Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Tuesday 6th June.—[Mr. Foot.]
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I am delighted that I have been called, Mr. Speaker, because we have already had a considerable discussion about the televising of the proceedings of the House, which I would regard as utterly disastrous. It is my considered view—and I had these thoughts before today—that this House should not adjourn until we have debated and re-considered the whole question of the effect of sound broadcasting on our proceedings here.
This is a matter which affects every hon. Member in this House. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that I have always been strongly opposed to our proceedings being broadcast, and I am bound to say, in all honesty, that recent experience only confirms me in the original view that I held. Indeed, I can go further and say that, as far as I can see, the only good thing which has come out of the proceedings of Parliament being broadcast is the striking success of broadcasts from the other place. The measured tone of their Lordships, the clarity and the intelligence of their speeches, and the absence of the awful background noise which obtains here make listening to their Lordships quite a delight. In castigating the procedure here, I expressly omit any criticism of broadcasting of the other place.
My main objection to broadcasting our proceedings here, Mr. Speaker, was that I thought it would ruin the atmosphere of debate among ourselves in this Chamber and would quickly transform this ancient and honourable House into what I may call a mere branch of show business. This is exactly what is happening.
§ Mr. Stokes
The over-emphasis on Prime Minister's Questions has resulted, I believe, in one-third more Questions being tabled, so that I fear that those of our colleagues who want to show off 1582 can do so all the more. Prime Minister's Questions are not, I believe, by any means a vital part of our proceedings here, and they are rapidly degenerating into a farce. Yesterday, I suggest, was a particularly bad example.
We know that the news media love excitement, conflict, trivialities and personalities, and that is what the broadcasting of our proceedings, particularly of Prime Minister's Questions, is leading our affairs into.
This Chamber—which, after all, is the greatest debating Chamber in the world—is becoming a talking shop of the worst order—without, unfortunately, a Charles Dickens in the Press Gallery to chastise hon. Members as he did in the last century. There is, I believe, a total lack of dignity now. Noises off and catcalls are louder than ever. We do not set a good example of behaviour to the nation; in fact, we shock a great many people. Those of us who know that that is only our way of harmlessly letting off steam realise that it is not as bad as it sounds. Certainly a few Labour Members are possibly far better off making a noise here than doing it on the street corners.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Has my hon. Friend noticed that during the broadcasting of the proceedings in the "Today in Parliament" or the "Yesterday in Parliament" programmes, the BBC always manages to select the most annoying or disagreeable insult which is hurled across the Chamber? This confirms my hon. Friend's point. The BBC always manages to pick up the point, Mr. Speaker, at which you invite the hon. Member concerned to withdraw, from whichever side of the House the remark has come. All this takes up an inordinate amount of time and would appear to confirm the fears that some of us had that the broadcasting of Parliament would result in this sort of procedure.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which exactly confirms the point that I am making. The Lord President, who is listening to me, has, I understand, expressed himself as being entirely satisfied with the broadcasting of the proceedings of this place, but, of course, he does not exactly dislike the sound of his own voice. Mr. 1583 Speaker recently referred to a new dimension as a result of broadcasting, and this, sadly, is true. But, of course, the position is not irrevocable. We can stop the broadcasts at any time if we have the will to do so. I consider that the whole question should at least be reconsidered by formal debate and be voted upon, otherwise I fear that we shall sink deeper and deeper into the mire, the public will come to despise us, and we shall in the end come to despise ourselves.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
The hon. Gentleman will know that there is a Select Committee of this House on Sound Broadcasting. It was appointed by the whole House and I have the privilege to be its Chairman. I asked hon. Members to write to the Select Committee if they had any views. The Select Committee is composed of Members of all parties. We have had no letters from individual Members, and the letters we have received from the public have mostly been in favour of sound broadcasting.
§ Mr. Stokes
Time is short, Mr. Speaker, but I believe that it is most important that a Back Bencher, who has the right to raise any subject which he considers to be of importance should raise this matter now. That is why I have done it. As the right hon. Gentleman will agree, it is a matter for the whole House and not in the least a party matter.
Finally, to touch the most serious note, at a time of the steady decline of the nation's fortunes—which, alas, we see only too clearly with the events in Africa, over which we seem to be unable to have any power or influence whatever—we in this Chamber are, I believe, helping neither ourselves nor our country in the sort of display that we provide. The situation in the country calls for nothing less than heroic measures, but we sit too long here and say too much. In the end, it is deeds and not words which count, and broadcasting cannot measure that.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I rise with pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) because I wish to speak very briefly on the same subject. I am partly inspired to do so by the fate of the Ten-Minute Bill which the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) wished to move at 3.30 p.m.
1584 I think that this is an appropriate occasion on which to consider the first weeks of radio broadcasting and to draw some conclusions from it. Indeed, I draw the very opposite conclusions to those of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. We have the opportunity to consider how best we should use the electronic media in this place.
We should not adjourn for Whitsun before these matters are discussed because there may be a failure of nerve on the part of the BBC, as the principal broadcasting agency, as well as on the part of some hon. Members if the reaction to the broadcasts is critical and hysterical. That is why we should consider today how the broadcasts have been carried out and whether they could be made more successful.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The BBC has power to monitor the number of people who listen to various programmes. Would this not be a good time for the BBC to give some indication, from its monitoring, of the number of people who listened when the broadcasting started and the number who are listening now?
§ Mr. Whitehead
That is precisely the kind of evidence that the Select Committee should be asking for. We must look back to the figures in the experimental broadcasting of the House on radio, which showed that there was a large increase in the number of people who listened to the edited version of "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament" when live extracts were broadcast. The figure increased to well in excess of a million people listening daily as a result of the extra liveliness which came about in the live extracts.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Like the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I sit on the Select Committee on Broadcasting. We have met on several occasions. While some of us may have some sympathy with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) or some sympathy with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), it is surely by letters to the Select Committee informing us of the views of right hon. and hon. Members on 1585 either side of the House that we can put right any complaints about the broadcasting or find out what right hon. and hon. Members feel about it. We are sitting in Committee. We are waiting for complaints, comments and queries from right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) must at least say a few words before I can call the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Mellish
We have already published in the all-party "Whip" an invitation to all Members to do exactly what the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) has just said and there has been no response. We would ask for the sincere comments of Members of the House.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I very much desired to be a member of that Select Committee. Unfortunately, for mysterious reasons, it was not possible. I am glad that the Select Committee has come here to join me on the Floor of the House. At least two distinguished members of the Select Committee are here to listen to the response of the House on this question.
I make a point about the atmosphere in the House. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge would like the House of Commons to be like the House of Lords and become an unelected oligarchy. He would like the House of Commons to be like the House of Lords, which is a reverential mausoleum. Many of us do not wish to have that. Many of us feel that the cut and thrust of debate and argument in this place and the interjections, even in the somewhat artificial atmosphere of Prime Minister's Question Time, are the essence of parliamentary democracy and should be preserved. Such gibes and insults as are thrown across the Floor were thrown in just the same way in the time of Fox and Pitt and many of the other great parliamentary giants and were recorded as such.
§ Mr. Whitehead
We are the same nation. The only difference is that now all the people of the nation have some control over the power within it. That is what the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge and some of his hon. Friends do not like. The essence of parliamentary democracy is that the mass of the commoners should be able to see as clearly as possible, in the spirit of open government, what those whom they elect are doing. At the moment a few people can sit in the public gallery day by day—we know the pressure that we come under for tickets—and listen to what is going on. Those people have said that Question Time is a bear garden and have asked why Members shout so much. We have not minded about that because the general public have not known about it. The general public now know that Question Time is a noisy affair.
This great cry of pain from the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge is no more than the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in the glass. Any of us who listens to the broadcasts says what a noisy business it is, but forgets that he was shouting, too, not just the other fellow. I have heard the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge shouting out in his patriotic way many times. We should accept that radio is taking us—warts and all—to the people of this country. Therefore, the only question that we should be considering today and upon which I should like to hear the views of the Lord President is whether sound broadcasting is taking this over in the right way. I believe that there are problems.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing whether the House should adjourn for the Whitsun holiday? We are having a debate on radio broadcasting.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The essence of my proposition is that the House should not adjourn for the Whitsun Recess before we have discussed these matters because of the widespread comment and concern which has been raised upon them.
I began my remarks—I think before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker 1587 —by saying that the problem was twofold. First, the broadcasting media have been shaken by the hostile response to the interpolation of live broadcasts upon the medium wave transmission. Secondly, many people in this place have been shaken because they feel that now the public outside perceive the House as a bear garden and not as the kind of honourable institution which it is believed to be by most people here.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
Now that the public have heard this House on the radio, is it not a fact that they have got only a halfway picture? We need to go forward into television so that they see what they hear.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Gentleman leads me to my next point. The picture that is being presented now is only a partial one. It may well be that we should be suggesting, in terms of the relaying of our proceedings to the people of the country, that there should be less emphasis on snippets of Prime Minister's Question Time. The number of Questions tabled for answer at Prime Minister's Question Time has increased threefold. We have seen some of the great characters of parliamentary Questions, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), adulterated by a number of people coming into these proceedings. As long as people feel that Prime Minister's Question Time is the only thing that matters and that all they are concerned with is getting into that snippet of time and trading a few blows, there is bound to be an imbalance in coverage which will lead to a distortion of our proceedings.
We need not simply the transmission of Prime Minister's Question Time at 3.15 in the afternoon—cutting short even when the most important statements are made at about 3.30 and going away. The hostile response of many medium-wave listeners—some have written to me—comes because their programmes have been interrupted for this ill-explained, ill-thought out interpolation lasting only 15 minutes.
I suggest to the Government, particularly as negotiations about the licence fee are due to take place soon, that they should tell the BBC and the IRN authorities 1588 that we want longer extracts on VHF, the transmission of whole debates on VHF and the first part of the working proceedings of Parliament taken not just from 2.30 to 3.30 or from 3.15 to 3.30, but a much longer time. There is the time and the space on the air waves to do that without the offence which is now caused to many listeners on medium wave and without the feeling that there is an imbalance in the way in which the coverage takes place.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I just wish to query my hon. Friend's appeal to the Government. Surely he should make his appeal to the Select Committee. We do not want the Government deciding what should be broadcast and what should not.
§ Mr. Whitehead
This is a matter where the Select Committee proposeth and the Government disposeth. The Government are in perpetual negotiation with the broadcasting authorities.
Another matter that irritates people greatly when they listen to Question Time is that the commentary has to be overlaid. Someone has to get in and say which hon. Member is asking the Question and thereby further obstruct these rather obscure proceedings.
I think that one of the reasons for the hon. Member for Harborough seeking to bring in his Bill earlier was that it seems to many of us that with the sort of television technology that has been developed, under proper control of the sort that is being introduced in Canada, there is a much better case for televising the Chamber, and that has been strengthened by the imperfections and inevitable inadequacy of having sound radio coverage only. As long as there is a commentary which is trying to explain something that, in the nature of things, is rather archiac, a good deal of the impact is lost—not just the visual impact, but the placing and the sense of occasion that the audience would otherwise have.
The House should consider again at an early date the question of televising Parliament, and I should like the Lord President to tell us whether he feels that there will be an opportunity for these matters to be discussed and for the question of televising our proceedings, which 1589 is not technically one for the Select Committee but one for the House, to be raised again before the conclusion of this Parliament.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I should like to comment briefly on what has been said about the broadcasting of the House. There are some hon. Members who feel that Britain has had a wasted day unless it hears their voice, but this has been a worth while experiment and it is too soon for us to make up our minds about how it should continue.
I hope that it will continue. In the long run it is inevitable that we shall be televised—just as inevitable as it was that we brought in Hansard. However, that is, no doubt, in the far future.
I wish to dispute one claim of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), namely, that the House is now notoriously badly behaved. I have not been here as long as some hon. Members but even in my time the House has been much more badly behaved. Anyone who sat through the Suez debates will be aware of that.
When I first became an hon. Member, I sat among the Conservative Party. There was one distinguished Member sitting near me who, when a Labour Minister said almost anything—even quite innocent things—raised his head like a hound baying the moon and emitted howls for the next two or three minutes. That custom has decreased.
It must also be put on record that the only Prime Minister who has ever been howled down and prevented from speaking in the House is Mr. Asquith, who was howled down by the Conservative Party, led by what is now regarded as the respectable House of Cecil. That was in the great imperial days of the nation. I do not think that we should attach too much importance to the amount of back chat that goes on in the House today.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
I am only too pleased to be talked down to by such a distinguished parliamentarian as the right hon. Gentleman, but I support what he says. I recollect that between 1970 and 1974 there were numerous occasions when the House had to be suspended because of the riotous behaviour 1590 of Members of the Labour Party. We have not had such suspensions in recent times. Although there has been excitement from time to time, there has been nothing quite as bad as those scenes of disorder. We are getting better.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am glad to have had that powerful intervention from an hon. Member who plays an important part in the House and speaks with experience on these matters.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Many hon. Members wish to see the broadcasting continue, but many other people in many other spheres of life would like to see the broadcasting of work in which they are involved. Is it not a question whether the public wishes to listen to us and see us on television?
§ Mr. Grimond
That is probably so, but we shall only find out by trying it on the dog, and if the dog—in this case the public—shows that it does not wish to hear Parliament any more, no doubt we can give up broadcasting our proceedings.
The experiment has not been a complete success, but it has not been tried for very long and it should be allowed to continue until we get some figures about whether the public like it and whether it is serving any useful purpose.
I am one of those who are irritated from time to time to find the Order Paper full of Questions to the Prime Minister asking about his engagements for the day, whether he will visit Little Tooting in the Marsh, and so on. We know full well that the supplementary questions will be about something quite different. I do not entirely agree that this is the only way that one can put down Questions to the Prime Minister, but I agree that it is possibly the only way to get immediate Questions on the Order Paper about matters of important current impact. Otherwise, they have to be put down a fortnight or more in advance.
I think that the public, let alone this House, might be interested to know the views of the Government about something that happened the day before and was clearly an important matter. I have come round to the view that this is not as entirely bad a system as I thought at first, but I accept that it is a great departure from the traditional view of Question Time.
1591 Might we not consider two sorts of Questions? We could have the serious Questions for those who wanted to know the current rate of unemployment pay, or whatever, which is not immediate, and a certain number of immediate Questions. In this latter category, people should not be expected to go through the rigmarole of asking about the Prime Minister's engagements for the day but should ballot for a number, with the hon. Member who draws No. 1 having the right to ask the first Question. It could be a Question out of the blue or notice could be given. It might put the Prime Minister in a difficult position, but he is well able to look after himself. He has immense experience of genial buccaneering at Question Time and, every now and then, he says something about immediate events which the public are entitled to know. We should get rid of this rather bogus system of asking about his engagements for the day or whether he will visit Ebbw Vale, or wherever.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Would the right hon. Gentleman go as far as the Canadian Parliament where the Prime Minister has to field Questions on any subject, which do not have to be tabled at all, for one hour a week? This leads him to make entirely spontaneous replies on a wide range of matters.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is something that the Committee on Procedure might consider in due course.
I now wish to pass on to some matters concerning my constituency that should be drawn to the attention of the Government before we agree to the Adjournment motion.
The first matter concerns freight charges. This is a perennial sore subject in my constituency. We suffer very heavily from extremely high freight charges. London and the Western Isles get large subsidies, not from local authorities but out of the Exchequer. I have asked Questions to demonstrate time and again how unfairly we are treated.
We have been promised by the Secretary of State for Scotland that he will make some proposals, but it is coming to the time of the year when it is important that something should be done. We have very heavy shipments of stock in the autumn. Freight charges are increasing 1592 and the situation is becoming extremely serious.
I shall not go over the matter in detail because I have often done so before. Broadly speaking, we claim that either the sea services should be treated as trunk roads and supported by the Exchequer or, as at the start of the last war, there should be a subsidy on freights on various commodities.
The second matter that I wish to raise is the danger of oil pollution. My constituents and I were naturally extremely worried by the wrecks of the "Amoco Cadiz" and the "Eleni V". If anything like that happened in the Pentland Firth or around us it would devastate our fishing, apart from other disasters that it might bring in its trail.
A recent Question of mine to the Department of Trade elicited the information, given fairly and frankly, that the Department was not satisfied that there is an adequate number of tugs throughout the North of Scotland to deal with a disaster involving big tankers.
I also received a letter from the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), when he was Prime Minister, outlining the method by which oil pollution would be handled. It seems that four Departments would be concerned and that when the pollution drifted inshore, it would become the responsibility of the district or regional council. I do not believe that that will do. I do not believe that this divided responsibility is adequate for the sort of disasters that we have seen in the Channel or off the East Coast. There must be one command. I would be interested to know what is being done about tugs and other equipment.
It is not only a question of what will happen if a disaster took place in enclosed waters off Sullom Voe or Scapa Flow. Let us suppose that a tanker gets into difficulties anywhere off the North Coast of Scotland. It is not good enough to say that when the oil drifts inshore all the district councils will be responsible. As the Department of Trade admits it might take a very long time before any tug reached the scene of the accident. I hope that will be given urgent consideration.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the problems of spillage from inshore explorations could be equally dangerous? A 1593 lot of those explorations no doubt take place around the coast, and such spillages could be traumatic to those many colonies of wild life which are of international consequence and which breed around the right hon. Gentleman's islands. Is he satisfied that there are arrangements to deal with local spillages from explorations, quite apart from a disaster?
§ Mr. Grimond
Of course there can be many sources of pollution. I cannot go into the whole matter on the motion for the Adjournment but, of course, I am in correspondence with the Ministries concerned about these other matters. But this disaster in the Channel drew attention to particular dangers. There are all sorts of other dangers. I admit that they are serious and I have been taking them up. However, the Channel disaster was a recent danger. In a frank statement the Government have said that they do not have tugs at present available off Scotland which could deal with a very large tanker in difficulties.
The third matter I should like to mention is fishing. We know that in June there will be an important meeting in Brussels about the common fisheries policy. Therefore, this is possibly the last opportunity that we may have to emphasise the importance of coming to some arrangement very soon with regard to the conservation of stocks. Off my constituency there has been a disastrous falling off in the numbers of fish caught in recent weeks. It seems that at last what we have all foretold is happening. The waters are being seriously over-fished. This is not to be wondered at, because trawlers which used to fish in other parts of the ocean are now driven into our home waters and the number of boats fishing is extremely large.
The particular point about which I should like the Government to give some indication, before the meeting in Brussels, is the question of licences. This may be a very reasonable method of trying to control the amount of fish taken out of the North Sea, but I am not at all clear how the Government envisage it being worked. Will they simply license only a certain number of foreign boats to fish in British waters? If so, that would be acceptable. Do they intend to license all the British boats so long as they abide by the quotas? If so, will there be any 1594 restriction on when they fish—that is, will local boats have priority? That might also be acceptable. In that case the withdrawal of the licence would come about only if a boat exceeded its quota.
At present the only quotas in operation, as far as I know, are monitored by the fishermen themselves. That is not a satisfactory position. Of course, if licensing means that there will be a reduction in the number of British boats, that would be a serious matter for the smaller ports. It would then seem to me illogical to encourage new fishing enterprises, say, in the Western Isles. I hope that the Government will at some point give us their views about what the licensing system would entail.
I also believe that we should have a statement as soon as possible with regard to what compensation will be given to sheep farmers who suffered very large losses last winter. We know that the Government are examining this matter. As the lambing season is now far advanced or over, I hope that the Government will be in a position very soon to announce what help they will be able to give to these farmers and crofters.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I, too, think it a pity that we are not having a formal debate on broadcasting before the Whitsun Recess. However, it seems as though we are getting half a debate now.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) talked about letting off steam. My reply to the hon. Gentleman, and to any other member of the public, is that it is much better to let off steam in this House of Commons than to let off bombs and bullets, because that is the alternative.
§ Mr. Spearing
It may well be that 90 per cent. of what is said, 90 per cent. of Prime Minister's Question Time, 90 per cent. of the Divisions, or whatever, are meaningless to some people. I do not think that is true, but it may be. Even if it were, the other 10 per cent. is worth it. That is the point which should be made about matters in this House.
With regard to broadcasting, surely one of our problems is that broadcasting 1595 extracts or resumés of our debates are the only outside broadcasts which are not designed or selected for the purpose of broadcasting. We are here doing an unusual and privileged job. We are not here primarily for the purpose of making a broadcast and we are not here, or should not be, as a sort of radio bran tub from which matters can be fished out and used for good broadcasting.
That is another problem which was not foreseen earlier. I do not believe that television would solve that problem, because one of the great difficulties is that so many things which are assumed to be background between those with a particular subject interest cannot, by their nature, be shared by the listeners. Indeed, they sometimes cannot be shared by some hon. Members who come in and listen. Such debates are meaningless, because the background knowledge is not there. I do not think that television will solve that problem. Perhaps more debates, broadcast much later with selections and commentary on the whole debate, rather than contemporary broadcasting, might be the best way of dealing with the matter.
I was mystified when I looked at the Order Paper today. I regret the way in which the Lord President has arranged the business. I seem to recall—he will correct me if I am wrong—that usually the motion for the Adjournment is put down on the Order Paper as first business. I could not understand today's Notice of Motion, because I thought it meant that we could not speak. It has obviously been tabled in such a way, and for such a purpose, of which I believe many hon. Members would not approve.
I do not happen to believe in the cause of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) or in the cause of television, for some of the reasons that I have just outlined. However, the hon. Gentleman has every right to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill at the usual and proper time. That is the right of Private Members. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with his right to do it. It ill behoves the Lord President, in his position, to authorise such a proceeding which might make some people accuse him of underhand business and skulduggery. That is what some people will say. I am not making that accusation, but some 1596 people will say that. Therefore, the Lord President owes it to the House—he said nothing during the points of order—to explain why today's business was arranged in this particular way.
That brings me to the point that I should like to put. I do not believe that we should adjourn the House until we have had an explanation from the Lord President about the difficulties last night over documents and the business relating to the ratification of the treaty making this House adhere to direct elections for the EEC. Again, I do not think that the Lord President's handling of this matter gives cause for confidence.
Several matters have emerged since that debate which must be put on record. First, during last Thursday's Business Statement the Lord President simply said:Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order."—[Official Report, 18th May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 775.]I do not believe that the Lord President did not know what was in that order. He must have known that it was about direct elections. He must have known that it ratified a treaty which was the subject of a Command paper brought before this House in 1971. He did not tell the House what the business was. He did not tell us in such a way that those printing the business of the House would print what it was about. It was left to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) to ask whether this meant ratification of the treaty on direct elections. Then my right hon. Friend said "Yes, it is".
I do not believe that he was serving either the House or the nation well by not stating explicitly what that business was. It may be that the wretched European Communities Act, which the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) whipped through this House, was bad in this respect. It was a disgraceful Act and Section 1(3), which makes the ratification procedure subterranean, is one of the worst aspects of it. But that is no excuse for my right hon. Friend not stating the business properly. It was extremely difficult for hon. Members or, indeed, the Press or public, to know what was coming. Even worse was to follow, because the explanatory note to that order did not say what it was about either. It is not an explanatory note, despite the 1597 open government professed by the Government on this issue.
To do him credit, my right hon. Friend the Lord President admitted this in answer to a question following Thursday's Business Statement. He said that the explanatory note was rather less than some would have wished, but he went on to say that he would arrange for a further explanatory memorandum to be placed in the Library. It was available in the Library, and it was available in the Vote Office. In fact, it was submitted to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
But I am sorry to have to say that this memorandum, signed by no one and simply labelled "Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 11th May 1978," was not a complete document. Although it purported to summarise the nature of this treaty, which is an Act of the European Communities, Cmnd Paper No. 6623, it described only some of the provisions of this treaty. It was said in that memorandum:Articles 6 to 13 provide for disqualification, procedural and supplementary matters.It did not say that Article 7 and Article 11 of that treaty covered the obligations of this House to a future common system of election. I confirmed with my right hon. Friend last night that that is indeed the effect of passing that treaty. We are now in principle committed to that common system of election for the future. However, the explanatory memorandum made no mention of that and, of course, the treaty itself was not available.
My right hon. Friend will know that when hon. Members go to the Vote Office asking for papers on any matter, they are handed a bunch of papers and they expect them to be complete. The same is true of members of the Press Gallery and the Lobby. Even if they had known what it was all about—which of course they would not if they had merely listened to my right hon. Friend, and gone and got those documents—they would not have had any real knowledge of that aspect of the treaty, either. Nor would they have been handed the treaty.
I do not say that this was deliberate subterfuge on the part of a wicked Foreign Office or an obtuse Government. I do not think that that is necessarily correct. But it means that the effect of 1598 this was that, but for certain hon. Members, the nature of the treaty would have been less well-known than it was, and the fact that the House was ratifying perhaps the most important foreign treaty of the century—it may well turn out to be that, though I hope not—was unknown to the House itself.
I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will explain how this happened and why there was no list in the Library—merely this memorandum, which got there only last Friday, despite Mr. Speaker's ruling of 21st February 1966—and that he will make sure in future that this does not happen. We are already asking him to present a motion to this House which he promised last November defining the powers of this House in respect of Ministers in Brussels. We are still waiting for that motion.
Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend did not state the nature of this very important business when he made his weekly Business Statement. We had an explanatory note on the Order in Council which even he admits gave no explanation. We had an explanatory memorandum which clearly was not complete and which was not a proper substitute for the treaty itself. That treaty was not available in the Vote Office and, therefore, not available to members of the Press.
I put it to my right hon. Friend the Lord President that this is not good management of our democratic systems. Nor is it good management of the House of Commons. There are those who say that the whole of this EEC business is undermining our democracy and that it produces procedural rabies and problems of this kind. I think that they are probably right. It has been shown to be in this instance.
I do not believe that the Foreign Office is wicked or is trying to proceed by underhand methods. It simply happened that way, and we all understand that sometimes these matters go wrong. I do not think that my right hon. Friend wishes to conceal from this House and the public the real nature of the business that he puts before us. But that is what he will be accused of unless he changes the methods of working, the methods of documentation and the methods by which he announces business, especially in terms of definition of treaties orders.
1599 I hope that my right hon. Friend will make a statement and give assurances to the House that this will not happen again. If it should happen again, not only hon. Members here but other people outside will be justifiably cynical and justified in saying that the Government and the people who work with it are trying not to help the House but to deny both the House and the British public facts which should be theirs and without which democracy cannot operate.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
There are two matters which I wish to raise before this motion is passed and we agree to adjourn. The first is one which affects mainly my own constituents but also those of a number of other hon. Members in North-East London.
My constituents are puzzled by a couple of problems which have arisen. They relate primarily to the plight of commuters generally around London. My constituents, in common with those of most other London Members, find it hard to understand why so little attention is given by this House to their plight and that we go off on our holidays leaving them to soldier on in the most appalling conditions and paying the most appalling fares to get to their places of work.
In Chingford we have a railway line which runs to Liverpool Street. Complaints about this line recently have been running at a very high level. Indeed, I found myself becoming a little bored with the correspondence reaching me telling me the same story over and over again.
Suffice it to say that, in a recent six-week period, some 51½ per cent. of the morning peak trains and 10 per cent. of the evening peak trains were cancelled. The odd explanation given for those cancellations was that they were due to staff sickness and staff shortages. That is odd, bearing in mind that we are in the position of having to dispose of this motion before we can consider the second item of business for today which the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, in which the Greater London Council is seeking additional powers to create more employment in London at a time when British Rail cannot employ sufficient staff.
We all sympathise with British Rail, of course. We know how much it has 1600 done to improve the Inter-City services. So I think that my constituents and I were prepared to put up with many of these problems. However, a week ago matters were made very much worse by a landslip on an embankment resulting in train services being cut to only two an hour. Even worse, whereas the trains were formerly of nine coaches, they are now frequently of only six coaches. So, instead of having a 12-minute service, there is now a half-hour service, and frequently the trains are only two-thirds of their normal length.
What is more, British Rail has told my constituents that it will take three months to repair the embankment and that nothing can be done to avoid single-line working during that time. If the main line to, say, Cardiff had suffered a landslip, I cannot imagine that it would have taken three months to resolve the problem.
My constituents, rightly or wrongly, think that Parliament should have some power to redress their grievances. They do not think that it is reasonable for me to tell them that there is almost nothing that Parliament can do about the day-to-day running of a nationalised industry. They are under the impression that publicly-owned industries are supposed to be responsive to the public through Parliament, and they will be extremely puzzled if we go off for our holidays leaving them to sweat on in these cattle truck conditions of shortened trains and cut services.
I hope that the Lord President will at least draw the attention of his colleagues in the Cabinet to the conditions under which my constituents and others from Walthamstow and Leyton are travelling and perhaps suggest that, if we have this Adjournment, some of his colleagues might like to try travelling at peak hours between Liverpool Street Station and Chingford to see what it is like to live in the real world instead of the world of chauffeur-driven limousines to which they have become accustomed.
My second point is that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) has been sufficiently fortunate to secure a debate on Friday on the future of the British aerospace industry. I hope to hear that debate. Before we have it, we must pass this motion because the debate is conditional upon the House assenting to the 1601 motion. I do not anticipate that debate—no doubt many views will be expressed—but I hope that all those who take part will be as well informed as possible, and I hope that there will be no division on party lines, because I do not see any party divisions between us on this matter.
I have sought to confer as widely as possible with people in the industry who can tell me all the options, possibilities and dangers. In the pursuit of those consultations I was approached by a number of shop stewards from ASTMS—Mr. Clive Jenkins's union—who wanted to visit me as chairman of the Conservative Party aviation committee. I will not refer to the factory from which they came because I do not want to embarrass them. I was only too pleased to meet them.
However, in the recent past, Mr. Jenkins has said very unkind things about Conservative Members who get involved in the affairs of his union. I thought it right to let him know that these shop stewards had asked to see the Conservative committee. In doing so I had in mind my own correspondence with Mr. Jenkins in the past. That correspondence arose from a circular issued by his union which says:In ASTMS only a small part of the political levy is used for party political purposes. By far the largest part is used in achieving, through Parliamentary means, the aims and aspirations of its members.Bully for Clive Jenkins. I wanted to know what I could do to help so I wrote to him and asked him to tell me how the largest part of the political fund was used to achieve the aims and aspirations of its members. I was a little surprised when I received his reply, which said:You are not a member of the association and I cannot answer your questions.I am not a member of the Association but I am a member of Parliament. If the Association is working through parliamentary means, I should know what it is doing. But Mr. Jenkins told me in effect to mind my own business, and in pretty clear terms.
Now I am a conciliatory kind of man and when the shop stewards asked to see me I thought it right to hold out an olive branch to Mr. Jenkins so I wrote:A number of your members…have asked to meet me and other members of the Conservative Party Parliamentary Aviation Committee formally to discuss matters concerning 1602 their employment and prospects for their employer.In view of your letter of 4th October 1976 and your recent statement about interference by Conservatives in the affairs of your members' union I would be obliged if you would let me know if such contacts have your approval ….I received a reply dated 22nd May in which Mr. Jenkins said:I would prefer you not to do this as we have a highly developed structure of internal consultation embracing both this company, British Aerospace and the Aerospace Industry. Any parallel action would be unhelpful ….In other words, only a couple of days before we discuss these matters formally in the House we receive a warning off from Mr. Jenkins who tells me not to talk to his members on this subject.
That is bad enough. But I am not too worried about Mr. Jenkins. I am worried about the effect on his members. We all know how many work in closed shops and what happens to those who upset Mr. Jenkins. He is currently trying to close down a whole branch because its members have been critical of him. What will happen to his members who try to talk to me about a non-partisan matter in the national interest? Are they to be persecuted and disciplined, brought to book and expelled from the union if they do not desist from that foul crime of talking to Tory Members? If, at the end of the day, they persist in doing that, will Mr. Jenkins persist and expel them from the union? If he does, their fate would be dismissal from their employment.
Before we pass this motion we should have a clear statement from the Leader of the House, who has experience in these matters, that the attitude taken by Mr. Jenkins and ASTMS is completely and totally unacceptable and that the Lord President and the Government deplore any efforts to stop members of trade unions from speaking freely to Members of Parliament on matters of common interest. I think that even the Lord President can say that. Nothing less will satisfy the House and the public outside.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I have no intention of following the last speaker but I do intend to return to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—the Ten-Minute Rule Bill. It is very unfortunate that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) should have 1603 been deprived of the opportunity to have his Ten-Minute Rule Bill at 3.30 p.m. On the day when the hon. Member for Harborough was queuing up in order to get his Bill I went up to check whether there was still a slot left for the Ten-Minute Rule Bill. He must have waited in the queue for at least five hours for the express purpose of getting his name down for the opportunity of addressing the House at 3.30 p.m., and having a vote of the House on his Bill. Even if we manage to finish this debate a little early and get him a slot at 6.50 p.m., his opportunities for putting across his view and for getting a clear decision are greatly reduced.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I appreciate very much the points that the hon. Member is making, and the fact that a vote at 6.30 p.m. or 6.45 p.m. would not be meaningful. Therefore, I have withdrawn my Bill. I intend to submit it to the House at a time when there is a really good turnout after we return from the Spring Recess.
§ Mr. Bennett
That is a good idea, but it is regrettable that the hon. Member, in order to get his Ten-Minute Rule Bill, had to queue up for such a long time. It is sad that we cannot protect the rights of back benchers on the Ten-Minute Rule procedure.
I do not want to delay our Adjournment in order to discuss the sound broadcasting of Parliament. One of the most important things that we must do in this House is to give the broadcasting long enough to settle down. Clearly, the broadcasting since Easter has distorted some of our procedures. However, it would be much better to wait until nine or 10 months have elapsed to ascertain whether it continues to do so rather than to start to jump to hasty conclusions.
The reason that I am concerned to persuade the House not to adjourn for the Spring Recess is to give a little more opportunity for Back Benchers to question Ministers and to raise issues that concern their contituents. I regret that we are returning not on the Monday but on the Tuesday. The Monday would have given us an opportunity usefully to discuss some of the less controversial issues not on party lines but issues that are especially important to the country.
I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on the growing number of Select Committee 1604 reports that have piled up. There appears to be no opportunity for the House to debate them. I draw his attention to the Select Committee report on violence in the family. The Government have produced their response to the report, but there has been no opportunity in the House to debate either the report or the response. In view of the Prime Minister's announcement of his concern about the family, surely there should be an opportunity for a full debate to consider child abuse and how we can strengthen and improve families and reduce abuse of children, especially those who are killed and maimed. If we cannot return from the recess a little earlier, at least soon after the recess my right hon. Friend could find time to debate rather more Select Committee reports, especially the one on violence in the family.
I have one reservation about the televising of our proceedings. It seems that the cameras would be concentrated in the Chamber. It would be useful if the cameras could scan the Committee Rooms to show the public some of the work that is carried on in Select Committees—for example, some of the questioning of witnesses—which in my view is as important a part of Parliament as the main debates in the Chamber.
I am also concerned that, possibly because of the broadcasting of Parliament, the opportunities for hon. Members to raise issues on the Adjournment of the House seem to have been reduced. I have had considerable difficulty in getting a slot for an Adjournment debate.
We should have more opportunity to discuss certain television programmes. For example, the "Tonight" programme last week dealt with some of the rather disturbing issues concerning housing associations in the Greater Manchester area. There is much concern in Greater Manchester about the way in which the housing associations have operated. On several occasions I and other hon. Members representing the area have seen Ministers to discuss the duality of interests of those on the management committees of the associations who also provide services to the associations.
I hope that there will be an early opportunity in the House to debate these matters. When members of the associations are also councillors there should 1605 be clear rules and regulations about their declarations of interest when planning issues arise. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure me that Ministers will pursue carefully the accusations that were made on the "Tonight" programme last week about housing associations in the Greater Manchester area. I hope that he will consider carefully whether the law needs to be amended in relation to housing associations, the declarations of interest by members of the associations who are also members of local authorities and planning legislation in general.
I turn to an issue to which the House devotes little time—namely, waste management. I understand that the Departments of Environment and Industry have been revising the composition and methods of working of the advisory council on waste management. However, the House has not been given very much information about the change.
There are two tips in Stockport within my constituency. One of the tips is in South Reddish. The local council has been promising to close the tip for the past three years but it has always found it necessary to keep it open for a little longer. That has caused a great deal of nuisance to many of the residents who live near the tip. Many of the problems have arisen because it has been considered unnecessary to provide cleaning facilities for the lorries and other such facilities because it is expected that the tip will close at any time. However, its life continues to be extended. My constituents in that area are disappointed that it has not been closed.
In North Reddish the Greater Manchester Council is threatening to open a new tip in an area that is totally unsuitable for a tip. It would cause major problems, especially to those who have recently moved into the area to buy new houses that were built on what now turns out to be the edge of the site on which the Greater Manchester Council is planning to site its tip. That is totally unsatisfactory.
If the council were to go ahead with such a tip, it would have to break all the guidelines that have been published by the Department of the Environment on sites suitable for tipping.
1606 We have a major problem in the Greater Manchester area, and a growing problem throughout the country, in that there is a lack of holes in which to put our rubbish. We must not just stop tips being sited in particular areas, such as in Reddish, but we must generally assume that we have not an inexhaustible number of holes in the ground into which we can tip rubbish. I should like to see the Government making the advisory committee much more effective and bringing forward positive measures to the House that would stop us creating waste at anything like the present rate.
The Government should find time for a major debate on the manufacture of waste, especially the over-packaging of many goods. Almost all our dustbins are full of large amounts of packing material that could well be saved. We should also consider encouraging the use of returnable containers. There is increasing pressure from supermarkets, which means that we are using one-trip cans and bottles rather than returnables. Much of the extra rubbish that is being created comes from that source.
I plead that an opportunity will be given after the recess for a major debate on waste management with a view to the Government bringing forward positive measures to try to reduce the amount of waste that is being created.
When I look round many of the national parks I am appalled by the amount of litter that is dropped in them. As an experiment in national park areas the Government would do well to introduce legislation to insist that containers of liquid are returnable. That would do much to reduce the number of tins, cans and bottles that are left lying around our parks.
If my right hon. Friend cannot tell us today that he is prepared to reduce the Spring Recess by one day to give Back Benchers the opportunity to raise these issues, I hope that he will find time after the recess to bring forward debates on the issue of duality of interests within housing associations, and waste management and the reconstitution of the advisory committee with a view to making it much more effective.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I suggest to the Lord President 1607 that we should not adjourn for the Whit-sun Recess until he can give satisfactory answers to the three issues that I am about to raise.
The first issue has a connection with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who earlier referred to the aviation industry. It appears that a state of confusion is prevailing at present in both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence regarding the sales of Harrier aircraft to the Chinese People's Republic. I have some interest in these matters because for nearly four years I served as a Foreign Office Minister responsible to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, now Lord Home of the Hirsel, for our relations with China. I have some knowledge of the original approaches that were made to us in 1973 by members of the Chinese Government regarding the possible purchase of Harriers.
At that time, for various reasons connected with foreign relations in other parts of the world, it was not possible to pursue that interest in any way. The Americans were then indicating that they did not wish to see the sale of Harriers to the Chinese People's Republic. Following that, there was a dearth of comment or interest in the subject for some time.
That continued following the arrival in power of the present Government in 1974. It seemed that they turned their attention more to improving relations with the Soviet Union than to continuing the good relations which had been formed by Lord Home and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) during the period of the Conservative Government from 1970 to 1974. That was understandable.
But more recently—in the last year—it has become clear that the sales of Harrier aircraft to China have again come into the forefront of comment on our relations with the Chinese People's Republic, and Peking. Questions have been posed in the House on several occasions on this subject to Ministers in the Departments of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Only yesterday, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), the Secretary of State for Defence, in relation to the proposed sale of Harriers, said:Everyone assumes that it is the Harrier that is likely to be wanted by China, but I have no 1608 reason to think that that is necessarily the case.In a later exchange, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), the Secretary of State said:If the Chinese interest in Harrier is confirmed, the usual political, stategic and economic criteria and our international obligations in relation to the sale of Harrier would have to be examined in detail before Her Majesty's Government could take a considered view.Still later he said:We have not, therefore, gone through the COCOM procedure.My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch explained to the Secretary of State his concern that we were perhaps moving into a chicken-and-egg situation: the Government perhaps wishing to have a formal request from the Chinese People's Republic before reacting in any way and the Chinese People's Republic waiting for a firm proposal from Her Majesty's Government before indicating their formal interest in the possible purchase of the aircraft. That was dismissed by the Secretary of State with the extraordinary remark:As I explained, it is a bad practice to announce decisions before they have been taken, and no decisions affecting this matter have been taken."—[Official Report, 23rd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1318–25.]It is a very bad practice and impossible to announce decisions before they have been taken, because one does not know what the decisions are. That is the situation facing us with regard to this important possible sale. It is not only a political decision but a decision which affects employment throughout the United Kingdom in the British aerospace industry. I have a constituency interest in that some of my constituents work at the Hawker factory at Kingston, but that is not why I am raising the matter today.
I am raising this subject today because there is no doubt that Chinese interest has been expressed, whether formally or informally, in the purchase of this aircraft. There is also no doubt from newspaper reports, which have not been denied by the Government at any time, that there is no longer any objection by our NATO allies or by America to the sale of this aircraft to Peking. Therefore, why are Ministers in the Department of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs being so coy about the subject?
1609 It is in the interests of our industry and of this country to sell this aircraft to China if it wishes to purchase it. I hope that the Lord President will refuse to allow us to go on our Whitsun holiday until we have firm and clear answers on this subject. I hope that between now and 7 o'clock he will send a carrier pigeon over the road to obtain some answers from the Department of Defence or of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on this important subject.
The second area about which I wish to beard the Lord President this afternoon is equally vital to the economic health of this country. I have spent 30 years working in the City of London. Today there is in the City a crisis which can affect invisible exports, to which the City is a large contributor, and the livelihoods and earnings of people employed in the City.
This crisis has ben caused by individual members of the Post Office Engineering Union working on a go-slow for the last few months and refusing to connect new office blocks in the City of London to the main telephone lines.
I believe that nearly 30 offices are ready to be occupied. Major British companies wish to move in their staff to carry on their role of working in the commercial interests of this country. They have got their telephones, telex and other equipment installed in the building where these offices are situated. The Post Office lines are under the road to the entrance to the buildinggs, but, because of action by members of the Post Office Engineering Union, the two points cannot be connected. As a result, there is a major crisis facing some very important groups in the City. This is presumably also taking place in other parts of the country. However, I have no detail of other areas where this might be taking place.
I gather that some of the companies concerned have approached the chairman of the Post Office and inquired why action cannot be taken to solve the dispute. He has told them that it is impossible to get any action taken until the union has its annual meeting in June. Therefore, these companies will be without communications and will be unable to carry out their business. The chairman of this major nationalised industry has to throw his hands in the air and say that 1610 he can do nothing about the situation. Yet on the board of the Post Office there are worker-directors, presumably there to improve staff relations.
There is no other organisation to which commercial concerns can turn to link up their telex systems or telephone exchanges. They have to wait and lose money for their shareholders, put their employees in danger of losing their jobs and damage our balance of payments because of the actions of these few men.
I ask the Lord President to find out whether action is being taken by the Secretary of State for Employment, whether ACAS has been involved, and to give a statement to the House before we go away for a week or 10 days whilst our fellow countrymen, who are trying to help our economy, are unable to carry out their jobs.
The third matter I should like to raise has a close link with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford. It is concerned with London. I think that it would be most unwise for the House to adjourn for the Whitsun Recess and to leave the South Circular Road in its present condition. The South Circular Road winds its way through the narrow streets of South London. It traverses my constituency, travels over Kew Bridge, winds along the Lower Mortlake Road, through Sheen and Barnes into Putney.
The North Circular Road, which goes round the northern outskirts of London, is a main arterial road. It is able, although very congested, to carry the massive juggernaut lorries which travel along it. But the South Circular Road cannot.
I have endeavoured to see the Secretary of State for Transport today to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation on the South Circular Road. It is daily becoming more and more intolerable for those who live on either side of it. Damage is being caused to a bridge going over a railway in my constituency—a bridge which was not built to take the traffic that it now carries. Danger is being caused to old people who at times are unable to cross the road for hours because of the constant stream of juggernaut traffic.
It is impossible for the Greater London Council or for the local authorities involved to take any action to reduce the 1611 traffic or to signpost the traffic elsewhere, because they cannot get support from the Department of Transport to do so. A proposal was made by the Greater London Council, before the recent election when there was a change of power, to widen the Mortlake Road in one area. That would have eased the traffic into a bottleneck and caused even more chaos on the road from where the bottleneck started to where it joined Clifford Avenue further down. But that was stopped with the arrival of the new Greater London Council. The widening of the Mortlake Road will not now take place. However, it has not altered the situation. The increase in juggernaut traffic going through the whole area from Kew to Barnes continues. I have been unable to get the Department of Transport to take action.
The Lord President should consider carefully whether we should remain here next week until we are convinced that no action can be taken to reduce the traffic on the South Circular Road.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
When listening to the last argument—which the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) made with a straight face—I had the mischievous thought that my right hon. Friend might say exactly what the hon. Member requested him to say. No one would be more shocked if that hapened than hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.
I wish to discuss the broadcasting theme that was raised earlier. I am not a new Member, nor am I an old Member. I am probably at the in-between stage after 13 years but I always thought that Ten-Minute Bills came after Questions and statements. That is clearly not the case. I shall listen carefully to the Leader of the House because the accusation of chicanery and jiggery-pokery could apply to no one less than my right hon. Friend. He was and is one of the most strenuous fighters for Back-Bench rights. He has not been guilty of anything. My understanding is obviously imperfect but I though that Ten-Minute Bills were given a certain slot and that it should have been considered before this motion.
1612 We have been told that the Bill has been withdrawn. It was a wise decision. I think that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) wants a more representative vote on the matter.
I did not vote for the broadcasting of Parliament. On the last occasion there was no substantial vote in favour of broadcasting, but the House carried the proposition. I have never believed that there was a demand for the broadcasting of Parliament. Had there been a demand for the public to know what goes on in the House there would have been an enormous increase in the sales of those newspapers which give most coverage to Parliament—The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph—and the Hansard printers would probably have been rushed off their feet in an attempt to meet the demand for copies of Hansard. However, since broadcasting was introduced the comments that I have heard have been generally complimentary. People have said that by accident rather than design they have switched on their radios, heard the Prime Minister or someone else and enjoyed it. They feel that it has brought home to them in a real way what is going on in Parliament.
I shall surprise the House. When the Bill is voted upon I shall put up two hands and march through the Lobbies faster than I have ever done before. I shall do that not because I think that the public want Parliament to be televised. I do not think that they do. The best way to kill that idea once and for all is to introduce it.
I know the dodge about something being only an experiment. That is the way to get the foot in the door and the thin end of a big wedge. Once it comes it will be permanent. I want this to happen. I shall inject a little humour into the debate. Many of the television programmes that we have now will face increased competition because I have some novel ideas. Some of them will meet with approval. We could do away with the tedium of traipsing through the Lobbies. When the House is televised I should like an impartial jury. When we have finished a debate and the Opposition and Government have had their chance we should not bother going through the Lobbies. Instead we should have an impartial jury comprising Joe 1613 Gormley, Mick McGahey, Lawrence Daly, Clive Jenkins and probably the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to add balance. They would adjudicate as on the programme "New Faces" in which points are awarded for performance and star quality. On the basis of that they would decide whether the Government had won or lost.
Seriously, there is no demand for the broadcasting of Parliament. It would be a folly to embark upon television but we should finish the matter once and for all. The televising of Parliament would distort even more the public's impression of the House of Commons. We must be able to show that a half-empty House does not represent the non-attendance of Members. That can be done only by showing Members in their offices and Committee rooms. We should get the matter out of the way.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure me—I am pretty sure that he has not done anything wrong—that my understanding of the slotting-in of Ten-Minute Bills is wrong and that motions such as this take priority.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurh and Lymington)
In order that we do not find ourselves being accused of hypocrisy we should ensure that there is an unknown demand, as we were told there was for devolution in Scotland, by making certain that nothing will happen unless more than 40 per cent. of those eligible vote in favour of it.
§ Mr. McGuire
That is an interesting thought, but I shall leave it there.
I now want to make two points, one a constituency point, the other a broader one.
We should now re-examine the boundaries of designated areas which have special development, development or intermediate area status. A debate on this subject is long overdue. I hope that the Lord President will be able to assure us that we shall have such a debate soon after we return from the recess.
The Skelmersdale part of my constituency enjoys the highest status—special development area status. It certainly needs it, with a male unemployment rate of 17 per cent. The largest part of my constituency is in the Wigan travel-to-work 1614 area which enjoys only intermediate area status. Repeated requests have been made for Wigan to be made a development area. The current rate of unemployment in that area is 8.4 per cent., which is well above both the national and North-West average.
We should have a debate on this because we have had rather stale replies from the Government in written and oral replies. The Government say that whatever the claims of Wigan there is only so much jam to be spread around. They say that if it is spread further it becomes thin and tasteless and will do no good. This is a fallacy. It is not a question of there being a pool of money which has to be spread around. It is a question of giving to areas which have special requirements, because their industries have gone or they have high rates of unemployment. Unless they receive special assistance they will not be able to attract employment. Areas should not be disadvantaged by the grants that are available to incoming employers. It is not a question of the money being spread year by year.
Areas such as Merseyside desperately need to attract industry. The fact that this privilege is conferred upon them does not necessarily mean that industries rush to those areas. It means that areas which do not enjoy that privilege are disadvantaged when trying to attract industrialists to their areas.
I want to demolish the fallacy that exists about the need to spread even more thinly the jam that is available. This is a matter of not disadvantaging further areas which could attract industry if this benefit was conferred upon them. Wigan's case is unassailable. The Government could have given it development area status, but if we cannot have a Government announcement to that effect we should have the chance to debate the boundaries that are set for regional aid purposes.
My next point concerns all hon. Members. We are very badly served in the facilities that we have and this can be seen in our pay and conditions and in the services that we give to our constituents. This situation arises from a combination of factors, one of them being—I will not use the word cowardice, but at least it is a fear of public reaction.
1615 In so far as people take an interest in our pay and conditions, they usually believe that we are living in the lap of luxury and enjoy all kinds of benefits. When one tells one's constituents the true facts their reaction is to say that it our own fault. I tell them that I am one of the fortunate ones in that I have a window-less room of my own, containing a filing cabinet and a couple of chairs. But they are amazed that we put up with these conditions. We are the architects of our own misfortune, because we refuse to complain for fear of this public reaction.
We have the power to make out a case for better pay and conditions. There is already a provision on the statute book to permit us three months after the Prorogation of this Parliament to go on to a certain scale point allied to the Civil Service. That scale has now risen beyond what we orginally expected. That provision stands until we rescind it, and I hope that we shall not. This is a subject upon which we should now demand a debate.
We have now abandoned the interparty rivalry that existed over this question. The issue will be thrust upon us in due course. It would be far better for us to anticipate it and develop our arguments accordingly than to react in the way that we sometimes do. The issue will arise with the fixing of salaries for Members of the European Parliament. Fortunately we shall not have the task of fixing those salaries, but they will be fixed at a realistic point, as will pension entitlement, in another place.
However, a debate will be forced upon us when the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments seek to determine their pay and conditions. They will not pitch them lower than ours, and it will be of a nonsense if, for fear of the public reaction, we do not take action to improve our affairs now.
I am not all that concerned to be well paid, although I am entitled to be well paid. I have told my constituents that the man who will not fight for himself will not fight for anyone else: I would have no faith in him. We need to offer our constituents a much better service. Members of Parliament must be treated more generously—not in order that they may get their hands on the money. For example, I want to be able to appoint a place in my constituency at which my 1616 constituents can make daily contact with me by means of modern telecommunications. I want no dealings with the money, but I want these affairs to be handled here as they are handled in most modern democracies—whether in Canada, Australia or elsewhere—so that our constituents can get in touch with us when they wish to do so.
Unless we grasp this nettle we shall not be good Members of Parliament. For instance, we must have better research facilities so that we may more effectively challenge the Executive. Many hon. Members talk about challenging the Executive. But let us consider the facts. I was a coal miner before I became a Member of Parliament. I am not equipped, intellectually or otherwise, to be able to challenge the Executive on matters that are a bit above me. But I should like to have the services of people who could interpret for me what was being done and what I needed to do in return, and then leave me to handle the matter in my own way. I want to be better equipped, to be a better Member of Parliament for my constituents.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I wish to take up two of the points that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) put forward as a basis for saying that the House should not adjourn until he had received a proper answer upon them from the Leader of the House.
He said that we should have better equipment and teams of people to tell us how to do our job. When I first became a Member of Parliament we were all demanding offices to replace the little cubby-holes from which we worked. Finally and very stupidly the House agreed to that. Little offices were built and now Members spend half their lives in them phoning their constituents. That has changed the whole character of Parliament. The Smoking Room, the Tea Room and the Bar are almost empty compared with what used to be the case.
§ Mr. Fell
The Norman Shaw Building is no doubt full of Members of Parliament, but the House itself is largely denuded of them. The hon. Member misses the point when he asks why they should not be. Members of Parliament 1617 should be in the Smoking Room, the Tea Room and the Bar because that is where people talk. If this is not a talking shop for the creation of opinions, it is nothing. That is what the place has missed since attempts were made to give everyone wonderful facilities. I cannot think why we do not ask for bedrooms with everything to go with them, including hot and cold secretaries.
The situation is becoming ridiculous. We are demanding a separate Civil Service to take care of our Select Committees. The Leader of the House will never agree to that. Now the hon. Member for Ince is asking for a third Civil Service to look after Members. The hon. Member seemed to be saying that he needed a Civil Service to tell him how to make a case. That is rubbish. He simply wants someone to lean on. Who is it to be? The new third Civil Service.
Another point which the hon. Member raised, on which I agree with him, was to ask for an early debate on help to the regions. My constituency has suffered two bitter blows in the last two weeks. One was when that grossly inefficient company Spillers shut down a firm in Yarmouth that had been there for generations, with the loss of 600 jobs. The other blow, which was just as unfortunate but in a different way and which affects far more people, was the tragic accident involving the "Eleni V". I therefore support him in asking for a debate about the special areas at some time.
Yarmouth, like Ince, now has a serious unemployment problem. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Employment about it a few weeks ago. This relates to the reason why I feel that the House should not adjourn because I want an answer from the Minister. It was suggested that I should have a quick meeting, not with the Secretary of State for Employment but with one of his juniors. The junior Minister was kindness itself. I met him quickly on a couple of occasions and we assessed the situation. He said "Let me know when we should have another meeting". That was some time ago and I have heard nothing since. I want to know what, if anything, has been done to help Yarmouth.
I should like the Under-Secretary of State for Trade, who has been dealing 1618 with the collision in the North Sea, to make a statement to the House before we rise. My area is in a desperate fix as a result of the oil slick. It is affecting not only Lowestoft, Yarmouth and holiday resorts down the East Coast, but also the Midlands, in the sense that people are coming from that area to take their holidays on the East Coast. The problem also affects the many thousands of people from London and the South-East who come to Yarmouth and the East Coast ports for their holidays.
The situation is very sad. It is now Day 18 since the wreck happened, and no final decision has yet been made about what to do with the wreck. The position is almost unbelievable.
Let me try to sketch to the House what has happened in the last fortnight or so. On the first Saturday after the wreck occurred, the Department of Trade acted like lightening. We have never seen anything like it. Six small ships were commissioned by the Department of Trade to spray detergents on this filthy obscene muck. By the Sunday morning a Yarmouth tug owned by the local authority had captured this "rogue elephant" and was holding it in deepish water where it could not do much harm—certainly less harm than if it were held closer to the shore.
On Sunday morning I was on the spot from 8.30 or 8.45 at the coastguard station and I spent the whole morning there. The coastguards from the previous night, when the Department of Trade knew that a cable had been attached to this rogue elephant, were waiting for a decision. The men on the spot waited until 12.40 p.m. the next day for a decision as to what to do with the wreck. That does not sound a long period of time but, since sea conditions change quickly, it is no good hanging about. Although the water was fairly good at 8 a.m. on Sunday, by 12.40 p.m. it was becoming rough. That was when the coastguards were given the final decision to tow the wreck to a sandbank. The water was rough, and immediately the tow started the cable snapped. It then took about 10 days to attach other hawsers to the wreck—10 days in which this rogue elephant was thrashing about in the North Sea up and down the coast, and it finally landed up at Lowestoft.
1619 I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Trade on the Monday following the wreck to give a specific order to a top salvage company to get hold of the wreck and to deal with the position. I had spent a long time on the Sunday discussing the problem with salvage experts and others. The Minister told the House and the news media that his man on the spot had full authority to act in an emergency. I must emphasise that there was an emergency in operation all the time. The whole time the wreck was floating about it was spilling oil on beaches up and down the coast. If the Minister had given a decision on the Monday to order salvage experts to tackle the matter, no doubt we would now have a different story. However, the Minister was unable to do so.
I must point out that the Minister has shown the greatest courtesy to me throughout this incident and also to the local authorities and people in the area, including the Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils. He has kept everybody fully informed of what has been happening. But the big "but" is that a tragedy of this kind cannot be dealt with by a committee of high-powered civil servants sitting in London. When one is dealing with a wreck, the situation changes from hour to hour, and indeed from minute to minute. On the Sunday morning the coastguard station needed at least 10 telephones to deal with all the inquiries that were going backwards and forwards. It must be said that the situation was not dealt with satisfactorily.
Although the Department of Trade representative in Yarmouth at the coastguard station had the power, he never at any time used it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to help the Chair by saying what effect our adjourning for Whitsun will have on the subject matter with which he is dealing.
§ Mr. Fell
I am pleased that you asked that question, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that I sometimes get carried away and your words will have a salutary effect on me. I hope that I shall be able to give you a satisfactory explanation of my reasons for going into the history of this matter. I hope to persuade the Government to take some quick action. At the 1620 moment the salvage company is trying to beach the wreck on a sandbank two-and-a-half miles off Lowestoft. Yesterday the company succeeded in beaching it, but the wreck began to sink and it had to be taken in tow again. Since then the company has had to await a further decision as to what to do with the wreck. Instead of putting the matter in the hands of Messrs. Smidt, the salvage experts from Holland, it was decided to tow the wreck to a sandbank. Instead of telling the coastguards "You must do what you think appropriate", the Department told them "You must consult with London". They are still consulting. Again, it is the same story as on the first Sunday—no decision has yet been taken.
I think in my innocence that it is desperately urgent that a decision should be made before we go into the recess. That is why I am a little surprised that the Under-Secretary of State is not here. I have given him notice. I only pray that he is not here because he is personally supervising the decision, although it is incredible that he and the others should have been meeting all day but have not yet reached a decision and transmitted it to Smidt at the coastguard station in Yarmouth.
We are in a serious situation and the people of the East Coast must be worried. We are desperately worried, and becoming more so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is unfortunately unable to be here but wants to make certain points, which I believe the Leader of the House knows about. I pray that there will be a little urgency in this matter. If there is not, we shall perhaps face even worse catastrophe and dangers.
We do not even know how much oil there is to come. The holiday season will be starting shortly, and the people who go to the East Coast for their holidays will realise the gravity of the situation. The Minister had a report yesterday that 900 tons of oil was still aboard the wreck. I had a report yesterday that the amount was 2,500 tons. The day before that, I had been told that there was 561 tons. This is chaos, and it will continue to be chaos unless the salvage experts are given a free hand to deal with the wreck instead of having to wait for the decision of civil servants who are 1621 not fitted to make quick decisions on such matters.
§ Mr. Grimond
Who is making the decision? That is what worries me about this situation. As far as I know, four Ministries are involved, and I understand that the matter may ultimately be left to the marine superintendent. If the Under-Secretary of State is not here because he is making a decision, is he in fact making a decision? If so, is he in a position to make it effective?
§ Mr. Fell
The right hon. Gentleman is as courteous as ever. The only thing that I can tell him is that, as far as I am able to find out, Smidt is not allowed to make the decision, now that the sandbank on which it has put the wreck has proved unsatisfactory, as to which other sandbank on which to put it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. What I want to know is whether the House has to remain sitting in order to make a decision.
§ Mr. Fell
I am grateful to you for helping me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I do not intend to keep the House more than another moment. I have not wished to keep the House sitting during a recess for some time, and I am just making my plea today for decisive action to deal with the wreck. I am nowhere near the record of the Leader of the House. He it was who, year after year, taking advantage of these debates on motions to adjourn, was a past master of the art. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are gentle in the extreme in comparison with one or two of the Speakers with whom the right hon. Gentleman was dealing in those days.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has demonstrated that these debates on motions to adjourn for a recess are most useful parliamentary curiosities, in as much, I suspect, as whatever the shortcomings of the South Circular Road, the difficulty of commuting in London, or, indeed, the disasters—
§ Mr. Madden
I have sympathy with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But whatever disaster there may be off the Norfolk coast, I suspect that no hon. Member is going to resist the motion. Nevertheless, this is a useful opportunity for us all to raise matters that we think are of importance.
I express my sympathy with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the fate of his Ten-Minute Bill. I am wholly in favour of televising the House, as, indeed, I supported and welcomed the broadcasting of the House. But I think that so far in our discussions we have approached the matter in a rather strange way, in that we have been collectively trying to make a judgment as to the ratings of the broadcasting or televising of the House, compared with other forms of entertainment. We should be considering the matter from a different viewpoint—that is, whether the people have a right to know what happens in their name in the House of Commons.
I believe that the people do have that right, that the House of Commons is not a secret society, and that therefore we have a heavy obligation to broadcast and, in time, televise the proceedings. Indeed, I would like the proceedings of Select Committees and Standing Committees also to be broadcast and televised.
While I am on the subject of Select Committees, I would be grateful for some information from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about the difficulties which, I understand, the broadcasting authorities are encountering in broadcasting the public hearings of Select Committees. I have tabled a Question about the matter, but I would appreciate any comment that my right hon. Friend may be able to make because I understand that we are, perhaps for the first time, in a very strange position, whereby 1623 the broadcasting authorities are being prevented from broadcasting public hearings of Select Committees because the broadcasting equipment located in Select Committee rooms is, for some reason unknown to me, owned by the firm of shorthand writers which for a century has recorded the proceedings of Select Committees, and that unless the permission of the shorthand writer is given to the broadcasting authorities they are prevented from broadcasting the public hearings of Select Committees.
It would, no doubt, be of interest to the hon. Member for Yarmouth to know that the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure is at the moment carrying out an investigation into ways of avoiding disasters at sea and is interviewing officials and Ministers from the many Departments involved. I think that those proceedings would be extremely interesting to many people throughout the country if they had an opportunity of hearing them being broadcast, an opportunity which at present they are being denied.
I turn now to the two points I wish to emphasise, embodied in the resurgence of a dangerous tendency of the Tory Party to try to make certain matters its own personal property, witnessed recently in its activities on the questions of immigration and law and order. I think that we are all aware that the Leader of the Opposition over recent months has sought by distortion and misrepresentation to exploit politically the anxiety and apprehensions of certain sections of the community about immigration. This was done in advance of a Select Committee report on immigration and race relations. Several months ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of minority parties in the House to take part in a joint meeting about immigration and race relations.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Just to refresh my memory, I have had a look at page 9000 of the Order Paper, where I read that we are supposed to be debating a motion,That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Tuesday 6th June.
§ Mr. Madden
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am most grateful for your guidance, but I am seeking to develop 1624 my argument on the need for a debate on these matters before we adjourn. It is extremely important that we should have such a debate. The Leader of the Opposition and many other senior members of the Conservative Party have publicly advocated the need for a debate in the House on the issue of immigration. The right hon. Lady said that she would be responding to the Prime Minister's invitation for joint talks when the Select Committee reported, which it did some time ago.
We have seen certain policy proposals on these matters issued by the Conservative Party. I heard the Leader of the Opposition express anxiety to have a debate after the publication of the Select Committee report. We must all agree that we have not seen an atom of pressure by the Opposition for a debate, still less any willingness by them to devote any Supply time to a debate on immigration and race relations. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was recently moved to describe the right hon. Lady's involvement in these matters as a brief and embarrassing interlude. Many of us regard that as a very reasonable conclusion.
I should like now to refer to a second matter, an extraordinary speech made within the past few days by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). Under the headlineSocialism causes crime—Joseph",he was reported in The Guardian as saying at a meeting in Cornwall thata Conservative government would not simply beef up police strength but 'reassert that crime and violence are acts of free will.'The report continued:'Socialism has taught that it is deprivation, not delinquency, that lies behind crime and violence. Many socialists have tended to believe that children grow up with a natural sense of right and wrong and need neither to be taught moral values nor to be encouraged in self-restraint. Indeed, self-restraint and self-discipline have been actively discouraged in favour of self-expression.'Consequently, socialists had legislated to take juvenile crime 'out of the hands of lawyers and magistrates and to put it into the hands of social workers.'Asserting the need to swing the pendulum back from social work to the law, he conceded that the pendulum must not swing so far as to bring about the neglect of social work of proven value.But he quickly returned to the 'endless emphasis on compassion', which seemed to create 'more sympathy among intellectual 1625 socialists for the criminal than for the victim.'At last—it seemed an afterthought—headmitted, however, that the Church had 'lost its self confidence and distinction between right and wrong.'We need a debate so that these matters can be argued publicly in the House.
The Tory Party would be extremely wise to realise that it does not enjoy a monopoly of concern about crime and violence, a monopoly of compassion for their victims, or a monopoly of wisdom in promoting policies to combat crime and violence. I believe—and I am sure that many of my colleagues agree—that there is no merit, wisdom or decency in Tories, however eminent or obscure, seeking to pretend that they and they alone are concerned about these matters. It is a grave insult to those who have the audacity not to belong to the Tory Party to say that those of us who happen to be Socialists or Liberals or who belong to no particular party are complacent or do not care about law and order and combating crime and acts of violence, or have no compassion for victims of such acts.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will be able to indicate when he believes a debate will be held on immigration and law and order. I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in calling for a debate on the Select Committee report on violence in the family—
§ Mr. Madden
No. I must conclude now.
The debate suggested by my hon. Friend would be a most useful vehicle for us to discuss these matters, which are long overdue for debate. There is an urgent need for a debate on them in the interests of the public whom we represent, a debate which can be heard on radio and I hope in due course on television.
We neglect discussions on these matters at our peril. Such neglect only gives rise to interpretations which are entirely wrong and to false impressions. We should all have an opportunity of declaring ourselves on these issues, and only a debate can give that opportunity.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
Before the House agrees to the motion, will the Leader of the House say a word about Colin Semple? Colin Semple, who for two years or more had been serving as a warden at a youth hostel in West Germany, was recently apprehended when crossing the frontier in Germany from East to West, and it seems likely that he may be accused of trying to assist in the passage of an East German citizen out of that country.
I understand that Colin Semple is in gaol in East Germany awaiting the due processes of the legal proceedings. His mother, who is my constituent, is naturally concerned about the position in which her son finds himself. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman three questions about that position?
First, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that Colin Semple is being well treated and fairly looked after? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say that Colin Semple is being represented with competent, independent, legal advice? I understand that he has accepted the recommendation that he should be legally represented. Can the right hon. Gentleman give assurances about the status of that representation?
Thirdly, and in my view most importantly, will the right hon. Gentleman ask fellow Ministers to do what they can to persuade the East German authorities to speed up legal proceedings so that the next stage is not too long delayed? I believe that there is a likelihood that it could be several months before court proceedings take place. I hope that that is not so and that matters can be speeded up.
I am extremely grateful for the careful way in which the Consular Service of the Foreign Office has already inquired into Colin Semple's well-being. I am grateful to it for the trouble it has taken to obtain as much information as possible about him, but it would be helpful for the House to be reassured on these matters before agreeing to the motion.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Before the right hon. Member sits down—if I may use the phrase used by others in such circumstances—in view of the nature of the 1627 matter which he has raised, may I say at once that the British Government are taking the closest interest in the case and are doing everything they can to ensure that any trial will be fair? They have made inquiries about the conditions in which Mr. Semple is being held and, as far as we can gather, he has no complaints. Her Majesty's consul intends to visit him regularly to ensure that that remains the situation. Arrangements are being made for Mr. Semple to be represented by a prominent GDR lawyer, which is the normal practice in such cases. I give the right hon. Gentleman, in general terms, the assurances that he has asked for. Her Majesty's Government will, of course, do everything they can to assist in this case.
§ Sir J. Eden
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and the assurances that he has been able to give. May I ask him to take note of my interest in this matter? Will he do his best to ensure that the closest possible attention is given to the legitimate needs of Colin Semple?
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
I wish to make my contribution brief because I understand that it is hoped that the debate will conclude fairly soon. It is important that my right hon. Friend the Lord President and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) should be given time to speak. I regret that the House did not consider the Ten-Minute Bill dealing with televising our proceedings because I believe that it is time for us to look again at this question. We ought to examine the broadcasting of our proceedings and discuss televising them, too. I hope that we shall be able to return to that debate in the not too distant future.
I wish to say why I regret that we are going into recess and why I believe that we ought to come back earlier. One subject which the House must debate is that of foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Evans
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member will be nodding in a minute or two. The Opposition are getting into a strange position on foreign affairs. Earlier the Leader of the Opposition demanded that the Prime Minister 1628 should agree to her proposal that the Soviet Union ought to be looked upon as the common enemy. For the sake of international relations it is imperative that the Opposition should clarify their position.
It is not simply that the Opposition are adopting a tremendously anti-Soviet stance. They are also taking an anti-American stance, which is just as damaging to international relations. The Opposition spokesman on defence, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) made an attack on President Carter because he had postponed a decision to manufacture the neutron bomb. Whatever our views on the neutron bomb, I believe that mankind was pleased to see his willingness on the part of the American President to make such a gesture during the discusions on disarmament so that there could be some international agreement. Yet here we have the Opposition defence spokesman making an attack on the American President—
§ Mr. Evans
The right hon. Member is not alone. We have had the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), the policy-maker for the Conservative Party, saying that the world had cause to be jittery about the competence and intentions of Jimmy Carter. Why is there this concerted attack by the Opposition not only on the United States but on the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Evans
We have had the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, saying that America was leaderless and effete. It is imperative that we have a two-day foreign affairs debate at an early date so that the Opposition can put their viewpoint. We must know why, at this time, they have decided to take such an anti-American position.
I believe that the Opposition's position in relation to America is related to the fact that at present there is a United Nations conference on disarmament taking place. At a time when world leaders are gathering together, when we know that the Western and Eastern worlds are spending about £200,000 million a year on armaments in preparation for a world 1629 war that no one wants, we are hearing from the Opposition Benches—I know that it is not uniform—this sabre-rattling, this demand for increased arms expenditure and an attack on those in America working for nuclear detente.
There are other matters which I would have liked to raise. I ask the Leader of the House, if we cannot return earlier from the recess, to ensure that arrangements are made through the usual channels for a foreign affairs debate to be held so that we may clarify where the Opposition stand on these matters. As days go by the chances of the Opposition becoming the Government grow smaller. Nevertheless, they are the alternative Government and it is vital that the people should understand where they stand as a result of their anti-Soviet and anti-American attitude.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I am pleased to be able to follow the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). I do not believe that we should agree to the Adjournment motion because of the danger to world peace caused by recent events. It is important that the Opposition Benches should correct the suggestion, orchestrated by those Labour Members below the Gangway, that there is anything anti-American in the attitudes which some have taken. There have been considerable shifts in the balance of world power as a result of recent events which pose a threat to all the peoples of the world.
The taking over of Afghanistan by an essentially Soviet regime, the negotiations to take over an area in North Pakistan and events in Africa form a threat to the people of this country and America. The latest events in Zaire pose a new problem for this reason, that instead of openly training Cuban mercenaries to take over African countries by force, a new technique has been evolved. This technique involves the training of people called rebels who appear to have no particular loyalty to anyone but who operate under the neutral description of rebels. By giving these people orders to murder White technicians who are necessary to sustain the economy of a Black country the Russians are thereby able to destroy the economy of that country and thus deprive its people of the prosperity they 1630 deserve and which they can have only as a result of the technical capabilities of the white people. This is a new and real threat which Russia poses to Africa and to the supply of all the things which the Western democracies need.
In the face of that threat, is there an American commitment to stand up for Western ideals? It is because we fear that the commitment is weak in the present American Administration that we are anxious to demonstrate the weakness of our great ally, which in power, if not in leadership, is the leader of Western democracies, indeed of all democracies throughout the world, against the threat of the Soviet Union which has the avowed intention—which Labour Members apparently do not resist, of world domination. It is because Russia is a threat to all of us that we are anti-Russian—not anti the Russian people but anti the intentions of the Russian Government.
It is because, in the face of that threat, we fear that the American Government are anxious to abandon resistance that we are critical of America. It is dangerous that we should not be committed to the defence of Western idealism and resistance to Russian imperialism, takeover and influence throughout the world. I want the House to debate this matter so that in Europe we may establish a common foreign policy by which we at least, whatever America does, will defend Western interests, Western lives and African lives and interestsa gainst destructive Russian interference.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Park (Coventry, North-East)
In the light of a decision taken on Monday of this week in Coventry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am troubled that we should be going into recess. I refer to the declaration of redundancy of 1,000 employees at Massey-Ferguson and a smaller number in Kilmarnock, in Scotland. Any redundancy is, of course, regrettable, but it is particularly so in this case because, as most hon. Members will know, Massey-Ferguson is a producer of agricultural machinery which is desparately needed, particularly in Third world countries.
As this is a multinational company, I hope that the solution will also be multinational. I should like to think that before we go into recess the various Departments of Government which could 1631 be interested and initiate action through the United Nations, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organisation, could spark off action to restore the position.
It may be said that I am making special pleading for this one company—it is not the only company that produces agricultural machinery, of course—but in the light of the fact that we hear appeals from time to time concerning people who are starving in different parts of the globe, we ought not to let this redundancy pass unnoticed. We should be pressing with all the means at our command to restore the position so that the people concerned can continue to contribute to the food-making processes of the world.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I am grateful for the opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak in the Adjournment debate. The Lord President knows perfectly well—I have asked him two or three times about it—that I and many hon. Members on each side of the House believe that there is an urgent need for a debate on the aerospace industry. I ask him yet again whether he will use his best endeavours to see that the House gets the chance to debate the purchase by British Airways of British or American aircraft. If this cannot be arranged before the Whitsun Recess, will he, before we rise for Whitsun, make a statement informing the House that we can have a discussion and a debate on the issue before the Cabinet comes to a decision?
I want to talk briefly about the problem touched on at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), even though he dealt with only one aspect of it. I refer to oil pollution and the role of the oil companies in our society today. Many beaches around our shores are heavily polluted with oil. In The Times today there is a statement from the advisory committee on oil pollution of the sea thatIn two out of three cases the source of the pollution was not identified, so the cost of cleaning many beaches fell to local authorities with no possibility of compensation.This is a wholly unsatisfactory position. Much of the oil pollution is caused by collisions at sea involving oil tankers either owned or chartered by the oil companies.
1632 It seems to me that the rules and regulations governing the movements of oil tankers in the international sea lanes of the world are rather less rigorously enforced than the rules governing the behaviour of the driver of a Mini who goes up and down Whitehall. It is certain that if one were to drive one's Mini into a bollard one would be expected to prove that one was a fit person to drive a car and had all the necessary documentation. But I am advised by Lloyd's that that sort of simple requirement is not necessary before Lloyd's pays out compensation, which may help those who lose their ships but does little or nothing to help the local authorities who are left to clear up the mess, and that is a wholly unsatisfactory position.
We hear today that in the oil pipeline between Southampton Water and London more than 90 faults have been disclosed by electronic checking. Who is to be called upon to pay if these faults develop into major leaks? What are we told about the activities of the Department of Trade in its dealings with the oil companies? I find it unsatisfactory that the Department of Trade, which has responsibility for the activities of many of the oil companies, is itself concerned in or responsible for the effects of pollution. This is ludicrous. We have a Department of the Environment. Surely that is the Department which should be concerned with protecting the environment.
I turn briefly to deal with some other activities of the oil companies, which concern my constituents. Oil has now been discovered in substantial quantities in Dorset. We are told that there is likely to be oil under the ground in a line running from central southern Dorset through to the Isle of Wight. A local paper in my constituency had a story last week on the possibility of oil being discovered under a number of small communities in my constituency.
People are fearful and want to know what effect this will have on their lives. Is it to be left to the oil companies to decide, if there is oil there, whether it should be extracted? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to these matters and give some assurance that there will be a chance for this House to debate the issue at an early date.
1633 The fishermen in my constituency are currently facing problems because British Petroleum unilaterally decided to drag sonar equipment along the bed of the sea, without even consulting the fishermen. The company would not tell them where the dragging was to be done, for reasons of commercial secrecy. Lobster pots and fishing nets were damaged before we were able to stop this activity in the last few days.
However important their activities may be to our economy, the oil companies of this country do not have a God-given right to assume that anything and everything that they want to do is right and proper, while the people whose lives may be affected have to sit by and accept these decisions. Strategic planning decisions should not be taken behind closed doors by the oil companies, by county councils or by Government. Anyone who has seen Southern California will know what can happen to communities and to the environment when the oil companies are allowed to have their unfettered way.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, before we rise, will be prepared to consider recommending to the Prime Minister that there should be an independent inquiry into all these matters, so that people may have their fears allayed and be reassured that public opinion will be thoroughly consulted before any further damage is done to our environment.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I thank those hon. Members who expressed concern at the fact that my Ten-Minute Bill was lost today. Although I do not think that we shall have time to debate the matter again before the recess—indeed the rules of order would prevent this—nevertheless, I think there is an important point of principle involved, in that a Ten-Minute Bill had been arranged for today for some three weeks in advance.
I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of a matter which has been called to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) relating to an identical case which occurred on 29th April 1970. My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate had a Ten-Minute Bill on the Order Paper for that day. He had managed to obtain it three weeks in advance. He lost it due to the intervention of a similar combination of Government 1634 circumstances. At that time, the then Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council—now Lord Peart—said, at the conclusion of the debate, that he would look at the matter sympathetically if it ever arose again.
The Leader of the House used to be concerned with the interests of Back Benchers. Indeed, he has fought vociferously for their rights for many years. I hope that he will find time tomorrow to read that little debate and to consider whether there is something to be learned from it. In that debate, suggestions were made how the rights of a Back Bencher could be preserved. I ask him to look at it tomorow and to see whether the position can be restored.
I particularly thank those who expressed an interest in the Bill. I have temporarily withdrawn it. I give due warning that I intend to table it again on a day when I am sure that there will be a substantial turnout, so that we can have some really representative opinions, rather than just the views of the handful of people—40 or 50—voting tonight, which would not give a true picture of the feelings that exist.
The European constituencies have been presented to the country on a plate and it does not look as though there will be adequate or proper time for the views of those who are concerned with the way in which a European constituency is made up to be discussed and taken account of in the way that they should be. I take a different view from that of many people. I do not think that a European constituency is very important. I play whatever small part I can here in ensuring that the House of Commons has predominance over these matters.
Nevertheless, the European Parliament will be important to an extent. Some people feel strongly that the European constituency in which they have been grouped is the wrong one for geographical and ethnical reasons. My constituency of Southern Leicestershire is grouped with Northamptonshire. Some people say that that is wrong and that the Leicester area should be one constituency. People who have objections and feel that these constituencies are meaningless should have a chance of having their objections properly considered, even if it means postponing the date of European elections.
1635 There has been no more important reason for the House not rising for the Spring Recess than the fact that although Mr. Speaker's Conference on the electoral law in Northern Ireland reported many weeks ago, there is no sign of legislation. Even if the Lord President is not prepared to give a date—I have asked him this question on three successive Thursdays during business questions—when what only needs to be a short Bill will be proceeded with here, can he produce the Bill so that there may be public discussion on it inside and outside this place?
A three- or four-clause Bill is all that is needed. What is to prevent its being tabled during or before the Spring Recess week? When the House returns one would hope that the Leader of the House would feel obliged to proceed on this important matter on an all-party, agreed and co-ordinated basis. With those few words, I conclude by saying that I would like to see the Spring Recess postponed until further steps have been taken.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
The whole House has shown considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who was unable to move his Ten-Minute Bill. He has a grievance, or at least a cause for complaint. I am slightly surprised that some precedent between 1969 and 1974 has not been quoted. My hon. Friend referred to an earlier occasion when the then Leader of the House referred to the matter. A service may have been done my hon. Friend by his not being allowed to move his Ten-Minute Bill at 3.30 p.m. because he has now withdrawn it and received support for doing so. No doubt he will bring it forward again, and it may be that there will be even greater interest on that occasion.
To be fair to the Government, the procedure followed on this occasion is the same as has always been followed on these occasions, and it may have to be reconsidered, in view of what has happened. The fact that my hon. Friend's Bill related to broadcasting probably caused my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) to launch into a characteristic and enjoyable speech on the broadcasting of the House.
1636 This is no occasion for a debate on the broadcasting of the House. What has been said about the matter today cannot be a substitute for a debate that will have to take place. However, it is too soon for the House and hon. Members to feel that we have enough experience of it. We should return to the matter by way of a major debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge complained about the background noise, which sounds awful when it comes over the radio. The other side of that point is that if the House had to put upon itself the unimaginable restriction of being silent, it would be a ghastly and boring place. In years gone by, when the House was infinitely rougher than it is now—certainly in the last century—the situation might have been different if it had been broadcast. Broadcasting might have made the Hansard of that period rather less interesting. Broadcasting, including the background noise, has altered the character of the House already, apart from the extra Questions and supplementary questions that have flowed from it.
I ask the Lord President whether he has anything further to say about the dispute on the printing of parliamentary papers. I do not wish to press him too much, but there is no Hansard for the 12th, 13th or 14th April. We are awaiting a further statement from him as soon as he is able to make it. We would like to know when he will be in a position to tell us a bit more.
The most important matter that has been raised in the debate is that concerned with oil tankers and the pollution therefrom, especially in circumstances of disaster, which appear to be more frequent now. The matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) forcefully and strongly, and also by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). Had my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) been able to be hear he would have wished to raise the problems that the "Eleni V" is causing to his constituents and to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft gave notice to the Lord President that he was to raise the matter.
1637 Complex and difficult problems and decisions have faced the Government over this catastrophe. Local authorities have showed great understanding, restraint and forbearance in the matter. However, the Lord President must realise that oil is still spewing out of this wreck and has been going up and down the coast outside Yarmouth and Lowestoft for the last 18 days. There is great concern about the pollution of beaches, about the environmental consequences to fishing and wild life, and about the loss of business to the holiday industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth and what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft are concerned with the several questions. Have the Government received further advice from salvage experts what to do with the wreck and where the hulk can be beached and the oil pumped out? How much oil is left in the hulk, and how long will it take to pump it out? Will the Government find it possible to make funds available to enable the local authorities to advertise that a number of beaches are not affected and have their usual golden sands? Can we be assured that there will be an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disaster, so that the lessons can be learned and better provision made in the future to deal with these emergencies?
My hon. Friends are being bombarded by worried constituents. People miles away from those constituencies are concerned about. Certainly my hon. Friends' constituents are worried because they feel that the chain of command and the decision-making machinery have been at best faulted and certainly are less than satisfactory. A clear statement of action is, in their view, essential. I think that the whole House will support them in that request.
A number of other points were raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) raised the question of connecting telephones in the City of London. This has been impossible in certain buildings because of industrial action by members of the Post Office Engineering Union. It is not only in the City that this has occurred; it is also happening in Cambridgeshire. In my constituency there are 1638 200 or 300 prospective telephone users who cannot be connected.
I have been in touch with the Secretary of State for Employment and I understand that ACAS is trying to bring the matter to a conclusion, but it was depressing to hear that it may be that no conclusion can be reached before the union's annual conference next month. It is extraordinary that hundreds of people in the City and elsewhere are having to wait to be connected to the telephone. We should like more information on this point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) mentioned the problems of the aerospace industry, expressed his views, and asked for a debate on the subject in the near future. The matter was also raised by another of my hon. Friends.
Most of the issues that have been raised, apart from oil pollution, are comparatively of the second rank, even though they are important in themselves. If there were to be a serious challenge to the motion, it ought to come on the issues that are really important and are really worrying the House.
I support what the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) said about the need for a foreign affairs debate. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said last week that we would give one of our Supply Days as part of a two-day debate. The Leader of the House responded in an encouraging way. We certainly think that foreign affairs must be debated urgently.
The events taking place in Africa are a source of profound anxiety. We had a debate recently on Rhodesia, but Africa in general represents an extremely significant strategic development in the balance of power in the world, and that continent will be central to any foreign affairs debate that we have in the reasonably near future.
Linked to that aspect are our anxieties about defence. There was a defence debate earlier this week, but there is continuing anxiety about the level of our forces and the level of recruitment. I am sure that the whole House will agree that this is a matter of the first importance.
At home, the rising crime rate is a great anxiety and I agree with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) that it is 1639 something that concerns the whole House and not just one side of it. There are many undetected crimes and there is concern about the level and morale of the police force. That is certainly something about which the House will feel anxious until the Government bring forward proposals to put the matter right.
Another important subject is the economic outlook. There have been one or two items of slightly better news recently—but only slightly better. The Government will make a great error if they seek to exaggerate the importance of minor improvements in the news. For example, the recent fall in unemployment is immensely welcome, but too much should not be made of it, because unemployment remains one of the greatest problems facing our people.
There have been requests from my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) for an extension of the special development areas.
These are the crucial matters that have emerged in the debate and that gave us anxiety about the motion. No doubt the Leader of the House, after three hours of the debate, will do his best to answer the various points and seek to give the assurances that have been sought. It is upon the extent to which he is able to do that that the House will come to a conclusion on whether the motion should be passed.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has left the House on tenterhooks. We shall have to wait to see whether I can satisfy him and his hon. Friends on these delicate matters. As the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) knows, I am always eager to gratify him when I can. If he pressed me too hard I might have to withdraw the motion, but I shall not make that threat too belligerently at this stage.
No one could complain about the tone in which the various matters have been raised. The questions that have been referred to are, for the most part, proper matters for a debate on this motion.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire asked about the printing of Hansard. I appreciate the inconveniences to the House that arise when copies of 1640 Hansard are not printed. Her Majesty's Stationery Office is doing its best to overcome the difficulties that have arisen from the problems we have had in the past.
The basic problem is that the normal daily load is so heavy that catching up can be done only at weekends and during recesses, but we are seeking to overcome the problem and I assure the House that we do not treat lightly these stoppages and interferences. We are seeking a permanent solution of the problem which will remove from the House the serious inconveniences that we have experienced in this respect.
I shall try to deal with most of the matters in the order in which they were raised in the debate. That is probably the fairest way, though I think that the House will not complain if I seek to deal first with one or two matters picked out by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire.
First, there is the question of the Bill that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was seeking to introduce. That has been interfered with because of the order of business under which we have proceeded. I shall certainly look up the earlier debate that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, in which references were made to a similar matter. I assure him and the House—anyone who consults the order of business of the House will see that what I am saying is true—that what I did was exactly in accordance with the normal procedure. The business motion dealing with the recess comes before motions under Standing Order No. 13 for leave to bring in Bills.
Indeed, if I had taken the opposite course, there might have been objections from the Table Office because we should have been seeking to alter the arrangements under which the House proceeds to its business. There can be no suggestion of underhand dealing. I shall certainly look at the earlier debate to which the hon. Member for Harborough referred, but I repeat that what we have done is exactly in accordance with the previous procedures that have been applied in this respect.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire said, rightly, that one of the major matters raised in the debate was the question of the "Eleni V" and the matters 1641 raised by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), and indicated by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). The salvers engaged by the Government are firmly of the view that the "Eleni V" cannot, after all, be firmly grounded on the site originally selected and that attempting to pump out the remaining oil on that site would carry with it a significant risk of further oil pollution, which is precisely what we all wish to avoid.
As we have engaged a leading company for this task, it is clearly right for us to attach great weight to its views. We are therefore actively investigating alternative possibilities, but we are concerned to reach a decision as quickly as we can, while still taking account of the local and environmental interests. It would be wrong to ignore these interests, even though this inevitably means that decisions take a little longer. I believe that there has been no delay in reaching decisions. The salvage work must always be carried out with due caution and the Government have tried to keep all interested parties, including local authorities, informed of developments.
The hon. Member for Yarmouth asked whether a further statement could be made before the House rises for the recess. If there is a change in the situation or a special requirement for a statement, my hon. Friend who has been dealing with these matters would be prepared to make a further statement on Friday. I do not say that as an absolute commitment to a statement, but I am sure that the hon. Member who, with others, has been in touch with the Department throughout will make his views known. We shall consider whether to make a statement on Friday and I shall take into account any representations that are made.
§ Mr. Fell
The right hon. Gentleman is most kind and courteous, as always. If the decision is arrived at tonight, and given to Smidt, that it is to go ahead and beach the wreck, there is no need for a statement, because the company has to get on with the job of pumping out the oil. However, if no decision is made this evening we must have a statement.
§ Mr. Foot
As I promised, I shall take into account the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made. If it does appear that there should be a statement, we could have one on Friday.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised wider questions with regard to this matter. I do not believe that he thought that this was the proper time to go into the general questions of pollution. Of course, they are very serious and I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members are extremely concerned about them. I have no doubt that we shall have to return to this matter when we come back after the recess.
§ Mr. Foot
Such general questions are, of course, involved. I am not seeking to dismiss them. If in replying to this debate any Leader of the House were to try to enter into all the arguments, first, his speech would never end—I am sure that even the hon. Member for Chingford wishes my speech to end some time—and, secondly, it would not be fair to other hon. Members who have raised matters and who may wish to have an answer. If every hon. Member made a further interruption after I answered his original question, I do not believe that that would be the best way to proceed. I believe that it would be to the advantage of the House generally, and to mine, if we conclude this debate by 7 o'clock. However, I shall try to answer the detailed points that have been raised.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised a number of other questions—for example, freight charges. The Secretary of State for Scotland has had representations on this subject from the right hon. Gentleman. These are under consideration, but I cannot add anything 1643 further at present. The right hon. Gentleman also raised the extremely important question of the fishery negotiations, which affect not only his constituency but the country as a whole. The Minister has made clear the Government's intention to work, both in informal talks and at Council meetings, for a Community settlement to the common fishery programme negotiations which will be satisfactory to the United Kingdom. I think that the House recognises the way in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture fights for those interests in all the negotiations that take place in Europe.
The right hon. Gentdeman also asked about sheep farmers. Discussions have taken place with the Department. The Government and the National Farmers' Union are exploring the possibility of making some provision to reduce the financial risks to farmers arising from natural disasters. Until that study is complete I cannot add anything to that aspect of the matter. However, I am sure that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland will be raising further aspects of the matter when we return.
I have already referred to the first point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). With regard to the business discussed in the House yesterday, and my announcement last Thursday, I think I made clear last Thursday that the order carried further the procedure for direct elections following the passage of the European Assembly Elections Act. I do not believe that hon. Members were doubtful about the implications of what was being proposed. Certainly, sections of the Press the following day understood the implications. For example, Friday's edition of the Financial Times correctly identified the order as being concerned with the direct elections procedure. I believe that that was understood by the House as a whole.
I shall not go into all the details that my hon. Friend raised. I am not seeking to minimise their significance, but several of those points were raised in yesterday's debate. I do not believe it can be said that the presentation of the order, and the memorandum that we provided for the House, in any way misled the House. It was intended to ensure that we indicated what was going to be discussed. I know that my hon. Friend and others have strong views on the subject which they 1644 presented in the House yesterday, and which they carried to a vote, which they were perfectly entitled to do. Those views really raise questions of principle, and that is different from any allegation that we were seeking to mislead the House about what was proposed. I do not believe that such an allegation has any foundation.
§ Mr. Spearing
I do not believe that there was any allegation of misleading the House. With regard to the document, the actual Community treaty was not available at the time. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when a similar order comes before us, the treaty to which the order refers will be made available so that hon. Members will actually have the documents to which the debate is addressed?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not disputing the fact that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who raised that question last night had a genuine case. I accept what he says about making provision for these matters in future. There have been a few occasions when such difficulties have occurred, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall try to protect the House from a repetition of such incidents. I do not take this matter lightly. I do not wish to entice my hon. Friend to interrupt me again, but I believe that that matter is separate from some of the suggestions that he made earlier.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and others referred to the broadcasting of the House and asked how the experiment was working. I am not surprised that some hon. Members who hold strongly to the view that broadcasting should never have taken place now seek to illustrate how infallible is their wisdom. That is often the characteristic of Members of the House of Commons. It would take something to shift them from their opinions.
I am not at all surprised that there are still varied views on the question whether the experiment was successful. However, I entirely agree that a considerably longer period must be allowed before a proper judgment can be applied. I also agree that there must be a period when the House of Commons must take into 1645 account the representations that may come from hon. Members and others about the way in which the experiment is working—
§ Mr. Foot
—the way in which the proposition is working. Again, I do not want to entice my hon. Friend to his feet. I know how difficult it is to drag him to his feet, but I do not want to encourage him to do so again on any question of semantics about whether this is an experiment, proposition or an operation that is likely to be permanent. Personally, I believe that the broadcasting of the House will be as permanent as the reporting of the House.
I must emphasise that the reporting of the House is not always regarded as being immaculately perfect by all newspapers. Even so, I believe that no one in the House would suggest returning to the extraordinary proposition of the eighteenth century, that we should not be reported at all because often we are reported so shamefully or so shockingly.
I believe that the House of Commons and the country will get used to the process of broadcasting, and I say to the hon. Member for Harborough that when he comes forward with his further proposition, some day, I shall hope to be in the Division Lobby supporting him, because I hope that the House of Commons will move in that direction. However, these are future battles, and I have enough on my plate with present ones without turning to them.
The hon. Member for Chingford asked me to draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to the matters which he raised. I acknowledge that they are matters which are proper to be raised in this House and ones which naturally cause concern to him and to his constituents about the treatment of commuters and what can be done to assist them. I shall not go into the details, but the hon. Member is very skilful in ensuring that matters are raised in this House. The idea that he is prevented from raising such matters by some recondite rules of the House of Commons and that he is so bashful that he is not able to find his way round them is not the experience of the rest of us. Therefore, I believe that he will continue to be 1646 able to draw these matters to the attention of the Ministers and of the nationalised industries concerned.
I do not think that the hon. Member was asking me for a more specific reply on that matter. However, he went on to ask me to comment upon some remarks made by the general secretary of a very respectable and well organised trade union. Certainly I should not like to respond to the hon. Member in any such exchanges of that nature. I believe that he must fight out his battles on these matters in other places. I do not think that it falls to me to make a pronouncement on them.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Surely the Lord President will not say, as a man who has been Secretary of State for Employment and who is a distinguished trade unionist himself, that it is tolerable that trade union leaders should seek to prevent their members speaking to members of one political party. I do not think that he can sit there and say nothing about it.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Member may think that I am prejudiced, but if I am to comment on a statement by the general secretary of a very distinguished trade union, I should much prefer to read the words that he used and the circumstances in which they were used in order to be able to judge the matter carefully than to be rushed by the hon. Member for Chingford into making an ill-advised statement. The more the hon. Member tries to entice me to make a foolish remark, the less likely I am to do so. I do not think that the hon. Member will get very far by such methods.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) asked some general questions about time and debates. I understand the motive behind his invitation to us to return on the Monday in order to debate some of these subjects. Hon. Members in other parts of the House may complain that we are coming back at all during that week. In fact we have a shorter Whitsun Recess than sometimes has been the case. So to some extent I have responded in anticipation of my hon.
1647 Friend's request, and some of the debates that we shall be having during that week are taking place precisely because I understood, by telepathic means, the kind of case that my hon. Friends and others would make. That is one of the reasons why, when I announce tomorrow the debates that are to be held during the week when we return, I believe the House will see that we are responding to the appeals from both sides for a foreign affairs debate, for example.
References have been made to many foreign affairs matters. There was, for instance, the one referred to by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle). I dare say that all those matters can be dealt with better in a foreign affairs debate than they can be in reply to this debate on the motion for the Adjournment. As for matters such as relations between China and Russia, the supply of arms to China and the precise position of any application for the supply of specific forms of exports to China, I think that it is much better for any discussion to take place in a more general debate than this one.
§ Mr. Foot
I must not give way to the hon. Member. As I said at the beginning, I hope very much that we can reach the end of this debate by 7 o'clock. If I give way to every hon. Member who has already made a speech I shall not be able to complete the few remarks that I wish to make.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey referred to two more particular matters, one of them concerning the South Circular Road. On the face of it, some of these matters appear to be for the Greater London Council, as highway authority, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will listen sympathetically to any matters which may be within his responsibilities, and I have nothing further to say to the hon. Member on that subject immediately.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey and his right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire asked about the Post Office engineering dispute. I have nothing to say about the dispute, although I fully acknowledge the circumstances which have been mentioned and the difficulties to which they give rise. 1648 My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has been kept fully informed of the developments in this dispute both by the union's leaders and by the Post Office chairman, who are all keenly aware of the effects which the dispute is having on Post Office customers generally. I am sure that we all appreciate that highly sensitive industrial relations of this kind cannot necessarily be dealt with in a reply from the Dispatch Box now. I can assure the hon. Member and the right hon. Member that we shall take account of those matters and that we recognise their immediate importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) and other hon. Members raised the possibility of a more general review of regional development status. That is an extremely important and far-reaching question, though it is one which affects not only the regions concerned but other parts of the country. I assure my hon. Friends that when we return after the recess my right hon. and hon. Friends will be giving consideration to these matters. I have indicated already that we should have the debate on regional policy, in some form, and I believe that that would be the occasion to discuss these matters. I cannot give an absolute commitment at the moment, but obviously this matter is a strong candidate for debate.
The pay and conditions of work of Members of Parliament are matters to which we shall return when we come back. There is no doubt that under our normal provisions there would be a debate some time in June, because that is the date under the 12-month rule for the pay increase for Members of Parliament, on the same conditions as those which apply to other people throughout the country. I think, therefore, that that will be the best time to deal with the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince.
Other hon. Members raised some more general matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) rightly referred to the scandalous attacks which have been made in some quarters, and which I am sorry to say were reiterated today by the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn), upon the President of the United States and upon the attempts of the United States Government to assist in many parts of the world to overcome 1649 some of the difficulties that other hon. Members have described.
The Government believe that it is a very wise policy, especially in these circumstances, to sustain the very best possible relations that we can with the Government of the United States in dealing with these problems in the case of Rhodesia, Africa, China and the Soviet Union. We think that some highly irresponsible remarks have been made by the Opposition and that it is a pity that they have not long since been repudiated by the Leader of the Conservative Party. However, we have not time to deal with all those matters tonight as we would wish.
The hon. Member for Harborough asked again that we should introduce immediately the Bill that he wanted. I have already discussed this matter.
I hope that the House will accept the motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn till Tuesday 6th June.