance of the topic. The Government understand the importance of the House having its final say.
I note that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North has returned to the Chamber. I appreciate that he raised an important issue. Since my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment announced on 28th September that arrangements would be made for the granting of work permits for overseas professional footballers, arrangements which were the subject of consultation with the football authorities and players' associations in England, Wales and Scotland, seven applications have been received. Three applications were approved, two were withdrawn, one was refused and one is under consideration. My hon. 332 Friend the Under-Secretary of State is now considering the further representations that he is receiving. He has invited the football authorities, including those in Scotland, to set out how they would like the work permit arrangements to be altered, if that is their wish. Any proposals that are made will be welcomed and will be considered most carefully.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Mr. Isak Refvik. I am advised that Mr. Refvik was admitted into this country on 29th November for one month on conditions prohibiting him from taking employment, paid or unpaid, or engaging in any business or profession. I believe that an application is being made for an extension of his leave to remain. The application will fall to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In the meantime, discussions will continue at the Department of Employment along the lines that I have already indicated.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher rose—
§ Mr. Fletcher
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for being absent for a short time. Is he saying that the case of Isak Refvik is not closed and that his right hon. Friend will consider not merely his visitor's permit to the United Kingdom but his right to play football here?
§ Mr. Foot
I appreciate that the matter is one of considerable public interest in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman must consider the reply that I have given. If there are any further representations that he wishes to make, he should make them to the Department of Employment. As I said, consideration is being given to the case by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) took up the distressing story of what has happened to many of his constituents as a result of the closures that have taken place in Swindon. My hon. Friend indicated that considerable assistance has been given by the Minister of State, Department of 333 Employment in the light of his representations. He observed that it had been advantageous that the employment protection legislation applied. Even so, there is an extremely serious situation in my hon. Friend's constituency. It has not been possible to overcome the difficulties that face the firm to which he referred. My hon. Friend, who has so earnestly involved himself throughout, will no doubt be renewing his representations. I congratulate him, as I am sure does the whole House, on the diligent way in which he examines these issues. If there are any further representations that he is able to make, I shall be glad to hear them. Alternatively, he may make representations to the Department of Employment.
I note that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) is still in the Chamber. I shall not deal with all his remarks. I read with great joy his open letter in The Daily Telegraph. If anyone missed it, I am sure that he will enjoy hearing the hon. Gentleman's description of the state of his party. The hon. Gentleman addressed his letter to "Dear Peter". "Peter" is Lord Thorneycroft, the general manager of the Conservative Party. I am sure we all recognise the situation when the hon. Gentleman writes:At the moment the party"—that is the Conservative Party—is rattled.I am sure we all recognise that every word of the hon. Gentleman's article rings true. He continues:We were robbed of an October election, which I think we'd have won, and since then we've had the Ted and Margaret debate on economic policy; we've failed to win Berwick; we've had a bruising time on Rhodesia, and the polls are disappointing. Morale is not high.
§ Mr. Baker
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for referring to the article and for having read it. I find it difficult to believe that he starts each day by browsing through The Daily Telegraph. However, knowing that the limits of poli- 334 tical education are boundless, I hope that he will quote from the rest of the article. The advice that I give to my party about its conduct until the next election is predicated not upon winning but on increasing its majority so that we have a workable majority when we win.
§ Mr. Foot
If I quote from the article I shall be had up for tedious repetition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) raised the question of the Government's perinatal mortality policy. It is no good deceiving ourselves that further improvements in this area will come easily, and I am sure that she recognises that fact. That is why the Secretary of State for Social Services has called upon local health authorities to practise positive discrimination by devoting extra resources to these areas, and I am sure that that is a policy that is generally supported in the House. The reduction of perinatal mortality is not just a question of action by the Government or the National Health Service. I am sure that what my hon. Friend said will be taken into account by the DHSS.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) has departed. He indicated that he possibly would have to leave, therefore I can omit my delicate comments on his remarks. I am sure that that will be mutually approved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sower-by raised the question of the television licence. I do not think that it can be disputed that it is a form of poll tax.
On the question of the newspaper industry, I do not know whether another statement will be made before the recess on The Times or about the provincial newspaper dispute. I shall certainly discuss whether it is possible. The Secretary of State for Employment has intervened in the hope of being able to help in these matters generally.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) raised in a rather critical manner the question of the proposed abolition of vehicle excise duty. There will be a whole series of occasions on which this matter will be debatable in the House. In particular, there will be opportunities to discuss its application to disabled people. The Government gave advance information of what we 335 intend to do. All the bodies in the country will have every opportunity of discussing it. The proposals will be translated into legislative form and the House of Commons will be able to examine the matter in detail and pronounce its view. This is a living contradiction of the view expressed by the hon. Member for Canterbury that the House of Commons does not have a chance to deal with these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) raised several matters. On the question of underspending of the amounts voted for the arts, I have not been able to identify the exact figure but expenditure in 1976ߝ77 did fall substantially short of the relevant cash limit in the arts field. There were a variety of reasons for this, prominent among them being the fact that 1976–77 was the first year in which cash limits applied. That is why spending bodies in general acted cautiously.
On his second point about the Public Lending Right Bill, I know that he has been a passionate supporter of the measure from the beginning. He remains devoted, as I am, to the Bill and we intend to see that it gets on to the statute book. It is deplorable that it is not there already, particularly in view of the general verdict in favour of it by the House of Commons. I had hoped that we would make further progress with the Bill on Thursday of this week but, unfortunately, we have had to postpone that consideration for a time. As soon as we return I hope that we shall make further progress. I concur with what my hon. Friend said. We should try to get the measure through in a single sitting because there is very little left to be discussed, but if we cannot we would have to consider a timetable motion. I hope that we shall be able to get the Bill through without such a motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) raised the question of a general debate on regional policy. There is a strong case for this. However, I cannot give him an absolute guarantee. It is becoming all the more necessary that we should discuss the general principles applying here.
My hon. Friend's second major question referred to the submissions to the Boyle committee about Members' pay 336 and conditions. The Government will submit their views shortly and I shall take full account of what has been said today, just as I have taken account of the views put to me since the debate in July. I accept that there is strong feeling on this matter. The views of the House on these questions will be strongly represented. Hon. Members must be aware that they, too, can submit their arguments to the Boyle committee and I am sure that that committee will take full account of them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) dealt with a number of matters which are the responsibility of the shocking Staffordshire Conservative authority. He is not in the House now—perhaps he has gone off already to deal with that authority, and if so I wish him luck.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) raised the question of the Data Protection Committee's report which was published on 5th December—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not here."] He is worth answering even when he is not here. He raised questions which provide the most valuable analysis for the problems arising from the handling of personal information on computers. The Home Secretary is coordinating the Government's considerations of the report. Before we reach any conclusions on the committee's recommendations we shall need to have the views of computer users and others who are affected. We welcome wide public discussion on so complex and important a subject.
I think that I have dealt with almost all the matters that were put forwardߞ
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
The Leader of the House has not answered the very important matters that I raised. One dealt with the first phase of the nucleus hospital, which is likely to be delayed, and this is of considerable importance to my constituents. I also raised the matter of the interruption of a Member's duty by tile holding up of his post on behalf of constituents to an officer in the employ of the Cheshire county council. Will the Leader of the House comment on that?
§ Mr. Foot
I apologise to the hon. Member if I have neglected to deal with his points. On the first matter, I shall see 337 whether we can supply any further information beyond the kind of questions that it is open for him to put to the Minister concerned. On the second matter, I cannot reply now but I shall see whether it is possible for me to do so before we depart for the recess. It is a matter of continuing interest, and perhaps it can be dealt with at a later stage.
The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) raised a wide question concerning capital punishment generally. I know that it arose from some recent events, and it was natural enough to raise it, but I do not think that it would be sensible for me to make a Government comment on it at this stage.
I apologise to any hon. Member who has put a case on which I have not been able to comment. May I say finally, to all those who have been kind enough to wait until these proceedings are brought to an end by my remarks, as I believe they will be, that it is misleading for people to spread the suggestion that the House of Commons is incapable of controlling the Executive. No doubt we must examine persistently how that control can be improved, but any suggestion that the Government can govern without Parliament is nonsense. Certainly there is no intention the part of this Government to do so.
That is why it was so wild and absurd for the hon. Member for Chelmsford to make the series of allegations that he made against my right hon. Friend the
§ Secretary of State for Energy, together with the suggestion that we want any Septennial Act or any such nonsense. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the Septennial Act led to the exclusion of the Conservatives from the Government of this country for about 40 or 50 years. On the whole, we prospered on that account, even though there were some other difficulties.
At the beginning of his remarks the hon. Gentleman quoted from "The Tempest ". As I looked across at him and those who support him I was reminded—particularly in these difficult times in which we live—of another scene at the beginning of "The Tempest ". The storm is blowing and the sailors are trying to bring things under proper control and to get the ship going in the proper direction. Then some fine gentlemen arrive on the scene, and the boatswain says to them:
You do assist the storm.
A little later he adds:
Out of our way, I say.
§ That is my comment on the Conservative Party as a whole. Out of our way, I say, you do assist the storm. We shall get on with the business of managing if you do not interfere too much.
§ Question put:—
§ The house divided: Ayes 143, Noes 23.339
|Division No.21]||AYES||[8.22 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Horam, John|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Crawshaw, Richard||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Cryer. Bob||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)|
|Ashley, Jack||Cunningham, Dr J (Whiteh)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)|
|Ashton, Joe||Davidson, Arthur||Huckfield, Les|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Robort (Aberdeen N)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Deakins, Eric||Hunter, Adam|
|Bates, Alf||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)|
|Bean, R. E.||Doig, Peter||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Beith, A. J.||Dormand, J. D.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Johnston, Walter (Derby S)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Duffy, A. E. P.||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dunnett, Jack||Judd, Frank|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||English, Michael||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Evans Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Kerr, Russell|
|Boardman, H.||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Evans, John (Newton)||Lamond, James|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Bradley, Tom||Flannery, Martin||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McElhone, Frank|
|Buchan, Norman||Forrester, John||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||George, Bruce||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Golding, John||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Canavan. Dennis||Grant, John (Islington C)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cant, R. B.||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Madden, Max|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Magee, Bryan|
|Cohen, Stanley||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Coleman, Donald||Heffer, Eric S.||Marks, Kenneth|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Home Robertson, John||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Hooley, Frank||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Rowlands, Ted||Ward, Michael|
|Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Watkins, David|
|Morton, George||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Weetch, Ken|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Skinner, Dennis||Welsh, Andrew|
|Newens, Stanley||Snape, Peter||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Noble, Mike||Spearing, Nigel||Whitlock, William|
|Oakes, Gordon||Spriggs, Leslie||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Ogden, Eric||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Orbach, Maurice||Stoddart, David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Stott, Roger||Wison, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Strang, Gavin||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Palmer, Arthur||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Park, George||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Penhaligon, David||Thompson, George|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Tierney, Sydney||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Rooker, J. W.||Tuck, Raphael||Mr. James Tinn.|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Hodgson, Robin||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Baker, Kenneth||Kilfedder, James||Sproat, lain|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Marten, Neil||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Costain, A. P.||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Crouch, David||Montgomery, Fergus||Younger, Hon George|
|Dunlop, John||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Rhodes James, R.||Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith and|
|Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Mr. Robert Adley.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Monday 15th January and at its rising on Friday 23rd February do adjourn till Monday 5th March.