§ [FIRST DAY]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Members who are to propose and second the motion on the Loyal Address, it may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate the subjects that, I understand, are suggested for the various days' debates:
- Thursday 2nd November—health
- Friday 3rd November—education
- Monday 6th November—Home Office affairs
- Tuesday 7th November—Rhodesia
- Wednesday 8th November—Rhodesia
- Thursday 9th November—economic affairs.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Arising from what you have just said, can you clarify the position on the two-day debate on Rhodesia? During the recess it was indicated by the Government that the House would have an opportunity of debating the specific matter of the Bingham report, but it now appears that this is to be submerged in a general debate on Rhodesia, which, in turn, is to be submerged in the debate on the Loyal Address.
Does that not raise the difficulty that anyone wishing to comment on the general programe of the Government and to take part in the debate on Rhodesia will have to seek the leave of the House to speak twice and that that will presumably create problems for you and for others in the House?
Much more important is that the issue raised by the Bingham report is whether Ministers on both sides of the House did, at some time in the past, conceal from the House the full facts on sanctions. Surely we should be very careful that we do not do anything to suggest that we have come to some arrangement under which the House does not have an opportunity of expressing a clear view on that matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman and the House will know that I have no responsibility whatsoever for the arrangement of the business of the House. That is done through other channels, but 10 I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's point will have been noted.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. One matter that will fall within your province and will present a difficulty to the House is that if the House seeks to have a vote on the issues raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), it will be able to do so only if an amendment is selected by you for a vote. That depends very much upon the exercise of your discretion, because the House has no Standing Orders to permit amendments other than those from the Opposition Front Bench to have a guaranteed right of being called for a vote.
However, you, Mr. Speaker, and your predecessors have, in an experimental way, allowed such amendments to be taken during the debate on the Loyal Address. Would it be possible for you to give some indication now on whether you would look favourably upon that posibility in these difficult circumstances, because that procedure would be the only means of ensuring that a vote could be taken on this issue?
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will agree that there is a great danger of the Bingham report getting confused with the general issue of the current situation in Rhodesia. Surely it would be appropriate for the Ministers now involved, who run the Government, to say at this stage that they will guarantee the House a full debate on the Bingham report, quite separate from the debate that we shall have on Rhodesia in the next few days.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since you are responsible for summoning us to our feet to speak on the Queen's Speech, shall we be permitted to speak both on the general subjects in the Queen's Speech and on Southern Rhodesia if we request your permission to do so?
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Lord President is present, may I ask the Government to consider the whole question of a separate 11 debate on the Bingham report? I think that it is the general wish of the House that we ought to have a special, separate debate on that issue so that we can formulate our views in relation to it and decide, as a House, what action we should take.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although it was the first of the subjects mentioned by Her Majesty in her Speech, the defence of the realm is not listed among the subjects allocated for discussion in the debate on the Queen's Speech.
Other than by referring to the reduction of our missile stocks by the Foreign Secretary's gift to another Power, there seems to be no way in which we can raise the subject of defence in the next few days.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am able to answer the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), along with the hon. Member for Warley. East (Mr. Faulds), who asked whether he would be able to raise other topics. The debate on the Queen's Speech is very wide and the subjects, I understand, were arranged for the general convenience of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Whoever is called is able to speak on the subject he prefers, but it is normally for the convenience of the House if, when we are debating education, for instance, the hon. Members interested in education are those who are called. On the question of a vote, the House will not expect me to commit myself off the cuff on that matter. Obviously, I am thinking about the whole question of votes on the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said—correctly, as the House knows—that the debate on the Queen's Speech is very wide, but it is precisely that breadth of debate which concerns many hon. Members, because there does not appear to be a clear opportunity for the specific discussion of a matter which has become of great public and parliamentary concern, namely, the Bingham report.
I hope, as do other hon. Members, that you, Mr. Speaker, and expressions of 12 opinion in the House, will be able to secure such an opportunity either in the next week or on a subsequent occasion, but soon.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House would not like it if its Speaker began to interfere in what subjects are to be discussed by the House. That is a very important constitutional issue.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.This is an unexpected privilege, but one that I greatly appreciate. I did not think, as I left the House for my constituency at the beginning of August, that I would be speaking here on 1st November. However, I am not surprised because unpredictability is one of the hazards and charms of political life and I am not sorry to be here for a while longer and, I hope, to be able to enjoy a few more farewell parties.
My constituents share this honour, and it has been a joy to represent the island of Anglesey in the House for more than 27 years. There have been enormous changes in Anglesey in that period. From being an island economy dependent, in the main, on agriculture and the port of Holyhead, it now has a range of new small and medium industries and one large aluminium smelter. Anglesey Aluminium Limited has plans for expansion that would provide over 400 new jobs in the Holyhead area. I hope that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that that materialises.
During my period as the Member for Anglesey the population of the island has increased by over 30 per cent. We have retained more of our young people on the island because of the new industries that I have mentioned. Others have come to Anglesey to live because of its attractions. The tourist industry has flourished greatly during the past few years.
Our unemployment problem remains serious. I am glad that the Gracious 13 Speech stresses the evil of unemployment at the outset and undertakes topursue every available means of moving to full employment.The Government are entitled to take credit for the wide range of special employment and training measures that they have taken and for the measures that are proposed in the Gracious Speech, but still more needs to be done. The effect of high investment in industry must be studied far more profoundly, because its effect on future employment prospects could be significant.
I welcome the promise of legislation to provide additional finance for the Welsh Development Agency as well as for the National Enterprise Board and the Scottish Development Agency. The Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Rural Development Board have achieved a great deal and they deserve our support. I also warmly welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the examination of the special problems of slate quarrymen suffering from pneumoconiosis. The problem is especially acute in Gwynedd and the Government have shown a determination to resolve it. For this we are grateful.
As the House knows, Anglesey is a beautiful island. There is a convention that the sitting Member for the island is always one of the presidents of the annual eisteddfod of Anglesey. That event is held at Whitsuntide. I have fulfilled the task on 27 occasions; whether I do so next Whitsun is largely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster.
In 1907 one of the presidents was one of my predecessors—namely, Ellis Griffith. The other president was David Lloyd George. Speaking in the afternoon, Lloyd George said in his peroration that Angelsey was an excellent platform from which to view the grandeur of Caernarvon, for which he was one of the Members. In the evening session Ellis Griffiths retorted that Caernarvon stood on tiptoe in wonder to see the incomparable beauty of Anglesey. This is still there for all hon. Members to see if they have not already paid us a visit. I have cause to be grateful to the people of Anglesey for their kindness to me over a long period.
14 I read the Gracious Speech with particular interest on this occasion because it was suggested in some quarters that there would not be enough work for us to do. The Speech seems to be just right as regards quality and volume. There is a school of thought that believes that a Gracious Speech is defective unless it is bursting at the seams with exciting legislation. As my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip knows, I am not a member of that school. Of course, there are times when essential and adventurous legislation to which a Government have pledged themselves must be dealt with promptly; there are also times when it is advisable that the legislative field should lie fallow.
We should consider from time to time the effects of heavy legislative programmes not only on the House—for example, the manning of Standing Committees—but on those outside who are affected by legislation. I am not suggesting that it has happened over the past few years, but legislation that is inadequately processed can bring the House into disrepute. As I have said, I consider that this Speech is just about right. There are some extremely important Bills in the pipeline.
Again in the context of Anglesey and the Welsh coast, I welcome a merchant shipping Bill which, among other things, will help to control marine pollution. We have had some unpleasant experiences in recent weeks with the "Christos Bitas", and "Eleni V" and the "Amoco Cadiz" before those off the coast of Brittany. We need the oil, and all of us use oil. However, I think that the House would welcome a full statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at an early date. I believe that the House would wish very soon to debate what he says and the near disasters to which I have referred.
I am glad that the Gracious Speech refers to theexpansion of food production in the United Kingdom and its efficient processing and distribution.I mentioned earlier the significance of agriculture to Anglesey.
It is, of course, crucial to the whole country. North Sea oil is important and it is accepted that it can make a timely contribution if the revenues are properly used for the benefit of the country as a 15 whole. However, in the longer term agriculture is even more important than North Sea oil. The human race one day will have to live without oil, but it cannot live without food. The increasing world population and the demands and needs of the third world make it imperative that we and other advanced countries concentrate on producing more food. It frightens me sometimes when I remember that even today, after all the exhortations to produce more food and after what successive Governments have done to make that possible, we still import about half of all the food that we eat.
We must get away from the myth that the producer and the consumer are at opposite sides of a great divide. Their interests are identical and our policies must recognise that.
Improvements in the common agricultural policy are imperative as the Gracious Speech recognises. The surplus in European milk production is especially worrying, and great thought needs to be given to its implications.
The most important section of the Gracious Speech is that which deals with the economy. If we do not get that right, and if we cannot keep inflation down, the future is not bright for us. The Government have achieved a great deal over the past three years and I pay a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for what he has already done and the lead that he has given.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has borne a heavy burden for a long time. He has occupied the office of Chancellor for longer than most of his predecessors. He has been criticised, and he will have expected that. He has been abused at times, and he can take that as well. He has shown courage and determination and he deserves our praise. I am glad to have this opportunity to give it to him.
I can see no real alternative to the reasonable control of incomes. There is a danger that the term "free collective bargaining" has become an outdated slogan, as outdated as "Two acres and a cow" or "We want eight and we can't wait". What is essential, and what takes place in the main, is informed and constructive negotiation based on three factors, namely, the cost of living, the state of the industry or firm concerned in the negotiations and, last but not least, the 16 state of the nation's economy at any given time.
If we allow inflation to get out of hand again, we shall be courting disaster. I believe that the country as a whop is conscious of that. An effective incomes policy and a skilful control of the money supply are essential. It is not always easy to get the right balance, but that is the key to our survival.
For those of us who remember the 1930s—I have regard to what is said about foreign affairs in the Gracious Speech—the greatest achievement of the post-war period is stability in Western Europe. Remembering Western Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and considering it today, one sees that fundamental change has taken place. Notwithstanding our continuing economic difficulties, we in Britain have retained our stability and our basic values.
There has been a tendency for some to denigrate and belittle Great Britain in the past few years. We must be careful, because if we do that others will take us at our own valuation. We have much to be proud of. It is not for a Welshman to tell Englishmen about their inheritance. It is one of the greatest heritages of any nation on earth. I believe that we have the skills, imagination and experience to compete with any country. But much depends upon this House. It is here that the maintenance of stability, of freedom under the law and of the rule of law itself must be guarded and here that leadership must be given, and it is from the House that leadership is expected. I hope and pray that we can provide that leadership. I believe that the Prime Minister is doing his utmost to give us the right lead now. We must give that leadership in the years to come.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)
It is a great honour to be the last person in this Parliament who will have the pleasure of seconding an Address. As I was asked to carry out this duty with my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who will not be returning as a Member in the next Parliament, I had a fleeting fear that someone knew something that I did not. But we have a strong tradition of returning Labour Members in the North-East of England. That is one tradition that I shall be more 17 than happy to follow when the election comes. The one tradition that I was relieved to find did not have to be followed on this occasion was the wearing of court dress for the moving and seconding of the Gracious Speech.
It is an honour to be asked to second the Address for two reasons: first, because I share the task with my right hon. Friend who has so ably moved the motion. He is known and respected throughout the House not only for his devoted public service, but as one of the kindest and most generous of Members. Others are more qualified than I to speak of this, but I know that I can speak for many of the newer Members, particularly Labour Members, when I say that we are grateful for the willing help and advice that my right hon. Friend has always been prepared to give, in English or in Welsh, during our time here.
Secondly, it is an honour for my constituents on Teesside, Thornaby that I should be allowed to prey a little on the indulgence of the House this afternoon to mention the area which I am privileged to represent. The North-East contrasts vividly with Anglesey. In the last five years Teesside has grown into Europe's biggest petrochemical manufacturing area. It is the country's third largest port and, by the early 1980s, it will be Europe's biggest steel producing area. The vast majority of my constituents work in these and related industries, not least, in the past, my own family, which has had three generations on Teesside in steel and engineering.
It is a particular pleasure and privilege for me to represent a Teesside constituency, for the area is filled with memories of my own childhood and youth there. Indeed, having worked for a short time as a milk roundsman in Thornaby, I often tell my constituents that I remember their Alsatians better than their faces.
Despite being called Thornaby, two-thirds of my constituency is in fact the western side of Middlesbrough, a borough which I have the honour and pleasure to represent together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley). Although having early origins, both Middlesbrough and Thornaby mushroomed as Victorian industrial towns following the advent of the railway to the area between 1825 and 1830. 18 Middlesbrough became a municipal borough in 1853 and Thornaby in 1893.
The area is flanked on the south by the beautiful North Yorkshire moors national park, with its hills and coast. The constituency, although small in area, is rich in variety, containing almost every conceivable type of housing, as well as being the home of Teesside park racecourse and the rapidly recovering Middlesbrough football club at Ayresome Park. I seem to have been saying for about 20 years, that Middlesbrough football club is rapidly recovering. Greater faith has no man than that of an MP in his local football team.
It is a happy coincidence that I should have this opportunity to address the House only five days after an event in Middlesbrough which attracted a great deal of attention and stimulated considerable civic pride in the town. Last Friday was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Captain James Cook, in Marton, in Middlesbrough—he is the town's greatest son—and the occasion was marked by the opening of a large and immensely attractive museum in Stewart park within sight of his birthplace and the church where he was baptised. The museum has been built by a trust presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough and backed in a bold and imaginative way by Middlesbrough council. We hope that the whole country will be proud of this symbol of international co-operation and friendship so reminiscent of the life of the navigator and explorer himself.
The House will not be surprised to learn that many of the problems facing the constituency over recent decades have arisen from the decay of the Victorian industrial and social heritage in the area. The foundations of the iron and steel industry built by Bolckow and Vaughan and of the chemical industry built by Brunner Mond have had to be harshly recast and adapted to modern requirements.
The Northern region has been scarred by unemployment over the decades and, although the Jarrow march started 30 miles north of Teesside, the area has by no means been immune from this problem. With the rest of the Northern region we have shared, year in, year out, 19 the unwelcome accolade of having the highest unemployment of any region in the country, excluding Northern Ireland.
I was drawn into politics in the early 1960s when unemployment was the outstanding issue above all others for people on Teesside. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, in his flat hat, at Thornaby station in 1962. I remember the by-elections of my right hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough and for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) and of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray). Remembering the debates of that time and in subsequent years, I should like to think that we have learned a little humility on this issue on both sides of the House, for the unemployment problem, as everyone knows, is still with us. That is why, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech that the Government will continue topursue every available means of moving to full employment.I have received this week the quarterly report of the Cleveland county careers officer. It makes depressing reading, but it shows a drop in the number of young people unemployed and an increase in the number taking up the youth opportunities programme, which is doing such valuable work in assisting young people.
I do not believe that we can hope to resolve this problem until concerted international action leads to a return of confidence and an upturn in world economy. For that reason, I welcome the promise in the Gracious Speech that the Governmentwill continue to play a leading part, with our international partners, in seeking an end to the worldwide recession.Teesside also has a major structural unemployment problem. Of the total employed, only 48 per cent. are in service industries compared with 58 per cent. nationally. For that reason, we are delighted that the Government are pressing ahead with their dispersal plans to bring the Property Services Agency to Middlesbrough, with 3,000 white collar jobs.
The crazy paradox of all this is that it is taking place against a background 20 of unprecedented investment in manufacturing industry on Teesside. When Henri Simonet visited Teesside two years ago, he called itEurope's most dynamic industrial site. It is like the Ruhr without the pollution or the problems.It certainly gives the lie to those who want to knock Britain and its workers. Our industries work round the clock. Our men are trained on night shifts, not in night clubs, as some would have us believe.
Over the last four years more than £1.1 billion has been invested in manufacturing industry on Teesside. That amounts to £2,000 per head of population in Cleveland compared with only £206 nationally. Ten times the national average has been invested in the Cleveland area. Monsanto, ICI, British Steel and British Petroleum are massive organisations and they have made massive investment in Teesside sites on both sides of the river.
The sad paradox is that, despite all this bustle and heavy investment, male unemployment is 10.6 per cent. compared with 6.7 per cent. nationally, and we have been consistently above the national average. This pool of unemployed people is comprised mainly of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. That, it seems to me, is a deficiency that only training and retraining can overcome. Therefore, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech thatSpecial encouragement will be given to the education and training of young people and others to safeguard and increase the supply of skilled manpower.I am not one who takes a depressed view of the high investment—high unemployment paradox—although it is a problem. It is a problem which will confront the nation more and more as time goes by. In my view, a Luddite approach will not help. Clearly, we must maintain our competitive position in the world. I believe that the inventiveness of men and the great wealth being created can overcome the displacement of jobs by new technologies. For that reason, it is important for the investment momentum to be maintained particularly in the steel industry where the holding back of developments might create severe bottlenecks later and damage our engineering industries even more, particularly those which are engaged in plant manufacture.
21 Since the Gracious Speech mentions a number of proposals affecting the Celtic fringe, it would be remiss of me as a Northern Member of Parliament not to mention our hope that during this Session the Government will look sympathetically upon the proposal for a new and considerably enhanced role for the Northern Economic Planning Council. The Northern group of Labour Members and the regional council have submitted proposals to Ministers. It is hoped that progress can be made in this Session.
Two further items in the Gracious Speech are of particular interest to me. The first involves banking legislation. We should welcome the proposal to introduce a Bill to control banking more closely. In due course I should like to go further and, through the amalgamation of the National Giro and the National Savings Bank, bring about a comprehensive State banking corporation. As a Co-operative sponsored Member I should also like to welcome the measures which are to be taken in the banking legislation to aid credit unions.
I was pleased to hear that the Government intend to pursue further their proposals for industrial democracy. I am sure that this will be a beneficial piece of legislation. But it should be accompanied by a major campaign by the Government to introduce single status for employees in British industry. Industrial democracy will be hampered unless we are able to overcome the "us" versus "them" attitude in large sectors of industry. It is necessary for the inequities to be overcome and for the antagonisms to be reduced if we are to achieve the sense of identification with a firm that is a precondition to success.
It was once said that one had reached a position of responsibility when one took decisions on subjects about which one knew nothing. There is no doubt that the range of subjects in the Gracious Speech—more than some expected—will test the wits and judgment of hon. Members. We hope that the proposals will improve the society in which we live and the world of which our country is a part. That is another reason why it has been an honour to second the motion. I warmly commend it to the House.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
It is the privilege of the Leader of the 22 Opposition to congratulate those who move and second this motion. I do so very warmly on this occasion, even though, as the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) hinted, it is rather unexpected. I know that the whole House will applaud the choice of the right hon. Member for Anglesey to move the motion. I use the traditional formula of "the right hon. Gentleman" but it might have been more appropriate to refer to him as a friend of the House. Certainly, he has many friends on both sides of the House. That does not mean to say that people who are friendly with those on the opposite Benches are any less loyal to their own party.
The right hon. Gentleman will leave this House in the same spirit of good will in which he finished his work in two senior posts in Government. But, as he asked, when will he leave? I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's comments that he was one of those hon. Members who were prominent in saying their goodbyes in July. What he has just said shows that not even the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party can foretell the future.
The right hon. Gentleman is a Welsh speaker. I understand that he claims that Welsh is the language of heaven. I hope not, because that would mean that many of us would not see much of him in the future.
I should like to make one further comment about the right hon. Gentleman. In recent years, as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, he has worked closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) in the interests of Back Benchers. That work will not be forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for 25 years. I am sure that he will understand now if I wish him an early enjoyment of the holiday that had to be postponed from October.
The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) has been in the House for only a few years by comparison. He always makes reasoned and measured contributions. I understand that the hon. Member's Whips do not rank him amongst their rebels, but I should have no grumble about that. He made an interesting speech. He drew attention to the unemployment problems in Teesside. I hope that he will continue to 23 impress upon his leader and on his constituents that after four years of Labour Government twice as many people are out of work as when the Conservatives left office.
There have been times in the last few months when many of us felt that it was as if all our problems were being discussed in terms of x per cent. It was as if some mysterious percentage would solve all the sophisticated problems of the British economy and all the sophisticated problems of industry and commerce.
Pay policies, of course, are extremely important, but so, too, are policies for higher production, policies for good profits and policies for new enterprises. It seems to me that we have concentrated so much on continual restraint—I accept that we still need to have restraint in a number of directions—that we have paid far too little attention to incentive and enterprise. We have been so busy analysing the reasons for the comparative decline of Britain that we have forgotten to analyse the recipes for success of some of our Continental friends.
Job for job, their production per person is higher. Job for job, they have a higher standard of living. Job for job, they pay less tax, they save more and they can do more for their children. Because they have concentrated not only on pay policy but on output policy, they have produced enough to provide for differentials, so they do not have the problem of wage explosion that we have. They have produced enough to pay their public sector well. They have produced enough output to provide better pensions, better provisions for the disabled, and more money to be spent on health.
During his party conference the Prime Minister spoke about poverty. He said that where there was poverty there would always be a need for a Labour Government. That is because where there is a Labour Government there will always be poverty.
When I was first a junior Minister I was attached to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. I was questioned regularly by my right hon. and hon. Friends. They said that it was a disgrace and a great reflection on the affluent society that about 2½ million people were 24 on national assistance. Today, after four years of Labour Government, is not it a disgrace and a reflection on them that there are now 5 million people who have to have recourse to social security? That number has increased by 1 million during the last four years. Whenever there is a Labour Government there will be poverty, because Labour concentrates far too little on wealth creation and far too much or redistributing what there is.
The Gracious Speech, Mr. Chairman—[Interruption.] My apologies, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps we have been kept away from this House for too long, bearing in mind that it is the forum of the nation. The Gracious Speech contains a number of matters of a constitutional nature. It refers to the referendums for the proposed Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that had things turned out a little differently we would have held the referendums on 22nd March, and that had the necessary number of votes upon which Parliament had decided been reached we would have recommended that the Assemblies go ahead. At the moment, however, I cannot conceal that many of us feel that this is the last Parliament in which we shall all sit together representing all parts of the United Kingdom as Members with equal powers, equal duties and on equal terms. If the Assemblies go ahead, there will be serious difficulties in the United Kingdom Parliament. We may look back on the last year of legislation as one which gave us grievous difficulties and did great harm to Parliament at Westminster.
The Bill to increase the number of parliamentary representatives for Ulster will command great support from us. There will be no difficulty from this side of the House about securing an easy passage for that Bill. I rather had the impression, when announcements were made about it, that there would be considerable difficulties from the Labour side but none from us.
I have to put one proposition to the Prime Minister. When he said that he would be asking Mr. Speaker to have a Speaker's Conference about increasing the number of Members representing Ulster, I pointed out that under his authority now there is one great part of the United Kingdom which is badly under-represented, and that is England. Whether that 25 situation exists wittingly or unwittingly on the Prime Minister's part—I suspect that he has political and parliamentary reasons for keeping England under-represented—I hope that in due course the position will be changed.
It was obvious from one or two sounds that came from various parts of the House that I am expected to say quite a bit about what the right hon. Member for Anglesey called one of the central parts of the Gracious Speech—that which refers to inflation and unemployment. Of course we share with the Government the desire to achieve the same ends on this matter. That is not enough. We accept that inflation must be reduced. As the Prime Minister is often pointing out, inflation is now below what it was when we left office, but I point out to him in return that during our time in office we got inflation down to 5.8 per cent.—an objective that he has not yet achieved.
We share the same objective of reducing inflation as a priority. Of course, we share the same objective that unemployment must be reduced. After all, it was this Government who put both of them up. Of course we share the objective that there must be a stable currency, because without it there can be no confidence in investment or in expansion, and we shall not get the growth that we need.
I even had the impression, from a number of things that the right hon. Member for Anglesey said, that we not only shared the same ends but agreed on a large number of the means. He referred to money supply policies. Whenever money supply or monetarism was mentioned in this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer would accuse us of monetarism, of "Josephitism". At the next moment, the Chancellor would say that he was far better at holding the money supply than we were. I am glad that the Chancellor says that he has been wholly and utterly converted to the necessity of holding the money supply very firmly. We agree with him wholeheartedly, for reasons that he knows. That is the only final way in which inflation can be held and reduced. He knows it and we know it.
The Chancellor got inflation up to a far worse level than we ever did. He boasted at the last General Election that he had got it down to 8.4 per cent. Of course, he had not. We accept that 26 money supply must be held very firmly. We noticed that in his Mansion House speech the Chancellor said that he had given monetary policy the importance it deserved. We shall never get inflation down unless we get the money supply right. There is no inflation in a barter society. It is only when money is put into it that the phenomenon of inflation arises. If too much money is put in, obviously there will be inflation.
It was a long time before the Chancellor was converted to the total means of getting down inflation. The IMF insisted that he had money supply targets, but it also insisted that he cut spending under the profligate policies that he had pursued. It also insisted that he cut borrowing—a great change from the policies that he had previously pursued, although he has not taken enough of that advice to heart. He also knows that one of the reasons—in addition to money supply, spending and borrowing—for inflation falling is that North Sea oil has permitted a rise in the exchange rate. But for that he could hardly have reduced inflation last year to 8 per cent.
He said—I believe that he and the Prime Minister got their arithmetic wrong—that with wage increases of 14 per cent. or 15 per cent. there would be inflation of 14 per cent. or 15 per cent. He was wrong. Last year average earnings increased by 14 or 15 per cent., but the rate of inflation fell to 8 per cent. That happened because of the factors that I have enumerated. Inflation will never be reduced—it is as well for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to be clear about it—unless these factors are right, because it is they that hold inflation or reduce it.
Of course, in fixing the money supply it is necessary to take a view about how much growth there will be in the economy, and that view has to be realistic. In 1976 the Chancellor sent three estimates across to NEDC. The NEDC chose the highest because it could not bear the consequences of public expenditure if it chose the lowest. That is not taking a proper view of the rate of growth. That view must be realistic in all the circumstances. We said in "The Right Approach to the Economy" that it should be proclaimed, discussed and explained. Everyone must understand that the only improvement that can be made in wages is that which comes from real increases 27 in output, which is why other countries have done so much better than we have.
We have to take a view of the growth rate, and in taking that view we have to take a view of the element in it represented by wage costs and consider how much that will be. When the budgets for each and every Department are done, one has to take a view of the estimate for the increase in salaries and wages. None of this is in dispute. The dispute arises, I think, over whether that view is an average or whether it becomes a norm. I must say very strongly indeed that in our view that figure is an average and can never be a norm except in conditions of emergency.
All Governments from time to time have had incomes policies, whether it be the Labour Government from 1965 to 1970, the Conservatives from 1970 to 1974 or the present Government. We all know that in time they break. We all know that they break, and then we have to make preparations to get back to what I would call responsible collective bargaining.
I said a moment ago that there was a good deal of agreement not only on ends but on means. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) just about phase 3. What did he say about phase 3? The House will remember that phase 3 started as a 6 per cent. wage settlement, finished up as a 10 per cent. settlement, and then finished up as a 15 per cent. or 16 per cent. increase in average earnings. This is what the Chancellor said:The task in the next 12 months is to complete the transition to responsible collective bargaining"—hon. Members will notice that that is the phrase that my right hon. Friends and I have been using—The task…is to complete the transition to responsible collective bargaining from two years of rigid pay restraint.The Chancellor went on to say:most settlements will have to be well within single figures. But it is common ground between us"—his phrase—that we cannot specify the level of particular settlements in this transitional period.28 There is a very great measure of agreement on means as well as ends.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew that he could not go on holding a rigid incomes policy, and I really doubt whether any Government wants to do that. It does not seem to be at all realistic to have x per cent. to solve all the many and complicated problems in many different circumstances in industry.
Incomes policies of a rigid kind do not fail because they are unpopular. They are, of course, very popular. Looking at all the opinion polls, I naturally have a particular interest in those taken around February 1974. We could have done with more support from the Prime Minister at that time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] What was the Prime Minister doing at that time but stumping around Aberdare saying,We all know the lie about the 16 per cent. the miners are supposed to be getting under a special arrangement of the phase 3 legislation. I will say to Mr. Heath that if he is returned on February 28th, unless he has more money to put on the table, he has a bigger struggle on his hands than he has ever imagined. Mr. Heath is arguing that he is fighting inflation. That is utter drivel.That was the kind of support that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to give to what at that time was a statutory incomes policy.
That, too, broke, but it broke not because it was unpopular with the people. It broke because after one has had a certain number of rigid phases, one must in fact return to responsible collective bargaining.
As my noble Friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said in a very vivid letter to The Times the other day, the pay policy is like a battleship designed by the German Emperor for his naval chief of staff. All the guns, all the ammunition, all the equipment required are there. It is just that it will not float. We have reached the stage now when, after three phases, a rigid incomes policy just will not float. It just will not hold. There is no point in arguing about it as if it will float; it will not float. We get all sorts of fudging deals, all sorts of "phoney" productivity deals. What my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) says about productivity deals is very good. He says that they are the elastic device whereby the policy can be stretched to 29 meet the ultimate truth of the market place. That is exactly what is happening. So, rigid percentage incomes policies at this stage—no: they cannot and they will not hold.
However, that does not mean that one can abandon all constraint. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Of course, it does not. The constraint on one's money supply is there, and that is the only thing that will ultimately hold inflation. That is why the Chancellor said so in his speech at the Mansion House the other day. To deny that is completely to misunderstand the nature of inflation.
If in fact one has more and bigger and bigger wage increases—and this is why one has to do so much propaganda about it; and the right hon. Gentleman knows and I know—people will price themselves out of the market, output will go down and unemployment will go up. That is the purpose of urging more and more restraint upon those who are doing the bargaining.
I believe that the Government's rigid 5 per cent. policy will fail. That is not because I believe that people should demand more than 5 per cent. for nothing. Five per cent. for nothing as a starting point seems to me an ultimate recipe for inflation, if one then moves the money supply up to accommodate it. However, I must just point out that the official guidance to civil servants on the 5 per cent. pay policy is one of the most pernickety bits of bureaucracy that I have ever seen and one that I believe would bring productive and creative industry to a dead stop. Let us just look at the first paragraph:Any case which gives rise to serious doubt should therefore be referred to the Department of Employment, who will arrange for it to be brought to the official Committee and Ministers as appropriate.So we shall get every single case in which there is any doubt going up to some central body. We shall have companies—some of them very successful—which are producing exports and have got the Queen's Award for Export having two things happening. First they have got the Price Commission in, causing all kinds of trouble—although very few people there know what efficiency is in particular industries. Then, just when they have had trouble and could make their own decisions on the spot with their own shop 30 stewards and trade unions, the matter has to be referred right up to some central body.
That is no way to run industry. It is no way to raise production and to enable us to compete with other countries.
Another paragraph—this was never published except by The Times, says "Use only if pressed." That acknowledges that under Socialism, under this Labour Government, many people, in order to get more out of the rewards from work, have had to go to benefits in kind. So there is a paragraph which assesses whether the benefit in kind this year is more than 5 per cent. more than it was last year, and so on.
One cannot now run a rigid pay policy like that. But what I believe is happening is that the Prime Minister is perfectly well aware of that. He knows it. But the battle now and the thing that people are really worried about as we go towards more "responsible"—in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's language—collective bargaining is whether the trade unions will be responsible. That is the question that people are asking. The question about which they are fearful is whether trade unions have so much power that they will abuse that power. That, whether or not one likes it, is a question that is exercising the minds of our people, and it is a question to which the Prime Minister should be addressing himself—not just taking it at a rigid incomes policy level.
But I underestimate the Prime Minister. He did address himself to it about nine years ago, when other members of his party were addressing themselves to it and published "In Place of Strife". The Prime Minister was a person who not only addressed his mind to the problem of trade union power but saw that that White Paper was consigned to the waste paper basket. Not only has he insisted that all of their powers remained exactly as they were; he has increased them during his term of office. He did not resist any change. He increased the powers of trade unions. What happened during phases 1, 2 and 3 was not that those agreements were obtained voluntarily—not in any way. We are dealing with negotiators who are far too skilled for that. They were obtained at a price. The benefit given by the trade unions, in 31 terms of co-operation, was a temporary one. What they got in return were permanent or semi-permanent benefits.
One of those prices was a great increase in public expenditure, which landed the Chancellor in difficulty with the IMF. Another price was giant strides towards Socialism, with increased nationalisation, which the Government have put permanently on the statute book. The Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House were instrumental in obtaining those. The third price was a great increase in the power of trade unions, which made the trade unions the most powerful the whole world over, including the closed shop. Therefore, the Prime Minister is not the person to complain about trade union power or to pose as the person who can in fact stand as a bulwark against it.
There are two things about power. First, there is its existence in law—we are not arguing about that, it is there—and, secondly, there is the use of the power. I believe that things have changed very much since February 1974. I do not believe that one ever fights the same battles on the same ground again, so let us turn, as we ought, to look at the use of that power.
More than 11 million people are members of trade unions. There are not 11 million irresponsible people in this country who will put their own future and that of their families in jeopardy. If one believes that there are, one can have no faith at all in the future of democracy. There are not 11 million irresponsible people—or 10 million, or 9 million. There might be a few who wish to use the power of the system to bring down the whole of the free enterprise world and substitute another central system for it.
The question then becomes: ought one, in the Gracious, Speech, to be looking at the structure of trade unions, at any structure which enables a few people to take power, pose as though they represent a large number—which they do not—and effectively make it difficult for the great majority to make their views and voices heard? That is why we have given attention to a postal ballot paid for by the Government. But there is nothing about that in this Gracious Speech. There is nothing, when we are going into a new phase of incomes policy, to assist the 32 ordinary member of a trade union to make his or her voice heard without intimidation, without having to face some of the scenes that some of us saw on television at the Vauxhall meeting.
The other point to which the Prime Minister ought to be addressing his attention is how to stop circumstances of that kind, and he ought to bring to bear all the powers of the land against—
§ Mrs. Thatcher
So was I. I was a member of the Association of Scientific Workers when I was an industrial chemist, and I sometimes said to Clive Jenkins "If things had turned out a bit differently you would be in my job and I would be in yours".
As I was saying, we ought to bring to bear all the powers of the land to check and stop the intimidation and to enable people to make their views freely and easily felt, as befits a democracy.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am following the right hon. Lady's speech very carefully. Is she suggesting that we should get back to something like the proposal made by her right hon. Friend the Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath) in the Industrial Relations Act 1971? Is she suggesting that there should be ballots? Should she not take into consideration the ballot held by the National Union of Railwaymen? Should she not take into consideration the ballot of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the types of ballot that could continue a strike when the rank and file are in favour of settling a strike? Has she not learned the lessons of the disastrous days when her right hon. Friend was Prime Minister?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
The answer to the first half of the hon. Gentleman's question is "No", and as the answer to the first half is "No" the second half, with respect, does not follow. No, I was not proposing that. Our proposal is for Governments to pay for postal ballots at the instance of the members of the union. The hon. Gentleman knows, and I know, that in a democratic system one has to make it easy for people to make their views 33 known. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to go to those meetings and stick up one's hand. The hon. Gentleman knows that better than I do.
I am suggesting that if a large number of people want a postal ballot—want it; it is not compulsory—the Government should pay for it. I am saying this because I believe that the problem to which we ought to address our minds is how to let the 11 million responsible people make their views felt and known. The trouble is that Labour Members will not even address their minds to that issue, let alone take it up with the trade unions themselves. But I believe that the majority of trade union members are responsible, and that the majority of trade union leaders are responsible. If one does not believe that, there is no future for democracy.
The Gracious Speech also says something about Rhodesia. As we heard from you earlier, Mr. Speaker, we shall be having two days' debate on the general problem of Rhodesia—as I understand it. This whole question of Rhodesia is very important in the minds of many British people at the present time, particularly since arms have been sent to Zambia and since the Prime Minister's visit to President Kaunda. I think that this afternoon the Prime Minister ought to answer many questions before we go on to that debate.
May I ask the Prime Minister a few questions? What safeguards have the Government insisted upon when sending British arms in British planes to Zambia? Are these arms to be used to defend the guerrilla camps from which, increasingly, Nkomo is attacking the people of Rhodesia? Is that what the Foreign Secretary means when he talks of evenhandedness and asks Mr. Smith and the other members of the transitional Government to attend an all-party conference? If one helps to protect one side, can one blame the other for doubting one's impartiality?
What else did the Prime Minister agree to do at that meeting in Kano? What else did he agree to do at that curious secret meeting and visit, from which journalists were meticulously excluded? Has he agreed to the use of British troops? If so, the British people will be outraged. What other secret agreements has the Prime Minister reached? We 34 have a right to know, because many of us cannot see the guerrilla leaders coming to the conference table until they believe that they will get more that way than they will by fighting and by the use of the bullet. We shall, Mr. Speaker, be tabling for your consideration an amendment against the Government's handling of the whole Rhodesian matter.
This is the last Gracious Speech of this Parliament, and when the Parliament is at an end—I accept that we do not know when that will be, and I accept that I cannot bring it about in any way; it is the Prime Minister's choice, and if he wishes to go on to the bitter end, so be it—and the election comes, I believe that it will be fought on very deep and fundamental issues, and I believe that we have to bring these to the attention of the people.
The election will be fought on the question whether people want to give more power to Governments or want more power to make their own decisions over their lives. I understand and know that many people joined the Labour Party to protect the little man against the big battalions, but now Labour has become the party of the big battalions and big bureaucracy. Another Labour Government will put infinitely more power into the hands of Government, because so many of them believe in collective decision and make far too many decisions political and leave far too few to be taken by people on matters affecting their own lives in their own way.
The election will be fought on the role of Government in economic matters—whether people want more and more nationalisation. This Gracious Speech is very different from the one that Labour puts forward when it has a majority. More nationalisation was approved at the Labour Party conference—North Sea oil, land, the construction industry, the insurance industry and pensions. The election will be fought on the question whether people want to go our way and have more choice, which can only be through a free enterprise system and through more and more competition.
The election will be fought on the question whether people want more and more of their wages spent by the Government through increased tax on the pay packet, or whether they come our way and have 35 reduced taxes on their pay packet, leaving them to spend more of their own money in their own way. Tax cuts are a Tory policy. It would perhaps be as well to remember that the tax cuts coming in November were driven through against the wish of this Government.
The election will be fought on the question of whether people take the view of law and order which they saw demonstrated at the Labour Party conference, which was described graphically in The Guardian and which we all saw on television, or whether they wish to take our view; whether people want to depend on the State for everything from the cradle to the grave, or whether they wish to acquire more personal capital for self-reliance. They will never do it under a Labour Government; a Labour Government will take it away from them. That is one of the great differences in this country—one cannot acquire capital out of earnings merely by savings. It is our policy to leave people with enough of their own money to be able to acquire personal capital, to have more self-reliance and self-help, to have more self-reliance and resources, to be able to do more for their own children. What is so wrong about that?
The result of the election will depend above all on the kind of priority people wish to give to the defence of the Western way of life—whether they believe in the low priority accorded by this Government or believe, as we do, that our first duty to freedom is to defend our own.
This Gracious Speech is an attempt to try to prove that the Labour Party is what it is not. It is an attempt to prove that it is more moderate than it is, and to keep the Left wing of the party very quiet indeed. [Interruption.] I must say, the prospect of keeping them quiet is extremely remote.
What people want now is a Conservative Government, with Conservative policies and a Conservative way of life. They will get that not from a Labour Government posing that way but only from a Conservative Government with true Conservative policies. We look forward to the next Gracious Speech.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)
I should like to congratulate the 36 Leader of the Opposition on that very gallant performance on the afternoon on which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Robertson) was introduced. I should also like to support what she had to say about the mover and seconder of the Address to Her Majesty.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) has represented the constituency for many years. I had the privilege of speaking for him when he was an aspiring young candidate and I am very happy to pay tribute to the outstanding services he has given to Anglesey, to Wales and to the United Kingdom as a whole.
My right hon. Friend has given great service to the language of Wales. He himself is equally eloquent in both English and Welsh. We had a taste this afternoon of what he is like in one language. His eloquence and his humour have commended themselves to all his colleagues in the House over many years. This afternoon, we saw why he is a most successful chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
My right hon. Friend has given great service to education in Wales in his capacity as president of the University College of Aberystwyth and has served in a number of important capacities in the Government—in Agriculture, to which he referred, in the Commonwealth Office and elsewhere. I am glad that my right hon. Friend had this unexpected opportunity to make a most distinguished speech this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), one of the new younger Members of the House, represents both the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party, so he represents both parts of the movement in the House. He was very prominent in promoting the co-operative Development Agency Act so successfully last Session, from which I believe a great deal of benefit will come.
My hon. Friend's point about the need for single status for blue collar and white collar workers is gaining a good deal of attention. It is a valuable idea which will grow, and I believe that the faster it comes in this country the better will be our prospects for getting the levels of productivity we need and decreasing the tension in industry to which the Leader of the Opposition referred.
37 As regards the days of debate on the Gracious Speech, by convention the Opposition take the lead in choosing the principal subject on certain days. As regards next Tuesday and Wednesday, perhaps I should explain the Government's position. We felt that the House would want an early opportunity to discuss both the Bingham report and Rhodesia. That was the way in which we approached it and we could think of no earlier way of doing it than to suggest to the Opposition that we should have two days on those subjects. After discussion, I understood that that was agreed, and it is for the Opposition to say how they wish to divide up this time.
§ The Prime Minister
If only the hon. Member had carried the day last June, he and I would have been talking about this, too. What a shame. Never mind—the hon. Gentleman is temporarily excluded from heaven.
After discussion with the Opposition, we extended the Queen's Speech debate by a day so that we might have a full debate on Bingham and a full debate on Rhodesia. At the end of that two-day debate—it is for the House to decide how it goes, but I hope that there can be an orderly debate on both those important matters in the two days—we shall ask the House to renew the sanctions order on a separate motion which will come at the end of the second day.
When the Government received the Bingham report, we decided at once that the first step was to publish it, and we did. We decided at the same time to refer it to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Government's purpose over this debate, which is clear and above board—although I know that some hon. Members have such suspicious minds that they cannot believe anything—was to give hon. Members the opportunity of expressing their views on questions such as the need for a further inquiry and the form that any such inquiry might take.
These are complex issues. They involve Government policy over many years. They involve administration. They also involve possible criminal practices. It seemed to us that the best way to pro- 38 ceed in this instance at first was to give the House the opportunity of discussing these matters. The Government would reserve their view and their position until they had heard the House and its views expressed in the form of debate. Then we would come forward with further proposals to the House. I believe that that is a perfectly sensible way of proceeding and I recommend it to the House in that spirit. I hope that, as we originally intended, the debate can be divided up in this way.
As for the arrangements during the Session, the Leader of the House will make proposals in regard to Private Members' time similar to those in recent Sessions. The Government are not proposing any alteration as regards Supply time. A total of 29 days is allotted for this purpose under the Standing Order and the Government propose to adhere to that. It will be for the Leader of the Opposition of course, again by convention, to discuss with the other opposition parties what time shall be allotted to them for their discussions.
A year ago, in the debate on the Queen's Speech, I said that there was work for this Parliament not only for the Session we were then beginning but, I added, for a fruitful Session in 1978–79. There was some dissent. No one ever seems to believe it when I say these things, and people are always wrong. But, having heard the Gracious Speech, the House will agree that we have a valuable programme of legislation for this coming Session. I should like to rehearse some of the measures which will be put before the House.
First, there will be a Bill to provide financial help to those who, since 1948, have suffered severely as a result of vaccinations against diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and several other diseases. The assistance will take the form of a tax-free payment of £10,000. I know from my correspondence that this proposal is deeply appreciated by the sufferers and their families.
Next, there will be a Bill to improve the safety of tankers at sea and to reduce the risk of oil pollution, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey reminded us when he spoke of the fate of the "Christos Bitas" that has brought once again to our notice the 39 risks to our environment of transporting huge quantities of oil around our coasts.
The Bill will provide, for instance, more stringent rules about steering gear controls aboard ships and about duplicate independent radar systems, and will require a system to be installed—a kind of "black box"—which will monitor and control the discharge of oil from ships and will shut down the flow automatically if the permitted rate of discharge is exceeded. It will provide for more frequent inspection of tankers over a certain age. This Bill will give an opportunity to express the anxieties to which my right hon. Friend has given voice.
All of that will be helpful, but I cannot emphasise too much that at the end of the day, if we are to prevent oil pollution, we shall still depend basically on the seamanship, vigilance and sense of responsibility of those who sail those huge vessels through our seas.
§ The Prime Minister
That is a very good motto.
Other important provisions of the Bill will amend an outmoded discipline system that now applies to merchant seamen. This new procedure has been agreed by both sides of the industry. The Bill will also contain a reserve power to enable us to protect the British shipping industry from undesirable foreign takeovers.
A further Bill, on which consultation is still going on, will improve the position of employees who are put on short time through no fault of their own. It is proposed to provide them with compensation at 75 per cent. of their normal pay for each day lost.
Yet another Bill—a public lending right Bill—will be brought in to assist authors. Like many other Members, I have been impressed by their case. The Bill will enable payments to be made to authors when their books are lent from public libraries.
Another Bill will enable the Home Secretary to extend the grants that he can give to local authorities to meet the needs of ethnic minorities and so promote harmony between the various communities. The present provisions are too narrow. For example, grants are limited to help- 40 ing Commonwealth immigrants. The new Bill would end this and other restrictions.
There will be a Bill to begin the implementation of the Briggs report. It will provide for national statutory bodies that will have powers to fix standards of education, training and discipline for nurses, midwives and health visitors.
There will be a housing Bill, which will establish a tenants' charter and improve the status of tenants of public authorities and enable them to play a greater part in their home making. The Bill will give tenants in local authority houses security of tenure. They will be freer to carry out improvements to their own homes; they will have the rights to a written tenancy agreement; and there will be machinery for tenants' committees to contribute to the management of the housing estates.
A Bill on education will provide for the election of parents and teachers to school governing bodies, so that parents may have a greater influence on the schools in which their children are educated. There will be a proposal to clarify the law on parental rights in respect of school preferences.
We shall be carrying forward our proposals on industrial democracy. We hope that as far as possible the arrangements for extending industrial democracy in factories and workshops will be secured through voluntary agreement and through negotiation. The Bill will take into account the considerable advances that have been made in this direction and in employee participation by a number of companies. But generally in this matter we are well behind some of our European competitors, including the most successful, and we shall therefore propose further statutory rights for employees where agreement cannot be reached between a company and its work force. The Government are continuing consultations on this matter, and legislation will be introduced as soon as they are completed.
Futher proposals that we shall introduce will be concerned with what has come to be known as organic change in local government. What that means is the transfer back to certain district councils, especially in non-metropolitan areas, of some of the functions that have been carried out by the counties since the reorganisation in 1973–74.
41 Some of our historic cities and towns with a long municipal history, cities and towns such as Plymouth, Norwich, Bristol, Nottingham. Leicester, Hull and others, feel keenly that some of the functions that they were then deprived of have not improved since the transfer and that they could exercise them better themselves and be closer to the people. I am glad to say that in this we have all-party support in the boroughs concerned, so I trust that there will be no opposition to it. It should go through quite easily. The Government agree with those cities and towns. The purpose of the Bill will be to remedy some of the deficiencies without going through the massive and a wasteful upheaval of another major reorganisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be having further consultations in preparation for the legislation.
Another Bill will be introduced to increase the statutory financial limits of the National Enterprise Board, the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency to enable them to continue their task of assisting investment and innovation in manufacturing industry and in safeguarding employment. Those institutions have rapidly gained support. They have shown their value. They will fill a gap in the industrial strategy. I am very glad that some of the political controversy, which I think began basically as a result of people not really knowing what was going on, is now dying down.
As regards Scotland and Wales, we shall of course make progress with the provisions of the devolution Acts that require us to hold a referendum before the Acts can commence in each country.
The House knows only too well of the requirement it introduced into the Acts that unless 40 per cent. of persons entitled to vote vote "Yes" the Government must introduce an order to repeal the Acts. The condition laid down in the Acts is "entitled to vote" and not "those voting". Therefore, it seems to the Government essential that we should ensure the fairest possible test of public opinion by holding a referendum on the most up-to-date register of electors available.
As the House knows, the new electoral register is in course of preparation. It will come into force on 16th February 42 1979. We therefore propose to hold the referendums as soon as possible after that date, and we have chosen for this purpose Thursday 1st March 1979. This early date will allow the maximum possible vote to be registered on these important issues. I trust that by announcing it now we are giving sufficient time to all—the parties, the returning officers and everyone else—to prepare themselves for the referendums.
As regards Northern Ireland, the Government have accepted and will propose to implement the recommendations of the all-party conference that was held under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker. Your conference proposed that the number of constituencies should be increased from 12 to 17 but that that number might be varied to 16 or 18. The Bill will provide for that.
The security situation in Northern Ireland is a cause of continuing concern, although—thanks in large measure to the determination of the great majority of people in the Province who have rejected violence, as well as to the courage and dedication of the security forces—violence has continued to decrease. It is still too high, and the potential for increased violence must not be underrated. The Government certainly do not underestimate it. But as the struggle of the men of violence moves on, causing misery and death to innocent people, even they are gradually coming to recognise that violence itself will not achieve the ends that they say they seek.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will continue energetically to work with the objective of establishing in the Province a system of government that will be acceptable to the community as a whole. He is currently meeting representatives of the political parties in the Province in an attempt to find some common ground on which early arrangements for devolution might be based. Despite the differences between the long-term aspirations of those who live in Northern Ireland, it should not be impossible for them to concentrate on identifying and building areas of agreement and common interest, in the interests of all the people of that sorely tried Province.
My right hon. Friend and his colleagues, who work so hard and travel so 43 much in this area, will continue to grapple with the other grave problems of the area, including the problem of high unemployment.
In the past few minutes I have enumerated a baker's dozen of Bills. They are by no means all the Bills proposed in the Queen's Speech. But I believe that what I have said and the areas to which the Bills are directed are sufficient to show that the Government are putting forward to the House a programme of reform, of social welfare and change and of environmental protection that will be of benefit to the whole community. It is a solid and substantial programme. It carries into practical effect the approach that I outlined at the Labour Party conference—namely, that there is a need for greater involvement and participation by our citizens in the decisions that affect their lives at work, in their homes or in the education of their children. It is a programme that will seek to improve the quality of life and will underpin those improvements by reasserting the social values and standards—personal, family and community standards—by which we live.
It is in pursuance of that approach that the standards of life of the pensioner will be improved again during the coming year and the child benefits will be substantially increased this month and again in April. It is in pursuance of that approach that we devote so much time to minority groups, such as the handicapped and the disabled.
There is much more to be done in all these fields. The extent to which we are successful will depend to a large degree on our success in continuing the financial and economic recovery that we have achieved. A year ago when we met I told the House that we had made a remarkable financial recovery. Sterling was steady, inflation was moving down and our balance of payments had improved. I added that that financial recovery had not then been matched by an economic recovery. This year I can report to the House that we have maintained the financial recovery of 12 months ago and that in addition the economic recovery began several months ago and is now well under way.
44 This recovery has taken place against a background of great international uncertainty, both economic and political. Despite the decisions that were announced at the economic summit in Bonn last July to implement a programme of concerted international action, the world economy still remains in recession. The monetary instability that followed the oil price increase of five years ago is still exercising a baleful effect. Indeed, this past week has seen a resurgence of the kind of instability from which only the speculators can gain.
It is our view that the dollar is undervalued on any objective assessment. But this is not just a problem for President Carter and the United States. The economies of the Western world are interdependent and it is in the interests of all to assist the President in his endeavours to stabilise the situation. This morning he informed me that he would today be announcing a further group of measures to support the dollar. These include action to increase interest rates and the mobilisation by the United States of over $30 billion worth of marks, yen and Swiss francs for intervention. This will be co-ordinated with the Governments concerned in the foreign exchange markets.
To achieve this the United States will make a drawing from the International Monetary Fund, will sell some of the special drawing rights, will increase swap lines and will sell United States Treasury securities denominated in some or all of these three principal intervention currencies. Her Majesty's Government support this further action by the United States' Administration, which carries a heavy burden as the world's principal reserve currency. These measures will make an important contribution to restoring dollar stability and on any rational assessment should put an end to the exaggerated movements of recent months, although it will undoubtedly take a short while for the markets to settle down and assess the situation.
What has happened does point to the shortcomings of the situation that we have all endured since the early seventies. These measures should give some calm and some time which should be properly used for a much-needed fundamental review of the present international monetary arrangements and the system. The 45 trouble is that in the middle of a crisis we are told that we cannot look at the fundamentals because everyone is so busy dealing with the crisis, and when we are out of the crisis everyone says that it does not matter. We have to take this matter in hand during the next few months. I have pressed strongly for it in the past and I repeat my plea now. The weight of footloose money is now too great for an economy even of the size and strength of the United States to carry by itself.
I return to a point related to some of the discussions we shall be having in this House later. I state the general principle in the hope that there will be agreement on that, at least. There ought to be no doubt in anyone's mind that monetary stability is better for world trade and for the developing countries than the turbulences which the world has been experiencing recently.
For this reason the Government, and particularly my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, have been playing a constructive and realistic role in developing the ideas for a European monetary system. More work remains to be done on this and the House will have an opportunity for a full discussion—I am sure that the Lord President will arrange this—before the European Council meeting in December. It is a complex issue and today my right hon. Friend, to assist the House, is tabling a memorandum setting out the background, so far as we know it, up to date. Our general approach can be shortly summed up. We wish to see a scheme which will be durable and effective and which will not force some countries into deflationary policies unnecessarily or others into higher levels of inflation. There is still quite a lot of work to be done before such a scheme emerges. It has not yet emerged.
Uncertainty has not been confined to the financial and economic sphere. In Southern Africa there have been sustained Anglo-American endeavours but a settlement for Rhodesia seems as far away as ever. I shall not go into details in view of the debate that will take place next week, but the difficulty of bringing, or getting, all the parties to agree to come to the conference table at the same time leads me to doubt whether the will for agreement that would lead to a peaceful 46 settlement really exists. Britain and America must and will nevertheless continue to work together and my right hon. Friend will make a full report on this matter if and when he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, early next week.
My right hon. Friend will, in addition, make a statement to the House tomorrow on Zambia, on the assistance which the Government are giving to—I find it necessary to remind some hon. Members—a fellow member of the Commonwealth. President Kaunda turned first to the United Kingdom at a time of critical difficulty. I am glad that he did so. I hope that every hon. Member is glad that he did so. His country has suffered more than any other as a result of the Rhodesian rebellion.
The Opposition Front Bench has wisely asked for the facts. The right hon. Lady did so in rather an aggressive way this afternoon, but nevertheless she asked for the facts before coming to a conclusion. Some of her followers have been more rash and perhaps she was responding to their temper. Those members of the Opposition who think, when they hear the facts, that we should have rejected President Kaunda's approach, should say so. They will have the chance next week to spell out what their response would have been and to spell out what they think the consequences would have been, not only to Zambia, not only to Southern Africa but to the Commonwealth I hope that wiser counsel will prevail, before people rush into too many denunciations, when they have heard the statement which my right hon. Friend will make.
Uncertainty persists in the Middle East despite the progress towards a settlement which, under President Carter's auspices at Camp David, the Egyptian and Israeli leaders were able to achieve. In many ways the prospects for peace there are better than they have been for 30 years. It would be a tragedy if the hard work which has gone into their efforts were now to be thrown away through the emergence of last-minute obstacles. I hope, and am confident, that both President Sadat and Mr. Begin are too conscious of the value to their peoples of the prize of peace to let this opportunity slip.
On one front, at least, there has been a movement towards greater certainty. The United States and the Soviet Union 47 have taken further steps towards the conclusion of a second strategic arms limitation agreement which will provide for the reduction, rather than the mere freezing, of strategic arms and will constitute a major contribution to world stability and detente.
As the House knows, the United Kingdom has also continued its negotiations, in company with the United States and the Soviet Union, to reach agreement on a comprehensive test ban. There is still some way to go in this complex negotiation, but we are moving forward. The comprehensive test ban treaty which is our goal will—provided we can get the structure right—provide an effective curb to the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile at home it is the tide of inflation that is the Government's chief concern. The right hon. Lady addressed some observations to us this afternoon, basically about pay. There was hardly anything about inflation—[Interruption.] That was the conclusion which I drew, that she was more concerned with finding difficulties about pay policy than she was with explaining to the Government her policy for keeping inflation down. Last year's financial recovery and stability have led to this year's economic growth, principally because our rate of inflation has been reduced, by a great effort, to the average level of other major industrial countries. There is now growing confidence in industry because of this. As a result, industrial investment is now increasing. The last recorded figures of company purchases of new and up-to-date plant and machinery show an increase of 10 per cent. on a year earlier.
As regards the distribution and service industries, new investment is more than 12 per cent. higher than a year earlier. Industrialists are forecasting that the increase will be maintained into next year. All of this, of course, is subject to keeping inflation down. If company surpluses are spent in meeting excessive wage settlements there will be less for new plant and machinery.
At present, considering the world background, the economy is growing at a reasonable rate. Indeed, we are growing faster than the average for the European Community as a whole. Our unemployment levels have fallen slowly but rela- 48 tively steadily over the past 12 months. We are continuing to hold, and indeed slightly to improve, our share of world exports of manufactured goods. We are expecting this increase to continue despite the increased competition that comes from the slow growth in world trade and the strength of sterling.
As the right hon. Lady rightly said, the country has been given a big boost by North Sea oil. Last year the figure was 38 million tonnes. This year it will be about 55 million tonnes and by 1980 it is probable that we shall reach net self-sufficiency. Each tonne of oil is worth about £50 and it can be seen how valuable an addition this has been to what we have been doing.
Our people are better off than a year ago—higher earnings, lower taxes and a reduced inflation rate. [Interruption.] I do not know which of these three statements the Opposition wish to challenge, so I repeat them—higher earnings, lower taxes and a reduced inflation rate. I do not overlook the blemishes, and I will come to them, but no one can dispute that the last 12 months has been a year of progress on every front. As we begin this parliamentary year, the basic question is whether Britain has the will to maintain that improvement and to support policies that will achieve it. The greatest danger at the moment—and I think that the right hon. Lady's speech lent colour to it—is that we shall all act as though the danger from inflation is no longer of major importance.
The Government totally repudiate such an attitude. Overcoming inflation is the core of our policy for sustaining economic growth, reducing unemployment and improving living standards. The Government and the House have a responsibility to give a lead to the country in this matter, to recall to our people what still needs to be done, in the words of the Gracious Speech, to overcomethe evils of inflation and unemployment, the two most serious social problems facing the nation today, and to sustaining the growth of output which is now under way.Many more people are at work today, despite the higher number of unemployed, than there were a few years ago.
I do not intend to conduct an argument this afternoon with those who say "Let's give up pay policy; it is irrelevant or it is too difficult." They say—and this 49 I understand, at any rate on alternate days, to be the policy of the Opposition—"Rely on monetary or fiscal instruments and you can forget about pay policy." If the strong or those with monopoly power grab what they can and, as a result, their fellow workers are put out of work—"Well", they say, "that is for the market to determine and people will have to learn sense."
I do not accept that view, wherever it comes from. I do not scorn the argument that is now taking place between the Opposition Front Bench and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). There is an argument going on in the Labour Party, too, and we all have much to learn. But sometimes when I listen to the right hon. Lady I wish I were as certain of anything as she is certain of everything.
I state the Government's policy quite simply—namely, that a limit on earnings increases has an important part to play in keeping down inflation, that the Government have a responsibility to say what that limit should be if no one else will do so, and that Government monetary and fiscal policies also have a role to play.
The counter-inflation policy, let me say to the right hon. Lady, is a three-legged stool. One leg is incomes policy, another leg is monetary policy, and the third leg is tax policy. If one of these is weaker than the other two, those two will have to carry more weight, and if too much weight is carried by them the whole stool may collapse and counter-inflation with it. Let me remind the House what the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) said some time ago on this matter. I found myself in complete agreement with him. He is at least one of the many voices on the Conservative Front Bench on this matter. He said:Those people who wish to rely solely on control of the money supply and do not wish to have an incomes policy are entitled to say that it could stop inflation. I do not doubt that if we pursued a sufficiently rigorous control of the money supply we would bring inflation virtually to a standstill, and that would be a very desirable object to achieve, but the price we should have to pay for that would be very high. The price in terms of the level of unemployment and the level of bankruptcies, in industry, the City and agriculture would be an intolerable price."—[Official Report, 6th July 1976; Vol. 914, c. 1238.]50 I repeat—and I believe that this should be common ground and I ask the Opposition to make up their minds on it—that what we need are all these three elements to work in harmony if we are to overcome inflation in this country.
Let me spell out clearly what I mean so that no one is under a misapprehension. We can keep inflation low, we can sustain the growth in output, we can overcome unemployment, if we have these elements working in harmony, and there is full agreement between the Government, the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC, together with, I believe, the overwhelming support of our people that inflation must be kept in single figures. Trade unionists, employers, pensioners, those in the public services, in health and education and the rest, all know the savage impact that rampant inflation has not only on their standard of life but on the services that are provided in education and in health.
Let us look at the estimates for a moment. I did it myself recently. Let us look at how much we spent on the National Health Service five years ago and how much we are spending now. Let us look at how little improvement we have got for the vast increase in resources we have devoted to it because of inflation. To those who want to improve the Health Service, as I do, and those who want to improve education, as I do, I say that the first test is to keep inflation down. Inflation cuts away at jobs. It reduces the attraction of our goods to other countries and lessens the opportunities for export. It makes our home market more open to imports from countries whose inflation rates are lower than ours.
Of course the level of earnings has a part to play in determining the level of inflation, and the Government have a responsibility to say, even if no one else agrees, what is the best level of increases in national settlements that will achieve this end. Nothing that has been said in the discussion so far that we are having with many groups, and nothing that was said by the right hon. Lady today, can alter our view that the best figure is 5 per cent.
The Government are fully aware of the shortcomings of stating a single figure—I do not need to be convinced of that. 51 The critics have an easy victory when they say that once one states a figure everyone believes that he is entitled to it; and that some negotiators will prove their skill or show their strength by insisting on exceeding it, and finally no one or few people get less than the stated figure.
The right hon. Lady said that she thought it was a question of whether it should be an average or a norm—that once one states a figure, if one states that it is going to be an average and Ford workers get 15 per cent., who is going to get nought per cent. to make up for it?—[Interruption.] Of course I know that the consequence of that average is that Leylands will get nought per cent. Is that what the Opposition are saying? I am very interested to hear that they want to know what we are going to do about Ford. I think Ford has a public obligation now and a public responsibility to state clearly what impact on its prices this proposed wage settlement will have, and it has a public responsibility to account to the country for any price increases that it proposes to make during the next 12 months. The sooner Ford says that, the better.
I am aware of the argument that we should not publish any figure but should rely on the good sense of negotiators not to press for too much. But how are negotiators and the country to know what is regarded as an appropriate figure unless it is published? No one can be quite sure what effect the publication of the 5 per cent. figure has had, but certainly it does enable the Government and others to judge that published figure against prospective and actual claims that we hear about and that are totalling 30 per cent., 40 per cent., 50 per cent. Is that what the right hon. Lady thinks appropriate in these circumstances? She could at least have told us that.
At least the negotiators know what we are aiming at and they know—and they cannot have it spelt out more clearly than I am doing now—that settlements at more than that figure will result, unless other factors enter into the calculations which we cannot see now, in inflation going up. I have never tried to avoid that conclusion and I do not avoid it now. I must emphasise again and again that that figure still applies. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are very good at asking questions. 52 If they will possess their souls in patience, even the younger of them, they will get answers. I must emphasise again and again that that figure still stands as the right level if the country is to achieve the objective of reducing inflation still further. There is an answer to the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). I do not propose to give it while he interrupts in a sedentary manner and I do not propose to give way to him if he gets up.
No one has yet produced any evidence to the Government that we have pegged the figure too low. No one has yet produced any evidence to the Government that a higher figure would achieve the same result of reducing inflation. Therefore, I cannot state it more clearly. If the general level of settlements comes out at much more than 5 per cent., the level of inflation will not go down of its own accord. Of course, this figure does not include genuine productivity deals, provided that they are genuine and provided that they result in increased productivity so that the cost of producing a unit of goods does not increase or, even better, is reduced.
I have listened to the claims of certain negotiators that in the last round they persuaded employers to fiddle productivity agreements to give higher figures. So much the worse for them and for all of us. The fiddlers may get some temporary benefit for themselves, but in the end we and they will all lose.
Let me sum up. Keeping down inflation is the objective. A 5 per cent. increase in settlements will achieve that. That is the Government's strong recommendation to employers in the private sector and to trade unions. Any excess will throw people out of work and raise prices. We shall scrutinise carefully the results as they come. If the rise in earnings cannot be accommodated the Government will be forced to strengthen their other policies—the other two legs of the stool. I regret to say that it will mean putting undue weight on them, but it will have to be.
Among other things this could include—and here is the answer to those hon. Members who are anxious to get it, and I shall be interested to hear whether they support it—higher taxation. That is what the Chancellor might have to do. It would include action on interest rates arising from our monetary aggregates. It could 53 result in a smaller increase in public expenditure than would otherwise be the case. All these things follow. As a result it would be more difficult for firms to get credit from the banks. They might not be able to pay so much in wages, or they might have to discharge workers and slow down production, or their investment in new plant and machinery could be less. Any of these things follow. Whether or not the Opposition understand, the country understands that this is not the road which the Government would choose to follow. We do not wish to go down that road. But overcoming inflation is paramount and whether or not we have to follow it depends upon the good sense and understanding of everyone, trade unionists and employers, during the coming winter. At this moment further talks are going on between the Government and the Trades Union Congress and in due course the Chancellor will report on the outcome of those talks.
In the weeks and months ahead we shall hear many complaints about unfairness. If the right hon. Lady follows the pattern which she followed last year she will be the first to jump on the band wagon. Some of the complaints about the squeezing of differentials and about special cases will be legitimate. We shall hear all this. Of course every effort should be made by negotiators to reduce those complaints, but it should also be recognised at the same time that the major fight is against inflation and not every complaint can be remedied at the present time.
Are we to have a winter of strikes? I appeal to every trade unionist not to make it so. I agree with the right hon. Lady that the workers' power in combination is greater today than ever before. Not crossing the picket line has become an expression of solidarity to a degree which I certainly did not know in my younger days when I was an active trade unionist. But that kind of solidarity if carried to extremes means that life could seize up in a closely knit industrial society such as our own.
There are a few wild voices today which are seeking to thrust vital groups of workers into the forefront in the belief that the State will not in the end be able to resist a withdrawal of labour by such workers. Then, if their assumptions were right, and such claims were conceded 54 under duress, others without the same vital power would demand the same level of remuneration, using the appealing argument, which is very difficult to answer, that fair comparisons for similar work demand the same reward. In the end the result would be that the country would once more be on the upward spiral of inflation.
§ Mr. Heffer
I know that some of my hon. Friends may not like what I shall say, but there are wide sections of the working people who are on very low pay. Is it not quite clear that those sections of the workers have a right to much higher pay than they are at present receiving and that 5 per cent. is a most ridiculous position for those workers to be placed in? I take not the side which the right hon. Lady is taking, but the side of ordinary working people who support the Labour Government. Is it not clear that it is our duty and responsibility as members of the Labour Party to take the views of those workers into consideration and to give them a square deal?
§ The Prime Minister
I made it clear at the Labour Party conference that if arrangements could be entered into which would assist the lowest paid workers in this country without that feeding through into the differentials of every other group of workers, I would be ready for it. The discussions which are now going on can clearly focus on that point. But no one will be better off, neither the low paid nor the high paid, unless we keep inflation emblazoned on our banner as the first evil that we have to overcome. I cannot be pushed off this. This is absolutely vital to the whole future of our Government and of our country.
Another argument I hear is that, although the country is generally in favour of moderate settlements for everyone else, that resolve will not last if there is public inconvenience or hardship. It is argued that the public mood will then rapidly change and that people will say "Give them the money" or "Let us have a quiet life". I hope those who say this are wrong.—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is not what you said in 1974".]. If that is what hon. Members think then I had better quote what I did say at that time, because the right hon. Lady quoted only part of it. What I said, and made clear, 55 at that time was that it seemed to me that the appeal for votes was against thosewho are doing no more than seeking to protect their existing standards. Is that now a crime?The right hon. Member for Sidcup said recently that he had learned something. So have I. I then said at that time:Mr. Heath is not the general to fight the battle against inflation".I said it for the reason which I think the right hon. Gentleman knows and probably now accepts, namely, that the decision by Lord Barber to allow the M3 figures, the monetary rates, to go up by 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. was a crass error from which the country suffered for the subsequent two years. What we have done is to push down the increase in the monetary aggregates, the M3 figure. It is not now 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. If the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) listens he might learn something. It is now between 8 per cent. and 12 per cent.—about 10 per cent. or perhaps even lower.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Denis Healey)
Six per cent.
§ The Prime Minister
Against that background, we are operating in an entirely different situation from the one in which we were operating in February 1974. I add one other thing, and I say it to those of my hon. Friends who know the mining industry. At that time the miners of this country had slipped back in the wages league until they were well below the average earnings of the country. Now they are earning far above the average wages in the country. That is the difference between 1974 and today.
However we refight history and however we judge what went on before, I should point out to the right hon. Lady, who was boasting that during her Government's period of office inflation was only 5.8 per cent., that when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer it was below 4 per cent. She will have to do better than 5.8 per cent.
I wish to make clear that the Government cannot give up their basic policy. The faint-hearts who say we should not be rigid or that we are fighting the wrong battle or that we cannot succeed should make up their minds which side they are on.
56 I believe that if the Government and this House give a strong enough lead, we shall carry the country with us.
My resolve is strengthened because this country is at a watershed in its history. So many things are going better for Britain through the advantages of North Sea oil. We can win great benefits in the years ahead. Low inflation and high productivity will produce high earnings. Substantial economic growth will carry us forward to higher levels of employment. If we succeed we shall be one of the industrial leaders of the world by the mid-1980s.
This winter is a make or break time. We shall suffer setbacks—we suffered one today—but we shall not give up. Nor shall we be complacent if we succeed. We are fighting for the future of everyone in our country. The Government will not evade their duty to warn or take action if it becomes necessary, and we look to the House to support us in our efforts.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The Gracious Speech referred to the Government's determination to bring before the courts those responsible for violence in Northern Ireland. This is the end product of all that is done by the security forces and by all who are concerned with the return of law and order to the Province.
In the past three months since we last met there have been more lamentable and brutal murders. But at the same time these months have witnessed the increasing effectiveness, to use the terms of a previous Gracious Speech, of the security forces.
The story of the past 12 months has been one of returning strength and stability. Depression and hopelessness have given way to an atmosphere of confidence regained, and slowly but surely the law is being reasserted and, what is even more important, hearts and minds are being changed and directed towards more constructive outlets.
From the improving security situation it may seem a far cry to the very important passage in the Gracious Speech providing for amending legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. But the two are related because already the undertaking 57 given by the Prime Minister on 19th April in this House has been one of the major factors in removing uncertainty from the minds of all those who live in that part of the kingdom that we represent.
Ulster citizens have come to see that an increase from 12 to 18 seats is bound to result in better representation of all shades of opinion, and consequently there has been a far greater degree of acceptance of the proposals than we were at one time led to believe. Far from rejecting the increase in the number of seats, the parties in Northern Ireland are now doing their sums to ensure that they win their share, and if possible more than their share, of the increase.
We welcome the fact that the proposed legislation has been endorsed by the official Opposition and supported by practically every party in this House. The reassuring message is that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and therefore is entitled to the same privileges and is expected to bear the same responsibilities as any other part of this kingdom.
We hope that future Sessions will see further progress towards the restoration of democracy as it is understood in Great Britain. Obviously an essential preparation for that is the reinstatement of local government as it is generally understood in this House and accepted in Great Britain and in the Irish Republic.
I hope that there will be progress on the Government's declared intention to bring forward legislation based on the recommendation of the Lawrence Committee concerning the rating of halls used for recreational and other community purposes. For a number of reasons, which are well understood in this House, mainly because of the economic climate which besets us all in the United Kingdom but also because of the special difficulties in Northern Ireland, this is a matter of widespread and growing concern.
The Government have renewed their pledge to continue their efforts to restore normal life to the Province and to every section of the community in that Province. Legislation such as that proposed can hasten the return to normality and encourage the continued provision of facilities and opportunities that are still clearly needed in many areas.
58 I wish to refer to the tentative and somewhat reluctant advances made in the last Session towards legislating for Northern Ireland in the proper manner as an integral part of the United Kingdom through United Kingdom Bills. I acknowledge the ingenuity and occasional compliance shown in this connection by draftsmen, officials and Northern Ireland Ministers and I give notice that no Bill presented in this Session which does not extend to Northern Ireland will escape the immediate scrutiny of my right hon. and hon. Friends with a view to inquiring what cause or just impediment can be shown why it should not.
Unlike some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I make no pretensions to understanding the science of economics, if indeed it is a science. That is why I make a plea to the Government and to all those whose disputes on the subjects of wages and inflation have provided entertaining material for the newspapers in the past few weeks and will, I fear, occupy much of the time of the House in the weeks ahead. My plea is that they should treat us kindly and not leave us in the dark. If it is the case, as one side would contend, that higher wages at Ford's or Mackie's cause inflation, please explain why the payment of more money to one set of workers results in there being more money to pay everybody else more.
Could those of us who are a little slower than others in these matters have all this explained? Otherwise, it is difficult for us to join in either condemning or exonerating the Government for their attempts, some of which are very vexaious to our own constituents, to impose a limit on wage increases. I say this as a member of a party which has a better record than most in supporting attempts to contain the growth of public expenditure in total and the size of the Budget deficit in the belief that these magnitudes are very material to causing or preventing inflation and that in the long run all our constituents stand to suffer unless the stability of the purchasing power of the currency is restored and firmly maintained.
Finally, I hope that the House of Commons will approach this new and final Session of the present Parliament in a constructive spirit. It does Parliament a disservice if we trivialise this Session 59 by further indulging in teasing the public and playing childish guessing games. Furthermore, I believe that we should not encourage the news industry to engage in endless speculation about the result or the outcome of this or that Division when the simple and sensible course would be to wait until about 10.20 on the evening in question.
We make a great mistake if we imagine that the public want advance information on such matters, particularly when such information in the past has usually been proved wrong. My own experience is that the public have become bored by the whole pantomime, and it is small wonder that they are disillusioned with politicians in general.
Perhaps the best Christmas present we could offer to the public would be a resolve by us all to keep off the "box" for the remainder of this year, or at the very least to restrict the number of such comedy acts.
To end on a serious note, I feel, as the Prime Minister and the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition have already said, that there is much useful work to be done in this Session. I feel also that we shall earn and win the respect of the electorate only if we diligently complete the task for which members of the electorate sent us to this place.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Although he is not in his place at present, I wish to add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who is an old friend of mine both in and out of the House, for the way in which he moved the Loyal Address. It bore the combination of that humour and charm which is characteristic of the man, allied to his great parliamentary experience.
I wish now to deal with the content of the Gracious Speech. The Speech reminds me of nothing more than a large sedative. The first part of the Prime Minister's remarks recommended the Speech in his best bedside manner. However, the first part contrasted a great deal with the second part. I thought that the sedative he offered was appropriate for a large, well-fed, healthy patient who needed 60 reassurance. One would have thought that it was intended for a highly prosperous nation with nothing more than a few ripples which needed to be smoothed out here and there, and not a nation, as the Prime Minister described it, which was at the crossroads in its history and which could go to boom or bust depending on which direction its affairs took.
I thought that the second part of the Prime Minister's speech was in marked contrast. I was most impressed by the way in which he put forward his views on the dangers of inflation. I entirely agree with him. It is foolish for people to pretend that there is one simple remedy in the fight against inflation. If we had a total monetary policy, presumably that would bring down inflation to nil but would bring the country to its knees at the same time. There must be a balance in all these factors.
The issue on which I should like enlightenment from the Government relates to the question whether the Labour Party is backing the Prime Minister. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to say what he did today, and it was extremely reassuring to hear him, but I must emphasise that the Government have offered no reassurance to the British people on how to control inflation. The Prime Minister has expressed his views, but we must remember that his party is totally opposed to those views. The Labour Party conference did not support the Prime Minister on those views. There is no statutory backing for the 5 per cent. policy. The Prime Minister would agree that at best it is a rough and ready policy. The right hon. Gentleman has exploited it most skilfully, and he has done so to a large extent against great pressure from his own party. But it does not have statutory backing, and already there are major settlements which breach the 5 per cent. limit. I refer to the hospital supervisors as one example. That settlement refers to the public sector, not to the private sector, and the settlement in that case appears to me to be 15 per cent.
Is the Cabinet itself backing the Prime Minister? Clearly, the Prime Minister's determination, adumbrated in his remarks today, has not been matched so far by the determination of either his Cabinet or his party. Obviously there are great deficiencies in the nature of the policy. Nevertheless, along with the right hon. Member 61 for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), we consider it a better policy, so far as it goes, than the policy which the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition is offering in its place.
It was noticeable today that the right hon. Lady did not once use the term "free collective bargaining", as though it was a term to be used by her only at the Tory Party conference. Free collective bargaining within recent experience is a recipe for expensive collective unemployment, and nothing more. Everybody can see that. We do not want the economy of the jungle in which the fittest survive, the strongest receive the largest increases, and the weakest go on the dole. Let us make no mistake about it: free collective bargaining is nature red in tooth and claw let loose in the workplace. It is a recipe for disaster.
Many people have learned a good deal from experience. The Conservative Government in 1970—Selsdon man—put forward free collective bargaining as one of the two great recipes that would lead to the prosperity of this country. That policy ended in disaster. In 1974 the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), backed by the present Prime Minister, virtually said that we must return to free collective bargaining. That, too, was a disaster.
There is no point in playing political games and pretending that nobody has learned from our experience in these matters. That policy clearly has not worked. Therefore, it was astonishing to hear the Leader of the Opposition again putting that policy forward. However, today she displayed definite signs of trying to resile from it. She appeared to me as though she was standing on a skateboard in a skate park trying to execute a difficult balancing act in an effort to regain the balance which she so obviously lost at the Conservative Party conference.
Yet not only do the right hon. Lady and the Conservative Party want such a policy, but the Labour Party wants it as well. Despite the brave words of the Prime Minister this afternoon, one wonders whether he will be able to carry out his policy. Small businesses will be particularly badly hit by free collective bargaining since they find it hardest to compete in a free-for-all wage climate. Unemployment will rise and monopoly wage interests will see themselves getting 62 richer and richer, while the rest of us will suffer.
In her speech today, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition said that there was a deep division of principle between her views and those expressed by the Labour Party. I did not gather that from her speech. She said that the Labour Party was now a party of great battalions, as though her own party was not. Of course, they are great battalions. The one generates the other and it is a matter of action and reaction.
The truth is that the right hon. Lady now finds herself in accord with the view on incomes held by the leader of the Transport and General Workers Union. These are the circumstances in which the country now finds itself. The most senior of the American trade union leaders, reacting this morning to President Carter's programme, said that the American workers would prefer a statutory prices and incomes policy. He thought that the measures put forward in a rough and ready way by President Carter—emulating to a considerable degree the views of the right hon. Member for Sidcup and the actions taken by our own Prime Minister—were not going down well with the American workers.
I also think that a statutory incomes policy which applies to everybody, so that ordinary people do not have to go on supporting the inflationary excesses of the Ford car workers, or British Oxygen workers holding the country to ransom, is fairer in the long run. Such a policy should make provision for genuine productivity deals, instead of many of the sham deals which we have seen to date.
This also applies to profit sharing. Surely the best way for a worker to take a share in prosperity is to participate in profit sharing. There is a good deal to be said in non-capital-intensive companies for having a rough and ready rule that the first 10 per cent. of profits should be distributed to shareholders and that the remaining profits to be distributed should be split fifty-fifty between the work force and the shareholders. If we are to have rough and ready rules, that seems to be a more sensible way of proceeding.
If the Government's stated commitment to industrial democracy is genuine, it is to be welcomed as at least a step towards the ending of confrontation politics 63 which we have seen in this House and which is expressed in that ghastly phrase "both sides of industry".
I am sure that we are all aware that many people who listen to our debates think that the differences between parties are often synthetic. People of good sense who have good will towards the country generally agree on the need for certain basic requirements of policies, whether we have a Labour or a Conservative Government. For example, I am sure that the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Sidcup more truly represent the views of the vast majority of people in this country than did the Labour Party in its expression of view on incomes policy at its conference or does the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), representing the Tory Party. The large vested interests of the two parties of the great battalions prevent this breaking through as general support throughout the country.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)
Given what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the views of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) representing best what the country wants and what he said earlier about the difficulties he envisages the Prime Minister having in getting the 5 per cent. policy accepted in the country, may we take it that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues will be supporting the Government in that policy?
§ Mr. Hooson
Not at all. We shall deal with all these matters as they come up. There is no agreement between the Liberal Party and the Government. I said that I applaud the attitude taken by the Prime Minister in the second part of his speech. It remains to be seen whether that attitude is matched by the determination of the Cabinet and his own party to support him or whether he will be pushed off course by his party.
The Gracious Speech is also deficient on the question of Europe. The Government have once again failed to define their position on Europe, except for the blandest of statements about continuing to work within the EEC. We shall challenge the Government and the Conservative Party to make clear their attitudes on the future development of a united 64 Europe. In the opinion of my party, this will be one of the great issues of this Parliament. In many ways, the European elections are more important in the long term than are any elections to this House or to an Assembly.
The Government have said nothing about the European monetary system and it looks as though we shall again be standing on the sidelines as the only member of the Community not to join. It is said that the Prime Minister has been greatly influenced by the Chancellor of West Germany in his attitude to this matter, but again he will find great difficulty in carrying his party with him.
When we look back at our relationship with Europe, we see that the shortsightedness of the two main parties meant that we joined a Community in the design of which we took no part. The Conservative Government withdrew from the Messina Conference after we had been invited to it and we have since suffered the consequences. We joined the Common Market at the time it had come to the end of its first great cycle of prosperity, and this caused many difficulties for this country. No one can doubt that if Britain had been a founder member of the Community we would have enjoyed many more of the advantages of membership and suffered far fewer of the disadvantages.
Yet are we not hell bent on doing the same thing again? Of course there are technical difficulties about creating a common European currency. There are always difficulties in brave and radical measures. The EMS is not a European monetary system; it is a step in the direction of a system. Unless we take part in meaningful negotiations on this matter, we shall be forced, sooner or later, to accept a system which we shall have had no part in shaping. Make no mistake about it: if there is eventually a system, or even if the ECS goes part of the way towards it, we shall be forced to join it—and probably in the same way as we eventually joined the Common Market. We could have been there from the start shaping it, but we went in as the poor relation.
Once again, the Prime Minister is not supported by his own party. He was criticised a great deal when he was on the Continent discussing this matter.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman suffering from amnesia? My recollection is that he was the only anti-Marketeer in his party. All credit to him, but what has happened since then?
§ Mr. Hooson
That shows how wrong the hon. Gentleman can be. If he had been here longer, he would know that I was always in favour of joining the Common Market on the ground floor, but that I believed that when the right hon. Member for Sidcup took us in it was at a time which was extremely disadvantageous to this country. I said at that time that the Common Market had reached the end of a cycle of prosperity.
A united Europe is not just about economic and monetary self-interest, however important that may be. My colleagues and I look to the Queen's Speech to see what steps are to be taken to strengthen the European pillar of NATO. We look forward to that pillar playing an increasing role in defence against possible Soviet aggression and, even more, against Soviet influence arising from the steady growth in Russian military power, backed by economic power. Europe will have to learn to be less dependent upon the American pillar which dominates NATO at present, and this can come about only if we have a united states of Europe.
It is interesting that what is missing from the Queen's Speech is in many ways more important than what is in it. It is obvious that there has been a dredging of the Whitehall Departments to find out what measures are available to which no one can take great exception. Anything really controversial has been hurled out.
There is no mention in the Queen's Speech of the prison service, which is surely facing a catastrophic breakdown. The report of the prison department published on 27th July this year shows the highest average prison population recorded during this century. The total of 41,570 includes a record 1,358 women. I do not think that it is generally appreciated that more than 15,400 men share single cells and that, of these, more than 5,000 live three to a cell.
Anyone who visits prisons knows that conditions are, in many cases, appalling and insanitary. Some institutions provide only 20 bathing places for 1,000 66 inmates. In some places, chamber pots have to be slopped out in rotation because if they were not the nineteenth century drains would block up.
But prisoners' living conditions are the prison officers' working conditions, and they have had enough. They are threatening industrial action on 5th November. It is astonishing that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech that deals with this matter. It is said that the Home Secretary would be making a statement this week about the immediacy of the problem, but surely we need more basic reform than can be indicated in a simple statement. There has been a serious riot at Gartree over the alleged misuse of drugs and the prison governors told the Home Secretary:If the present trend continues, there will be a serious loss of control which has to be quelled by armed intervention by another service. In such circumstances there is a probability of both staff and prisoners being killed.It is interesting to note that the governors referred to that being a probability rather than a possibility, yet the Government have proposed nothing to alleviate the situation.
There is clearly a need not only for a full public inquiry into the problems of the prison service—my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who has a number of important prisoners in his constituency, has written to the Home Secretary asking for such an inquiry—but there is an urgent need to reduce the prison population.
The Government's review of criminal justice policy has pointed out the inconsistency between the publicly avowed policy of using custody only as a last resort for serious offences or dangerous offenders and the practice of the courts. There are many people in prison who should not be there. One of the great complaints of prison officers is that many of those suffering from psychiatric disabilities are sent to prison. They cause enormous problems. It is only too easy to imagine the problems caused by somebody with a psychiatric disability sharing a cell with two other prisoners who do not.
I shall say a few words about the national scandal of secure accommodation. I begin with the issue of provision for psychiatric offenders. Such offenders 67 should not be in ordinary prisons that cannot cope with them. However, nearly all of them are sent to ordinary prisons.
The Government allocated moneys for secure accommodation with psychiatric facilities. I shall quote some figures that I obtained from Questions asked during the previous Session. In 1976–77 the Trent regional health authority received £510,000 as a special allocation for the provision of secure facilities. Not a penny of that sum was spent for that purpose. Instead, the money was distributed as general revenue.
The South-East Thames health authority received £403,000 for the same purpose. It spent £4,000—a miserable 1 per cent.—and the rest was distributed as general revenue. The South-West Thames health authority received £325,000 and used almost all of it to offset overspending of overall revenue.
That is a national scandal. There has been a clear misappropriation of public funds by public bodies.
§ Mr. Hooson
I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in these matters. It is true that over £5 million has been allocated. It is also true that not one-tenth of it has been spent on the purpose for which it was allocated. That means that, instead of having secure accommodation to which psychiatric offenders may be sent, the courts have no option other than to let these people free to go where they will or to send them to prison. That is one of the deficiencies about which prison officers are rightly complaining.
The Government must announce whether they have abandoned their aim of providing secure accommodation for psychiatric offenders. If they do not, when is the money to be spent for the purpose for which it was provided, as well as a great deal more? I appreciate that this is a relatively small matter for the Prime Minister to concern himself with, but it is of the greatest concern to the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
I apologise for intervening again in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. However, as he says, this is an important subject and one 68 in which I take a great deal of interest. It is fair to observe that the Government have done their part. The £5 million special allocation was provided by the Government to ensure that we do not have the offenders to whom he refers cluttering our special hospitals, our psychiatric hospitals or our prisons when they should be in the interim secure units that were recommended as long ago as 1974. Responsibility lies with the area health auhorities that have refused to provide what they see as locally unpopular projects in their areas, desperately necessary though they are.
§ Mr. Hooson
The Government appoint those bodies. I think that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) will agree that the £5 million was only a first instalment. In itself it is completely inadequate to deal with the problem. Almost all of it has been spent for other purposes. That is a scandal.
Last year 2,500 people were sent to prison for offences of drunkenness. These are normally social inadequates who pose no threat to society. It is lunatic to put them in prison at a cost of about £90 a week.
Seven years ago, a Home Office working party recommended detoxification centres for habitual drunken offenders. Such centres are provided in many other countries. Seven years later, what is the position? Only two small units have been established. There is one in Leeds with 45 places and one in Manchester with 15 places. However, we have 2,500 people sent to prison for offences of drunkenness, thereby adding enormously to the burden of prison offices and to the problems of the prison population.
Similar criticism may be made of the imprisonment of fine defaulters. No fewer than 16,000 were sent to prison last year. What is solved by sending these people to prison? How is society served by taking that course? Why not force people who do not pay their fines to perform community service? They should be subject to community service orders as an alternative to imprisonment. That would take the pressure off the prison system and off the prison staff. It would mean that something positive was being contributed to society by those who did not pay fines.
69 The same may be said for maintenance defaulters. Last year no fewer than 2,500 maintenance defaulters went to prison. How is that supposed to help their families or those they are bound to maintain? The alternative of the community service order would appear to be appropriate.
Britain has one of the largest prison populations in Western Europe. It has a crime rate that is no better than that of other European countries. It is time for a radical rethink. The truth is that it is unpopular to spend money on prisons and on the probation service. That is not vote-getting expenditure. Almost all parties are hypocritical about these issues.
When it is close to an election, the Conservative Party raises the issue of law and order. Its spokesmen say that we must spend more on the prison service and on the police. However, very often that is not done when the Conservative Party is in government. In the past decade the only period when prison staff numbers fell was in 1972–73. That was during one of the financial squeezes of the Conservative Government.
There is an enormous problem, and the answer is for the House to determine. We are still lumbered with enormous Victorian prisons. We send to them far greater numbers than they were ever intended to hold. The House has to make up its mind and do something about it. It is one of the top priorities for expenditure. Our expenditure on criminal justice services, including prisons, accounts for a mere 2 per cent. of total public expenditure. If we want an economically effective and humane system, we should be putting our money where our mouths are.
I have referred to what must be one of the most glaring omissions from the Gracious Speech. I am sure that the British people are well aware of what would happen if there were a serious riot in our prisons. The prison governors think that another service—namely, the Army—would have to be called in, and that it is a "probability" that prisoners and prison staff would be killed. Surely it is time that the Government shook themselves up and did something about it. It is one of the worst deficiencies that could be found in a Gracious Speech. It amazes me that this Gracious Speech makes no reference to it.
70 I hope that the Prime Minister, who has been kind enough to listen to what I have had to say, will consider the matter with a view to the Government making a strong statement of intention very shortly.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
Four years ago, almost to the day, I made my maiden speech. At that time, little did I or any other Member realise that this Parliament would last so long, yet here we are entering a fifth Session with a fifth Queen's Speech. Even the Prime Minister's worst enemy must admire his ability and will for self-survival. It is a pity that the ability and will for survival on the part of the Government are not backed up by the political will and ability of the House to pass Socialist legislation. There is not very much of that in the Queen's Speech. However, we should be grateful for what few crumbs of comfort there are.
I begin at the end of the Queen's Speech with a matter that I do not think anyone has mentioned so far in the debate, namely, a Scottish Bill to establish a system of registration of title of land. Those of us who believe in the public ownership of land realise that if we are to put a convincing case for that course in the House and to members of the public we must have adequate information about land ownership and land use in Scotland.
Many of us have previously put that argument to Ministers during Questions and debates. There has been a marked degree of reluctance on the part of Ministers to agree to the compilation of a land register in Scotland. I am glad that the Government have at last, though somewhat belatedly, been converted to my views on that matter.
A great deal of research has been done on this matter, not least by John McEwen, a member of the Labour Party in Scotland. He has done some work on some of the larger estates in Scotland, and it is of interest to look at the information that he has managed to compile. For example, in Scotland the Duke of Buccleuch, the former Tory Member for Edinburgh, North, has 277,000 acres; Lord Thorneycroft, the chairman of the Tory Party, has 44,000 acres and the Duke of Montrose, who forsook his native land to prop up the illegal racialist 71 Smith regime, has, according to John McEwen, 8,800 acres in my constituency.
Those are just a few of the facts which will come out when the land register is published. I hope that the register will also contain information about the use to which these people put the land. Are they using it for good agricultural or forestry purposes or abusing it by making it into playgrounds and exclusive hunting retreats for the rich? So I look forward in this Session to a useful debate on land ownership and the use of land in Scotland.
Other measures in the Queen's Speech which I applaud are those which give people more participation in the decisions which affect them. In the last Session we heard a great deal—some said we heard too much—about devolution. Devolution of power is not simply the setting up of national assemblies for Scotland, Wales or anywhere else. Devolution of power means decentralisation of power. It means handing power to people at grass roots level and giving them more say by, for example, industrial democracy in decisions which affect them at their work places. It also gives them more say in the education of their children and in the tenure, improvement, redecoration and management of housing, and so on. Therefore, I welcome those measures in principle.
I can understand why Scotland is apparently excluded from the Education Bill for England and Wales. The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 already gives that degree of participation in decision-making to parents and teachers and in some instances to pupils' representatives through the schools councils which were set up under that Act. Therefore, I can see a reason for not including Scotland in the Education Bill for England and Wales. But I cannot see why Scotland should be excluded completely from the housing legislation proposals which will give council house tenants—about 50 per cent. of people in Scotland are council house tenants—a tenants' charter giving security of tenure and more say in the management and repair of houses and their environment.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I think that my hon. Friend, like me and all Scottish Members, received a letter 72 from the new director of Shelter. Ministers have pointed out that this is based on many false assumptions and is largely inaccurate.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am pleased to hear that from my hon. Friend. However, I should prefer to hear it from the Minister speaking on behalf of the Government in replying. I hope that similar legislation will be included for Scotland along the lines that Shelter and the great majority of council tenants would like to see. Many find that they are strangled by the bureaucracy and over-centralisation of council house management. Indeed, more than half the people who come to my Saturday morning consultation sessions are concerned about housing matters. They should not have to come to a Member of Parliament. I try to help them, but they should not have to come to me. If we had a good system of housing management, and if tenants felt that the bureaucrats were more in touch with matters which affect housing, they would not need to approach their Member of Parliament, except as a last resort.
I welcome the reference to "more open government"—Further proposals will be brought forward to achieve more open government.But I am a little disappointed about the wording in the next sentence:It remains My Government's intention to replace Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 with a measure better suited to present day conditions.Why is there no firm commitment for the introduction of a Bill? It is merely a repetition of a declaration of intention on the part of the Government. We need a Freedom of Information Act to allow people to have more access to information and to establish open democracy in this country
The opponents, including some of the high-ranking civil servants at the Home Office—they are the people who often say what should or should not be a secret under the Official Secrets Act—argue that it would be too expensive. I think that in the lone run a freedom of information Act could save public money. The Crown Agents affair alone meant that £200 million went down the drain and the "phoney" sanctions blockade against Rhodesia has cost another £200 million in defence expenditure. If this House and 73 people outside had had access to information about the Crown Agents affair and the Rhodesian sanction busting long before the storm blew up, that public money would not have been wasted.
On the subject of Rhodesian sanctions, I hope that the Government will not allow the Bingham report to gather dust on the shelves with possibly one or two prosecutions of a minor nature. I hope that we shall have a full public inquiry, as demanded at the Labour Party conference last month.
I wrote to the Prime Minister on 14th September regarding the allegations in The Sunday Times that Shell and BP were still in some way involved in the supply of oil to Rhodesia. I received a reply dated 11th October from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. In a brief reply, he said:After contact with their South African subsidiaries they—namely, Shell and BP—have given us certain assurances, which are being studied with great care.Am I not entitled to know what assurances Shell and BP have given to the Government? Why all this secrecy? Why are Members of Parliament and the public being denied information on important matters which affect not only their lives but the lives of people in Southern Africa and elsewhere?
Still on the subject of Rhodesia, I was disappointed, indeed angry, this morning to hear the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who used to be a Tory Cabinet Minister and a former spokesman on foreign affairs, say on the radio that he had sent out a circular to many Tory MPs urging them to vote against the continuation of sanctions against Rhodesia. That is a disgraceful way for anyone who pretends to believe in law and order to behave. The right hon. Gentleman, by encouraging his colleagues to vote for the discontinuation of sanctions, is virtually asking them to continue to prop up an illegal regime and to vote against the United Nations resolution. That is the low state that the Tory Party has reached on law and order on the international scene.
We can see part of the wisdom for the Government's continued refusal to give 74 full recognition to the interim Government in Rhodesia from Smith's announcement and threat earlier this week that he may postpone the elections after having promised to hold them towards the end of this year. Therefore, the Government have been right to continue sanctions against Rhodesia. I hope that they will stick firmly to this policy and that Tory and other Opposition Members, especially those who believe in law and order, will refuse to follow the bad leadership of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet.
I now turn to matters which are nearer home. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister naming a date for the referenda in Scotland and Wales. I am not sure whether it is a coincidence that they are to be held on St. David's Day. St. David is the patron saint of Wales. Although the day is not a holiday or a feast day in Scotland, I hope that the whole of the Labour movement will be out campaigning for a "yes" vote. I hope that the Government give us full backing, including financial backing if that is possible, for the campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Robertson) took his seat today. That by-election completed a brilliant hat trick of victories for the Labour Party in Scotland this year. Despite the differences in the Labour Party's fortunes north and south of the border in recent by-elections the by-elections in Glasgow, Garscadden, Hamilton, and Berwick and East Lothian had one thing in common: all the Labour candidates were in favour of setting up a Scottish Assembly. I am convinced that, although that was not the sole factor, it played a major contribution to the brilliant hat trick of successes in Scotland this year.
§ Mr. Dalyell
When I went canvassing in Duns, Foulden, Grantshouse, Ayton and Reston, whenever there was a whiff of nationalism the candidate did not say that what was on offer was a great Assembly in Edinburgh. The candidate, in couthy Berwickshire language, said "Do you want a frontier up the road in Cornhill-upon-Tweed, or is my wife to take her passport with her when she goes shopping in Berwick?"
§ Mr. Canavan
That is interesting. I was canvassing in Eyemouth, and the 75 question of the Scottish Assembly was raised on the doorsteps. It was a talking point. The majority of Labour voters were in favour of a Scottish Assembly. They were against setting up a border down the road at Berwick-upon-Tweed. That is what the Scottish National Party wants. The Labour Party's policy favours devolution and is against separation. That policy has been fully justified by the party's increased majority and increased share of the vote at the Berwick and East Lothian by-election.
We have also learned something about the appeal of the Tories in Scotland. If they cannot win Berwick and East Lothian from us in a by-election, they are incapable of winning any seats from us in Scotland. That is not surprising when we look at the leadership of the Tories in Scotland. The Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), is a Right-wing extremist who believes that he can solve every social difficulty in Scotland by reintroducing hanging and flogging and other extremist measures.
If I were the Leader of the Opposition, I would sack him. I understand that she might be reluctant to do that because of the shortage of talent elsewhere amongst the Scottish Tory Back Benchers. But it might be an idea for her to sack the hon. Member for Cathcart and make the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. Even he is more in touch with the people of Scotland than the hon. Member for Cathcart, whom many people believe to be a political thug.
The Scottish National Party lost its deposit at Berwick and East Lothian. That speaks for itself. The party was utterly humiliated. The result shows that the people of Scotland want nothing to do with the creation of new barriers and the setting up of an absolutely separate Scottish State.
I am pleased to hear from reports that have come from Government circles that the Government have ruled out any possibility of a pact with the nationalists. We do not need a pact with them. We have them over a barrel. They will vote with us on the Queen's Speech and on many of the other measures in the forthcoming Session of Parliament. If they do not vote with us, they will suffer the 76 consequences at the polls and an even greater humiliation. They will rue the day that I converted Sir Hugh Fraser away from their party because they will be after his money to help them repay all the lost deposits at the next General Election.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The way that the Scottish National Party will vote is not as easy to describe as my hon. Friend suggests. There are quite a number of odds and sods on the Opposition Benches who must ensure that the Government remain in power so that they can keep their seats. The various small parties will abstain or vote with the Government in order to secure a Government victory. However, different groups could abstain or vote with the Government at different times. I am not so positive about the SNP. The parties will try to work the system out and the end result will be as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) has described.
§ Mr. Canavan
I agree with my hon. Friend's sophisticated political analysis. Some Opposition parties, including the SNP, will be split. I can imagine those representing former Labour constituencies such as the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) and for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) being hesitant and abstaining when a group decision has been taken in favour of a Right-wing policy. I can imagine those who represent former Tory seats, such as the hon. Members for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford), and for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), abstaining or voting against the Government on a decision which is left of centre. There is no need for a pact with such people. Let them dare vote against us and take the consequences. I hope that the Government do not repeat the stupid mistake that they made with the Liberals. We could have done the same with the Liberals in 1976.
I am pleased that emphasis is put onovercoming the evils of inflation and unemployment.With 1½ million people unemployed and a 7.8 per cent. rate of inflation there is no room for complacency about economic strategy. The way to defeat inflation is not by way of a 5 per cent. wages limit. I hope that the Government will remember 77 that the 5 per cent. policy was thrown out by the TUC and the Labour Party conference.
The rigid imposition of a 5 per cent. limit on wages would hurt most the working people whom we are supposed to represent and the ones to suffer most would be the low paid. Not only would such a policy fail to maintain living standards; it would lead to a decline in living standards. How can we threaten to use sanctions against employers who are accused of the so-called heinous crime of paying their workers too much? Let us not hear so much nonsense about a 5 per cent. policy.
If we are serious about tackling inflation let us examine prices. There is a Price Commission, despite the fact that the SNP and the Tory Party voted against its introduction. However, the commission is hampered by the profit safeguard loophole which was allowed to happen because of the pressure from the Confederation of British Industry, aided and abetted by the Tories and the SNP. Unfortunately, the Government bowed to that pressure.
Allied Breweries was recently given permission to introduce interim price increases of 7.5 per cent. Last year that company's profits were £77 million. One might say that that involves only beer and that beer is not the most important thing in life. But what about Unilever, which sells soaps and detergents? Every housewife knows the importance of those items. That company was recently given permission to increase prices by 4.8 per cent. Its profits last year were £325 million.
Tate and Lyle has been given permission to raise the price of sugar and syrup by 2 per cent. Its profits in the last two years were over £100 million. If we are serious about fighting inflation, let us put the boot into these boys instead of using the working class as the scapegoat in the battle against inflation.
The Government should put more emphasis on increasing public expenditure, first of all, in order to increase the incomes of the most deserving people—the pensioners, the sick, the disabled and those who, through no fault of their own, are out of work and have families to keep. Let us nail the rotten propaganda that was put out during the recess by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) 78 in his anti-scrounger campaign. The vast majority of people receiving benefits are those most in need. Let the Government speak out on behalf of the pensioners, the disabled and those who have to rely on unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit through no fault of their own. Let us give publicity, for example, to the recent report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, which stated that more than £200 million of benefit goes unclaimed every year by people who do not know of their rights to it. Let some of that be put across instead of the rotten witch-hunt and propaganda that we have had from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South.
My second reason for wanting to increase public expenditure is to improve services, especially essential social services such as education, health and housing. Take, for example, the school building programme. Nearly half the primary schools in Scotland are using buildings which are pre-war. I refer not to the Hitler war, but to the First World War. I can cite as examples the Dunipace primary school and the Kilsyth primary school in my constituency. It is about time more funds were released both to give jobs to construction workers and to provide better education facilities for the children.
The same applies to housing. Last year a complacent Green Paper was published which seemed to say that in terms of roofs over heads the housing problem was virtually solved. People in my constituency are living in prefabricated houses which were built just after the last war. Those houses were supposed to last for 10 years, but my constituents are still living in them. For example, prefab tenants in Kilsyth are petitioning the local council and the Government for more money with which to improve their houses. I hope that the Scottish Office will be generous in its approach to this matter.
Thirdly, increased public expenditure is needed for investment in industry. I am glad that this matter is mentioned in the Gracious Speech in relation to the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies and the NEB. But we are kidding ourselves if we think that increased investment in industry will by itself solve unemployment. It will not. Often increased investment brings about technological 79 change which makes an industry less labour intensive. We therefore need more work sharing exercises.
The Queen's Speech refers to some form of compensation for short-time working. From reading elsewhere I believe that the proposed scheme is that if a worker is put on short time he or she will be entitled to 75 per cent. of the normal wage for each day he or she is put on short time. Therefore, if a man works four days a week instead of five, he will be entitled to 95 per cent. of his normal weekly wage. If he is forced to work a three-day week he will get 90 per cent. of his wage. Maybe that is better than the dole, but why should these people have to suffer any reduction in living standards? I would much prefer the Government to take firmer measures to move towards the universal adoption of the 35-hour week with an adjustment of the hourly wage rate so that there will be no corresponding decrease in the wage packet at the end of the week. Such a move would be in line with TUC and Labour Party policy.
My fourth reason for seeking increased public expenditure, therefore, is to increase employment opportunities. Previously I mentioned the construction industry. It has been suggested recently that since the economy is getting better we should reflate by way of taxation concessions. Recent research, however, has shown that £1,000 million of tax cuts would create only an estimated 39,000 jobs. However, £1,000 million of increased public expenditure would create 235,000 jobs. Surely the case rests there in favour of public expenditure to create jobs, and I mean real lobs, not "phoney" jobs.
Let me illustrate what I mean by "real jobs" by referring to an experience I had earlier this week in my constituency. I met a young lady constituent, a former pupil of mine, who had worked hard at school for some 13 years. Afterwards she had gone on to a college of further education and had worked very hard for another three years and qualified for what she thought was to become her life's vocation as a teacher.
She left the college, however, to find that there were no jobs for teachers because of the cuts in education expendi- 80 ture. She was unemployed for a while and was eventually given a start on a job creation exercise. Her case underlines the distinction that I made between real jobs and "phoney" jobs. Her employer is the regional council, which is the education authority responsible for the employment of teachers in the schools. The girl is involved with a small team in the preparation of educational material, and so on. She is allowed to go into the schools and to communicate with teachers and, possibly, the pupils too. She is not, however, allowed to teach. She is being denied the right to work in the job for which she is best qualified and trained. She is intelligent enough and educated enough to see the stupidity and anomalies of the system. The children that she should be teaching are perhaps too young at this stage to appreciate them. One day, however, they will. One day, when they have grown up, they will perhaps look back at some of the debates and decisions of this House during the lifetime of this Parliament. Maybe they will judge us. My guess is that they will conclude that we did not respond generously enough to the great challenges and problems of our time.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
I wish to refer to two points in the Gracious Speech—Rhodesia and inflation and the incomes policy.
We read with interest and optimism that the Government intend to strive with the United States for a peaceful settlement in the Rhodesian rebellion. I urge the Government to go beyond that. I believe that a final appeal is now required to ask Mr. Smith to abandon the rebellion and to renounce the unilateral declaration of independence. As long as that country remains in rebellion against the Crown, there is no way in which Mr. Smith can receive recognition either from countries such as the United States and others in the developed world or from the guerrilla leaders who surround him.
Rhodesia has become a country in which it is no longer safe for people to go outside Salisbury and Bulawayo. We have to look towards renunciation of this illegal act of 1965 if we are to find a proper solution. I should like a governor-general to be appointed—a man with 81 very special qualities—who would ensure, if there was a renunciation, proper elections adequately supervised by someone from this country.
I should like there to be an amnesty for terrorists and an appeal made for Mr. Nkomo and the others to join in some sort of constitutional settlement. In the interim, let us make it clear that even if Mr. Smith renounces UDI we shall use the internal settlement as a framework upon which we can build. My fear is that that will not happen. Although Mr. Smith has made it crystal clear that he intends to give up politics in Rhodesia, I fear that he will cling on too late and for too long and that there will be a bloodbath in that country.
I should therefore like to feel that the Government, in implementing this part of the Gracious Speech, would make that direct appeal to Mr. Smith to lay down his sword to his Sovereign and to bring that country once again back into legality. I do not intend to comment on Bingham, sanctions and the rest, but I believe that that appeal would be well worth making, even at this eleventh hour.
Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister devoted much of his speech this afternoon to the question of inflation and the way in which we can conquer this problem in Britain. It is a problem which we have seen sweeping through many countries in the developed world. I think that all of us have started from quite the wrong premise, and, regrettably, the right hon. Gentleman's speech continued it—namely, to blame wages for inflation. That is entirely wrong. I believe that wages are merely a reflection of inflation. Inflation is created by Governments.
I very vividly remember the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), when he was Prime Minister, commenting in, I think, 1964 on that first sterling crisis, saying that what was wrong then was not that our economy was weak but that there was a crisis of confidence. As those of us who were here then will recall, that crisis of confidence led to a major run on our currency, and with it came the inevitable inflation, because if a country is one that requires, as we do, to buy so much from overseas, a weak currency leads to higher prices, and those higher prices eventually come through to the wage packet, which no longer buys what it bought the week before.
82 It is at that point that wage claims start to rise steeply. It is utterly wrong, however, to blame those who are demanding higher wages to match inflation for creating that inflation. It is the Government who bear the responsibility for doing that. Attacking those who are trying to protect their standards of life merely because they want to be able to buy what they bought the previous week for the same amount of money is quite the wrong thing to do.
Therefore, I find the juxtaposition of the paragraphs of the Gracious Speech of great interest. In paragraph 6 on page 4 we see the words:My Government are resolved to strengthen our democracy by providing new opportunities for citizens to take part in the decisions that affect their lives.What decision affecting the life of the ordinary person could be more important than his ability, in his short working life, to earn the reward to which the hard work that he puts in entitles him? Yet we are, in one breath, saying that we shall increase the opportunities for people to take part in discussions about democratic decisions while at the same time we have a Government, following upon the Government of my party, who are determined to control wages in a totally unacceptable manner.
The wages argument goes far deeper than merely the numbers game of percentage points. We are talking fundamentally about freedom and totalitarianism. We are talking about the freedom of people to negotiate their rewards from companies and people who employ them and the alternative of a Government who impose upon them what they are to earn.
I make no apology for opting for a free wage bargaining system. I recognise all the imperfections that exist in that. I am well aware of the attractiveness of the Government pulling a figure out of the air and saying to industry and commerce "Negotiate around that." Certainly the Government have a responsibility to do their sums and to tell us what sort of figure they believe the country can afford. But they really cannot expect people to accept a figure such as that, across the board of every industry. How can an official in Whitehall or anywhere else determine whether people should be earning more or less, and whether a 83 company can afford to pay increases in salaries or whether it should not pay any increase at all?
With this concept, which now appears to be becoming part of the perpetual landscape, I believe that we are running away from that freedom and leaving totalitarian government, which will control all our lives, to decide how much we shall earn and ultimately where we shall earn, because if we accept the policy of wage control from the centre it will not be very long before we have the direction of labour, which will follow behind it.
I was interested in the television programme the other night in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was talking in a miners' club, in Lancashire, I think. It was put to him very clearly by those who were talking with him that the only way they would accept a wages policy would be if there was control not only of wages but of prices, profits and dividends. If we are to have that sort of total control, we are moving into a whole new era of government in Britain that we have never seen before. That will mean a rigid control over everything that one can earn and save in one's lifetime. I do not believe that that is what this country wants. I do not believe that today, with the exception of the Prime Minister and perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup, anyone believes any longer in the 5 per cent. wage policy. It has now become a complete fantasy.
Let us be very honest when we say that. If one recalls, as I recall vividly—perhaps all hon. Members recall it too—what happened in 1974, one realises that when the Prime Minister talks about the coming winter being a watershed, one should tell him that one predicts that it will also set the seal on his downfall, because the fact is that in February 1974 the Conservative Party was ordered over the top of the trench straight on to the barbed wire of the National Union of Mineworkers, and we never got off it, losing the General Election as a result.
What is happening now under the present Government is a re-run of that event. I cannot see that it will do this country any good to have an industrial head-on confrontation once again. It really is a suicide mission. It is no good the Prime Minister and his 84 friends telling us that the Government are only indicating what the country can afford. With the paraphernalia of the black list and all the other hidden persuaders that now exist in the Government's armoury, we are producing not only something akin to a statutory policy but a situation in which the market forces which one has to have in industry are no longer able to work.
This afternoon the Prime Minister said that he wanted to know what the Ford wage claim would do to the price of Ford products. The fact is that if Ford products can be sold competitively against the products of the other car and truck manufacturers, what the claim does to Ford prices is irrelevant. What is important is that we in Britain are able to compete with the competition. It is not a question of pulling tidy figures out of the Treasury. It is a question of a company such as Ford being able to decide what it can afford and paying it.
Until we get back to an economy which enables individuals, whether they be owners of businesses or workers in businesses, to have the freedom to negotiate on the basis of the profitability of their industries and what can be afforded, we are heading down that dangerous road to totalitarianism, be it of the Left or of the Right, which will ultimately undermine our whole society.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
As the Member of Parliament who represents the greater part of the Becontree estate, which I think is still the largest council house estate in the country, I certainly welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech to have a Bill on housing that will include provision for a new charter of rights for public sector tenants.
The Becontree estate was built by the old London County Council between 1925 and 1933, outside the boundaries of its own authority. From the very beginning, the council exercised very dictatorial powers over the tenants of the estate. The refusal to place sons and daughters of tenants on the housing list made it essential that sons and daughters moved away to other areas when they grew up and wanted to marry. That destroyed the whole social community of people living together. Societies and organisations such as clubs, churches and so on could 85 not have a second generation coming on to run them as people got older. The community life was broken up by the council's dictatorial ways. The result was a great deal of discontent about the way in which the estate was run.
I remember suggesting, as long ago as 1948, that the only solution was for the local council to take over the estate and to run it. For some years that has been the policy of the Labour Party in the area. It is hoped to take over the whole of the estate in this coming year. One-third of it has already passed into the possession of the local council, and the remaining two-thirds is likely to be passed over in the near future.
However, there will be a number of problems that will require sorting out. It is necessary for machinery to be set up to give tenants reasonable rights in the running and managing of the estate. It is also important that the local council should retain certain powers over the running of an estate of this kind, because many problems arise in such an area, as I know from my surgeries. I am thinking of tenants who misbehave and make a nuisance of themselves to everybody in the district. Sooner or later the council may want to terminate the tenancies of those people in the interests of the neighbours who are suffering the nuisance, and it must retain the right to do so, which it should exercise in reasonable circumstances.
There is great controversy about whether people should or should not keep dogs. Half the population on the estate does not want dogs to be there because they foul the green places and footpaths, and children sometimes fall into the fouling and go home filthy and dirty. In high-rise blocks, dogs often create an enormous nuisance to everybody concerned. There are great differences of opinion on matters of this kind, and the local council, in conjunction with local tenants, must be able to have discussions and lay down rules and regulations about where dogs can and cannot be kept so that they are not a nuisance to the population as a whole.
There is also the problem of vandalism, and the local council must be able to have discussions with tenants and organisations concerned on how to deal with vandalism and nuisances on these estates. 86 This is especially true of estates with high-rise blocks.
I welcome the Government's proposal for dealing with local authority tenants, but I await the details of the Bill. There must be a reasonable balance. There must be some right to hand on tenancies to sons and daughters. At the same time, the local council should continue to have adequate authority to deal with nuisances and abuses that arise on estates.
The Queen's Speech does not contain any recommendations for dealing with juggernauts. Those who read The Guardian are rather horrified at some of the information that has come out during the last two or three days about pressure being put by leading civil servants to allow the road haulage industry to put the case for 38-ton and 40-ton lorries to a public inquiry. A certain Mr. Peeler, we are told, said:We welcome the idea of an inquiry to get round the political obstacles to change the lorry weights.The Guardian in its leading article yesterday had some comments on the juggernauts, but its financial columns carried an opposite point of view. It said:The Minister should not put environmental considerations before export, employment and financial considerations in dealing with the question of juggernauts.It is all very well for people who live in this small island to suffer from juggernauts in the way that we do, and sometimes to be killed by them, but we want some control over whether we shall be killed or allowed to live by these juggernauts.
Juggernauts are a big problem in my constituency. What was built between the wars as a suburban road is now sign-posted with a green sign directing traffic from Dover to the North of England along Ballards Road. This is not a trunk road but is simply a local authority road, and the traffic on it has increased considerably. On 1st March, between 8.30 am and 8.30 pm, 870 lorries of 15 tons or more passed along that way, and similar figures can be given for almost every day since then.
The result of that traffic is that local houses are being shaken to pieces. This means enormous expense to local ratepayers in Barking because of smashed pavements and drains and service pipes 87 that are crushed and need renewal. This results in a charge on those living in the houses and ratepayers generally. These heavy lorries also create difficulties for old people going to the shops if they have to cross roads, and for children going to school. Furthermore, after the recent disasters abroad there are fears about the number of petrol and chemical lorries that travel along this road.
Because of the crowding of traffic on that road, there is now what one can call a rat run. There are diversions through neighbouring roads such as Orchard and School Roads which are residential roads near to schools and shopping areas, and this traffic is creating enormous problems. Twice recently, direct action has been taken by mothers lying on the road and blocking it at peak hours to stop traffic running through these rat runs. The feeling among local people is that nothing is done to solve the problem and that everybody passes the buck.
The Home Office passed the buck. The Department of Transport passed the buck. The buck was finally passed to the GLC, which the Department says is the authority that should deal with transport and find the best route through this area. A look at the map, however, shows that it is difficult to find an alternative route on this side of London to take traffic from the South-East up to the North.
I am told by the Department of Transport that all trunk roads are primary roads for major traffic and that in this case the GLC has the job of assessing the most suitable non-trunk road to include in the primary route network. I hope that the GLC will reconsider the local position. As I said, it will be extremely difficult to find an alternative route through this area for heavy traffic.
The Department goes on to say that when the opening of the A12 to A13 section of the M25 takes place it will bring relief, but that will be in 1981. Why wait so long? Priorities for road schemes should be looked at every October and November for the coming season. I suggest that this project should be brought forward to 1979.
The road transport haulage lobby is one of the strongest in the House and in the country. It is one of the most dangerous lobbies, and it has enormous 88 power. The Government would do well to face up to the road haulage lobby. They should face up to it first and foremost by taxing juggernauts fairly. Large juggernauts do not pay their fair share of taxation. Other lorries, public transport, motor cars and so on pay their fair share of taxes, but juggernauts do not. The first thing to do is to raise the taxation on these juggernauts.
Secondly, I suggest that these juggernauts should be limited to motorways, and a list of trunk roads which they may use. All roads to be used by juggernauts should be made and maintained as trunk roads, and only they and motorways should be used by these huge lorries.
Thirdly, there should be distribution centres in all large cities on the trunk roads, from which local traffic can collect containers and other goods brought there by these juggernauts. The goods could be distributed in much the same way as marshalling yards are used to distribute traffic carried by the railways.
Fourthly, the Government should encourage other forms of transport. What about the railways? It is time that we reconsidered the Channel tunnel. I suggest that it is a viable proposition for freight trains to carry goods only over considerable distances. The latest proposal is for a fairly simple Channel tunnel to be financed largely from EEC resources. It would be a two-rail route, and if the volume of traffic justified it another tunnel could be built later.
I suggest that such a tunnel would make an enormous difference to the amount of traffic on our motorways. It would be possible for freight trains to take goods from Glasgow to Lyons, or from Liverpool to Zurich, without any break on the way. What happens now is that a large amount of traffic comes to Calais and a large number of ships come into Rotterdam or Hamburg, where they offload their cargoes into lorries—usually foreign lorries—which then come over by ferry on to our roads. It would be much better if a lot of this traffic was taken directly by rail rather than by lorry, and in the long run it would be cheaper. If funds are not entirely forthcoming from the EEC, the Government should invest in this development to make the railways once again a viable freight carrier.
89 I am pleased that the South Yorkshire canal has finally been given the go-ahead. It is to be used by coal and steel traffic in the neighbourhood. Surely similar forms of transport could be developed for the London docks. The BACAT scheme failed, but surely something similar could be developed not only for the South Yorkshire canal but for the Thames, so that suitable ships could bring cargoes direct from the Continent up into our waterways.
I do not wish to discriminate against the ordinary motor car, which pays its fair share of taxation. It would have more room on the roads if many juggernauts were removed. There is a great danger in many areas of traffic being bogged down in jams. The individual motorist and the public transport operator both suffer.
As a member of the Historic Buildings Council, I know of the problem of historic towns being shaken to pieces by heavy traffic. I was pleased to learn this summer that at last a bypass around Ludlow is to be built. Another proposal is for one around Berwick, which is also highly desirable. The Department of Transport should collaborate positively with the HBC in deciding where bypasses are to be built, since historic towns are important foreign currency earners through tourism, and this would also help their inhabitants to live more pleasurable lives. During October and November every year proposals for bypasses and road transport should be reviewed five years ahead. If some proposals could be pushed back and others brought forward according to the needs revealed, well and good.
For example, Tewkesbury obviously needs a bypass. Also, I can never understand why one has not been built around Petersham, a small village near Richmond, where a road could easily be put through the bottom end of Richmond park, where no one would see it. The houses in that attractive village are being shaken to pieces by traffic.
There is no mention of conservation in the Gracious Speech. There has been an enormous increase in interest in this subject in recent years. This interest is particularly welcome in a mainly urban population. It shows that people are anxious to preserve the surrounding countryside and its wildlife. But many conservationists are ignorant of, or ignore, the problems 90 of country dwellers. Some important societies, like Friends of the Earth, have alerted people to the danger of the extinction of species such as whales and otters, but many animal lovers who lobby this House are ignorant of the subjects they take up.
If wildlife is to be maintained, from time to time it has to be culled, which means killing. Many animal lovers do not like that prospect. There are more deer in this country now than there were in the Middle Ages. Many of us are glad that they can be seen from time to time, although most of the flesh is exported to Germany, because British people do not much like venison. But this means regular culling of the deer in the New Forest and other areas.
Practically every deer culled in the New Forest is found to be peppered with buckshot, probably fired by young boys. If culling is not done scientifically, it causes a great deal of suffering to the animals. Animal lovers should recognise that it is necessary and that it should be properly and responsibly organised.
There has been a great campaign against the culling of ponies in the New Forest and on Dartmoor. It is alleged that they are sent to Belgium to be eaten. We cat cows and bulls, so why should not the Belgians eat ponies if they wish? It is better that they should be scientifically culled than that their numbers should increase to the point where they are a nuisance to themselves and to people in the neighbourhood.
There has also been a campaign recently about seals in Orkney. When seals become too numerous, one cow bites off the heads of another cow's pups, and then the males come in and overwhelm them when they want intercourse again after their birth. The result is an overcrowded colony with a great deal of suffering. The Scottish Office mishandled its publicity on this matter. A decision should be made, on the evidence, about the optimum size of a colony and the cull should be carried out accordingly. To take the line that we should never kill wild animals is sloppy sentimentality. That is the approach of many of the sillier animal lovers, who in my experience are often university dons.
There should be some expenditure also on forestry, a subject which was widely 91 discussed during the debates on the Wales and Scotland Bills. Ninety per cent. of our timber is imported and we need to help the balance of payments. Government and, I hope, private money should be spent on planting over the next 50 years to double the area under trees. The land must be acquired and the Government should assist in finding suitable land. When land is afforested with crops of varying ages, there is a big increase in wild life as compared with conditions on open moorland.
There is a strong campaign by ramblers' associations and others against conifer forests, but if those forests are properly managed they are very attractive. One of the most popular areas in the Lake District is Tarn Hawes, which is a mainly conifer beauty spot. What is aesthetically unattractive is a large number of trees all of the same age. I agree that in its early years the Forestry Commission made many mistakes in its planting, but it has since had the services of Dame Sylvia Crowe and more recent planting has been much better managed from a scenic point of view, without any damage to the productivity of the forests that have been so organised.
I hope and trust that the Government will take an active interest in making available to both the Forestry Commission and private owners more land to plant up and so increase our forestry reserve. I am sorry that the Gracious Speech does not include proposals to make capital available for that development. But, on the whole, I welcome the Gracious Speech as incorporating the right kind of programme to try to carry through at present. I hope that we shall manage to carry at least some of it into law before the end of the present Session.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I much regret that no mention of the Falkland Islands was made in the Gracious Speech. It is extremely difficult to obtain any information from the Government about proposed developments there and about what is generally in the Government's mind concerning the islands. Open government seems to be all the rage these days. The word "open" is the latest watchword, but it certainty does not apply to Government thinking about the Falklands.
92 Hon. Members will recall that in December 1976 there began an illegal occupation by Argentine citizens of Southern Thule island in the South Sandwich Islands, controlled by the Falkland Islands. The people concerned were supposed to be scientists.
We did not learn about the occupation until several months later. Then we were told that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had made a protest, that there was not much need to worry, as so few people were involved, and that our legal position was covered. But I do worry. I am not convinced that a protest is sufficient. If the Argentine party has been in the island for more than 12 months, that strengthens Argentina's position and weakens ours. International law is by no means united on what the exact position is. Therefore, I should very much welcome a statement from the Minister concerned.
It seems to me that there are two courses open to deal with the matter. One is to mount a small police expedition to remove the intruders. That is my instinctive reaction and choice. The other is to set up our own scientific party and to land it in the island so that the Argentine claim is reduced.
The House will remember the Shackleton report, published in July 1976. That excellent document was full of information about the islands and of ideas on how they could be developed. But I fear that there has been very little implementation of the various recommendations made by Shackleton.
I realise that some money and aid have been forthcoming for communciations, particularly for the road between Stanley and Port Darwin, but there is much to be done. There is constant difficulty over the internal air services, and there is no proper sea ferry service.
I realise also that there has been some advance in examining the fishing prospects and potential, but that has largely been done by private enterprise and those who have the future of the islands very much at heart—in this connection, not least the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson).
It seems to me curious that the Japanese Russians and various other people should have been researching in those southern areas for years and that we have only just begun to get interested. With the 93 present difficulties facing our fishing at home and the considerable uncertainty about the future—owing to the difficulties caused by the Common Market—it would seem imperative that we should look elsewhere for our supplies. The Falklands are certainly one answer. I should be glad to know that the Government regard this question as one of urgency.
I must stress that, apart from the points I have mentioned, I am extremely concerned about the general stranglehold that the Argentine Republic is exerting over the Falkland Islands. The white card system still exists, air communication with the mainland is in Argentine hands, as is the supply of petrol and oil to the islands, and the Argentine people offer certain educational facilities. Those are merely some examples. Why should that be so? It would seem that there is a lack of interest or of will.
For years I have been convinced that one key development that we should invest in is an extension of the airfield in Stanley up to full international standards. That one move, not very costly, would immediately ensure the loosening of the present Argentine hold on the Falklands. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise the basic common sense of that. If people cannot get to the islands easily and without fear of interference, development is hamstrung.
I also remind the House that there is the question of defence. In two world wars the islanders showed their loyalty, and circumstances proved the value of their base—in 1914 at the battle of the Falkland Islands and in the last war at the battle of the River Plate. Their loyalty remains as firm as ever. Who knows what part their land may play in future in the defence of the West?
During the recess there was a newspaper report about the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary meeting certain Argentine Ministers or officials. I think that the meeting was in New York. There was very little else in the report. I want to know whether there were any agreements reached or understandings made. I should be very grateful if the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary could make a statement to the House about that matter in the near future.
94 The Falklands are British. The inhabitants wish to keep their ties with us. The islanders have many friends in this country, including many friends in the House, and they have backing from the British public. I believe it to be entirely wrong that Parliament should not be fully in the picture about what is happening there. I resent the Government's air of mystery—indeed, secrecy—about the islands' future.
Therefore, I ask for more open government and a very strong policy, and for there to be no truck whatsoever with the "phoney" Argentine claims.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I take it that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) wishes to make another farewell speech. Mr. John Lee.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I am not quite sure what is implied by that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. By a happy coincidence, I followed the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) in the same debate a year ago. I echoed then, as I do now, the sentiments he has expressed with regard to the Falkland Islands. I shall not go over the ground again. The hon. Member has covered it well. He knows the Falkland Islands well and cares very much for them. As I said on the last occasion, I agree with all that he says.
One comment I might make, in response to what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, concerning my reappearance, is that one happy consequence of the unexpected extension of the life of this Parliament is that one of the few doughty anti-Marketeers who stood firm in this House—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South—will be with us for a while yet. When I have gone, I shall be replaced, I am glad to say, by a person who is equally anti-Market in sentiment. The lady who is to take my place, without question, at the next General Election is of those sentiments. I do not know whether that is the situation in Edinburgh, South. I fear that it will not be.
Having watched the way in which the number of anti-Marketeers has been pared clown, because arms have been 95 twisted, it is good to see the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South still here. I know that he will remain as firm on that issue as he has been on the Falkland Islands.
I turn to other matters. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that it is a little odd, perhaps surprising, that there has not been a reference to prisons in the Gracious Speech. We know, and there is no reason why we should pretend otherwise, that much of the Gracious Speech is determined by the complexities and peculiarities of parliamentary arithmetic. There is nothing wrong in that. If this Parliament should follow the pattern of the Parliament of 1959, which went through to the very end of its life, the Conservatives cannot complain. They took that Parliament to the full legal limit. In this century, two other Parliaments have gone to their complete statutory limit. One went far beyond, because of wartime requirements.
It is understandable—and I as one of those below the Gangway looking for more Left wing measures have to accept this—that the limitations of parliamentary arithmetic make some of the measures I would wish to see not feasible in this Parliament.
I refer now to a matter which is not dealt with in the Gracious Speech and which is a concomitant of the question of prisons. There is a campaign being mounted, it seems, by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir David McNee, and supported by a number of other people, which seeks to alter our criminal procedure to the detriment of suspects. I find this disturbing and ironical.
When we look back over the past 15 years and reflect upon the sensational criminal trials involving the integrity of senior police officers, starting with the Challoner case and going through the fraud squad, the drug squad and, most sensational of all, the porn squad, it ill becomes the Commissioner of Police to mount a campaign which would reduce the rights of accused persons when in police custody. That does not mean that I am entirely satisfied, as a criminal law-year with procedures, or that I do not think that there are certain circumstances 96 in which the criminal law plays into the hands of the professional criminal.
Indeed, there is room for certain improvement in the criminal law. For example, there is a case to be made for a reduction in the number of inhibitions upon the right of a judge to comment on the silence of an accused person or his refusal to give evidence at a criminal trial, but if we are to change our criminal procedures—and I very much suspect that this will be so since the present Home Secretary is so amenable to his civil servants in so many matters, as I have noticed—the change should form part of a package deal which will provide, among other things, for certain compensatory advantages for suspects. For example, the questioning of suspects might be video-taped. That would act as a protection for the police against false accusations of improper conduct and it would also act as a protection for defendants against oppressive police behaviour, when it occurs.
That said, may I welcome several items in the Gracious Speech? We have long waited for a measure dealing with public lending right. This has been an initiative mounted by a number of Back Benchers which has been sucessfully stopped by others. As one who normally does not vote in favour of guillotines, I give the Government the undertaking that if that Bill should find itself being filibustered I shall be in the Government Lobby in favour of guillotining procedures that might be necessary. I would welcome that move. The Government may think that that is unusual for me, but I give them that token of my good will with regard to that measure.
I welcome, although I shall be more fulsome in my praise when we see the text, the proposed amendments to the Official Secrets Act. If I were to comment on certain proceedings in the courts I should be out of order. Some of us are not unamused by the way in which the Establishment has ended up with egg on its face in a number of proceedings going back for some considerable time. We remember the farcial Official Secrets trial of the editor of the Sunday Telegraph and, indeed, of a Conservative Member, among others, which ended in fiasco 10 years ago.
The Home Office did not learn the lesson on that occasion. I am wondering 97 whether, in a few weeks' time, we may be able to make some rather less inhibited comments about this matter. We shall wait to see what is said.
I am glad, too, to hear that the Government will press for improvements in the common agricultural policy. Again, I am a little sceptical because I noticed that a report published in The Guardian yesterday suggested that the protagonists of this system say that it will continue essentially in its present form for at least another 10 years. I know that the Minister of Agriculture tries hard, although I thought that he back-pedalled a little the other day in dealing with fisheries in a way uncharacteristic of him. Perhaps, again, I shall be able to be more unstinting in my praise when I see exactly what is proposed to be done and what the Government will do when, as will be the case, they fail to change the policy because those responsible will not accept change.
Another measure which is most certainly overdue is that regarding credit and the banking institutions. I suppose that this is intended to prevent the occurrence of the scandal of the secondary banks over which the Government of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) presided so ignominiously at the beginning of the seventies. Certainly, as it operates at the moment, it does not seem that the Consumer Credit Act, although it contains a number of useful provisions, does all that is necessary. As for the Crown Agents, why it has been so long before we have seen a measure to put that extraordinary and anomalous organisation on some sound and rational footing, I do not know. I welcome the fact that it is there. All power to the Government's elbow in getting this measure through.
I turn to one or two matters that are not so welcome. Among them is the proposed European monetary system. I suspect that we have not had reference to it today because the Government have not yet made up their mind. I hope that this means that we shall not have that system heaped on top of all the other Common Market measures.
It will be difficult enough, with the pound rising in value against the dollar as it has done over the last six to nine months, to maintain our competitive position as the economy gets going again. 98 But if we were to be locked into a European monetary system, no doubt at a level which the Germans and French would ensure was to their advantage and our disadvantage, we should find our difficulties compounded. I suspect that the disadvantages would not end there and that, as a further consequence of the "salami" process of integration into the Common Market bit by bit, we should be expected to pool our second and third-line reserves and our overseas portfolio and overseas fixed investments would be the next target for the Eurocrats.
I wonder when the day will come when we shall be able to stop them. All of those who are against the Common Market, who regretted going in and still work to get us out, will give the Government no end of difficulty should they eventually decide to bring us into the proposed European monetary system.
There is the allied matter of the European elections. We hear stories that Government funds are to be made available because the Labour Party has not the money to spend on them. I hope that that is not to be the case. I hope that, in order to avoid the derisory poll which I hope and believe will be attendant upon the European elections, we do not have the extraordinary situation of the British General Election and the European elections being mounted on the same day. It has been suggested that in order to boost the European elections, following, as they will, the Scottish and Welsh referendums and the local government elections, the only way to avoid a contemptuously low poll will be to mount the General Election for this House and the elections for that organisation overseas on the same day.
I heard the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) saying "How sad" when the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), whom I had always understood to be an anti-Marketeer—perhaps I misunderstood him—proclaim that the Euro-elections were more important than the elections to this House. What an appalling confession of failure; what a defeatist attitude. Whatever part I shall play in the elections next year—there will be plenty of them—I shall do my best to see that as many Labour voters as possible—indeed, as many voters as possible 99 —have no truck whatever with the European elections and treat the European ballot paper as the waste paper that it deserves to be.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Since the ministerial broadcast of Thursday 7th September, there have been two areas of great speculation. One has been about the contents of the Queen's Speech. At least that area of speculation is ended. The second area of speculation is how the Scottish National Party will cast its votes next week.
It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is not present because I wish to make it clear at the outset that there has never been any question of a pact between the SNP and the Labour Government. The idea is more abhorrent to us than it is to him. The same would be true with a Conservative Government. We regard both the Labour and Conservative Parties as the same because they are both unionist parties wishing to maintain the Union of Parliaments which we wish to change in order that Scotland can have a Government of her own. The speculation about a pact arose because of the question of the establishment of a devolved Assembly in Scotland. I shall return to this point later.
As a group, we in the SNP met today and we have carefully considered the contents of the Gracious Speech. There are many aspects that we welcome—for example, the strengthening of the police service and the steps towards industrial democracy and towards more open government. We particularly welcome the possibility of some work being done on the question of marine pollution, because we in Scotland, with the development of North Sea oil, have seen the particular problems there, and my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) and for Banff (Mr. Watt) have been active in bringing them to the attention of the House, because there is no doubt that the fishing industry in North-East Scotland has suffered as a result.
However, it will come as no surprise to many hon. Members to hear that we in the SNP have reservations about the Gracious Speech. Many of those reserva- 100 tions reflect the vagueness of the language, and we shall ask for further clarification of such issues. We shall also want to know about the omissions from the Gracious Speech.
First, there is the question of land. Again, I am disappointed that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire is not present because it seems to me that, having spent his summer having cups of tea with Sir Hugh Fraser and individuals in that magic number of acres—800—in his own territory, he must have forgotten some of his own statements. If the hon. Gentleman really believes that the promises in the Gracious Speech about land reflect in any way his views or those of anyone who wishes to see a radical approach to land ownership in Scotland, he is sadly mistaken, because it would appear that the reference to land legislation concerns only the registration of titles and conveyancing, and that is only a minor aspect of the problem of land use and land ownership in Scotland. It is a significant step forward, but I suggest that its position in the Gracious Speech indicates that it was a bit of an afterthought by the Government and does not reflect the radical reforming zeal that we once expected from the Labour Party.
Secondly, there is the question of the Scottish Development Agency and the proposed extension of funds to it. Obviously we welcome that. This matter, too, has frequently been pursued by the SNP in the past. But we want to know how quickly the money will be made available, how much is to be allocated, and over what period.
I come now to the omissions from the Gracious Speech, particularly the obvious one against the background of unemployment in Scotland, that is, the lack of any oil fund commitment by the Government. The Government claim that unemployment is falling, but last month in Scotland, although the United Kingdom trend was downwards, more people were registered as unemployed. We cannot tolerate this situation in the Scottish nation. The Scottish unemployment figures are a condemnation of Westminster's neglect, and the failure of the Government to take the opportunity of the oil revenues to create special funds whereby employment could be created in Scotland is a sin which will not readily be forgotten by the Scottish people and by future generations 101 of Scots because it goes against all the evidence which has been produced even by Government Departments.
The Scottish Economic Planning Department itself, in a report from Professor Gaskin and Professor Mackay, stated that the major beneficiary of the North Sea oil revenues would be the London Government, and that the only chance of a general restructuring of the Scottish economy would come from the investment of oil revenues in long-term structural changes. But the Gracious Speech does not reflect that view, which was expressed by a Government Department. There was a possibility that an oil fund would be given, but again the Government have set their face against it. They have set their face against giving us the opportunity as Scots to spend our money—because that money is ours by right—on regenerating the Scottish economy and eradicating many of the social problems to which the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire referred. Sometimes one wonders whether the hon. Gentleman remembers that he belongs to a party which has cut public expenditure in Scotland and which is in many ways responsible for the deprivation, the low pay and the substandard school buildings. The hon. Gentleman made great play of that, but his Government have refused on this occasion to give us the opportunity to solve those problems.
A second omission is that of any reference to local government reform in Scotland.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
Would not the hon. Lady agree that the last people who she should want to try to reform local government for Scotland are Members of this House, because the last time they did it they made a complete botch of the whole job? Is not the whole argument for the Assembly that it would be the best body, the most able, the most efficient and the closest to Scotland and that it would do it correctly?
§ Mrs. Bain
My reason for referring to local government at this stage will become clearer when the hon. Gentleman hears what I have to say on the question of the Assembly and devolution in general. As I said, there is an omission of local government reform, yet it is generally agreed throughout the political parties in Scotland that there is a desperate need to 102 reform local government. That has been the most unpopular aspect of the legislation which was brought in by the Conservative Government during the 1970–74 period. We should at least have been given the opportunity to start looking now at possible methods of reform.
A third omission has already been referred to—the question of housing and the fact that the tenants' charter will not be extended to Scotland. I find this particularly difficult to understand, because while owner-occupation stands at 55 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole it is only 31 per cent. in Scotland. In other words, 54 per cent. of the housing stock in Scotland is in some form of public ownership. This is what has led to the director of Shelter writing to every Scottish Member of Parliament. We have this very high level of public housing, yet nothing seems to be done to make sure that tenants in Scotland are given a similar deal to tenants south of the border.
It is made clear in the letter from the director of Shelter—I see the Under-Secretary of State on the Front Bench—We understand from correspondence with the Under Secretary of State responsible for Housing that similar legislation for Scotland is not currently planned, a situation we view with considerable alarm.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)
I hope that the hon. Lady will do me the courtesy of actually reading the letter and not relying on the advice of her vice-chairman—because she is a political animal. The precise wording does not rule out legislation this Session.
§ Mrs. Bain
We are most grateful for that reassurance. We hope that we shall have further details of this explained to the House before the vote is taken next Thursday, because we certainly regard this as a crucial aspect of the Queen's Speech.
I now turn to the vexed question of devolution and how it will affect the Scottish National Party's voting pattern next week. I repeat what I said earlier. We regard the Westminster parties as six of one and half a dozen of the other. As a party, we stand for a fundamental constitutional change, a radical change, which establishes democratic independent government in Scotland. Everyone who joins 103 the Scottish National Party signs a membership card stating that. Nowhere on our membership card does it say "We believe in devolution". Devolution is the result of the people of Westminster responding to pressure from the people of Scotland.
We have accepted that we are getting an Assembly which has been granted grudgingly by Westminster. But it is merely a step in the right direction. We saw what happened to the Scotland and Wales Bill and then the Scotland Bill as they made their passage through this place and the other place. We saw more and more powers being taken away. But we are still prepared to accept the Assembly because it is the first internal constitutional change in Britain since 1707. At least that is something of which we can be proud, because it is something which sets us on the road to self-government.
It is unfortunate that there is no third Lobby in the House of Commons because we have to balance our decision in casting our votes with one party or the other. In coming to that decision, I would make clear that, while the Assembly is a priority for us in the Scottish National Party, it is not the sole priority. That was why I referred to the unemployment situation, funds to the SDA and to Scotland's housing problems. I hope that Members on the Opposition Front Bench are listening equally carefully. If the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) is serious about wanting us to vote with him next week, he and the Shadow Cabinet must present their alternative strategy for the people of Scotland. Throughout this debate on the Queen's Speech we shall be listening to hear what that strategy is.
I should like to make specific reference to the Prime Minister's announcement today that 1st March will be the referendum date. If the Prime Minister seriously believes that that announcement is a bait to make us swallow his hook, he had better think again, because that date has been mooted for a long time. The whole question of March is not something new. It will go down like a dead duck in Scotland because people have anticipated it. The Prime Minister must bear in mind that, even with the passage of the Scotland Bill, if there is the inter- 104 vention of a General Election, the referendum may not necessarily be held on 1st March. If the opportunity arose between now and March, when he thought that his party was at its best, I for one believe that the Prime Minister might choose that option and go to the country. Where would the referendum be then? We need something more positive—for example, the date of the first elections to the Scottish Assembly.
We have heard it all before from Westminster Governments. We all know about timetable slippage. The Bill was to be on the statute book by July 1976. The Assembly could have been in operation by mid-1977. Yet here we are in the latter stages of 1978 talking about a referendum in early 1979.
The question of the 40 per cent. rule could have been looked at more thoroughly by the Government. Are we to have any details on this? I do not really believe that it is beyond the powers of the Privy Council to make some kind of concession in terms of people who are dead but who will be registered as voting "no" and in terms of students who will have double votes or who will cancel each other out. I do not believe that it is beyond collective wisdom to make some kind of allowance for these factors and to allow an earlier referendum.
We have had no promise from the Government about the kind of campaign they will wage during the referendum. We know that the Conservative Party has said "no", but the Government have said that they will support the "yes" campaign. If the Government do not have the money to fund the European Assembly elections campaign for their own party, are we on this side of the House seriously expected to believe that money will be allocated to a campaign in which the Labour Party is as equally divided as it is on the question of Europe?
§ Mr. Dalyell
How can the Government support the "yes" campaign when the leader of the "yes" campaign, Lord Kilbrandon, is reported faithfully by the BBC as saying that the break-up of the United Kingdom would be no bad thing? That, rightly or wrongly, is not the policy of my Front Bench.
§ Mrs. Bain
We, of course, endorse the views of Lord Kilbrandon. It is up to the Prime Minister to decide where he wants 105 to stand on that particular issue. We want to know the details of how the Government will campaign in the referendum. What sum of money are they prepared to spend, and what will be the level of their campaign? Are we to get a booklet as we did during the European referendum? We should like to know about these details.
§ Mr. Sillars
I must have been, because the hon. Lady gave way to me earlier. I have been following very carefully the argument which she is putting about the Assembly, the SNP and the Labour Government. Is she aware that in local newspapers throughout the length and breadth of Scotland local associations of her own party are inserting advertisements claiming that members of the Scottish National Party are the people who have achieved the Scottish Assembly?
§ Mr. Sillars
The hon. Lady's hon. Friend says "yes" and endorses that poster and publicity campaign. If that is correct, is it not the case that if the present Government fall one then has a change of Government which will campaign against the Assembly? Perhaps something else will happen and the Assemebly will not arise. Then by the same token the hon. Lady's party will be responsible for losing the Assembly.
§ Mrs. Bain
While the hon. Gentleman may have changed his opinion since he first wrote "Don't butcher Scotland's future", he has not lost his naive faith in Westminster Governments. I pointed out very carefully the possibility of an intervening General Election which would create a very different situation for the promised date of 1st March for the referendum. I do not have that naive faith in any Westminster Government. I would never take that as bait to get me into any Lobby.
I turn to the question of the Conservatives' attitude. In view of the recent results in Scotland, I believe that the Leader of the Opposition is the Labour 106 Party's secret weapon. She has been responsible, not for the three hat tricks of victory, but for the three situations in which the Government were able to hold on to seats which they should never have even contemplated losing.
There are two basic choices open to us. I ask the Conservatives to clarify before next Thursday where they stand on various issues. For example, where do they stand on the question of the Scottish Development Agency which they opposed when it was set up by Parliament in 1975? Ensuing articles that have been written by members of the Conservative Party have not clarified the party's intentions towards the agency, which has already been responsible for holding about 10,000 jobs in Scotland. I for one would like to know the Conservative attitude on that.
We should also like to know the Conservative strategy for creating employment in Scotland. If we are to believe all the public announcements which members of their Front Bench have made on public expenditure, a very worrying situation faces Scotland because of the very large public sector there. We want to know their intentions.
Finally, the Conservatives are in such a state of confusion over the Scottish Assembly that we would like to know whose views they are endorsing at present. I had the pleasure, as did some other hon. Members, of being on "Clyde Comment" last Friday with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who has changed his mind on various occasions about the Scottish constitution. He said that the 40 per cent. minimum requirement was cosmetic and it might be that even if there was not a 40 per cent. majority the Conservative Party in power might just take the majority vote and implement the Assembly. However, when he was challenged on it, he started waffling again and changing his mind.
Is that official Conservative Party policy? Do the Conservatives want federalism as suggested by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)? He does not like calling it federalism because that makes people think that he is a Liberal. Or do they want a Speaker's Conference as suggested by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire? What exactly is Conservative 107 policy towards a devolved system of government in Scotland? There must be a clear answer from them in the next few days, because they know the implications for the future.
One point of speculation has been clarified today—the contents of the Queen's Speech. We are not clarifying the way in which the SNP votes will be cast because we want definitive replies to the points that we are raising, not from one side but from both sides. We shall want to balance the issues very carefully in reaching our decision.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
As we enter the final Session of this Parliament, it is with a heavy heart that I look back on the record of this Government in relation to their dealings with Northern Ireland over a four-year period.
In 1974, the Labour Government elected in February of that year saw the ending of the Sunningdale agreement. That was brought crashing to the ground by what I regard as a Fascist uprising. The election of 1974 showed how the first-past-the-post sysem is terribly inappropriate for Northern Ireland. As a result, 51 per cent. of the electorate who voted got 11 seats here at Westminster and all the rest got one, through me. As a result of the October election in 1974, one of those 11 seats was lost. In the ensuing years in successive by-elections the Labour Government became very much a minority Government. This led to the position in which the 10 Unionists from Northern Ireland were able to dictate Government policy in relation to constitutional developments in the Province.
I recognise the very difficult position in which the Labour Government have found themselves throughout the past four years. On all occasions I have loyally supported this Government. But it would not take a very long memory to recall that on major decisions of policy promulgated by this Government the Northern Ireland Unionists were in the Lobby against them, ably led by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on most occasions.
Last week at the Unionist Party conference in Northern Ireland the right hon. Member for Down, South made it perfectly clear where he stands on devolu- 108 tion. He said in no uncertain terms that he did not believe in a devolved legislative Assembly for Northern Ireland. He said that he believed that this would be the first step towards a united Ireland or a break-up of the present constitutional position.
That is not the official party policy of the official Unionists. I am not quite certain what their official policy is, but we hear from the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that they want devolved government, albeit on their own terms.
Here we have a conflict, and because of this conflict the present Labour Government have been unable to take any positive steps to try to bring about what they have once again referred to in this Queen's Speech, as in previous Queen's Speeches—devolved government acceptable to all sections of the community. We have heard that ever since the downfall of the Sunningdale agrement. Yet, in the same paragraph as the Government claim that this is their objective, they go on to say that they will bring in legislation to implement the finding of the Speaker's Conference, increasing the number of seats for Northern Ireland from 12 to 17 or 18.
I am not sure what this Government know about the situation in Northern Ireland. Sometimes I have serious doubts about their awareness of the actual political and constitutional position. If there is an increase in the number of seats from 12 to 17 or 18, there will never be devolved government.
The Unionist Party in Northern Ireland now believes that it will be quite satisfied with 17 or 18 seats at Westminster and powers being given back to the local authorities in Northern Ireland as they are at present constituted or perhaps in a new form.
I believe, and I think that I am supported by most people who recognise anything of the Northern Ireland problem, that the only possible hope for future political progress is by bringing into being political structures in Northern Ireland which can command the support and allegiance of both the majority and minority communities.
If this Government persist in carrying out the recommendations of the Speaker's 109 Conference and increasing the number of seats, the Unionist representatives from Northern Ireland will get their backs to the wall and say that they do not want any form of devolved Government in Northern Ireland. That is the attitude of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.
We have heard repeatedly from the Unionist leader in the Six Counties that in no circumstances will they sit down with Republicans or with the SDLP, and that they will be in no way share power with those who have not expressed proven allegiance to the Unionist Party. This is a fact of life in Northern Ireland.
We now face a fait accompli because the promise has been made. It has now been fulfilled in the Queen's Speech. We now know that there will be an increase in the number of seats in Northern Ireland. If that is the case, what will be the position? The geography of Northern Ireland dictates that the majority of the population live in the city of Belfast within an area of about 30 miles around the city. That is where the seats would be created. Let me make it clear that that is where the majority Unionist population live.
I have sat in this House under Labour Governments and in times when Labour has been in opposition and I cannot think of any member of the Labour Party who would relish the idea that out of the 18 seats created, 16 Unionists would be returned here. We have already seen how the Unionists have been able to interfere with events, not only in the past 10 years but in earlier Parliaments in the past 20 years. when Labour Governments have had small majorities. The Unionists in Northern Ireland are essentially and basically Conservatives. They do not support the Labour Government or give their allegiance to the Socialist concept. If they had their way, they would support the Conservative Party at all times, provided that they were able to demand concessions from that Conservative Party to placate them in running Northern Ireland.
The battle in this House on the subject of an increase in the number of seats is only beginning. Many Labour Members will feel as badly as I do on this subject. I do not believe that those seats were given just because the Labour Government thought it right to increase the 110 number of seats. I recall the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is now Home Secretary, saying in this House that one could not increase the number of seats without trying to create local political structures in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is different, and it has proved itself to be different in the past 10 years. That is why there are now 13,000 troops in Northern Ireland. That is why there is legislation to provide for emergency powers. That is why we have seen such killing and tragedy.
When considering how many seats shall be allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we must always remember that Northern Ireland is unique. I say with all the sincerity at my command that if one increases the number of seats without first taking steps to create political structures in Northern Ireland, one will only stir up animosity, hostility and bitterness which will ensure that the present tragedy of Northern Ireland will continue for many years.
I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will probably take the view that it is up to the politicians of Northern Ireland to find agreement. He will say "If you can find such agreement, I will help you." Anybody who knows the history of Northern Ireland will know the deep divisions there. The Unionist Party, having extracted the promise to increase the number of seats—seats which the Unionists hope will be taken up by their candidates—will know that there is no incentive for its members to try to reach an accommodation with other political forces in Northern Ireland. Members of the Unionist Party stand with their backs to the wall. They say "There is no need for us to go out of our way to reach an accommodation or to indulge in consensus politics with minority parties in Northern Ireland."
We heard the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition today welcome with open arms the suggestion of an increase in the number of seats. If I were in the position of members of the Unionist Party, which for years has had an allegiance with the Conservative Party, I would take the view—a view which I predict they will take—that my party would do nothing in the hope that the Labour Government would be defeated, thus enabling a Conservative Government 111 to be elected, since such a Government would be more in tune with their demands. We know that the first option of Unionists in Northern Ireland is a return of Stormont, with all the powers and privileges which it enjoyed. However, I do not believe that any Government in this country, Conservative, Labour or coalition, would in any way tolerate a return to that type of government.
There is a highly acceptable second option in the hands of Unionists in Northern Ireland. That option lies in an increase in the number of seats, with more powers being returned to local authorities. On this issue I have watched with a heavy heart the passing of the last four years, knowing that in a constitutional sense nothing has happened. Until that matter is settled, there will never be any hope of true peace and progress in Northern Ireland.
Moving away from the constitutional scene, I wish to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Labour Party and in the Labour Government on the economic and financial assistance which they have given to Northern Ireland in the past four or five years, because I am the first to give credit where it is due. Had a Conservative Government been in power in that period, it is highly unlikely that the same type of financial assistance would have been given to Northern Ireland.
I have already said that Northern Ireland is unique. I wish to emphasise that it cannot be equated with any other part of the United Kingdom. All Ministers who have any experience of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland will recognise that it is one of the most deprived areas, if not the most deprived area, in Western Europe. It has by far the highest unemployment figure and by far the worst housing problem in that hemisphere. There has been an accumulation of social evils, and it will take many years in a peaceful constitutional situation before we can hope to eradicate them.
There now exists in Northern Ireland a piece of legislation introduced by the Stormont Government in 1970 relating to the payment of debts. If a person is in debt to a housing authority or to the 112 electricity authority, even though he receives only supplementary benefit or unemployment or sickness benefit, that legislation allows the Government to take so much out of that person's social security benefit to pay off the debt. I am in no way saying that people should be allowed to accumulate debt with no intention of paying, but, given the history of Northern Ireland, we know that many people have accumulated debt because they have not been able to do otherwise. This has happened because they live in an area which is the most socially deprived in Western Europe. There is not a similar situation in Scotland or Wales or in any of the cities of England. If a person finds himself in debt to a housing authority or the electricity authority in this country, court proceedings take place and measures are taken in that way. But that is not the case in Northern Ireland.
I know that many people in Northern Ireland who are living on sickness and supplementary benefits are finding that the major part of those benefits, sometimes as much as one-third, is being taken every week to pay off debts which they have accumulated. This means that they are living far below the poverty line set by the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
Furthermore, there is legislation in Northern Ireland dealing with emergency powers. Again, I recognise that Northern Ireland is unlike any other part of the United Kingdom. There has recently been an inquiry in this country into the operation of the legislation dealing with the prevention of terrorism. That Act of Parliament was put on the statute book because of the terrible atrocity of the Birmingham bomb. Such concern was displayed in this House, particularly by Labour Members, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary ordered an inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Shackleton into the operation of that legislation.
How much more necessary is it that an inquiry should take place into the operation of the emergency powers legislation in Northern Ireland, under which thousands of old and young men and women are interrogated every week. There has never been an inquiry into the activities of the police and those responsible for such interrogations.
113 The Secretary of State will have read in the Belfast Telegraph and The Irish Times of the judge who deliberated on charges brought against five policemen who were accused of brutally assaulting a person in the Castlereagh interrogation centre. After listening to all the evidence, the judge said that the only conclusion he could arrive at was that the man had certainly been assaulted by members of the RUC but that none of those policemen could be identified, so the guilty would have to go free with the innocent. I do not believe that such a situation should be allowed to continue. Steps must be taken to ensure that, while the emergency powers are in existence, every protection is given to innocent individuals.
A campaign will soon be starting in Northern Ireland. My party has decided to use whatever political weight it has to ensure that the no-jury courts—the Diplock courts, as they are known in Northern Ireland—are dispensed with and that the emergency legislation is wiped off the statute book. This sort of legislation breeds discontent and the men of violence have gained more from it than have those whom it was allegedly supposed to protect.
I welcome some parts of the Queen's Speech, including the increased financial assistance for the Northern Ireland Development Agency, though it is odd to note that this help was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We were told only of the increases in funds for the Scottish and the Welsh Development Agencies, but I received a letter this afternoon from the Secretary of State, who said that increased financial help was also to be given to the Northern Ireland Agency. Why was that not included in the Queen's Speech? Was it an oversight? I do not know the reason, but it would have done no harm for a reference to this extra help to be included in the Queen's Speech.
I welcome the promise to increase benefits for the disabled in Northern Ireland. We have debated this subject on many occasions, and I am grateful for the support, assistance and active help given to me in the last Session to get on to the statute book the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act. I hope that the Act will be strengthened still further, as is implied in the Queen's Speech.
114 The Government say that they intend to create a better structure for the electricity undertakings in England and Wales. I suggest that any improvements should apply also to Northern Ireland, because the high cost of electricity and gas is a major factor in the level of poverty in Northern Ireland. If these costs are not reduced, life in Northern Ireland will be made that much more difficult.
Before I left Belfast yesterday, I read a statement from the Coal Advisory Board which announced that the price of a bag of coal is to be increased by 35p from next week. That is one hell of an increase. As the Government give subsidies to the electricity and gas industries in Northern Ireland, they should offer similar assistance for people who have to use coal for heating.
Reference is made in the Queen's Speech to legislation on banking and deposit-taking institutions. I understand that it may extend to credit unions in Northern Ireland. I hone that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will recognise that these credit unions have done a very worthwhile job for a number of years. No one in the credit unions receives a wage and no one is lining his own pockets from them. They offer a way for small communities to get together to help themselves and to help people furnish their homes, pay for holidays and so on. The sums involved in credit unions are not vast, and any penal legislation would lead to their demise, which would be a bad thing for the community in Northern Ireland.
I conclude, as I began, by expressing disappointment that the Government have not found a way of establishing political structures in Northern Ireland which would be acceptable to both the majority and the minority communities. I know that the Secretary of State may say that this is not his fault, but the people who are suffering in Northern Ireland are the ordinary people who are not involved in the campaign of violence and if, in the months ahead, the Secretary of State can take positive steps to offset the proposed increase in the number of Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland, he will find ready and willing listeners among the elected representatives in Northern Ireland.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will not expect me to agree with what he said in every detail, but I compliment him on the way in which he put the case for his constituents. I do not want to tread on dangerous ground, but I believe that there should be an increase in the number of Northern Ireland seats, simply on grounds of representation. Some of the constituencies there have electorates of well over 100,000 and there is a good case for an increase in the number of seats, though how that increase takes place is a different matter.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Belfast, West would argue that all the Ulster Unionists always vote with the Conservative Party. The Government are fully aware of that fact, and it was brought out well in an intervention of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) earlier today in relation to the Scottish National Party.
We are all indebted to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who is one of the most respected Members of the House. We were all pleased that he was able to propose the motion for the Loyal Address. He said that he was glad to be back, and I share that sentiment, though with some modification because I would like to have come back after a General Election and to be sitting on the other side of the House, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) as Prime Minister.
The Queen's Speech contains only uncontroversial elements, and it gives the Government a free range—an open option—to be able to hold a General Election at almost any time. I compliment the Prime Minister on this. It is a clever move. Labour Members below the Gangway have been saying "Why is there not more Socialism? Why cannot we have Socialist measures?" It is obvious that no Prime Minister leading a minority Government would risk introducing highly controversial nationalisation proposals that were likely to be defeated, thus forcing him to have an election at an inconvenient time. That is why the Queen's Speech contains so little that is controversial.
I listened to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), and I am 116 not so sure that the Prime Minister can rely upon all the minority parties. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has done his mathematics. No doubt he reckons that he can implement legislation as set out in the Queen's Speech until such time as the new register is introduced or it is convenient to him to hold a General Election. That is why the Queen's Speech contains so little that will lead to major arguments. We shall find points of difference, but it will be hard to find grounds for major arguments.
I compliment the Government on the Queen's Speech because for the first time for a long time it gives high priority to defence. Defence appears in the second paragraph. The Government have persistently reduced our defence forces to a level that most of my hon. Friends regard as dangerous. It is a late stage for the Government to change their mind. It is a sort of death-bed repentance. We welcome repentance, but a long time has elapsed. During the previous four years our defence forces have been reduced, and it will take a long time for us to put right the deficiency.
I regret that no mention is made of civil defence, a matter to which I have drawn the attention of the House on many occasions. There is no mention of a financial contribution from Europe—in my opinion there should be—towards the cost of this defence. Day by day we see increases in the strength of the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact armed forces. We all know the dangers. I am glad that the Government are beginning to see the red light. It may be that that is because of newspaper reports. It may be due to the attitude of the defence chiefs. I do not know the reason, but I tell the Government that even though their repentance is late it is welcome. I only hope that their repentance is measured in real terms and that they will put our forces back to the strength that we should be able to offer to NATO.
The Prime Minister mentioned a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. We all welcome that. It is something that we want to see take place. If we are to have an agreement that is comprehensive, we must be realistic. We know about the threat posed in the Mediterranean. We know about the number of Warsaw Pact tanks that face us and our NATO allies. That is common knowledge. The 117 House knows it, the country knows it, everybody knows it.
We must be careful to ensure that any treaty or arrangement between ourselves and the Russians takes into account satellites and all forms of nuclear war. I am not an expert, but I believe that the barrier between tactical and strategic weapons is becoming so close that it is no use saying that we shall limit strategic weapons if we allow a full range of tactical weapons. For example the Russians might say "Our strategic nuclear force is controlled." However, at the same time they might be in possession of a large range of tactical nuclear weapons. It is necessary to examine any agreements with considerable care. There must be mutual inspection. Without inspection, without being able to see for ourselves, I do not believe that any treaty is of real value.
The Russians also pose a considerable threat to our supplies in Africa. Our raw materials—for instance, chromium and nickel—come from Africa. The Russians know that they have a number of ways of getting at us. They want all sorts of agreement because they are frightened of China. We do not know to what extent they are prepared to negotiate on arms limitations or anything else solely on account of their fear of China. For heaven's sake, let us be realistic. Let us ignore China and accept that we cannot afford to make agreement that in any way puts us, NATO and our other allies at any sort of disadvantage.
That is why I say that we must have a settlement in Rhodesia. I do not think it right for Britain to send arms to Zambia. There is a tense situation, but let us not fan the flames. We should not help the Cuban mercenaries. Let us ensure that we try to get a form of internal settlement.
My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has various ideas. Many other hon. Members have ideas about what should be done in Rhodesia. I say that we do not wish to fan the flames of murder in that country. One way of doing so is to arm its neighbours with weapons that will be used to increase the level of hostility. That is a dangerous game.
From the Queen's Speech it seems that the Government have at last turned towards unemployment and inflation. The 118 Prime Minister said that these are among the most important domestic issues that the country is facing.
What are the Government doing about small businesses? It seems that small businesses are still having a rough time in spite of all the so-called aid that the Government are giving. We are very much dependent upon small businesses, and the form-filling and various difficulties with which they are faced make it difficult for them to continue.
Does the Employment Protection Act help or hinder? When I speak to people in small businesses, they tell me "I shall not take on anybody else. I cannot get rid of them. It may be that my business will not be so good next year, but I will not take the chance. I have to pay redundancy payments as well as meeting many other obligations." The Act stops people being employed, and it is a positive disincentive to small business men to expand their activities and make a greater contribution to the economy.
There is reference in the Gracious Speech to the police. Again, the Government are rather late. We have seen an appalling rise in crime. I am glad to see a further deathbed repentance. The attitude of the parties towards the police should not be political. Discipline is involved in these matters, which we have to deal with in the schools right through our order of society. It is something about which both major parties should be concerned. What is wrong when in whole towns people feel that they cannot go out at night? The situation is so serious that it should be tackled not regardless of expense but with considerable care.
I turn to National Health Service hospitals. I rarely talk about the NHS although I have considerable connections with it. In a civilised society it is appalling that, all these years after the NHS was founded, we find empty beds and patients awaiting hospital care. Again, this is not a political matter but a matter of fact.
All of us in our constituencies have elderly people, some with double incontinence and unable to walk, being looked after at home but who should be cared for in institutions because their families are unable to care for them properly. But there are no places for them. The only 119 way to get them away from home is to get them into hospital and have them refuse to go home. The situation is serious. We should make better arrangements for them. I do not want to be party political. However, many private institutions can take these people. If such people were to pay 50 per cent. of the cost and the Government were to pay the other 50 per cent., it would work out cheaper than building new National Health Service homes to cater for them. It is a thought, but I have had many requests from constituents about such a scheme. I think that it is a possibility.
I now step on to the dangerous path of statutory wage policies and free collective bargaining. I do not believe that we can change from the one system to the other overnight. It would require a period of transition. This is a matter on which some Conservative Members may have differences. I believe that in the end the wage should be a matter of free negotiation between the master and the man, both parties being fully realistic that if the wage is too high it can only end, as the Prime Minister said, in unemployment and the firm going bankrupt. That would be the ultimate sanction.
I believe in terms being negotiated between the employer and the employee. However, it may be necessary in the meantime to have some form of control, because we cannot move from the one system to the other without radical changes. It would no doubt affect not only prices but unemployment. I am particularly concerned about the small man, as I have made clear.
The Prime Minister has steadfastly stood on a platform wage control, but has he got the backing of his Left wing in his attempt to contain excessive wage demands? This is the crux of the situation. It is no use the Government saying something if they do not speak with one voice. This is one of the most serious issues in the country. I am sure that at the moment the Left wing will be quiet and the Prime Minister may get his way. But I warn the House and the country that if the Government had a bigger majority they would not be pursuing the same policies, I rarely make such comments. However, I think that the Gov- 120 ernment would be forced to follow some of the firmer policies of the Labour Left wing, as we have already heard today, if they had a larger majority. I am sure that if they had a larger majority further Socialist measures would be imposed on us.
I am glad that the Government are at last turning a little towards improving the defence of this country, but they have a very long way to go.
Three of the important issues about which we are fighting are whether individuals should be free to spend their money as they wish and the way of life and opportunities which should be given to everyone. There should be less, not more, State interference in our affairs.
We require more incentives for those who wish to work harder or take risks. If there are no differentials, what incentive is there for anyone to improve his own life and the lives of his children? People must be given incentives. There must be choice in education. People must be given freedom to live how they choose within the law. That is the kind of society that we require.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) that, if a Labour Government were to be returned with a large majority, the policies about which we heard from the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) would feature in their programme rather than those currently being defended by the Prime Minister. Indeed, I would go further and say that it would be a question not merely of the size of the majority which would drive them that way, but more the expectation of four or more years of power. In other words, at the beginning rather than at the end of a Parliament they would show themselves more ready to embark on Socialist measures.
I can see only one consolation in the postponement of the election which the people of this country so manifestly wanted—an election which I am certain, whatever the opinion polls may say, would have resulted in a decisive Conservative victory—and that is the elegant, charming and witty speech made by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and 121 the fact that we shall have him with us for the duration of this Parliament.
If I wanted to find in the Queen's Speech a convincing reason why the postponement of the election was so disastrous, I should find it primarily in the statement thatlegislation will be introduced to improve arrangements for compensation of workers on short-time, and to reduce redundancies at times of high unemployment by encouraging the alternative of short-time working.I am sure that that will be an extremely popular proposal. It is a way of masking the unemployment which, despite temporary improvements, is gaining on us apace. Employers' contributions to national insurance are to be increased to subsidise short-time working. It seems a classic example of the kind of short term measure that we get in a pre-election period from a Government who are worried about their prospects—a measure which certainly will be popular and will equally certainly contribute in the long term to a worsening of unemployment because it will contribute markedly to a worsening of our competitive ability. As an operation, it is like filling in the cracks in the facade by digging away stones from the foundations. I believe that the consequences of this operation, as with other short term cosmetic operations for concealing unemployment, will prove to be disastrous in terms of future unemployment.
I turn briefly to those items in the Gracious Speech which concern the Principality as I am the first Welsh Conservative Member to speak to the Address. It seems from the Queen's Speech that the Government have paid quite a high price to secure those three vital Plaid Cymru votes. Having listened to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) and the impossibly high price that she was putting on the Scottish National Party's support to either side of the House which cared to bid for it, I understand why the Government settled for the slightly softer option of buying the votes of Plaid Cymru.
The proposals in the Queen's Speech for improved compensation arrangements for the victims of pneumoconiosis and silicosis are welcome, but I hope that no one will run away with the idea that these are the result of a sustained campaign by Plaid Cymru. Its part in this 122 matter reminds me of the fly on the coach wheel which, as the four great shire horses dragged the coach to the top of the hill, triumphantly exclaimed "You would never have got there without my help." There has been an all-party effort to secure these improvements. I am sure that any Government who found themselves in a position to improve these compensation arrangements would have done so. The fact that this Government have done it at this time indicates that they are anxious to secure the votes of Plaid Cymru. I hope that they are also converted to the need for these improvements.
There is one other item possibly affecting Wales on which I should like to touch. I note with curiosity that the Government have renewed their pledge or reaffirmed their commitment to the reorganisation of the electricity supply industry in both England and Wales. I think that very early on we should have an assurance that that does not mean that MANWEB, the company which provides electricity to North Wales and Merseyside, is to be split into separate Welsh and English elements. All who know about such matters know that the cost of supplying consumers in North Wales is much higher than the cost of supplying consumers in Merseyside where the population is greater. A split of MANWEB can result only in higher electricity tariffs for people in North Wales.
I hope that we shall have an early assurance on this matter. If we do not, there will be considerable alarm and despondency at the prospect of still further increases in electricity tariffs which are already bearing heavily on certain consumers, particularly old people and those who are unfortunate enough to have electric heating in their homes.
I shall deal briefly with two omissions from the Gracious Speech. The first involves a prosaic matter, but it causes considerable and increasing concern to certain people in my constituency. I had hoped to find some reference in the speech to the necessity of amending the Shops Act 1950. I had hoped particularly for an amendment to Part IV of that Act which deals with Sunday opening. We are in an inextricable mess over the law on Sunday opening. This is imposing an intolerable duty on local authorities, particularly in areas which can claim to be resorts. They have the right to permit 123 opening on 18 Sundays a year. That figure is not adequate because of the short seasons which affect many holiday resorts. The law imposes upon local authorities the intolerable task of forbidding shops from doing something which they and the public want to do and which is in the interests of all but which is contrary to the law. Local authorities suffer great unpopularity because they must carry out the law. The situation is not their fault. It is time that the law was changed.
Local authorities are unable to do much to control the fly-by-night operators who set up Sunday markets. These are often in unsuitable areas and they cause traffic congestion and dirt. There are provisions to forbid this activity but they are inadequate. The delays and complications involved in enforcing the law make it virtually impossible to catch the fly-by-night trader. If the laws are enforceable, they are enforceable only against respectable stall operators whom no one wishes to harass. Local authorities need greater powers of discretion both to permit Sunday opening for respectable traders and to prevent the installation of undesirable types of Sunday market.
I shall make my point briefly. There is one omission from the Queen's Speech which grieves me. It concerns a matter which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned. I am grieved about the omission of any arrangements for improving the process of consultation of trade union members on the election of their officers and the decision to take industrial action.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend give a pledge that a Conservative Government would make provision for a postal ballot to be conducted at public expense for major trade union decisions. I hope that that principle will be extended to include the provision for a secret ballot—not necessarily a postal ballot—on every major decision affecting industrial action. I confess that I do not understand the hostility which this proposal arouses on the Government side of the House.
I am sorry that the Lord President is no longer in the Chamber I have read of the indignation which he summoned up when he commented on the difficulties which were put in the way of 124 the introduction of a secret ballot for parliamentary and other elections when local land or mill owners were able to intimidate those employees who voted in a way which was unacceptable to the boss. The secret ballot is the most elementary requirement of democracy. No system can call itself democratic if it does not, as a matter of course, include provision for a secret ballot.
This matter is of particular concern to my constituency. In my constituency a number of industrial disputes are being fomented and maintained which were possibly originally caused by direct intimidation by militant elements which do not scruple to use the most ruthless methods to oblige their fellow workers to come out on strike and remain on strike. The consequence is that North Wales, part of which I have the honour to represent, which once boasted that it had the finest labour relations in the country, can no longer make such a boast because a large number of major building projects are being deliberately sabotaged by professional agitators using the art of intimidation.
A secret ballot for all such decisions would destroy the ability of such agitators to intimidate fellow workers. To argue that a secret ballot among the miners and the railwaymen confirmed a decision to strike is not the answer. In those cases the majority genuinely wanted to take industrial action. In such cases industrial action is justified. But in too many cases the militant minority, using the most thuggish of methods, intimidate their fellow workers into going on strike when that is the last thing that the workers wish to do.
No one suggests that a secret ballot should be enforced on those who do not wish to vote. The objective can be achieved by providing that unless a decision is taken by secret ballot the decision loses the special protection and immunities which are provided by the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. The special advantages conferred on industrial procedures should be removed unless a decision has been validated by a secret ballot.
There are few things to which I look forward more in the programme of the incoming Conservative Government than the carrying out of that pledge which my right hon. Friend repeated this afternoon.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Knox (Leek)
I agree with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). As we have come to expect from him, he made a reasonable, sensible and moderate speech. My hon. Friend always makes a real contribution to sensible debate in the House.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak at such an early stage in a parliamentary Session which might not last long. Indeed, it might be over within a fortnight. I confess that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West, I am rather sorry that the House has reassembled without hon. Members having the opportunity to face the electorate. It is pleasant to see some colleagues here who did not expect to return after the Summer Recess. I am referring to those right hon. and hon. Members who do not intend to take part in the next General Election rather than those on the Labour Benches who represent marginal constituencies. Although it is pleasant to see those who were to have retired, I think it was a great mistake not to have a General Election last month. I do not say that in a particularly partisan spirit.
The Government do not have a majority in the House. They do not have a permanent arrangement with one of the minority parties to give them a majority. In such circumstances, the Government can only limp along from day to day, not knowing whether they will be in office a few clays later. Such uncertainty cannot be good for the country.
No one knows where he stands. Decisions by employers and trade unionists will be more difficult. Urgent decisions will be deferred because no one will be sure about the future political environment. The inevitable continuous electioneering atmosphere will have an adverse effect on the quality of government. All that can only be damaging to the country. It would have been much better for us to have had an election last month. The uncertainty would have been removed. Everyone would have known which party was to be in power over the next few years. The people would have had a much better idea of the future political environment. The quality of decisions within and outside Government would have been better, and the new Govern- 126 ment would have been able to get on with the job of governing the country.
But, although we did not have a General Election last month, we could well have one later this month or next month, and it is because I believe that the present uncertainty is damaging to the country that I hope the Government will lose the vote at the end of the debate and so be forced to an immediate General Election. I hope that the minority parties will put the country before party and join my party in voting the Government down.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) made a very able speech this afternoon, but she was vague about the SNP's intentions at the end of the debate. She dragged in a large number of issues, but the essence of the decision by the nationalists must hinge on devolution. The reference by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) to the advertisement which the nationalists have put in Scottish newspapers indicated the truth of that.
Of course, there must be a temptation for the nationalist parties to argue that they will sustain the Government in office either positively or by abstention until the devolution referendums have taken place. From their point of view, that is a superficially attractive argument. I believe that it is important that these two referendums should take place quickly, because the sooner the uncertainty about the future government of Scotland and Wales has been resolved, the better it will be for the United Kingdom as a whole and the individual countries within it.
The importance and urgency of early referendums on Scottish and Welsh devolution cannot be said to be an argument for sustaining the Government in power. I say that, first, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has made clear, a Conservative Government would hold the referendums on 22nd March next year, and that is very similar to the Prime Minister's pledge this afternoon. No one who knows my right hon. Friend would ever believe that he would not fulfil that promise.
I say it, secondly, because there is no reason for sustaining the Government in power. If they had wanted to hold the referendums quickly, they could have 127 done so in September and October, as some of us advised in the summer. Presumably they did not do so because they wanted to exercise some leverage on the nationalist parties over the next few months.
The nationalists may, of course, argue that a Labour Government will campaign for a "yes" vote whereas a Tory Administration would campaign for "no". The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East made quite a bit of that argument. No doubt the nationalists would argue that the attitude of the Government of the day is an important influence on the outcome of a referendum. I doubt that. If anything, I should have thought that Government support for one side or the other could well be counter-productive. I do not get the impression that Governments of any particular party are particularly popular or influential on the views of the people. But, in any event, it seems clear to me that there will be an emphatic "yes" vote in Scotland for devolution. The argument is therefore not valid when applied to Scottish devolution. I know much less about Wales and I therefore refrain from forecasting the outcome of the referendum in that country.
It seems clear to me therefore that there is no great advantage for the nationalists in their sustaining the Government in office. There is the possible disadvantage, if they do so, that their right-of-centre voters will desert them at the next General Election in fairly large numbers. I need scarcely remind members of the SNP, holding as they do constituencies such as Galloway, South Angus and Perth and East Perthshire, how much they have to lose if they back the Government. It must therefore be in their interests to vote with the Conservatives at the end of the debate.
In the past few weeks there has been a great debate in the country about incomes policy. I welcome that debate not least because it is taking place within political parties as well as between them. It is right that such a debate should take place. Whether we have an incomes policy is an important economic issue, but it is as well to remember—and the media would do well to bear this in mind—that it is by no means the only econ- 128 omic issue that faces the country. And it is perfectly possible to be a loyal member of the Labour or Conservative Party and yet not necessarily to be in full agreement with the current official attitude of either party to incomes policy.
I hope that the debate on incomes policy will continue with greater emphasis placed on the issue and less emphasis applied to the personalities. I have been convinced for some considerable time that, in the imperfect conditions which obtain it this country, an incomes policy is an essential tool of economic management, both as a means of limiting inflation and as a means of maintaining a higher level of employment than would otherwise exist.
That is not to say that I would not prefer genuine free collective bargaining, but frankly that is not an option. In practice, free collective bargaining in this country is neither "free" nor "bargaining". Quite simply, it is the exercise of monopoly power. Monopoly power, wherever it appears, is bad and must be restrained. When monopoly power is exercised in the labour market, an incomes policy is probably the best means of restraining some of its excesses.
Of course, incomes policies have defects, but these pale into insignificance compared with the defects of so-called free collective bargaining. So-called free collective bargaining between 1969 and 1972 resulted in the inflation and unemployment of the early 1970s. So-called free collective bargaining in 1974 and 1975 led in the years immediately following to the hyper-inflation and the excessive unemployment of that time. So bad were the consequences of that period of free collective bargaining that we are still suffering from both the inflation and the unemployment that arose.
No one would claim that any incomes policy is perfect, nor that any incomes policy in the future is likely to be perfect either. Nor would the strongest supporters of incomes policies claim that such policies in themselves were sufficient. But there is no doubt that the incomes policy of the last Tory Government was highly successful in restraining domestically generated inflation in 1973 at a time when imported inflation in the form of much higher commodity prices was playing havoc with the general level of prices in this country.
129 There is no doubt that the present Government's incomes policy has played a significant part in reducing inflation from 26 per cent. to 8½ per cent. over the last three years. That is why it has had my general support. That is not to condone the irresponsibility of the Government when they allowed inflation to escalate to 26 per cent. in the first 16 months of their period of office. It is only to recognise that when they started to do something more sensible it was in the national interest that they should be given general support.
The Government have now suggested that incomes increases in the next 12 months should not exceed 5 per cent. I think that that policy can contribute to a further reduction in inflation and to the avoidance of even higher unemployment than we now have. It consequently deserves support. However, the Government's policy seems somewhat rigid and inflexible, but it is the only incomes policy we have, and even with its defects it is better than no incomes policy. It should, therefore, be supported by all those who have the national interest at heart, and that means by all Conservatives.
Let me clarify one point. Even though I think that the present pay policy is inflexible, I do not doubt for one moment that 5 per cent. is right as a global amount. Therefore, if one is to have a more flexible approach, that must mean that some would get a little more than 5 per cent. and some a little less. It does not and should not mean that everyone should get 5 per cent., some rather more and most people far more—otherwise, all that will happen will be an inevitable return to the hyper-inflation from which we are still in the process of escaping.
If one looks at the last few years and at the period between 1972 and 1974, when the Tory Government's incomes policy was in being, one finds that there is one very considerable difference. I refer, of course, to the behaviour of the Opposition of the day. During the period of the Tory Government's incomes policy, the then Labour Opposition lost no opportunity to attack it and to try to undermine it. From the Prime Minister downwards, members of the Labour Party gave every encouragement to people to defeat the then Government's policy, even though that policy was very much more gener- 130 ous than the incomes policy of the present Labour Government.
Since the Labour Government introduced their incomes policy in 1975, the present Conservative Opposition have behaved responsibly. No attempt has been made to undermine the Government's policy. No encouragement has been given to people to try to smash it. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said at the Conservative Party conference at Brighton, speaking about the Prime Minister:Let me put his mind at rest. We are not going to follow in his footsteps. We will not accuse him of 'union bashing'. We will not support a strike in breach of an agreement. We will not act irresponsibly—and he knows it.The Conservative attitude to the Labour Government's incomes policy has been a model of responsible opposition, and I hope that the new Labour Opposition will copy it after the next General Election.
I should like very briefly to express regret about two omissions from the Gracious Speech. First, there is no mention of proposals to implement the Erroll Report on liquor licensing. It is now six years since the committee reported. Ever since, the Home Office has dithered on the issue and done nothing at all. In the meantime, the Clayson report on Scottish licensing laws, which was published after Erroll, in August 1973, was implemented in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.
There is considerable evasion of the licensing laws in this country. There is great public concern about them because they are old fashioned and reactionary. If the Government wanted to use the time in this Session to effect a useful and helpful social reform, I cannot see why at long last the Home Office could not have come around to producing a Bill to deal with this problem.
The second omission, which I regret very much, is the Government's failure to implement the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference in the 1970–74 Parliament to lower the age at which people can stand for Parliament. It is nine years since the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18. The Speaker's Conference in the 1970–74 Parliament recommended that the age at which people could stand for Parliament should also be 131 reduced from 21 to 18. The current situation is anomalous. It seems to me regrettable that the Government do not propose to take the opportunity to implement that recommendation of that Speaker's Conference as well as the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference in the current Parliament.
We do not have a lot of legislation for the Session. It would seem to me not unreasonable to ask the Government to reconsider both these points. We have plenty of spare time. Let us have Bills on both of them and so effect two very useful reforms.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) made a courageous speech in respect of incomes policy. I hope to return to that subject later. However, I am not wholly with the hon. Member in his suggestion that the Conservative Opposition have been helpful, certainly since January of this year, when the Leader of the Opposition, in her speech in Glasgow, said that she saw no case for incomes policy. As one approached a General Election, the impression was given to trade union bargainers that the Conservatives were not in favour of incomes policy and were in favour of so-called free collective bargaining, and, therefore, that all the constraints were off.
I disagree with the hon. Member in his analysis of the reason for the voting intentions of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists. He argued that there might have been a referendum in September had the Government been in earnest about holding such a referendum speedily. The problem there, of course, was the 40 per cent. hurdle and the wish of the Government and, indeed, of the proponents of devolution, as a result of that hurdle, to have as up-to-date a register as possible. Hence the pledge given today and earlier by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the referendums would be held as soon as practicable after the coming into force of the new register.
However, as far as I can divine, it is not a matter of the attitude of the nationalist parties, because they wish to have a sympathetic Government in power, using official machinery in favour of devolution at the time of the referendums, that 132 the nationalist parties are unlikely to give the Conservative Party support when it comes to the Division at the end of the debate on the Loyal Address. Surely it is rather that they positively see benefits for their own countries in the policies that are being pursued by the present Government and, negatively, following the attack on public expenditure, which generates so many of the jobs in Wales and Scotland, in the event of the advent of a Conservative Government which is pledged to reduce that public expenditure, which would put in question much of the regional employment machinery which has been built up painstakingly by the present Government over its years in office, they see positive disadvantages for their countries under a Conservative Government, particularly under the Conservative Party's present leadership. For reasons of that sort, they have no interest in seeing the present Government replaced by a Conservative Government.
As regards the Queen's Speech in general, certainly my own initial reaction and the reaction of many colleagues was that it was much meatier than we had expected. In the last Session of Parliament, by having the three constitutional measures which took up such a large part of the time available for Government measures, almost all the other good but not necessary measures were swept off the table—the merchant shipping Bill and so on. Now there is time available for considering such important measures.
Indeed, the Queen's Speech is a programme for a Session. It is a programme that will keep Parliament very busy over that Session. Looking at the amount of work involved in the Queen's Speech, there is no suspicion that my right hon. Friend or any of his colleagues think that they will not be in Government come Thursday week after the Division. They have every reason to be confident that they can safely plan for a very fruitful and useful Session. It is not an electioneering Queen's Speech. It is one that is well balanced, and I think that it will find support from everyone save those on the Conservative Benches.
What is clear is that much of the areas of debate with which we shall be dealing during this Session are not included in the Queen's Speech, partly perhaps, looking internally at the moment, 133 because reform of this place is properly considered to be a matter for the House itself. More importantly, looking at the fundamental economic issues, one thinks of the European monetary system, which will cause agonising debates within my party. That is not included in the Queen's Speech, and I hope that the Government, as they have done to some extent today, will make available as much of the background material as possible so that Back-Bench Members can come to a reasonable appraisal of what is at stake in the EMS proposal.
Secondly, there is pay policy and the whole course of our economic progress, with some indications now, with investment intentions much more favourable, with the degree of growth in the economy and with sterling buoyant, that the Government's strategy is paying off. The big question mark relates to pay policy, and here I follow the view of the hon. Member for Leek. I hope that as a result of the experience of 1975 and 1976 the country will realise that expectations are such, that basic human nature is such, that the Government must have a global figure which they think appropriate beyond which incomes cannot rise if we are to have an overall sensible economic policy.
If—this is the central dilemma—there are limits within which the Government's remit runs, which we see illustrated dramatically in the Ford strike, there could be difficulties if those limits are exceeded. If Ford settles at 15 per cent. or more, that will be held as a pattern not only for the motor sector but for other sectors, and if overall settlements within the private sector are in excess of 10 per cent. how can the Government thereafter seek to hold the line in the public sector, where almost 30 per cent. of the total work force is employed? What sort of argument can the Government make not only to civil servants but to those in the nationalised industries if the barrier is broken so dramatically by Ford?
Those who argue against an incomes policy yet are in favour of special consideration for the low paid are living in a moonshine world and refusing honestly to face the issues. One sees the interaction between the public and private sectors in, for example, the employment of computer experts within the Government service, where already there has been a sub- 134 stantial loss of computer specialists. If the Government maintain their pay policy only within the public sector, one can foresee a loss from that sector of scarce skills and a general deterioration in the quality of work.
Any Government, of whatever political colour, must have an aggregate sum which they think is appropriate globally. They must also have some pay policy for their own employees, if only because of the interaction between the public and private sectors. It is wholly unrealistic, and indeed dishonest, to pretend that pure free collective bargaining can exist in our society today, with the expectations which can be raised thereby. Here I am at one with the hon. Member for Leek, who has consistently and courageously put forward his own views on this matter. Both of us are mightily removed from his Front Bench, which speaks with such a multitude of voices on this subject, so misleadingly and damagingly.
My only regret is that, coming to the fourth year of pay policy, and perhaps inevitably because of the approach of a General Election, the opportunity was not taken to seek to agree on some longer-term strategy on pay and incomes generally on the lines of, say, the Scandinavian model. That opportunity was avoided, I believe, to the cost of this country.
Having touched on pay policy and EMS, the issues not in the Queen's Speech, I shall take up briefly what was said by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) and deal with Wales. This Queen's Speech has properly been labelled a Welsh Queen's Speech, with the priority given to fighting unemployment and the extra resources to be made available to the Welsh Development Agency. The WDA, under its current level of expenditure—in the view of many of us, perhaps over-cautious so far—will bump up against the ceiling over the next financial year, so there was need for extra resources in any event. It is touching to see the present unanimity about the WDA, since I could remind Opposition Members, perhaps to their embarrassment, that as one they voted against it when the proposal came before the House. Now, in the light of experience, they are happily converted to its usefulness as a tool of economic regeneration.
135 We welcome also the proposal about bilingual education, which is a particularly sensitive and thorny problem in the English-speaking areas of Mid-Glamorgan and South Glamorgan, and the formula so far devised to help the slate quarry men of North Wales.
Although I come from the other side of the mountains, in South Wales, I know that there is tremendous sympathy among our people for the plight of those quarry men. An extra stride has been taken in the Government's recognition of their special position. We look forward over the coming Session to a formula which will meet their real human need—something to which the Labour Government are pledged. We set up a commission under the then Sir Elwyn Jones to produce a report. This is now being pushed speedily through the Department of Employment in co-operation with the Welsh Office—and not as a result of any nationalist pressure. The doors, both of bilingual education and of a solution for the slate quarry men, have already been opened by pressure from Labour Members.
I welcome the cohesion within the Queen's Speech of the themes of participation in industry, to give workers greater knowledge of company finances, and also of housing. The Minister for Housing and Construction has played an important personal role in drafting the tenants' charter. The pledge on this matter that we made in our 1974 election manifesto has taken too long to be realised, but at least the package of tenants' rights will be enforced by legislation to ensure that the practices of the best local authorities are made the statutory basis for all local authorities.
Hopefully, this will also give greater discretion to tenants in repairing, painting and decorating their own homes, so that they can avoid the anonymous sameness which is too evident in our council estates. Perhaps this tenants' charter and the new housing proposals will be the most significant achievement of the coming legislation.
I welcome, too, the theme of the protection of individuals—not only the consumerism which informs a number of the proposals but also the fact that the Government are taking up the abortive 136 Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) to regulate the conduct of estate agents—a much-needed measure for the protection of individuals.
I am pleased that, in relation to England, the Government have listened to the proud cities such as Bristol and Norwich which have asked for a recasting in their favour of powers under the 1972 Local Government Act. I only regret that, because of the difficulty created by the Wales Act, there is no such proposal in respect of similarly proud and ancient cities, such as Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, in South Wales. We shall be left behind because of section 12 of the Wales Act, which leaves in the air local government reorganisation, leaving it dependent on the whim of a partisan Assembly that is unlikely to come into being. We shall waste several years when, had we been in the same position as England, these much-sought-after organic changes could have been made.
I should now like to mention one or two matters that were omitted from the Gracious Speech. I regret that there was no mention of road safety, although a conference on the subject was convened in June this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Many of those who attended that conference and took part will now be asking themselves why they bothered. The Blennerhassett report on drinking and driving has been gathering dust on the Department's shelves. We have clear evidence of the way in which seat belt legislation could save lives. We know that the effect of the 1967 breathalyser Act is now wearing thin. I very much regret that, particularly after the conference in June, the Government could not find time in the coming legislative session for road safety legislation, whether on Blennerhassett or on seat belts.
Perhaps I should apologise for my next point, because it is to a large extent a constituency matter. I refer to the omission of any mention of a subject that has been discussed freely in the press over past weeks—the Government's decision to abolish the vehicle excise duty in favour of an increased tax on petrol. There are respectable energy conservation and other arguments for that. Until now the Treasury has maintained that—however 137 attractive the energy conservation arguments for penalising the user—the balance of payments arguments and the arguments about the effect on our own motor industry as people switched to lower powered vehicles were decisive. In my view, those arguments are still as strong as ever they were.
There is also the question of the effect on rural areas, where earnings are normally less and where people are likely to be penalised by a switch that would mean that anyone motoring more than 7,500 miles a year was likely to lose. There is also the matter of the lack of consultation with the unions involved.
I think that the Goverment have made a mistake. Even if on overall national grounds it is decided to make the switch to a petrol tax from the vehicle excise duty—and I readily concede that there are powerful arguments in favour of that—I await the Government's proposals in regard to the employment effects in an area of South Wales that has suffered, and still suffers, from very high levels of unemployment, and where the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Morriston has made a major impact, particularly on female employment. If it is considered that there are overwhelming national reasons for making the change, I hope that the Government will look very carefully at the local employment effect.
I have spoken of the omissions—road safety and the question of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre. That having been said, I think that this Gracious Speech is well balanced. It will certainly be very much welcomed in Wales. It will be very much welcomed by people of good will who see that overall our economic picture is improving, who see a firm, steady hand in the Government now, and who will welcome the very useful changes that we shall enact over this full legislative Session.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
It seems quite a long time now since I heard the Gracious Speech read over six hours ago. Apart from the excellent speech of the leader of my party, my main recollection of all the other speeches I have heard is of their length. I hope that in my case I can speak to the point and not perhaps at such excessive length.
138 I found it hard to reconcile the complacent tone of the Gracious Speech with the state of affairs in the country today. I wish to speak with extreme seriousness for a few moments, quite broadly, on the present state of our country. There was no recognition in the Gracious Speech that the nation is demoralised and that our proud national spirit is to some extent diminished. Nor have the Government brought forward any new measures to fulfil their fundamental duty to defend the realm and maintain law and order in our land.
The second paragraph of the Gracious Speech reads:My Government will continue to safeguard the nation's security and make a full contribution to the North Atlantic Alliance".I do not believe that the Government are continuing to safeguard the nation's security to anything like the extent that they should, nor do I believe that they are making "a full contribution" to NATO. We know this from the complaints that we have heard from Dr. Luns and others.
Some weeks ago I was with our forces in Germany. As everyone knows, they are short of almost every kind of equipment, notably tanks and aircraft, but also vehicles. Many of those which they have are older than the men who drive them. The forces are also short of arms, ammunition and petrol for exercises and manoeuvres. Even more disgraceful, we found that in many units the soldiers were short of certain mundane articles such as boots, socks, and jerseys.
The troops feel that they are to some extent neglected, and I am afraid that this is true. All ranks have lost faith in the Government. That is a deeply serious matter. They have no confidence that they will be paid properly. I have never come across such bitterness, not only among the serving men but among their wives. Yet now we hear that there is to be yet another defence review and that still more cuts in our defences are envisaged.
Our forces may soon be reduced to the size of those of a small country such as Denmark or Belgium. In spite of these serious deficiencies, I am glad to say that I found the morale of our troops high. I am certain that this is due to the inspired leadership of the officers, warrant officers 139 and NCOs—leadership which, in my view, is far above that which we see in all walks of civilian life.
Turning to the situation at home, the Gracious Speech says on the second page:My Government will seek to ensure that respect for the law is maintained, and will give full support to strengthening the Police Service.Yet, as we all know, there is probably more violence now in this country than at any time since the fearful disturbances of the Middle Ages.
Violent crime, including the most distressing crime of rape, continually increases. Many people in my constituency—and I know that this is general throughout many towns in England—are fearful of leaving their homes at night. Protection by the police of private property against burglary or theft has almost broken down, and respect for authority and for the law has woefully diminished. There is general lack of discipline in the community. Vandalism and thuggery continue in many of our towns. The situation in our prisons is clearly dangerous and getting out of hand. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary does nothing. He hardly even wrings his hands. I doubt whether he could keep order in a nursery.
On the economic scene, we observe a Government presided over by a Prime Minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer who have seen both prices and unemployment double since 1974. If anyone had prophesied that situation in 1974, he would have been considered a dangerous lunatic. But I believe that there will be no escaping these trends for the nation as long as this Government remain in office.
Production and productivity are still appallingly low, and unless the situation is improved rapidly there is nothing to prevent the nation from becoming the poorest in Europe. I have recently been in France and Germany. As more and more people now realise, they are increasingly drawing ahead of us in prosperity. One can see it in many ways. When one returns to this country, one's first feeling is "My goodness, what a poor, shabby nation we have become," starting at our railway stations, getting into our dirty trains and seeing our dirty streets in London or 140 Birmingham or many of our big towns. If we cannot even keep our trains and streets and public places clean, there is clearly a decline of very serious proportions.
The conduct of foreign affairs is, after defence and law and order, one of the most important functions of government. As the House knows, I am a student and lover of English history. I am sorry to say so, but I believe that under our present Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs the nation has reached its lowest point in esteem in many centuries. The Government seem to have ceased to believe in us and in our nation. Yet, if we do not stand up for ourselves, no one else—neither the EEC nor any other nation, and certainly not the United Nations—will stand up for us. What strikes one so forcefully in France is that every Frenchman puts France first, second and third on the list. Do we really think that our Government have the same feeling towards our beloved country?
In Rhodesia, where I was a few weeks ago, we have the extraordinary and, I believe, almost unprecedented spectacle of our Foreign Office supporting terrorists who have been trained by the Cubans and armed by the Russians. These are the people who are being backed by our Government, particularly by our Foreign Secretary, against the interim Government of Rhodesia composed of blacks and whites. No doubt there are reasons of State for that. No doubt it is not just wishy-washy sentimentality. No doubt this is meant to placate America, which has always hated the British Empire, has never had the slightest idea of how to handle black people, and which certainly can teach us nothing. It may also be an attempt to placate Nigeria and some of the black countries in Africa. But if we do not respect ourselves as a nation, and look after our own people in Rhodesia, no black nation and no black people will have any respect whatever for us.
I therefore very much hope that next week, when these grave matters come before this Chamber, my party will have the courage of its convictions, above all, listen increasingly to what most people in England are saying and vote determinedly against the continuation of sanctions.
Finally, we see in education an attempt to devalue examinations and to water 141 down everything of merit. Under this Government, the country is rapidly losing its way, its sense of direction and its sense of purpose. If this goes on, I believe that we shall end up as a sort of second rate Socialist State with lower and lower standards and, of course, less and less freedom. The Government seem quite unaware of the grave deterioration which has taken place, certainly since 1974 and probably earlier. The sooner we have a General Election, the better.
I noticed a poll in the West Midlands today—and I have some interest in that part of the country—which put my party 18 per cent. ahead. I am not surprised. That is a feeling which I have had all along. I am certain that if an election were held in the next few weeks, we should, at least in England, gain a substantial majority, and then the task of national recovery will have to begin.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I wish to speak about the part of the Gracious Speech to which I do not believe that other hon. Members have yet addressed their minds. I refer to the great towns and cities and revival of those great cities, because that has been a major plank of successive Government strategies, both economically and socially.
I think it was the Wilsonian Administration about 10 years ago which started it off. It was quite natural, therefore, that in the Gracious Speech there should be a line about the inner city areas stating that the Government would continue to press forward with their partnership plans. Presumably, the Secretary of State for the Environment will be at the helm, as he has been up to now, directing the operations. This Session he will be armed with the Inner Urban Areas Act and the partnership committees now fully in being. The only problem is that the Secretary of State has now been at the helm for some three or four years and not very much has happened to show his work.
If one looks at the cities, one will not see the new dawn about which the Secretary of State has been talking. In fact, many people have grown restless when they have seen no evidence that the cities are on the mend. They also find it difficult to reconcile the utterances of the Secretary of State, who keeps 142 saying how gratified he is with progress, with the stark reality which shows our major cities continuing in their rapid decline. How can the Secretary of State possibly equate his optimism with the persistently high levels of unemployment which we find in most of our major urban areas, with the lengthening list of firms wanting to leave the inner cities, or with the continuing exodus of people from the inner areas to the outer zones and the ever-increasing shortage of good homes? I am only sorry that the Secretary of State for the Environment is unable to be with us tonight. In the face of this situation, the provisions of the Inner Urban Areas Act are damaging. I shall explain why this is so.
The Act has given the poor urban authorities the powers to increase their borrowing. Therefore, those already heavily committed in debt to crippling housing debt charges can just increase those charges. The Act has tempted some of the most deprived urban authorities to become even more deprived. It is driving them deeper and deeper into debt and creating even more problems for them in the future.
The Inner Urban Areas Act is just one manifestation of the tricks up the Government's sleeve. It is a mirage created by the Government that prosperity for our cities is on the horizon. The illusion has been fortified by a whole gamut of cleverly chosen named projects which convey positive thinking but which so far have meant absolutely nothing.
For example, there are now seven so-called partnership schemes covering 15 local authority districts. There are 15 programme districts and 14 recently announced designated districts. These are on top of the existing areas which are included in development area status, special development status and the old assisted areas. No one quite understands what these areas are or what they do. All we know is that there has been no sign of any revival in our towns and cities in the last four years.
It seems from the Gracious Speech that the Government propose to continue with those schemes and with those names. In the last few years the Secretary of State has followed the publication of the White Paper on policy for the inner cities by doing two things. He has topped up the 143 urban aid programme, which had lost its real force, and he has introduced a Bill, which is now an Act, which will make the poor local authorities poorer because they will be asked and expected to increase their debt charges.
The White Paper from which we expected so much is no more than the culmination of a decade of activity in research analysis action projects which have now cost the taxpayer £100 million. The House will recollect where all this began—with the urban aid programme, which first came about in 1968. This was to deal with the pockets of deprivation. Then we had the community development project, the educational priority areas, the young volunteer force, the neighbourhood schemes, the urban guideline studies and the inner area studies. Then research was started into transmitted deprivation, followed by the quality of life studies. Then we had the urban deprivation unit and comprehensive community programmes, and the GLC set up a deprived areas project. There are now area management and research trials in Liverpool.
When the White Paper was published 18 months to two years ago, the nation held its breath and thought that at last, after all the research schemes and action projects, the actual action was about to start. The principal actors seemed to be in the right place, the set-up was brilliant, the lyrics were racy, the producer came from a good stable, and, indeed, it was to be a spectacular. What, in fact, did we see? None other than our old friend Mickey Mouse. The Government's approach to the cities' problems has been as meaningful as a Walt Disney cartoon.
In Liverpool there have been only three partnership meetings in the last 18 months. These were chaired by the Secretary of State for the Environment himself. There have been a few other Ministers present—from Industry, Employment and Education. Then the leaders of the Conservative, Liberal and Labour groups also attend, and county councillors, the health authority and many others are involved in partnership meetings.
If that was all we were witnessing, we would perhaps be content that there was one group of people looking once again 144 into the problems of the inner city. But that partnership committee is but one of a great number of committees. There is an officers' steering committee consisting of more than a dozen principal officers, not to mention the working groups of senior officials on the economy, housing, physical areas, environment, recreation and transport. There is also an inner area sub-committee made up of 20 councillors, and there are more committees and sub-committees than I have mentioned.
But as the non-statutory bodies—the voluntary organisations and community groups—are not involved in the partnership, despite pressure from this side of the House that they should be included, the voluntary bodies have started to go it alone. They have set up rival partnership committees. The one that is now running in Liverpool has 170 organisations meeting every two or three months, running exactly in parallel to all the other Government committees. The conflict and confrontation are right there in the partnership.
Despite the buzz and whizzing of papers through the official corridors, the numbers of acres of vacant and derelict land in Liverpool are still around 2,000, and over three-quarters belongs to the city council and nationalised industries. Therefore, despite the huge build-up to the effect that all the problems were to be solved, we have still exactly the same number of derelict and vacant areas which are not being used to produce wealth or create jobs in the very area where the partnership committee is at work. It is here that we see land hoarding at its worst. This has caused artificially high book values. Not surprisingly, authorities cannot find buyers because scarcity knocks up the rent and rates as well as driving small businesses away from the inner cities, and jobs with them.
This is no way to woo back the thousands who have already fled the inner city in the last decade. But surely that is what the partnership is purported to be all about. It is about revitalising the inner areas, creating new jobs and new homes and developing new businesses. What is the point of building new advance factories in inner Liverpool on Government money when there are so may good, empty, older factories which are not used and which, with a little modernisation, rehabilitation and imagination, 145 could be good for use again? What justification can there be now that the Inner Urban Areas Act is in force for permitting the Lucas Aerospace factory, a company which has closed its large old premises in my constituency, to move out into a green field site on the edge of Liverpool, depriving the inner city of both jobs and rate income?
That makes nonsense of partnership, because that is what partnership would not approve of. There is plenty of space left in Liverpool and many other principal areas which could be used first before green field site development. But green field site development on the edges of a city is always cheaper and the infrastructure in the new sites is more reasonable than if one seeks to put infrastructure back into the inner cities. One reason for this situation is the artificially high land value which the inner city now attracts.
It is also strange that the partnership concentrates on the inner areas, because many of the large provincial towns, in which the population has moved from the inner city to the outer city, are where the concentrations should be. The populations are no longer in the core areas because, as a result of demolition, they have moved to the edges. Yet the edges of the city comprise the one area—and Liverpool is no exception—not included in the partnership.
The partnership specifically excludes those major areas of population density and concentrates on inner area revival. It is in the outer city that the social problems exist. The one thing that the partnership areas have in common is that they include a number of marginal seats within their boundaries, and they have also suffered from severe cut-backs in public expenditure over the past five years.
For example, we were spending £5.3 million on improvement grants in Liverpool in 1974–75. In 1977–78 that figure was down to £1.5 million. Local authority mortgage loans to buy and improve totalled £4.7 million in 1974–75 but barely £1 million last year. If the partnership is talking about reviving the inner city and rehabilitating the older houses, it must be pointed out that the sums of money in the local authority budget which could do this work have been drastically cut.
146 What is partnership all about? All one can say about it is that the Government are trying to put right the money they took away. There is no question of giving more money or new money. They are merely putting back and making good the previous losses. If this is all the partnership is about, why set up such an elaborate structure? We could have done without the Minister and his colleagues walking down Dale Street in Liverpool, smiling from side to side and posing for local photographers. But that is what it appears partnership is about, because to date the new money is hardly sufficient to replace the old and the replacement money is accompanied by far greater Government controls and sanctions. First they took it away, then they put it back to what it was before—but with increased controls and sanctions.
Even on the most charitable interpretation, the most that can be said for the partnership in our area is that it is a little more of the same thing, but it has done no particular good for people living in the inner areas. Far from finding cures for old ills, the partnership appears to have done little more than partly refill some of the local authority coffers for special needs—improvement of council housing, rehabilitation of private homes, grants for mortgages and loans and grants for voluntary work.
Liverpool found its £30 million housing budget increased to £40 million—the level of some years ago—through the partnership. We then had the extraordinary situation of the director of housing passing a confidential note, which everyone now knows about, telling the local authority that he cannot spend £40 million because he does not have the machinery to cope with and process all the applications which will result from the increased cash and saying that, unless he is given more staff and resources or the rules and regulations are changed, he will have to hand back £3 million to £5 million this year. That has happened in an area where the housing is probably the worst in the country.
There is no point in topping up a fund which has dropped unless it is accompanied by all the paraphernalia and bureaucracy that is needed to run the fund or unless the rules are changed. The partnership will not do that. It insists on playing according to the rules as they 147 have been, rather than having new approaches and innovations.
I am told that similar problems exist in other spending departments where an injection of funds, far from helping to solve problems, is merely creating new problems within the departments. If the partnership were just this it would be an extremely sick joke, because the new machinery would be fouling up existing mechanisms which were working before the partnership came along. However, I suggest that there is a far more sinister move behind the partnership.
One may ask whether this is the first step of the Government to establish a sort of regional supremo for the metropolitan areas which the Government feel have failed to rejuvenate their urban areas. Is there to be a sort of local dictator from London to push, chivy and ultimately control the local authorities in the area? Let me explain why I think that this is happening.
In some ways the Government have lost faith in the Liverpool city council as well as the Mersey county council. They consider those local authorities to be without ideas, but that is not true. The Liverpool city council is already building houses for sale, and the county council has a number of exciting and interesting projects to revive the economy of Merseyside. However, such initiatives are seemingly discouraged because of the partnership's insistence that every new project that emanates from the city council or county council must come under the partnership scheme.
There is already talk about setting up sub-committees of the partnership so that the local authorities are subordinated to this new tier of government. Is the partnership to become a new tier of government? Has it been subtly erected above the local authorities so that the Minister has control of what goes on at that level? Can we expect this to be the first stage of manoeuvring in regional control and regional government? Is that what the partnership is all about? If the partnership means a new approach and a new initiative, where are they'? All that we have seen is a little more of the old thing served up in new guises.
148 There is talk of the urban aid programme. It is the upgraded 1978 model of the 1968 scheme. It has broader terms of reference and an increased amount of public money. No one has ever seen the urban aid programme tackling our major cities' problems. On the contrary, it has helped to bring forward some of the projects that are already in the pipeline that the city council would have undertaken in any event. It has helped to do that a little earlier. For example, there is a sports complex in Edinburgh Street, Liverpool. It is stuck in a park in the middle of nowhere. The council has been trying to bring it forward for many years. As a result of the urban aid programme it has managed to start building it now. The complex is virtually completed. However, it will do nothing to solve unemployment, housing or the provision of jobs in the inner area.
One wonders whether the Government would be better to pay off Liverpool's housing debt for a few years—it is now running at £28 million a year—instead of all this partnership nonsense. If they paid off the housing debt for two or three years, that would allow the council to spend its own money as it thought best.
One of the problems of urban aid is that it distorts the existing priority lists of the local authority by pushing forward schemes in which the Government are particularly interested, thus distorting the picture locally.
I should like to ask the Minister, if he ever turns up in the Chamber, one or two further questions. Does he expect to hear proposals from one partner in the partnership in areas of concern which are the responsibility of another partner in the partnership? Is it the Government's belief that the needs of the inner cities can be met merely by taking existing local authority services and Government functions and trying to extend their boundaries? Surely the Home Office community development project showed the limitations of neighbourhood-based experiments finding new ways of meeting the needs of those living in areas of high social deprivation.
If the Government are not planning to make the partnership a vehicle for new solutions and the creation of change, the cities have been hoodwinked, as well as the people living in them. All that we are 149 witnessing is another project in the same mould that will deceive and distort. It will do nothing to solve the real problems. If the sum result of the White Paper is another, more elaborate talking shop, dereliction and despair in our industrial towns will continue and worsen.
It may be that the Government have already concluded that there are no solutions to the ailing cities. If so, why erect such an elaborate fa çade to conceal the truth, undermine local authority powers and block up the existing machinery? I cannot believe that the Government are that stupid. It must be part of a greater strategy to bring the cities under Government control with Whitehall and the Minister in a new tier of government on top and in charge.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
The are lights are now out, the ceremonies to which we looked forward today are over and we are back to reality. When history comes to record this last Session of a somewhat pathetic Parliament, it will be described as the marking time Parliament. It is marking time because the Prime Minister is waiting until the gush of oil from the North Sea is sufficient to give this country an income which will allow him to make up some of the defects which the Government have brought upon themselves.
It was perhaps unusual for the general public this morning to see a House crowded with Members and tonight with as many empty spaces as there were Members this morning. It is hard for the public to understand what it is all about. But those of us with parliamentary experience realise that it is the custom of the House that certain days are given to certain subjects and that Members have gone away to prepare their speeches on specific subjects.
I should like to deal in some detail with the hospital services referred to in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, I promised the Secretary of State for Social Services that I would correct an impression which I gave in a speech in July when I drew attention to the fact that he had special priority for hospital treatment. The right hon. Gentleman took it the wrong way. Indeed, he wrote saying that I did not appreciate how ill he was. However, in my speech I said that we hoped his 150 illness was not severe and that he would soon be able to come back to the House.
The point that I wanted to make was not that he had priority for hospital treatment. I should point out that my brother died from a heart attack because he could not get medical treatment quickly enough. His illness did not allow it. What I wanted to point out and would point out again—the Secretary of State will have the right to reply if he winds up the debate tomorrow—was the extraordinary situation of a Minister of the Crown saying that he would only go into a public ward and would expect to receive the same treatment as perhaps one of my constituents who might come from a more lowly background.
The Minister rightly had conferences with his officials in a public ward. We know that took place. I do not suggest that he should not have done it. If he can do it and keep his health, so much the better. What I find so extraordinary is that, for doctrinaire purposes, the Government should feel that it is all right for a Minister to go into a public ward and to have press facilities when in fact it would be better for the hospital and everyone else concerned if the Minister were to go into a private ward, just like the director of a large company, and have his meetings there.
I make no more of it. I apologise to the Secretary of State if I misled him into thinking that he got priority because he was ill. Anyone who is ill should get priority. However, the Minister should not boast that he went in to a public ward. I promised that the next time I spoke on the subject I would make the matter clear. I hope that I have made it clear. If the Minister speaks tomorrow, he may wish to add to what I have said. If he disagrees with what I have said, I shall be happy to intervene in the debate to make it clear if I have not done so.
This Queen's Speech is a marking time speech. It hopes to collect votes. It has been designed to appeal to and bring together the smaller parties. Therefore, we find promises and tempting bait for the smaller parties. We find that it makes reference to the national aspirations of each country of the United Kingdom. But let me leave that and come to the Speech itself.
151 The first statement which I find particularly interesting is:My Government will seek to ensure that respect for the law is maintained".My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) has dealt with that matter in some detail. I shall not bore the House further, except to say that, as long as we have Cabinet Ministers in picket lines defying the police, I do not see how the Government will ensure the respect for law and order which they claim in the Gracious Speech they intend to maintain.
I found another item interesting. It is an attempt to catch votes. It reads:My Government are resolved to strengthen our democracy by providing new opportunities for citizens to take part in the decisions that affect their lives.No hon. Member would deny the right of an individual to state his case. I was once PPS to the then Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He was anxious that individuals should have the right to state their case, particularly at planning inquiries. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport in the Chamber because a number of such inquiries affect roads.
Something has gone basically wrong. People seem to feel that the only thing that they should do when they are given an opportunity to state their case is to oppose. We have had the pathetic experience of public inquiries being interrupted by those who oppose a particular proposal. Such people act in an undemocratic manner. They act in that way because of the strong lobby which believes that that is the only way in which to state a case.
Perhaps we should take this opportunity to give greater thought to a more constructive approach to planning. I can remember saying that the most important thing in a person's life is to have a house of his own, and the next most important is to form a society to ensure that no one else comes along to spoil the view.
Punch once published a cartoon showing someone at a half-built house saying to his bride "We have bought our house, let us now form a residents' association to see that no other houses are built here." We must have machinery to enable 152 people to express an alternative rather than a negative or positive view.
I found it difficult to pick out the proposals which are intended to provide a greater opportunity for public participation. I presume that the public should have the opportunity to discuss the White Paper on broadcasting. All hon. Members receive many letters expressing opinions about programmes and broadcasting procedures. Hon. Members are regarded with slight suspicion by the broadcasting authorities. Perhaps arrangements could be made to enable constituents to communicate their views to the authorities without having to write to them. Some people find it difficult to write letters. Sometimes they sign petitions which they have not read, but they find it difficult to write letters.
I am particularly interested in constituency terms in the Bills which will seek to improve safety and discipline at sea and to help control marine pollution. My constituency is particularly susceptible to the effects of Channel collisions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), who is present tonight, knows very well that if the ships get past Folkestone they then have to get past Dover, with all the danger of the Dogger Bank and the Goodwin Sands. The difficulty is in meeting the need for more experienced officers and crew to control these ships.
I have the honour of having Trinity House headquarters at Folkestone. I frequently have discussions with the pilots who operate from this station. I am always greatly impressed by their devotion to the service. They will board ships in the most treacherous conditions of storm, wind and wave because they feel it essential for them to guide the vessels through. I understand that the Government have consulted Trinity House, and it appears to be reasonably satisfied with the legislation which is proposed. Until we see the Bills, we are unable to judge them, but when they appear we shall study them most carefully.
The next aspect of the Gracious Speech which concerns my constituency greatly is the part dealing with fishing policy. The Speech contains the extraordinary statement:My Government will continue to press for improvements in the Common Agricultural Policy".153 Of course they will. We always intended to do that. When I had the honour of working with the then Secretary of State for the Environment, he always said that until we got into the Common Market we would be unable to make our proper contribution; but having got into the EEC we are in a position to make it.
The Gracious Speech continues:They will also take all measures necessary to conserve fish stocks and will continue their efforts to achieve an acceptable Common Fisheries policy within the EEC.I have never had any doubts, and those who have been connected with the negotiations and with our fishing policy know very well that we have always contended that the most important part of that policy is the conservation of stocks. I have a great suspicion that the Minister of Agriculture, when he thought that an election was about to be cast upon the country, over-exaggerated the difficulties so that he could solve them to his own satisfaction and try in that way to win votes.
The Health Service is another item in the Gracious Speech which is to be debated at length—I believe it is tomorrow. It is extraordinary, in view of the amount which is now being spent on the Health Service, to realise how much it has deteriorated. My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree represents an important part of Liverpool. I have been sitting on the Public Accounts Committee where we have been investigating in great detail the additional cost of the Liverpool teaching hospital. It is extraordinary that a hospital which cost nearly £50 million should be delayed from opening because of a disagreement between people in the hospital wondering whether they would be made redundant. A hospital of that sort, which costs so much in interest charges, should be used to the ultimate and not be delayed by bureaucratic procedures.
In my own constituency we fought to get a new hospital built at Folkestone. In the event, it was built at Ashford. Again, we have a hospital which has been completed and ought to have been commissioned, but it has not been commissioned because there are some disagreements between the parties concerned.
I hope very much that when the Secretary of State speaks tomorrow he will 154 explain in some detail and tell us what positive steps he is taking to get these hospitals running as the public expect them to run. I hope that he will say how he will cut down the numbers of bureaucrats, which have been building up. Many of the staff in the hospital services joined them in order to save lives. Many of them now say to me that all that they are doing is wasting paper. This is one of the problems. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity tomorrow to explain what positive steps he is taking to help to carry out what the hospitals are intended to do, which is to alleviate suffering and save lives.
§ 9.36 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I warmly welcome the Gracious Speech. Although it is not one of the most exciting Queen's Speeches that we have heard for a number of years. It is an immensely practical speech. I think it indicates that the Government will give priority to the fighting of inflation, so I welcome that very strongly.
I should like to make a brief reference to the paragraph in the Queen's Speech which calls for an improvement in the Atlantic alliance. I draw attention to this item because I think that an opportunity has been missed by not giving higher priority to the question of standardisation. It is a missed opportunity, because President Carter made a very notable speech in March of last year on this subject. Both the Congress and the Senate have made their position clear. That is that they are very interested in pushing the standardisation of weapons within the Atlantic alliance, which, incidentally, would bring great economic benefits to Britain.
Therefore, I am very disappointed that there is no particular reference to it in the Queen's Speech, although, perhaps, proposals will be brought forward to the House. However, as there will not be a debate about defence included in the debate on the Loyal Address, the House will not be informed about that.
I very much regret that during the debate on the Loyal Address, in which we shall be devoting a long time to a number of other subjects, there has been no demand from either the Opposition or other quarters of the House—apart from 155 myself and, I hope, others too—for at least some discussion about defence.
Standardisation brings great benefits to us, but it also raises another subject of which I should like to give notice rather than attempt to debate tonight, because no Defence Minister is present. I am really just putting down a marker. In my judgment, one cannot discuss standardisation of weapons without dealing with the question of specialisation within the Atlantic alliance itself. One goes with the other. I should like to see the Government giving some priority to this matter in the coming Session.
What I mean by specialisation is that further thought should be given to the proposition which has been discussed within the alliance for years—that is, that individual members of the alliance should be encouraged to concentrate on producing those forces that will not be copied or repeated elsewhere within the alliance. For example, there is a very strong case for having an air force composed of Dutch, German and United Kingdom elements, so that we have a tactical air force which is truly Europeanised, and one could extend that argument—I do not intend to do so this evening—to the naval forces.
I do not think that enough attention has been given to this subject, and it is part of the argument for standardisation and the proper effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance to allow nation States to concentrate on the provision of the arms and services in which they have particular expertise. I believe that an opportunity has been missed by not giving proper priority to this subject. This will cause some disappointment, but perhaps my disappointment can soon be overcome if at some stage—perhaps my hon. Friends will pass this on—some reference is made to this subject by the Government. If it is not, disappointment will be felt by those who have been pushing this matter for a long time and asking the Government to give top priority to standardisation. I hope that, once the Government have accepted that, they will go on to look at the implications of specialisation so that we can increase the effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance.
I welcome the Gracious Speech, but I ask the Government to make a state- 156 ment at the earliest opportunity on the matters that I have raised.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.