§ Motion made and Question proposed,
§ That this House, at its rising on Friday 23 May, do adjourn till Monday 2 June.—[Mr. Cope.]3.32 pm
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
Before the House agrees to the motion on the Spring Adjournment there are one or two matters that I wish to raise in an attempt to get some answers from the Leader of the House.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may sneer at the TUC day of action, but the reasons for the day of action will not go away until the Government change their attitude and their policies in dealing with those things that have caused the anger and annoyance felt by working people in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) asked the Home Secretary last Thursday—when the right hon. Gentleman was answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister—what he would be advising the unemployed to do today. The unemployed hang like a millstone round the neck of the Government. Every constituency in the land can demonstrate increases in the unemployment figures, in varying degrees.
In my constituency we have every cause for complaining and protesting today about the rising unemployment figures. In April 1979 the unemployment figure in the Neath and Resolven travel-to-work area was 7.7 per cent. The latest tables, published in April this year, show that that figure has risen to 9.3 per cent. If Conservative Members want to know why those in my constituency and elsewhere have responded to the call of the TUC today, the reason is the serious rise in unemployment.
Last July the Secretary of State for Industry decided that Neath was to lose its special development area status in August 1980. Unemployment in the area continues to rise, and still the Secretary of State for Industry will not reverse his decision. He justifies that decision by saying that the level of unemployment in Neath does not warrant special development area status. I remind the House that at this time last year unemployment in the Neath area stood at 7.7 per cent. 1502 and that the figure is now 9.3 per cent. We cannot afford to tolerate that situation any longer. The Secretary of State for Industry says that he is not prepared to reverse his decision until he has had the opportunity of knowing what decisions have been taken about redundancies in the steelworks at Port Talbot.
We in Neath cannot afford to wait that long. Our unemployment figure gallops upward and redundancies at Port Talbot will turn our serious situation into a disastrous one.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
Is it not a fact that the closure of every pit in Wales today, coupled with the massive response to the call by the TUC, is due not merely to the present high unemployment caused by the Government's policies but to the fear that if those policies continue in the years ahead there will be massive unemployment throughout Wales? That is why working people are out today. They are telling the Government to halt their present policies.
§ Mr. Coleman
My hon. Friend is right. Not only are we facing massive unemployment in the steel industry; we face the same threat in the South Wales coalfield. Even more redundancies are now forecast and if that happens it seems inevitable that coal mining will cease in South Wales.
In Neath we cannot afford the luxury of waiting for the Secretary of State for Trade to make up his mind about the restoration of our status. I hope that the Leader of the House, if I may have his attention, will tell his right hon. Friend of our impatience and advise and instruct him that an urgent and early decision is vital to the people of my constituency and West Glamorgan generally.
The Government have some odd priorities in the spending of money. The Secretary of State for Industry told us that the Government are prepared to pay a transfer fee of £2 million to an American company to facilitate the transfer of a new chairman of the British Steel Corporation. Such a sum of money would have been better spent in trying to prevent the recent tragic steel strike.
Let us move on to the disaster area of the Government's housing policy. We find that council house building has come to a stop because there is no money 1503 available for house building programmes. The hopes of home buyers obtaining local authority mortgages have long dried up. No money is available.
We read in last Friday's Daily Mirror that the Government are to spend money on advertising in the hope of resolving their great flop—the sale of council houses. The article states:A million pounds is to be spent on advertising the Government's campaign to sell council houses. The cash is being poured out because the buy-your-home campaign has flopped. Fewer council houses were sold in the first six months of this Government than in the previous six months under Labour.In view of the need for decent housing it would be better if the Government decided to spend £1 million not on advertising a flop but on providing houses. I hope that the Leader of the House will suggest that to his colleagues with responsibility for housing.
The issues that I have mentioned are good reasons for people to show their disapproval of the Government. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that unless things change the disapproval and protest will grow and become louder. The Leader of the House must tell his colleagues that that is the mood of the people, because time is not on their side.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Before rising for the Whitsun Recess, the attention of the House should be drawn to the importance of the family and the need for personal responsibility, particularly in these economically difficult times. The nation needs to gain that ideal which has been sought by Conservatives for so long but has still to be achieved—the responsible society.
If we are to realise that aim, we must look to the cornerstone of our way of life—the family unit. Under Socialism and so-called progressive thought, the family is debased and undermined. The attempt to substitute the State can guarantee only that a country propels itself even faster towards destruction and degradation.
In recent years it has become more and more evident that parents are not necessarily willing to accept full responsibility for their children. In times of trouble increasingly parents direct blame at the teacher, the policeman, the doctor, the social worker, the probation officer and 1504 anyone else except themselves. Self-reproach has become a virtue of the past.
As Conservatives, my hon. Friends will, I am sure, deplore that attitude and support fully the Government in their effort to redress the balance in our society. We must get the Socialist encumbrance off the backs of the people and thereby allow the family unit to flourish once again.
Surely it is up to us all to engender the notion of standing firmly on one's own two feet whenever possible rather than leaning automatically against the ever-advancing wall of the State for support. We must all play a part in ensuring that standards and discipline improve and that morals and behaviour are learnt in the home.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in speeches throughout the country has rightly paid attention to the role of the family. The nation would do well to heed the wisdom of her words. At the same time, she emphasises the need for greater personal responsibility, which is the prerequisite for a successful and caring society. With a strengthened family unit playing its part in the community, a responsible society can be achieved. The opportunities for the exercise of individual freedom will, at the same time, be enhanced.
A respected literary figure, George Bernard Shaw, said:Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.The House should take the lead in encouraging and advocating liberty and responsibility so that men and women welcome it, to the benefit of their families and the nation.
§ Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
It is difficult to understand how the Government can go into recess bearing in mind the Scottish unemployment figures. In Scotland, 191,000 people are unemployed. According to David Bell, president of the Fraser of Allander Institute and well-known economist in Scotland, that figure will be about 200,000 by October this year. It is an appalling figure when one takes into account the devastating state of the Scottish economy.
Many school leavers will take at least two years to find their first jobs. That should worry the whole House. If we are 1505 to deal with the vandalism problem, we must cope with the young unemployed. The House has a duty and a responsibility to give serious consideration to the facts before it. In Strathclyde last year, 21,148 people were declared redundant. Eighty per cent. of Scottish redundancies were in the Strathclyde region. What do the Government intend to do to remedy that serious defect? Before the election they made many promises to the people of the United Kingdom, and in particular to the Scottish people, about what they would do to remedy that disastrous defect.
I worked in the construction industry before I became a Member of the House. Under all Governments that industry is always the first casualty of public expenditure cuts. It is experiencing many changes. Many liquidations have occurred simply because the Government are not measuring up to their responsibilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) mentioned house building in Wales. In Scotland house building has reached a low level. The Government encourage owner-occupation, but building societies fail to provide the money to enable young people to purchase their own houses. If that situation prevails, the construction industry will experience even more serious difficulties. I ask the Government to reconsider the position of the construction industry before the recess. Unless they are prepared to reconsider public expenditure cuts, they are doomed to failure.
I am pleased to say that the Scottish people were not conned by the Prime Minister's promises. The right hon. Lady conned the people of the rest of the United Kingdom, but not the people of Scotland. Many of the Government's policies were not mentioned in their election manifesto. They have a duty to tell the people why they are introducing measures for which they have no mandate.
The steel workers in my constituency, and throughout the country, are in a serious position. I find it nauseating that the Government have made a deal with an American company to pay £2 million to acquire the services of Mr. Ian MacGregor as the future chairman of the British Steel Corporation without taking into account Mr. MacGregor's age and the length of service that he can give to the BSC. I hope that the Government 1506 will give serious thought to that matter.
The steel workers realise that the £2 million that is to be paid for Mr. MacGregor could have solved the dispute in the first week of the steel workers' strike. If the Government expect the steel workers to give Mr. MacGregor their full co-operation and assistance—which is essential to that industry—they are, quite frankly, living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
I hope that the Leader of the House and the Government will seriously consider the matter, retrace their steps, change their policy and, above all, alter their determination to cut public expenditure, which is seriously affecting the economy of the United Kingdom, especially that of Scotland. On that basis, I ask the Leader of the House and, indeed, the whole House, to give serious consideration to the contribution that I made this afternoon.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
Compared with the weighty matters of national and international economic policy that have been given as reasons why we should think carefully before going into recess, I wish to raise two matters that may appear to be unimportant. However, I believe that they should be brought to the attention of the House in the interests of Britain. The only link between the two subjects is that they both relate to the use of motor vehicles.
First, I wish to refer to the alleged effect upon the atmosphere of the emission of fumes from the internal combustion engine. For a long time there has been controversy about the effect of lead poisoning on health. It is a product of the internal combustion engine.
I have heard it said that we are concerning ourselves needlessly over the matter. I have also heard it said that the effect on the health of people, especially young children, is such that the issue should be among the highest priorities to which the Government should turn their attention. I cannot pretend to know which approach is correct. A high level committee recently examined the matter, but came to no definite conclusion. There was an ambiguity about the report which, far from leading people 1507 to feel that they need no longer concern themselves with the problem, redoubled their anxieties. In the months that lie ahead, the Government will come under increasing pressure to reach a conclusion, one way or another, and to decide upon the best course of action.
When I visited the United States and Canada, I noticed that every petrol station gave the motorist an option to purchase lead-free petrol. No such option exists in Britain. On inquiry, I discovered that the oil companies in Britain concluded that it would be too expensive to produce lead-free petrol. I am no student of the economics of the oil companies, and I have to accept their point of view. However, I should be less than honest if I did not express some doubt about whether the economics of introducing lead-free petrol in the United States would be so very different from the economics of introducing similar petrol in Britain. There is little doubt that we are unlikely to be able to obtain lead-free petrol in the immediate future.
It is tempting to allow the matter to go by the board, and to overlook the genuine anxieties felt by many about the pollution of the atmosphere by lead poisoning. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is to reply to the debate, that a compromise may exist? If we cannot look forward to the production of lead-free petrol, and if we cannot come forward with a report that reassures people that they are concerning themselves needlessly, should we not decide on a reasonable middle course? We should consider introducing legislation to ensure that by a certain date every motor vehicle in Britain has a filter fitted to its exhaust system.
I have been reliably informed by people in the scientific world that, although that would not wholly eliminate the effect upon the atmosphere from lead fumes, it would make a substantial contribution. I believe that that proposal merits consideration by the Government.
When we decided that it would be useful, even desirable, to fit seat belts to motor vehicles, a date was fixed after which all new vehicles had to be fitted with seat belts. Subsequently, a date was fixed after which all vehicles had to be fitted with seat belts. Would it be 1508 possible for the Government to consider fixing a date after which a filter should be fitted to the exhaust system of all vehicles? That could be carried out progressively. Many fear that lead has an effect upon health, especially in regard to children. That effect could be largely reduced through the fitting of a simple device, which would cost little and which motorists would be given a reasonable time to carry out.
The second matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the House also relates to motor vehicles. I wish to underline the problems arising from drinking and driving. I doubt whether I have any need to re-emphasise the enormous dangers that present themselves as a result of people drinking and driving. The statistics are there for all to see. Yet it is an inescapable fact that all the propaganda to which we have turned our hand does not appear to have been effective. Have we sufficiently explored the possibility of providing an incentive to those who might otherwise be encouraged to drink and drive not to do so? I suggest to the Government, and especially to the Ministry of Transport, that they should discuss with the insurance companies the possibility of excluding cover for damage to a motor vehicle if the incident is one in which it could be proved that the driver had been driving under the influence of alcohol above the legal limit.
I wish to make it clear that I am not suggesting that motor insurance should become party to allowing motorists to drive without cover. The minimum cover that is required by the Road Traffic Act 1937 must be maintained, irrespecsive of the state of the driver. However, conditions are already laid down by insurance companies about the applicability of policy cover. For example, it is possible that the first £50, or a higher figure, should be paid by the insured person under certain circumstances. Is it taking the matter very much further to suggest that cover in respect of damage to a vehicle should not apply if the insured person—or another authorised driver under the policy—is driving while having alcohol in his bloodstream above the legal limit?
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
As is often the case, reference is 1509 made to drinking and driving, but no mention is made of the fact that at different times almost everyone visits a doctor who prescribes drugs but rarely tells the person " Don't drive while you are taking that, because it can slow up your reflexes." As a result, people take their tablets, get in the car and drive off. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the medical profession should warn people, because driving under the influence of drugs is just as bad, and many people do it but are not aware of the dangers?
§ Mr. McCrindle
I do not challenge what the hon. Gentleman said. That is a parallel, and perhaps equal, difficulty. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I concentrate my attention on an area which undoubtedly causes greater distress to the public than even the area to which he drew my attention. Although I would be prepared to move on to the consideration that he put forward, I believe there is great urgency for positive action to be taken by the Government in discussions with the insurance business.
I have reason to believe that the insurance business would not be unreceptive to such a suggestion. Because of the carnage which undoubtedly results from drunken driving, I strongly urge that before we rise for the Spring Recess the Ministry of Transport should make representations to insurance interests, particularly to the British Insurance Association, to see whether some sort of additional incentive can be given. Clearly propaganda has failed. It might just be that financial incentive would succeed.
§ 4.3 pm
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
I should explain at the outset that it is not my intention to detain the House for any great length of time, nor is it my intention to deny hon. Members access to the Whitsun Recess. However, it would be a tragedy if the House were to adjourn without giving some consideration to an issue that is causing anxiety and concern in Manchester. I refer to the serious overcrowding at Strangeways prison.
I do not raise this matter on a party political basis, because I accept that the overcrowding conditions at Strangeways have built up over a number of years, 1510 but at the present time, I believe, overcrowding there is now at a critical level, it is serious and it is giving cause for concern.
As the House will recall, Strangeways prison was built in 1868 to provide accommodation for 1,059 prisoners. The current occupancy figure is 1,755. Of those prisoners, 432 are allocated two to a cell and 687 are living and sleeping three to a cell. Because of the overcrowding, it is not unknown for prisoners at Strangeways to be locked in their cells for 23 of the 24 hours of the day. In my view, human beings are entitled to be treated better than that.
Is it any wonder that the distinguished governor of the prison, Mr. Norman Brown—a man not given to dramatics or exaggerations—has been quoted in a newspaper report as saying:If we don't tackle this situation we are going to have riots and serious problems "?He went on to say:It is an ever-present fear that one day we will have a crisis on our hands—it could happen in the exercise yard, on the landings, in the workshops.Given the prospects of a long hot summer, the governor, a dedicated prison staff and the community in the city are understandably anxious about the developing situation. At the present time, the prison is taking 20 to 30 overflow prisoners from the Armley gaol, in Leeds, and because of the collapse of buildings at the Risley remand centre, near Warrington, in Lancashire. Strangeways is obliged to take an additional 200 to 300 of what are termed " remand and trial prisoners ".
I am amazed at what has happened to the physical fabric of the Risley remand centre. It is suggested that it was caused by a fault in the cement, but the structure of the centre is virtually disintegrating. Sections have been closed, as a result of which Strangeways must take an additional 200 to 300 remand and trial prisoners.
Along with other hon. Members, I listened the other day to the Home Secretary's serious statement dealing with overcrowding in Britain's prisons. He suggested that shorter sentences might bring relief to the problem of overcrowding. That was a logical argument, but I had the feeling that I had heard it before. I heard it on a previous occasion when 1511 we were seeking to justify the introduction of suspended sentences. At that time it was argued that such sentences would lead to a solution of the overcrowding problem in Britain's prisons. However, overcrowding is still with us at a critical level, certainly in Strangeways.
The community in Manchester is seeking a Government assurance on two points —I would welcome a statement by the Leader of the House on them—that repairs to the fabric of the Risley remand centre will be pursued with a new urgency and that an early decision will be made on the construction of the proposed new prison at Appleton Thorn, in Lancashire.
It may well be that by watching that delightful and homourous television series " Porridge ", the public have developed a light-hearted view of life in Britain's prisons, but I can assure the House that serving a prison sentence at Strangeways is no joke.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to comment on this urgent issue. I believe that we owe action now to a dedicated prison staff at Strangeways and to the prisoners themselves. The need for urgency on this issue has never been greater.
§ Mr. David Knox (Leek)
This is the first time that I have participated in a debate on an Adjournment motion in the 10 years that I have been a Member of the House. Nevertheless, I do not intend to detain the House for very long. I wish to raise three important issues, but before doing so I wish to support the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris). I once had occasion to visit a constituent who was serving a term of imprisonment in Strangeways gaol. I found the conditions in that prison horrifying beyond words. I hope that something can be done to meet the legitimate arguments that the right hon. Gentleman has presented.
First, the House should not adjourn for the Spring Recess until we have had an indication from the Government of the action that they intend to take on income increases in the next 12 months. This morning the provisional March index of average earnings was published. It showed an increase of 20 per cent. in earnings over the past 12 months. That 1512 compares with an increase of slightly under 15 per cent. in March 1979, and so represents an acceleration in the increase in earnings of one-third over the past year. Clearly free collective bargaining is not working very well.
It is important that there should be an early indication of the Government's intentions on pay, because today's figures, albeit provisional, represent the position near the end of the current wage and salary bargaining round. In the near future the various bodies concerned with pay negotiations will start to prepare their cases for the next round. They will do so against a background of a 20 per cent. annual rate of inflation. They will do so with the near certainty that even if import prices—that includes oil prices— remain stable over the next 12 months the increase in earnings over the past 12 months will mean that we shall have an annual inflation rate of about 12 per cent. for the next year. In such circumstances it seems important and urgent that the Government should give a lead about the size of settlements in the next round.
I appreciate that the Government are opposed to an incomes policy, although they are not in all circumstances opposed to a freeze. However, a freeze is not a viable proposition if inflation is in double figures. If, as it is now, it is running at about 20 per cent., a freeze is just not on. The Government should enter into negotiations at an early stage with the CBI and the TUC to try to reach an agreement about the maximum percentage increase in the next wage and salary round.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that every time we have had a norm for a maximum increase it has become the minimum increase, and everybody has got more than that? Does he agree that we do not want to go down that path again?
§ Mr. Knox
There is some truth in what my hon. Friend says, but it is not the whole truth. I am arguing for a maximum percentage increase to be set. I am not certain exactly what that should be, but I think that it should be about 12 per cent. If the Government take early action—I emphasise that there is not much time to spare—they will make a real contribution to reducing the rate of inflation.
1513 The reduction of inflation is of especial importance to my constituents. Already the joint industrial council for the Leek and district textile and clothing industries has settled on a wage increase of 12½ per cent. for 1981, to start on the first Monday of 1981. In the circumstances, I believe that that is a sensible and responsible settlement, which reflects great credit on the unions and employers in my constituency. If all industries behave with the same responsibility I think that we shall have taken a real step towards reducing the rate of inflation.
I am worried, however, that in the absence of an early lead from the Government that will not happen. I am rather worried that others may go for much larger settlements than my constituents, and that my constituents' responsibility may well be rewarded by their having to pay excessive price increases in 12 months' time consequent upon irresponsible wage and salary settlements elsewhere.
My second reason for saying that the House should not adjourn for the Spring recess is that the Government must first take action to deal with the serious unemployment in the town of Biddulph, in my constituency. In October 1964 there were 94 people out of work in Biddulph. By June 1970 unemployment had increased to 163. It fell back to 130 in February 1974. However, it increased to 294 in May 1979. On 10 April 1980, which is the most recent date for which I have figures, there were 494 persons out of work in the town.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will notice from these figures that unemployment in Biddulph fell during the administration of the previous Conservative Government and increased during the administrations of the previous two Labour Governments. Be that as it may, it is unemployment today that matters. In Biddulph it is now more than five times higher than in 1964, a mere 16 years ago. In the past year one large firm—Cowlishaw and Walker—has closed down, with over 300 redundancies. The same thing has happened to smaller firms in the area. It is obvious that the situation in Biddulph is serious. There is a dark cloud hanging over the town and the people are naturally worried about their future.
1514 North Staffordshire people are hardworking. Labour relations in the area are good. All that is needed is a little Government assistance in Biddulph. If that were forthcoming, Biddulph, through the efforts of its people, could soon regain its previous economic prosperity.
Thirdly, I do not believe that the House should adjourn until the Government announce their intentions to reform or, better still, abolish, the domestic rating system. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I understand that he wishes to say rather more about the rating system. The present system is grossly inequitable. It is disliked throughout the country. In recent years my constituents have suffered substantial rate increases. In a low wage and salary earning area that has resulted in considerable reductions in living standards. A measure of the disapproval that they feel for the system was indicated in the general election in May 1979, when a ratepayer candidate— he was probably the only one in the country—polled 1,451 votes in the Leek parliamentary constituency.
It will take some time to reform the domestic rating system and even longer to get rid of it. Time is not on the Government's side. We need an early statement about their intentions, and that means before the Spring Recess.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to employment on Mersey-side, especially in Liverpool. The impact that it is having in the area that I represent is catastrophic. We now learn that the second round of redundancies is starting to emerge. The larger-volume redundancies in individual firms have ceased and redundancies are now being announced in secondary industries. We are hearing of pockets of redundancy. They are being announced a few hundred at a time. Jobs are in jeopardy and the future is uncertain for many.
Some redundancies are inevitable. The Leader of the House will be aware that on Merseyside, and especially in Liverpool, there is an inner city partnership. One of the policies of the Government within that partnership is to make a real 1515 attempt to provide alternative employment. That has to be done against the background that the port is not providing the employment that it once did. On the river 10 or 15 years ago there were 9,000 or 10,000 work people directly employed. There are 18,000 employed on the docks. The shipbuilding and ship repairing industries employed between 20,000 and 25,000. That employment did not include ancillary services, suppliers and transport that served the port, industry, shipbuilding and ship repairing.
I learnt with distress that one of the last remaining groups of ship repairers is now in great difficulty. The group of CBS and Gordon Allison is well known. It is a small ship repairing undertaking on Merseyside. It provides a specialist service. It has offered this service and performed it efficiently and well. Jobs have been put in jeopardy because some orders have been lost. I understand that there is little hope that other orders can be attracted in sufficient time to stop redundancies altogether. Nevertheless, this may be a time when the inner city partnership can be given an impetus by taking this as a marker to look at prospects for the port, for ship repairing and for shipbuilding, and to see whether, in the remaining months of this year, it is possible to rekindle that specialist activity on the River Mersey.
I bring to the attention of the House the problem still facing sugar refining. There is a degree of uncertainty on Merseyside about this matter. The financial columns, which indicate that the British Sugar Corporation may be subjected to other financial arrangements, cause anxiety, to say the least, among those who are still employed in sugar refining.
There is another aspect of that problem. Confectionary is suffering a recession. Taverner Rutledge and Barker and Dobson are suffering from a diminution of orders. People probably do not have the money in their pockets to buy additional sweets and chocolate. That is having an impact on the industry.
The problem goes further. It extends to cakes and other forms of food. Scotts bakery is in the final process of making all its confectionery workers redundant, much to the alarm of the people who have run the industry for so long. In- 1516 deed, the family that owns that business is gravely concerned at what can happen if the redundancies have to be made.
There is an overspill effect. This problem touches not only confectionery— fortunately, the bakery is still in full production. There is a roll-on effect in the sugar refining industry, sugar confectionery and bakeries.
At least another 20 small industries in Liverpool and on Merseyside are in jeopardy. Not all these industries are situated in my constituency, but some of the people who work in them live there.
I bring this matter to the attention of the House because I believe that the time has come, before we go away for the Whitsun Recess, for the Leader of the House to arrange with his colleagues to see a deputation of Merseyside Members of Parliament, either collectively, on an all-party basis, or individually, according to the wishes of individual hon. Members, to review what prospects there are for the Government to salvage at least something from what is almost a wreck and to use the inner city partnership as the vehicle to do it.
I know that the Leader of the House will not take offence when I say that all the plans and platitudes in the world and all the prospectuses that may be put on paper and put to a committee, will have no effect unless, consequential to all those things, something tangible starts to emerge. As yet, nothing tangible has emerged. The time has come for that to begin.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) about family responsibility. Independently of what he said, I wish to speak on another aspect of that most important problem.
I do not believe that we should adjourn for the Whitsun Recess until we have debated the whole question of what is now called sex education, the rights of parents in this matter and the activities of certain pressure groups in this area. The subject was barely touched on in debates on the recent Health Services Bill, although an attempt was made to raise it in the other place. 1517 For something like 1,500 years this has been a Christian country where traditional morality has prevailed and where the Christian ethic of chastity before marriage and fidelity afterwards has been held up as an ideal. Now all that has been challenged, and the State itself has not been blameless.
I took part in the debates on the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill in 1973 when Mr. Speaker himself made a distinguished contribution. I protested at that time at contraceptives being made freely available by the State to single as well as to married people and to children as well as to adults.
The State has also seen fit to intervene in the controversy whether doctors should prescribe contraceptive devices to children under the age of 16 without informing their parents, although the DHSS has recently modified its attitude in this respect. It seems to me a pity that the State should intervene at all in this intimate and private matter between doctors, children and their parents.
Lady Brook, of the Brook Advisory Centres, thinks quite differently. In a letter to The Times on 16 February, which has become quite notorious, she said:From birth till death it is now the privilege of the parental State to take major decisions— objective, unemotional, the State weighs up what is best for the child.That seems a terrifying doctrine, the end of which one dare not see.
Since our debates on this subject, there has been an enormous increase in what I can only call the sex education industry which, not only by teaching in the classroom, conferences, propaganda and so on, but by a considerable number of pamphlets, has forced its minority view on the public at large. My prime objection to its view is that it cheapens the sexual act. It treats it as a purely physical thing without any mention of the mental and emotional issues involved. By all its propaganda for what it calls " sexual freedom ", it is in fact undermining the institution of the family, which is the basis of our civilisation.
There are two bodies which are primarily concerned in this sinister campaign—the Family Planning Association and what are called the Brook Advisory 1518 Centres. The name "Family Planning Association " suggests stability and respectability, which is far from the case, whereas the Brook Advisory Centres are so revolutionary in their approach to sexual and family morality that there is not even a pretence of respectability.
The pamphlets of both concerns are written in such a vulgar and tasteless way that I shall not burden the House with more than a small number of quotations. The whole of their theme is not the need for self-control in sexual relationships but the necessity at once, and at the earliest possible age, for girls to take precautions against having a baby.
This is a positive encouragement to indulge in sexual intercourse from an early age, coupled with the sinister suggestion that everyone is having sexual intercourse with everyone else all the time and that is the most normal and natural thing in the world. I call that damnable advice. It is based on an entirely false premise, is addressed to young people at a most impressionable age and is tantamount to an encouragement to the widest promiscuity, with the result that fornication and even adultery would appear to be a normal condition of affairs.
The latest pamphlet was sent to all Members of Parliament by the Brook Advisory Centres only a few days ago. Those colleagues of mine whom I have asked about this have said that they put it in the waste paper basket without reading it—and quite rightly. Its tone can be taken from its title: " Safe Sex for Teenagers ". It might just as well be " Safe Bathing for Teenagers ", for sex is treated as of no more moral concern than bathing or any other harmless physical activity. Also, I object to the term " sex " as shorthand for sexual intercourse, which is what is really meant. The introduction has the cheek, in its first sentence, to sayThe last 20 years has seen a revolution in teenage sexual behaviour "—a revolution for which bodies such as the Brook Advisory Centres bear a great responsibility.
I shall not burden the House with the many other pamphlets which are produced, some of them very well known, such as " The Little Red School Book " by the Family Planning Association, and "Make It Happy—What Sex Is All 1519 About", published by Virago Press— which I hope one day will be suppressed.
The commercial pressures behind this propaganda are particularly sinister. These bodies are purveying their irresponsible views to increase their sales. That is something to which the whole House will object very strongly.
We live in an age of propaganda and public relations, and the views expressed by the new sexual morality lobby are fully backed up by much of the media— whose representatives are no doubt taking down every word that I am saying this afternoon. I mean, of course, television, wireless, newspapers and magazines—all suggesting or actually inviting young people to engage in promiscuous sexual activity. There is no concern about and hardly a mention of ordered responsible personal relationships and that restraint which is essential to any civilised society. The harm done to these young people's minds by this sort of propaganda is incalculable and makes the job of parents, teachers, clergy, youth leaders and so on much more difficult.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will withdraw the grants which they make to these bodies. Above all, I hope that the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security will insist that no teaching about sexual behaviour can be given in the classroom without the fullest consultation with parents. Now that, unfortunately, the influence of the Church is far weaker in our country than it used to be in matters of morality, I believe that it is up to the State and to Members of Parliament to take up the challenge. I believe that most parents still want to be bring up their children with traditional standards of morality. Therefore, it is up to this House to help them to ward off challenges from these disagreeable bodies, which, if left unchecked, would in a short time build another dark age in this land.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) too deeply into his dissertation on sex education. His allegation that the traditional moralities prevailed in the 1520 past interested me, for the more that we learn of the Victorian and Edwardian upper and middle classes, the more I am convinced that the only place in which it prevailed was among the working classes and that the period about which he was talking was a period of great hypocrisy.
The hon. Member was right to refer to the commercialisation of sex—but one cannot blame organisations such as the Brook Advisory Centres or the teachers who teach such matters for that. As one who taught boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 16 for 20 years, I can tell the hon. Member that there is still, not not only among children but among parents, a great ignorance about sex and a great need for sex education. Sometimes schools have to fill the gap which would otherwise exist.
I was interested, too, in the remarks of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) when he demanded of the Government the abolition of the rating system. He could have reminded the House that the present Prime Minister, in an election speech, promised a 9½ per cent. maximum mortgage interest rate, the abolition of domestic rating, and the switching of teachers' pay to the national Exchequer. I do not think that the hon. Member will see any of those developments in the lifetime of the present Government. If the Conservatives are to abolish domestic rating, the money must come from some form of taxation—probably from income tax, and the present Government would not like that.
I do not think that the House should rise for the Whitsun Recess without considering the effect of the Government's policies on young families. On 29 April, I put a question to the Prime Minister asking her totake time today to consider more carefully than she has in the past the effect of her various Departments' policies on young families ".I said:Will she ask herself whether such families are being asked to bear too great a part of the sacrifices which she is demanding?The right hon. Lady had said in a previous speech that our standard of living had risen by 6 per cent. in the past year. I asked:Has the standard of living of young families gone up by 6 per cent.?1521 The reply was interesting, although the right hon. Lady did not answer either of my questions. She said:With regard to the Government's policy on families, I believe that it is most important to leave families with a greater proportion of their own income—their own earnings—to spend in their own way. The standard of living of a family must come not from the Government but from the action of the breadwinner.With regard to specific measures, I believe that it will be of great help to families when more of them can purchase council houses because that will fulfil an ambition for many people. I also believe that it will be of great help to families that the family income supplement is going up by one-third."—[Official Report, April 1980; Vol. 983, c. 1149–50.]The fact that the right hon. Lady gave those four points to me showed either her ignorance or her lack of care about what is actually happening, not only in families on supplementary benefit or family income supplement but in a great many more as well.
The right hon. Lady talked about leaving them a greater proportion of their own income. But in the last 12 months they have not been able to retain a greater proportion of their income. Some of them may have had a tiny reduction in income tax, but what they have had to pay through other taxes has more than compensated for that. Therefore, it is not true that for the vast majority of young families she has done that.
According to the right hon. Lady, the action of the breadwinner is more important than the actions of the Government in regard to the standard of living. What advice will the right hon. Lady give to the breadwinner who has just lost his job, such as one of the constitutents of the hon. Member for Leek, among the extra 200 there unemployed in the last 12 months, where there are no jobs and where Government policy is seeing to it that there are no more jobs?
On the sale of council houses, whether people can buy their own council house or any other house is irrelevant to a great many people with young families in the face of present problems. Indeed, people who have families and who are making mortgage repayments are among those facing the greatest problems as a result of what has happened in the past 12 months. All hon Members will know of people who are experiencing great 1522 difficulty in paying their mortgages. I am not referring to those who propose to buy or have bought council houses. I am talking about those who are faced by an enormous rise in their mortgage payments.
Only last week, I heard about a couple with four children in my constituency. From the Prime Minister's point of view, they have done all the right things. Two years ago, the parents struggled to buy a terraced house. With the prospect of a Conservative Government in view, they moved to a bigger house and took on a bigger mortgage. The mortgage rate then increased. As a result of an operation, the wife will be away from work for almost a year, and they cannot cope with their mortgage. I suggested that the building society might be able to help by letting them off their repayments on the capital sum. However, the building society pointed out that the amount being paid hardly paid for the interest, let alone the capital.
The couple decided to sell the house. All hon. Members will know that it is difficult to sell houses now. The family is caught in a cleft stick. It cannot get the money to pay the mortgage and it cannot move into a smaller house. It faces eviction, and the council will have to deal with those people as if they were homeless.
The Prime Minister referred to people qualifying for family income supplement. A couple with two children, earning £60 a week gross, receive 30p a week in family income supplement. Those just above that level have suffered a fall in income in the past 12 months. Of those considered poor enough to receive family income supplement, three-quarters pay back some of it in income tax. That is one of the nonsenses that the Budget has made worse. So much for the Prime Minister's ideas on how to help young families who have been hard hit as a result of the Government's policies.
What have the other Ministers been doing? Many have introduced Bills. All of those Bills have been designed to worsen services by forcing cuts in education, housing, social services and social security benefits. A young family with children at or below school leaving age needs those services the most. Parents will have to pay more for their children's school meals. If they live in an area 1523 with a Tory council, they will find that that council will make even bigger cuts in education than the Government have done. It is typical of the Government's attitude that they have decided to pay millions of pounds on an assisted places scheme. Last week they announced that they would close the Centre for Advice and Information on Disadvantage in Education in order to save a few thousand pounds.
The Department of Health and Social Security has also played its part. There is insufficient time to go through the many decisions that it has made that will make life worse for the average family. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) went through those decisions during the debate on the guillotine motion on 6 May. One example of such a decision is the freezing of increases in child benefit. Those Conservative Members whom the Prime Minister calls " wets " are just as worried about that as we are. Many parents are demonstrating today against the Government's actions during the past year. They should realise that there is worse to come.
The Green Paper entitled " Income During Initial Illness: A New Strategy " is a pretty strong document. According to that paper, employers would have to find a flat rate payment of £30 a week. Families with children will discover that that is below the present sickness benefit. In addition, it is taxable, although present sickness benefit is not. Part-time workers—including many mothers—will receive less than £30.
The proposed abolition of earnings-related supplement in 1982 will affect those families who suddenly find themselves in difficulties. This year, invalidity benefit will be cut in real terms. Many parents of young children are on invalidity benefit. The children's addition will be increased by only 5 per cent. when there is an inflation rate of 20 per cent.
The indirect effect of the actions and threats of the Secretary of State for the Environment will have a great impact on young families. Such families use the social services more than others. Conditions in schools will worsen. Facilities for child welfare, nursery education, libraries and recreation will become worse. All those facilities affect families. 1524 Some Ministers may say that local councils must decide how to spend their money. The Secretary of State for the Environment does not say that. He is threatening them. In my area, the housing investment programme has been cut by 36 per cent. during the past year. That area had planned a reasonable programme of new building and housing improvements, and those cuts will prove a disaster.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has played his part in the attack on families. More and more families will face the poverty trap as a result of the Budget. A family which only just receives family income supplement and receives a wage rise of £1 a week will lose 50p of the income supplement, and will pay 30p more tax and £1.75 a week more per child for school dinners. In addition, families will also lose help in paying their fuel bills. When the breadwinner takes action and gets a rise, the family will be worse off.
If the father had been paying tax at 83 per cent.—not many of my constituents pay that amount, although there may well be some in the Hitchin area that do —he will now pay tax at only 60 per cent. Such families will be better off. The major problem facing families, and the reason why some are demonstrating today, is an inflation rate of 20 per cent. The Prime Minister said that our standard of living had increased by 6 per cent. during the past year. However, on the following day it was announced that the inflation rate was 19.5 per cent. with a probable addition of 1½ per cent. resulting from the Budget.
The hon. Member for Leek spoke about textile workers accepting a wage settlement of 12½ per cent. That is a result of free collective bargaining, free enterprise and non-interference by the Government. We know why they have accepted 12½ per cent. and why the miners have not. The demand for textile workers is not as great. The hon. Member for Leek will find that, as a result of the Government's policies, unemployment in his constituency will increase at a faster rate. Those who remain employed will face decreases in their real wages.
During the election, the Prime Minister's shopping bag was conspicuous in front of television cameras. She should 1525 take that bag, disguise herself a bit— that would be wise—and listen to conversations at various supermarket checkouts and shops where people on average or below average incomes work. She would hear much to her disadvantage. Many fathers and mothers have gone to work today, despite the TUC's call. The Government should not think that that indicates support for the Prime Minister's policies. People cannot afford to take an unpaid day off. On 1 May they showed what they thought of the Tory policies of the past 12 months. Unless the Government listen and learn, they will not only suffer election defeats. The frustrations of those who do not have the opportunity, as we do, to talk directly to the Government will boil over. Young mothers as well as organised workers will take days of action.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
In spite of the pessimism of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) about the success of representations from my hon. Friends and myself over reform of the domestic rating system, we still feel that, before the House rises for the Whit-sun Recess, the Government should make a statement confirming their intention to introduce the necessary legislation in the next Session of Parliament to bring about fundamental reform of the domestic rating system.
I appreciate that circumstances change, and that Governments must respond to new situations as they arise. In view of the very real increase in the level of domestic rates, it is appropriate to remind the House of the Conservative Party's intentions on this matter in the October 1974 election manifesto. I point out that in my constituency the recent increase to householders was 21.4 per cent., and, in addition, the water and sewerage charges have risen by similar amounts. These charges are both based on the outdated concept of rateable values.
In the election manifesto to which I have referred, we stated that within the lifetime of a Parliament we would abolish the domestic rating system and replace it with a more broadly-based tax, related to people's ability to pay. Some of my hon. Friends may say that that manifesto pledge was given a long time ago. We did not win that election, but had we done 1526 so the electorate would have expected us to honour our commitment. Many people still remember the Tory Party for that October 1974 election commitment and, on that basis, they have continued to vote Tory. The British electorate does not consist of as many mugs as some people like to believe.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St John-Stevas)
The doctrine of the mandate is a recondite one, and volumes have been written about it. If a political party puts proposals before the electorate at an election and the electorate rejects that party and what it put forward, those proposals are not binding on the rejected party.
§ Mr. Hicks
But I shall seek to relate to the House further statements made by Conservative Front Bench Members which did not end when we lost the October 1974 general election.
That pledge to abolish domestic rates was given against the background of substantial rate increases which took place in April 1974, particularly in rural areas, as a direct consequence of the Labour Government's decision to alter the balance of the rate support grant in favour of the urban areas. In Caradon, in my constituency, this change imposed an increase of £30 a year on every household. I was unhappy about the situation at the time and later that year I raised the matter in an Adjournment debate. Subsequently, in response to pressure from all parts of the House, the then Labour Government established the Lay-field committee to investigate local government finance. When that committee reported, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) made a statement to the House on 19 May 1977, acknowledging that the rating system needed substantial reform, although he said that he agreed with the conclusion of Layfield that it would be wrong to abolish domestic rates.
My right hon. Friend, the present Secretary of State for the Environment, who was then the Opposition spokesman on environmental matters, made the Conservative Party's position very clear. I refer the House to his statement on that same day. He said:Will the Secretary of State understand that the rating proposals that he has put forward 1527 are quite unacceptable to the Opposition, who believe that his announcement about rates, particularly in an economic climate of high inflation and high income taxes, will simply make the present bad system worse? "—[Official Report, 19 May 1977; Vol. 932, c. 715.]I would have thought that there was a continuing process of commitment, and that my party was committed to some action on the rating system.
Indeed, in the 1979 manifesto we again made a commitment, although it was relegated in status. We said:Labour's extravagance and incompetence have once again imposed a heavy burden on ratepayers this year. But cutting income tax must take priority for the time being over the abolition of the domestic rating system.However, in my view this is a subject that cannot be dismissed, nor will it remain dormant. Because of recent rate increases public concern about the inequities of the existing basis of rating have again manifested themselves. I have had a considerable post on this matter in recent weeks and I know that I am not alone. There is an early-day motion on the Order Paper signed by 50 of my hon. Friends.
On 24 April 1980 I wrote to the Secretary of State, and in his reply on 7 May he said:It does, however, remain our longer-term objective to abolish domestic rating and we are currently looking at all the possible future alternatives... Please be assured that we do take the whole rating matter very seriously, and are actively seeking ways to improve the position.The estimated income from domestic rates in 1979 was £2,700 million. This represents, on current figures, about 5½p in the pound on income tax at present levels. But there are 26 million taxpayers in this country and the number of ratepayers is significantly fewer. Those ratepayers carry a disproportionate burden, especially when one remembers that we all share the services provided out of the rates. This is an unfairness which is certainly highlighted in my constituency where average earnings are 14 per cent. below the national average and where 18 per cent. of the electorate comprises persons who are living on retirement pensions or other fixed incomes.
I hold that a growing number of my hon. Friends believe that it is imperative for the Government at an early date to confirm their intention to introduce legislation, not only on fundamental reform 1528 of the rating system, but to bring in a suitable alternative method of funding local government expenditure. Like me, my right hon. Friend is run second in his local constituency by a minority party. In the West Country we do not forget that there is an economic price that the person on a low income or a retired person on a fixed income can afford to pay. I remind my right hon. Friend of that. There is also a political price that they will be prepared to pay. The Government can take positive action to alleviate the problem. An early commitment is necessary.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
There are two issues which I feel should be debated before the House adjourns. I shall deal briefly with the first. The second is rather more substantial.
We must have a debate on the Government's Green Paper which reviews the Public Order Act. A few weeks ago in Lewisham, we had a second National Front march. I have criticised the police in the past. However, on this day, when Stephen Hickling, a young constable in Lewisham, had his hand blown off and his arm amputated at the elbow, the whole House wish to send good wishes to this young 19-year-old and the other policemen who were taken to hospital. We hope that his eyesight can be saved. I talked this morning to his father and to the local commander, and there is every hope that it can be.
In 1978 a National Front march took place through Lewisham. The three local Members of Parliament, the local council, the bishops, the clergy and many other people assured the Commissioner of Police that there would be severe disorder if it took place. They even went to court over it. The Commissioner of Police knew better. The disorder was appalling. It could have been prevented by legislation passed by this House in 1936. Retrospectively, I believe that everyone agrees that the march should have been banned.
A few weeks ago, just before a sensitive GLC by-election, another march took place. Happily, there were comparatively few arrests and hardly any injuries. The House should, however, debate the financial cost. The Commissioner's estimate is £300,000, but press 1529 reports suggest that that is a low estimate, bearing in mind the enormous disruption.
The Government have issued a Green Paper on the review of the 1936 Public Order Act, the initial work having been done by the previous Administration. It suggests that cost, disruption and offence to the local community might be grounds on which marches were banned, in addition to the single ground presently in the Public Order Act—the possibility of a breakdown in public order. The Green Paper is tentative, and I ask the Government for a statement.
It is absurd that in London alone in 1978, £2.5 million was spent on policing such demonstrations. National Front marches are deeply offensive, particularly when, as in 1978, they are deliberately routed through immigrant areas. They cause terrible disruption. A few weeks ago the South Circular road was closed for about five hours and lost holiday-makers were wandering the highways and byways of my constituency. The march caused severe loss to tradesmen and others who wanted to carry on their businesses.
I hope that the Government will accept that the decision of the London borough of Lewisham to withhold its police precept results partly from frustration at not being able to get such issues properly discussed. It hardly lies in the mouths of Ministers to condemn Lewisham for threatening to withhold its legally due precept when the Prime Minister sets a splendid example by threatening to withhold our legally due precept to Europe because she wants a little more control over what goes on there.
The substantial issue that I wish to raise concerns the National Association for Mental Health and the Government's policy towards mental health. Are they still giving priority to mental illness and handicap, as they said? A scurrilous campaign against MIND is being pursued inside and outside the House by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I object particularly to the allegations against the director. The campaign is uncharacteristic and unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. We have sat on Select Committees together, and we have not done all the things that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) talked of earlier.
1530 There is concern about our special hospitals. No one can remain unconcerned, having seen the television programme about Rampton. Members of the all-party mental health group have visited Rampton and other special hospitals. The all-party mental health group, which has been serviced by MIND for many years, cannot be accused of being irresponsible. The hon. Members for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) cannot be accused of being dangerous Marxists. The group comprises a cross-section of individuals concerned about mental health and handicap.
MIND has been funded by the Government for many years. It provides, week by week, essential services to some of the most distressed and unhappy people in our society. Its existence is in jeopardy because a tiny number of Conservatives are trying to get its grant withdrawn. It has been substantially funded by the DHSS, and could not exist without it. I know intimately many of its operations and am acquainted with many of its workers, who work for a pittance compared with the money that they could earn elsewhere. They have a continuous barrage of telephone calls for help from distressed people.
MIND still does not know whether it is to get any money this year from the DHSS, because there have been nasty little motions on the Order Paper, such as that last Friday entitled "Treatment of Mental Health " in the name of the hon. Member for Wokingham. That motion read:To call attention to the problems of the treatment of mental health … and in that connection, before further public funds are made available to it, would welcome a public inquiry into the administration of the National Association for Mental Health ".No doubt a public inquiry would cost a great deal, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Social Services has not the slightest intention of holding one. However, I hope that the Leader of the House will say something to reassure not only this worthwhile charity, but the many mentally-ill and mentally-handicapped people in this country who go to it for help, and that he will be able to tell us that it will have a long-term future and will not be chopped off because of a political campaign that has been 1531 started by Conservative Back Benchers for reasons that I fail to understand.
The operations of MIND are taking place against a background of cuts. I know that the Secretary of State has said that he wants mental illness and mental handicap to retain their present priority, and I appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is here for the debate, but I must remind him of the saga of the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area health authority and the commissioners. Mentally-ill patients were moved from St. Olave's hospital where they had access to a park, a garden and reasonable conditions to the fourth-floor of a tower block at Guy's hospital. Many of those patients were driven to mental illness partly by living in the tower blocks which we ought never to have built in the 1960s. No one could see that as a satisfactory way of dealing with mentally-ill people.
The problems remain, and there is a desperate need for an organisation at arm's length from the Government—not within the DHSS—that can campaign on these issues to try to get more money and, more than anything else, more awareness of the increasing problems of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped.
I understand that the hon. Member for Wokingham represents members of the Prison Officers Association who act as nurses at Broadmoor. They are his constituents, and he is right to represent their interests. But we must make it clear that hospitals exist for the patients and not simply for the staff, and that allegations against staff should be properly investigated.
I do not want to go into detail on the recent allegations that have been made about events at Broadmoor. The all-party mental health group intends to visit Broadmoor. We have discussed the issue with Dr. McGrath at a meeting at the House. There are matters of great concern, particularly the use of electroconvulsive therapy without sedatives. That is something about which the whole psychiatric community is worried, but Dr. McGrath did not give an assurance that it would cease at Broadmoor.
In a sense, MIND can look after itself; it has much sympathy within the DHSS. However, the hon. Member for Wokingham, in backing up his campaign, 1532 has made allegations that the director of MIND is a sympathiser of the IRA. That is an appalling and scurrilous accusation.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his typical courtesy in giving me notice that he would be making personal references to me, but will he at least do me the credit of relating his remarks, to which I can take no exception, to the words that I used in the House on 20 December? I am sure that he has them with him.
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech and quote the words that he used on 20 December. However, those are not the only words that he has used on this issue. He has pursued his campaign for some time.
The hon. Gentleman has connected Tony Smythe, the director of MIND, with the IRA. That was a scurrilous thing to do. There is an honourable tradition in the House that, if one makes such a serious allegation, one either substantiates it or withdraws it completely. I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to speak in the debate, and I believe that, in the interests of MIND and of honour and decency in the House, he should either fully substantiate that allegation or withdraw it. The whole issue has grown too big to be left alone. It must be sorted out.
I know that a number of hon. Members take a great interest in mental health. I have done so partly because it has been brought close to me. I have had experience of the problem in my family, and I know what appalling difficulties mental illness and mental handicap can produce within families.
Uniquely in the Western world, we have a charitable organisation that has done untold good for mentally ill and mentally handicapped people. I beg the hon. Member for Wokingham to leave his campaign alone and to withdraw his allegations.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I start by repeating my appreciation of the courteous reference by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) to me and the notice that he was good enough to give me.
1533 I confess that I am somewhat divided about whether I am happy that the issue has been raised today. In one sense, I am only too glad, because, with an increasing sense of frustration, I have been searching for a parliamentary opportunity to raise the matter. The House will know the narrow confines of many of our debates and, therefore, the difficulty of finding an appropriate time to raise the matter. To that extent I welcome this opportunity, and I am glad that the matter has been raised. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West knows, I had been seriously contemplating raising it myself.
On the other hand, although we are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for his courtesy in being present for the debate, a reply from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—able and comprehensive though it will undoubtedly be—is not the same as an answer by a Minister of the DHSS, with all its technical knowledge.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West was good enough to say that my campaign was uncharacteristic of me. Perhaps that is true, and I therefore wish to set out the background so that the House can understand how these matters arose. I shall then deal not with what the hon. Gentleman said I said but with the words that I used on the only occasion when they have been used, certainly in the House and, as far as I know, outside it.
I start with the sequence of events. Last September, there was a meeting in Liverpool at which a nurse on the staff of Broadmoor hospital, who was at that time unidentified, made a number of allegations about the ill treatment of patients at the hospital. He was subsequently identified as a Mr. Byrne who, with the other young nurse later associated with him, has only a short period of service on the staff. He was immediately interviewed, rightly so, by senior officers of the Department. He was interviewed for the good reason that the allegations that he made, if true, amounted to criminal offences. Senior officers of the Department thereafter referred immediately to the Thames Valley constabulary at senior level the allegations made by Mr. Byrne.
1534 The police investigation was completed. The Director of Public Prosecutions was consulted and advised that no further police action should be taken. Throughout the period, the Department of Health and Social Services acted totally and absolutely correctly, given the nature of the allegations made. Although action was fairly swift, the Department was unable to make any comment because the matter was, if I may, use the phrase, sub judice.
While that process was in train, the organisation, MIND, chose, both in its newsletter or magazine " Mind Out " in November and at a press conference, to give full publicity and every kind of publicity backing to the accusations of brutality and other misconduct made by these two young members of the staff. It did not wait. It went ahead while the Department was unable to say anything and while members of the staff, rightly, were unable to do or say anything. This is not the first time that such a technique of accusation has been used. I have lived through it before in my constituency.
Back in 1977, almost identically sensational allegations were made about another hospital in my constituency, Church Hill House, at Bracknell, that cares for the mentally handicapped. For two years, those allegations were subjected to exhaustive inquiry by a quasi judicial inquiry headed by Queen's Counsel. The cost to the Berkshire area health authority was £60,000 from public funds. I see the then Minister of Health, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), in his place. I recall how helpful was the right hon. Gentleman, as was his Conservative successor, in the whole matter.
The report is available for any hon. Member who wishes to see it. Every charge was found to be totally baseless. I do think that I have ever seen a report in which accusations against the staff were shown to be so wholly and totally without foundation. Yet for two years—this is the point—the administrative, medical and nursing staff of that hospital lived under a cloud.
If I became a little emotional about the matter, and still do, I apologise to no one. I was rather close to the staff of the hospital at that time. Over the 20 years that I have had the honour to 1535 represent the Wokingham constituency I have also sought, as would other hon. Members in similar circumstances, to keep close to the staff of Broadmoor hospital. I think I know at first hand something of the pressures under which staff live when public accusations are made against them.
I have sought to say in the motion to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, West has drawn attention that there is an increasing tendency today for organisations of one sort or another to make public accusations, to say that because the accusations, have been made there must now be an inquiry and that those accused must prove their innocence. I shall come to the point that the hon. Gentleman raised in my own time. If I have reacted against this, I have done so because I think that those members of medical and nursing staff working in this sphere are peculiarly vulnerable because of the nature of their work. Restraint of some kind or another is often a necessary part of the treatment that they mete out. It is a proper part of the job. For that reason, they are peculiarly vulnerable.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about Church Hill House. I hope that he will take my point. I do not think that there has been any inquiry about these particular Broadmoor allegations. One cannot express a view with certainty. Would he not agree that, of all the inquiries, which are not wholly satisfactory, from Ely onwards, into this sort of allegation in a mental illness or mental handicap hospital since the late 1960s, when great concern began to be expressed, the majority have shown that there are many wrong things that ought to be put right? For that reason, any organisation like MIND ought properly to be very concerned about these matters.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I agree with the words " ought properly to be very concerned ". That, however, is not what happened.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
No, it did not. The chairman of the all-party mental health group, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), has been saying " Hear, hear." I shall make some 1536 remarks about his activities in a moment. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West is not correct. What happened is that, while the matter was sub judice, the organisation went public. This happened while the Secretary of State's hands were tied behind his back and while members of the staff were unable to say anything. That is my complaint.
It is, of course, perfectly appropriate, if there are reasons and grounds for anxiety, for a responsible body to act responsibly. I am on record in speeches in this House on the issue, as is the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East when he and I took part in debates on the matter. I should have deep concern if, in this or any other hospital, I had reason to be anxious about whether something was going seriously wrong. I am not taking the position that the staff should be supported on every issue and on every occasion.
What were the lessons that emerged from the inquiry at the hospital to which I have referred? They were that the allegations were instigated—this is on the record for anyone to see—by extreme Left-wing militant members of the staff. I am talking about Church Hill House hospital. The record shows the part played by the newspaper " Militant ". It had the luck to be assisted by a local newspaper editor anxious to sensationalise, but the thread exists for everyone to see.
That was the situation, having just received a report on one hospital, that confronted me as the constituency Member of Parliament when MIND went public. I reacted extremely roughly. I am a great believer in the Queensberry Rules, but not if others fail to use the same rules. I repeat what I said. MIND is a magnificent organisation. Its concept is splendid. It has enrolled to its voluntary service men and women of distinction. Its present chairman, known to me personally, is a person greatly respected in her particular field.
But the organisation has now got into the hands of what I have previously described, and describe again, as professional agitators. It is the permanent officials; I am not now talking about the voluntary workers. My plea to the voluntary workers is to wake up and see what is happening and take steps to control those who are in this work not because they 1537 have a concern for mental health but because they are in the business professionally.
I take the career of Mr. Tony Smythe, only because the hon. Gentleman specifically raised it. Mr. Smythe was secretary of the International Organisation of Pacificists and secretary of the National Council for Civil Liberties before becoming chief executive of MIND. In other words, he is professionally concerned with such organisations. He is not a person who has grown up in the world of mental health, who has worked in hospitals of this kind. He is not professionally concerned in this field.
That is why I drew on personal experience of Mr. Smythe's work when he was working for the NCCL. I was at that time on the receiving end of constant allegations of brutality, and worse than brutality, by the police forces and the Armed Forces. I had at least one personal interview with representatives of that organisation, and that led me to say that in his capacityall his interests lay on the side of the Irish Republican Army."—[Official Report, 20 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 1056.]I believe that they did. I stand by that assertion. I experienced it, I went through it, and I am responsible to the House for the accuracy of my statement. I believe that Mr. Smythe and his officials of that time gave every impression that that was where their sympathies lay and that they had no sympathy for the forces of law and order, just as now he gives the impression that all his interests are on the side of those making the allegations.
In fairness, I should like to add that I think that it is true to say of the NCCL that a considerably better balance was kept once Miss Hewitt became its general secretary. I say that in fairness, because I think she feels that my previous words in some way impinged on her, which they were never intended to do. Because I have been critical, I want to make that quite clear.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. Does not he agree that there is a distinction between saying that the activities of the NCCL were calculated to help the IRA—with which I 1538 would not agree, though I would defend to the death the hon. Gentleman's right to say it—and implying that in some way Mr. Tony Smythe sympathises with the activities and methods of gunmen and murderers? It is that implication that many people in both political parties feel it is unworthy for someone such as the hon. Gentleman to have made. I did not have the impression that he was continuing to make it in the carefully weighed words that he has just uttered. I think that he would do himself and the whole House a service if he would make it clear that he is not making that allegation.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I have used exactly the same words as I used on 20 December. That is why I was so careful. That is precisely why I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's speech and asked him, if he is to attack me, which is perfectly reasonable, at least to do so in his usual fair way on the basis of words that I used. It is true that he has drawn further inferences from that. The context in which I have used these words makes it clear that I was talking of Mr. Smythe's professional work in his NCCL capacity.
By comparison with everything else, this is a detail, but, if it assists, I of course make clear that I was not seeking for one moment to suggest that Mr. Smythe indulged in or personally supported the kind of activity for which unfortunately the IRA is most well known. If he feels affronted by that, I make that perfectly clear. But I stick, without any doubt whatever, to my first assertion. I am seeking to make the point that the organisation has fallen into the hands of " professionals " who, I believe, are doing it no good whatever.
It pains me to add—it really does, because two of my hon. Friends are officers of the all-party mental health group—that I do not think that the group's conduct in this matter has been helpful. First, that conduct is totally contrary to what I understand to be the courtesies of the House, as well exemplified by the conduct of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West. Some of the officers put the weight of their authority behind the allegations without any prior notice to the Member of Parliament in whose constituency this major hospital is. They gave no prior notice—I read it first in the all-party " Whip "—of the date of 1539 their visit. I regard that as discourteous. I have said so to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, and I gave him notice that I would say it today.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
Although you have just said that you did not read of the visit until you saw the all-party " Whip ", you were at the meeting of the all-party mental health group, of which you are a member. You attend the meetings, and you were at the meeting when the visit to Broadmoor was arranged. It might be as well for the House to realise that you are a member of our group. You have had more than ample opportunity to raise all the matters that you have chosen to raise in the House in a most unpleasant and scurrilous way.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I think that you will have been saved something, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I, of course, knew in principle about the visit, because I heard the physician-superintendent issue the invitation. But if I ran an all-party group, it would never occur to me to arrange a visit to a Member's constituency without making certain that that Member first knew of it from me and not from the all-party " Whip ". I have just had an approach by an hon. Friend on a precisely similar all-party group, not connected with this matter, courteously giving me full information.
I do not think that the all-party group has done itself credit by giving equal weight to the enormously distinguished physician-superintendent and two young, cub nurses.
§ Mr. Irving
I remind my hon. Friend that the distinguished physician-superintendent, Dr. McGrath, was present before we saw the nurses, and we heard both sides of the problem. I believe that he was heard to say that he felt that I, as chairman, had dealt with both meetings very fairly. It is extraordinary how my hon. Friend changes his views when he is in a position of privilege rather than at a public meeting.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
It is a matter of judgment. I think that it is very questionable for a so-called all-party group to give a platform to two people making 1540 allegations which have been substantially investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions and found to be without substance. That is a matter of judgment, but I know that, as a result, Mr. Larry Gostin, the so-called legal director of MIND, has been loudly trumpeting that the all-party group has given support to the allegations. It can perhaps be understood just how strongly my constituents feel.
I believe that my right hon. Friend should carefully consider—I express a view contrary to that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West—why £250,000 a year of taxpayers' money should continue to be given to MIND in its present form. We know that distinguished people connected with the organisation are concerned about the way it conducted this campaign.
I see the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) in his place. He knows that I propose to refer to a letter that he courteously sent to me which he wrote to the Secretary of State and in which he specifically dissociated himself from these allegations. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had his own differences with MIND about the way in which the allegations were being pursued.
I believe that it is reasonable for the taxpayers to feel not that no allegations should ever be made or that organisations such as this one should be merely the creatures of Government but that they are entitled, as taxpayers, to think that a body of this nature will act professionally in making allegations.
In fairness. I must say that MIND published half an apology in its latest edition of " Mind Out ". A copy was courteously sent to me by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary but not by MIND. I think that MIND now regrets having made these public allegations before police investigations were completed.
I should like the House to know that I have done my best to understand the nature of the problem. The chairman of MIND and two other people were to have come to see me a fortnight ago. Everything was arranged. They have now pulled out of that appointment. If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West has influence with them, I hope that he will encourage them to come and talk about (he problems of MIND. I am 1541 ready, anxious and willing to talk to them. I think that they should be encouraged to talk to me.
I am sorry to have kept the House on a matter of comparative detail. Fairly and courteously, however, a personal reference has been made to me and I think that I am entitled to defend myself. I say quite clearly that I have no regrets whatever. If people play roughly with my constituents—they have not played roughly with me—they are in for trouble. That seems to me to be what Members of Parliament are for, and I intend so to act in future.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
I had not intended to take part in this debate until I had a courteous note from the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) saying that this particular issue was to arise. As correspondence has passed between us about the charges he made, I thought it appropriate that I should be here to comment on the issues.
We should be clear about the exact words that were used by the hon. Gentleman on 20 December. He said:MIND is an admirable example of an organisation with a full-time agitator in charge. It is an admirable example of the new generation of—I use the words in inverted commas— ' civil servant ' who moves from organisation to organisation, dependent on noise for his success and his salary.When I had dealings with Mr. Tony Smythe, when I was proud to serve at the Northern Ireland Office and he was in the National Council for Civil Liberties, I had no doubts whatever that all his interests lay on the side of the Irish Republican Army. He is now applying precisely the same agitation in the MIND organisation."—[Official Report, 20 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 1055–56.]Those were the words of the hon. Gentleman on that occasion. As soon as the matter was drawn to my attention I called on the hon. Gentleman to withdraw what I thought was a scurrilous attack both on MIND and on its director. I asked him to withdraw or, if he would not withdraw, to repeat his words outside this House where he would not be protected by the privilege of the House, or to give the evidence on which his monstrous charges were based.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to half an apology—I have not seen it— 1542 and I suppose that he has made half an apology today by withdrawing the suggestion that Tony Smythe held the views alleged by the hon. Gentleman and that he was totally on the side of the IRA. I believe that the hon. Gentleman should have withdrawn the whole charge.
I must declare an interest in MIND. I was the director of MIND from 1970 to 1974, and I have had close contacts with the organisation since then. I am glad that the Secretary of State is here to listen to this debate.
I believe that MIND is a magnificent organisation which, over many years, has given marvellous service to this country. At one stage, the hon. Member for Wokingham did say that that was so. However, he went on to say that he hoped that the Government would withdraw their grant from MIND. We should consider the tremendous work done right across the country by local associations of MIND in running group homes, hostels, advice centres, social clubs and day centres. We should consider also the educational work undertaken by MIND involving professionals and volunteers. An advice service is provided by MIND to people in desperate difficulties who feel the need, sometimes, to turn away from their social worker or their general practitioner and who do not know where else to turn than to MIND. We should also remember the work done by MIND on patients' rights, policy formation and certainly on pressure.
When I said in my letter to the Secretary of State, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that I had my own differences with MIND, that is part of the set-up. When I was Secretary of State, MIND brought pressures to bear upon me with which I did not agree. That was the organisation's right. It is an organisation that speaks up not only on behalf of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. It speaks of the broad concern that the community should express in the interests of those who are mentally ill and mentally handicapped.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), but this is not a debate on MIND or on the National Health Service. It is a debate on the Spring Adjournment. The right hon. Gentleman should come to that point.
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall come to that matter, Mr. Speaker, because my plea is that there should be a debate on this subject before the House adjourns. I am sure that that is so.
The only other point that I wish to deal with is the actual allegations made against Mr. Tony Smythe. I have known him for many years, and I know many witnesses who know that what was said by the hon. Gentleman on 20 December last year was absolutely untrue.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With every respect to the right hon. Member, we must not go into an in-depth debate on MIND. We should make this the customary debate on the Spring Adjournment.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Wokingham made certain allegations, and I did not hear you, or your Deputy, bring the hon. Gentleman to order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. Member would have had a job to hear me. I was not in the Chair. When I am in the Chair, however, I am required to expect everyone in the House to follow the same rules of debate. If I do not, it is not fair to other hon. Members who are waiting to speak.
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall bring my remarks to a close, but Mr. Deputy Speaker did not call the hon. Member for Wokingham to order.
I hope that there will be an opportunity for a debate on the work of this magnificent organisation and on what I hope will be a continuing Government grant which will enable it to do its work undisturbed by the type of campaign which the hon. Member for Wokingham has conducted in the House and outside.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
Before the House goes into recess, we should have the opportunity to discuss the tragic plight of the fishing industry. I know that the hon. Members for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) and for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will agree with me. I do not wish to go into great depth about the manifold problems caused by soaring costs, loss of grounds, the common fisheries policy and all the well-known problems afflicting the industry, which almost closed Fleetwood 1544 and Hull, and which have caused the Aberdeen fleet to be reduced from 150 vessels to between 30 and 40 in a decade.
The aspect that should be debated is how our Common Market partners are behaving now, before the common fisheries policy is reformed or renegotiated. The reform of the policy is the most important single action that can help to put the industry back on its feet. What worries us is that, even while the negotiations are being conducted so patiently by my right hon. and hon. Friends, there is concrete and visible evidence that some of our Common Market partners are cheating. There is no other word to describe what they are doing.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West and I saw a special Granada film, in which an unemployed trawler skipper was taken to Holland and France. He was taken to a quayside and asked "What are the fish in the boxes?", to which he replied " There is no doubt that they are herring." The fish had come off a boat that had just returned from British waters, where it is illegal to take more than a 5 per cent. by-catch of herring. However, tonnes of herring were on the quayside. When the French fishermen were asked what they had to say, since catching herring was illegal, they said " Many things in life are illegal." When they were asked about the inspectors who should have prevented them from landing the fish, they said " What inspectors?"
It was clear that the fishermen were breaking the EEC regulations. The inspectors were not fulfilling their duties under the regulations, and auctions were being conducted by auctioneers employed by the French Government. It is essential that, before we renegotiate the common fishery policy, we sort out the cheating, because it is having an extremely depressing effect on our industry.
To prove that I do not speak from a constituency bias, let us consider Hull, which has been crippled by what has been going on. The film showed a sad sight. The quaysides of Hull were as quiet as the grave until the arrival of a ferry from Holland. There were no British vessels. Off the ferry from Holland rolled Dutch lorries filled with fish that had been caught illegally in British waters by Dutch vessels. The fish had been taken 1545 to Holland and brought back to be sold in Britain because that was the only way that the British fishing industry could be kept going. The film showed illegal behaviour by the French and the Dutch.
We now have visible evidence of the cheating. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to make the strongest representations to the French and Dutch Governments and to tell them that we cannot tolerate the cheating, particularly when we are trying to renegotiate the common fisheries policy and when our industry is being crucified.
British fishermen are frightened of the future because they do not know whether they will have a job this year or next year. They also feel a strong sense of injustice because they know that their great fishing industry, with Hull and Aberdeen as the premier European fishing ports, is dead or dying. There is a grave sense of injustice that the death of the industry has been brought about through no fault of the industry, whose workers are hard working.
The industry is in its present state as a result of Government action and the failure of successive Governments to grapple with the problem which our entry into Europe caused. I speak as somebody who supported the Common Market when we went in, and who still supports it. I do not believe that this is a reason to get out, but we have a right to say to our partners "We are obeying the rules; you, too, must obey them."
Perhaps our fishermen might like to evade the regulations in the way that the French and Dutch are doing. However, they could not do so because our inspectorate is so efficient and methodical and sticks so strictly to the regulations that we are being crucified by our own virtues.
Even if the other countries obeyed the regulations as we do, times would still be hard because of the low quotas, the lost grounds and soaring costs. To see the industry crucified because we are virtuous and stick to the regulations when our partners do not is intolerable.
I hope that the Government will treat the matter as urgent. Unless they do something quickly, there could be the eruption of a volcano. The fishing industry 1546 is patient, but its patience has been tried. I hope that my right hon. Friends will be able to say that they will extract justice from the French and the Dutch.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)
There are some good reasons why the House should not go into recess. The House will not be surprised that I intend to raise the question of the terrorist war in Northern Ireland. It is appropriate that we should have this opporunity less than 24 hours after a gun battle on the frontier of the United Kingdom. When most people were wondering whether and how they would get to work and others were trying to stop them from going to work, a well-organised gang of terrorists, operating from high ground in the Republic of Ireland, waged a battle not for five or 10 minutes but for two hours with the police at Middletown. They exchanged several hundred rounds of ammunition.
About 24 hours earlier, a 57-year-old single man of limited means and limited intelligence was abducted on the border by the IRA and, in the IRA's words, executed for informing the Army and security forces about IRA activities.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is in the Chamber. It was no surprise to anybody in County Armagh that the man was killed. We were told five weeks ago from the Republican plot on consecrated ground in the churchyard of the Roman Catholic church at Crossmaglen that the IRA intended to execute that man. The crowd was addressed by a uniformed and masked thug, who should have been shot as he delivered his message. He also threatened the lives of members of the police and the Army in the Crossmaglen area. Five weeks later to the day, IRA men abducted a pathetic old man and killed him, just as they would shoot a dog. That happened only a few hours after the Secretary of State told the House that co-operation between the security forces and the Irish Republic had never been better.
The Monaghan Army base is only five minutes away from Middletown. Why did the Government of the Irish Republic allow their territory to be used for a two-hour gun battle without one member of the Irish Army appearing on the scene during that time? Why are the Government of the Irish Republic prepared to 1547 allow their territory to be used by murderers and executors from the IRA who deal out death in this way to an elderly, perhaps mentally deficient, man? Yet, we are told that co-operation between the security forces has never been better.
That death was in addition to the six people already killed in County Armagh this year. Twenty-nine were killed last year. I am sorry if I bore hon. Members by referring to the matter, but 200 of my constituents have been killed since I was elected to the House. Hon. Members may wonder why I am angry, and why I continue to tell the House about such matters. It is because I wonder how many hon. Members would tolerate 200 constituents being killed in a six-year period from 1974. Nothing has been done about that.
We were told last week that the Government would not permit terrorism in any part of the United Kingdom. But the people of Northern Ireland know that the " United Kingdom " means Great Britain. The Government will not tolerate terrorism in London, Birmingham, Southampton or anywhere else, but they appear to be prepared to tolerate it in Northern Ireland, especially in County Armagh. Yet they say that co-operation between the security forces and the Irish Republic have never been better.
The terrorist campaign has changed. Once again, it is a border campaign. It is a campaign that we cannot win while sanctuary is provided in the Irish Republic. It does not matter what measures the Secretary of State or the Government decide to introduce, while men can lie in the safety of the 26 counties in the Irish Republic, cross the border, and then slip back to safety, their terrorist activities will continue for ever. There could be another 200 deaths in the next six years.
The Prime Minister of the Irish Republic appears to be taking some action. By finding arms and bomb factories, the authorities have confirmed that what we have said for years is correct. The Prime Minister instructed his security forces to take action, and hundreds of rifles, rounds of ammunition and bombs were found. But not a single person was arrested. Does any hon. Member think that the security forces of the Irish Republic simply tripped into those bunkers last 1548 week or the week before? They have known about them for years, and have watched the terrorists operate from them.
I suppose that, in the present southern Ireland political situation, Mr. Haughey's policy is understandable. It is a policy of "Let us draw their teeth and try to disarm them. We are only 18 months away from another election, and I do not want to face the political consequences that go with arms trials." He should be putting terrorists in the dock on arms offences.
It is not good enough for the Government to send their representatives to Dublin to talk about security co-operation, and then to come to the House— as they did last week— and say that the position has improved dramatically. Both the Secretary of State and I know what is really happening in Northern Ireland. The SAS was hailed in the House last week for its tremendous work in eradicating terrorism in London. I wish to see that organisation return to Northern Ireland. It appears to be acceptable to kill Arab terrorists—an Arab terrorist can be shot because he deserves to be shot for what he is doing. But if it is an Irish terrorist, the matter is different. It does not matter that an Irish terrorist shot a 57-year old man. It does not matter that he shot a policeman a fortnight ago, and then asked that policeman's colleagues to rescue him because he was afraid to surrender himself to the Army after he had killed one of its members in Belfast a few weeks ago.
I wish to see the SAS return to Armagh. It is the only organisation that has had any success against the bloodthirsty killers—that is what they are, and we cannot say anything different. Mr. Shields, who was killed last week, joined two other elderly Catholics killed last year and others the year before that, and two young Catholic boys who were killed in Keady.
I am not complaining about IRA men killing Protestants in that area. I am complaining because they are killing the people whom they claim to protect. We would free the Roman Catholic community from its oppressors if we killed some IRA terrorists. I wish to see the SAS back in Armagh doing the job that it should be doing.
I ask the Secretary of State to intervene with the Ministry of Defence, and 1549 to tell it to stop damaging our local security forces through its policy of closing UDR camps. If the Army commitment in Northern Ireland must be withdrawn—and to a degree I would welcome that, although not the withdrawal of specialist units—we must use local security forces. The UDR provides one source. We shall not increase the size of the UDR if, at the same time, we close the camps and centres from which it can operate.
I ask the Secretary of State to take on board the two measures that I have suggested. I have given better reasons for the House not going into recess than many of the other reasons—important though they are—that I have heard this afternoon.
§ Mr. Speaker Has the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) sat down?
§ Mr. McCusker indicated assent.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Many important matters have been mentioned already in the debate, but, regardless of how important they are, they pale into insignificance against the terrible war that is being waged in Northern Ireland, and which has been waged for the past 11 years. The House, the Government, and their predecessors have not tackled the problem as they should have done. The House should not adjourn. I made that appeal during the debate on the previous recess. The House should not adjourn unless, and until, the Government recognise that they must adopt a tougher policy towards the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland.
I am glad to see the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), in the Chamber. I know that the leader of the DUP attacked him mercilessly, but I think that most people in Northern Ireland—Protestant and Roman Catholic —would pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his hard work when he 1550 was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That should be placed on the record. Our differences do not matter— tribute should be paid to a man who tried to do his best for the people of Ulster.
Hon. Members will soon be leaving the House for the Whitsun Recess. They, and others in Britain, will bathe in the pleasure of the early summer sunshine, the prospects of a holiday and the pleasures of existence. But the same does not apply to the Ulster people. During the past few weeks the House has debated the invasion of Afghanistan, the gunmen in the Iranian embassy, the American hostages in Iran, and the murder and the mayhem in different parts of the world.
Quite rightly, the House has expressed itself forcefully and demanded that action should be taken to bring peace wherever there is trouble in the world. On each occasion, the Government and Parliament have expressed their determination to come to the air of people anywhere in the world who are living under the threat of terrorism. The high-water mark was reached during the recent SAS operation against the gunmen who occupied the Iranian embassy, when the Secretary of State, who was smug and at times incomprehensible, declared that the Government would not permit terrorism to exist in this country.
The Home Secretary knows that the people of Ulster have been scourged and harassed by the Provisional IRA for 11 long years. It is worth remembering that in that part of the United Kingdom, where British law ought to prevail, more than 2,000 innocent people have been slaughtered by these vicious gunmen and that many thousands more have been horribly mutilated, in some cases cruelly so. Thousands suffer the agony of living in fear. I am not talking about Protestants alone. I am talking about Protestants, Roman Catholics and those who do not adhere to any religion. Indeed, I emphasise that people living in areas that are dominated by the Provisional IRA dream of the day when those vicious men will be taken off their backs so that they and their families can look forward to a decent life.
Of course they cannot go on to the streets and say to the British Government and the security forces " Come in and 1551 remove the Provisional IRA ", because that would be an open invitation to a terrorist to pick them out and slaughter them. But, as British citizens, they believe that one day the Government will be shamed into action to restore law and order in Northern Ireland and to give them hope. That is what I ask for today —that before the House adjourns the Government should give hope to the Ulster people.
In Northern Ireland, whenever the police have arrested a terrorist, who is then charged and tried, the allegation is automatically made by the Provisional IRA men that he was tortured by the police or the Army. There then follow further restrictions on the police or the Army, which makes their task much more difficult. The godfathers of crime go free. No matter what its depravity, the Provisional IRA does not wish to be subject to the law, let alone to the restraints imposed upon the security forces. Above all else, no matter how many they murder and mutilate, the Provisional IRA terrorists do not wish to risk their own lives in any venture.
Last week, there was a splendid example in Belfast of what I speak about. IRA gunmen murdered a British officer. When the house from which they fired the fatal shots was immediately surrounded by the Army, what did they do? One would have expected those so-called patriots to stand their ground and fight it out in an equal way. Instead, they put out the white flag of surrender and sought the opportunity, which they have never given to any of their victims, to preserve their miserable lives.
Despite all the allegations that are made against the RUC by the Provisional IRA about the torture and beatings, and the possibility of dying at the hands of the RUC in their prison cells, those gunmen asked that they be allowed to surrender into the hands of the police. That is a perfect example, not only of the cowardice of the Provisional IRA, but of the fact that the gunmen wish to save their miserable skins. It rebuts the allegations which they have made so frequently about the police, the Armed Forces and British law in Northern Ireland.
Of course, the Provisional IRA does not want an equal fight with the forces 1552 of law and order on any occasion. Those cowardly, evil men shoot helpless people. The example has just been given of the poor, unfortunate Roman Catholic man in the Crossmaglen area who was murdered by the Provisional IRA, which apparently tried and tortured him—a man who was perhaps not 100 per cent. mentally fit—to force him into stating that he was assisting the British forces.
The IRA believes in other tactics. It will murder by planting bombs, without regard for the consequences of human life, and no matter how many women and children may die. All along the border, Provisional IRA savagery continues unabated. Protestant and Roman Catholic families, members of the police and the UDR, are all at risk. Our hearts ought to go out especially to those who live in isolated areas, where, during the hours of darkness, they never know whether one of those evil IRA men will call at their door and kill them for doing their duty by their country.
The gunmen are helped by the fact that the Government of the Irish Republic are not fully committed to the destruction of the terrorists. Despite the fact that the Republic is a member State of the Common Market and ought, therefore, to be an ally of the United Kingdom, it continues to make hostile claims to the territory of Northern Ireland and continues to work and scheme for a united Ireland. Republic of Ireland embassies throughout the world are used to disseminate anti-British propaganda aimed at destroying Ulster as part of the United Kingdom. Why are British embassies, which cost the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money and seem to do very little in return, not ordered to counter the anti-British lies and the distortion of the truth with regard to the Ulster situation? Until that is done, I do not think that the Government will undertake the type of campaign that is necessary in the border area to dislodge and defeat the Provisional IRA.
One gets the feeling that this Government, like their predecessors, believe that there is an acceptable level of violence in Northern Ireland, but the courageous and patient soldiers, police and Ulster people reject that scandalous standard. As Ulster people, we demand the right to live. We demand freedom from fear and injury. 1553 We demand the protection of the State against the Provisional IRA terrorists who poison Ulster by their presence and threaten Protestants and Roman Catholics and their future.
In my opinion, the House should not adjourn until we get some assurance for the decent people of the Province, who want action rather than sympathy when an atrocity is committed. As it did during the previous recess, the Provisional IRA will no doubt commit further atrocities in the next couple of weeks. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) gave details of the Provisional IRA attack on the border, during which there was a two-hour gun battle without any intervtion by the forces of the Irish Republic. That must call into question their good faith.
Caches of weapons, bombs and bullets have recently been discovered by the Eire police, but, so far as I understand, they were discovered as a result of information given by the British Army. One thing we know is that few of the Provisional IRA terrorists who operate from the other side of the border are ever arrested by the forces of the Republic.
In a few days' time, the Prime Minister will meet the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic. When she does, I hope that she will make it clear that this country will no longer tolerate the half-hearted attack on the Provisional IRA by the police and Army of the Republic. I hope that the right hon. Lady will make it clear to Mr. Haughey, who was involved many years ago in gun running, although he was fortunate enough to have the charge not proved against him at the trial, that he must keep his nose out of Ulster's affairs and that Eire, as a member State of the Common Market, must suppress terrorism in the Republic in the same way as France and Germany help each other when terrorists seek sanctuary in either country.
The people of Northern Ireland are entitled to hear the Prime Minister state next week that she wishes to see action from Mr. Haughey to prove his good will and to demonstrate that the Irish Republic is at long last determined to destroy those who are destroying innocent lives an the Province of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
The matter that I wish to raise is one that has given me considerable concern. It arises from the recent steel strike and the failure to pay unemployment benefit to those who were declared redundant before the dispute started and who finished their employment before the strike had ended. When they signed on with a view to securing unemployment benefit, they were disqualified.
I have written to the Minister, I have written to the local office of the Department of Employment, I have written to the British Steel Corporation, I have raised the issue in parliamentary questions and I have tried on several occasions to secure Adjournment debates. I notified the appropriate Minister that I would raise the issue in this debate.
It will be best if I read a letter that I have received from a constituent, which sets out the details. I have received many more similar letters raising the same issue. The letter reads:I am writing to you in protest at the arbitrary and possibly unlawful fashion in which I and many others like me have been treated by the Department of Employment. Having worked in the steel industry for 30 years, 20 of which have been spent at Llanwern, I was given redundancy notice (on the 14th of December 1979) of three months. This expired on March 7th 1980.It is noticeable that this man was given notice before the dispute started. The writer continues:On the 10th March I received all the paperwork severing my connections with BSC, and at 51 years of age after a lifetime of service to the industry, and for the first time in my life, I find myself unemployed. Having contributed to the fund for 30 years, the Department of Employment tells me that I am not entitled to unemployment benefit, at a time when I most need it. They maintain I am in dispute with BSC. This cannot be so as I no longer work for BSC, and my notice of redundancy was issued long before the strike commenced. The Department itself is somewhat puzzled by the ruling and have obviously received instructions ' from on high '. As you can well imagine, all this has left me rather bitter and disillusioned.The author of that letter is a man full of despair That is his state of mind after a lifetime in the steel industry. He was declared redundant, he worked his notice, he received his redundancy pay and he severed his connection with the steel industry. He signed on at the local 1555 employment exchange, and now he has been told that because of the coincidence of a strike at the works where he was formerly employed he is not entitled to unemployment benefit.
Surely such a ruling is against all the principles of natural justice. It is a double blow to individuals who find themselves in the situation that I have described. Insult is being added to injury. My constituent who wrote the letter from which I have quoted has already had his livelihood removed from him. Why should he be penalised again?
My understanding is that social security law on trade dispute disqualification for unemployment benefit is contained in section 19(1) of the Social Security Act 1975. However, that is a consolidation measure that merely repeats provisions that have featured in national insurance legislation since 1946. The relevant part of section 19(1) states:A person who has lost employment as an employed earner by reason of a stoppage of work which was due to a trade dispute at his place of employment shall be disqualified for receiving unemployment benefit so long as the stoppage continues.Surely that should not apply to those to whom I refer. They lost their jobs and were declared redundant before the dispute started. At the time when they made the claim, they no longer had any connection with the steel industry. It is obvious and apparent that they had little more than an academic interest in the dispute. They knew that, whatever its outcome, they would not benefit. Their employment had already been terminated. Despite that logic, the local national insurance officer decided against payment. Apparently, the issue can be referred to the National Insurance Commissioners.
Lord Gowrie, Minister of State, Department of Employment, in a letter dated 19 May, stated:No Minister nor anyone acting on his behalf has power to intervene in or alter their decisions.I have also received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), dated 12 May. He wrote about the off-the-cuff reply that he gave me to a question on 22 April. He said that if a further change in the law was required, it was a matter for the Secretary of State for Social Ser- 1556 vices. Apparently the Department of Employment deals with unemployment benefit claims only as an agent for the DHSS.
I urgently request the Ministers concerned to reconsider the issue and to realise the injustice that has been done. I ask them to take whatever steps may be necessary to rectify this glaring anomaly. I suggest that they bring my remarks to the notice of the National Insurance Commissioners. Secondly, if justice cannot be secured with existing legislation, I suggest that a minor amendment to the law is required to ensure that justice is done to a small section of the community that has been so unjustly treated.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Before the House adjourns for the Whitsun Recess, I should like to bring two matters to the attention of the Leader of the House and the Government.
First, I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), who I wish well personally and in his campaign to try to get a meeting arranged between Merseyside Members of Parliament and the respective Ministers for Employment and Industry to consider the chronic problems of the unemployed on Merseyside. The hon. Member for Kirkdale and I and others have been involved in that campaign on many occasions. Therefore, I hope that, before the House goes into recess, the Government will take a careful look at that chronic situation.
My main reason for rising to speak is to bring to the attention of the House the problems of marine pollution on birds, wild life and the coastal waters around this country. I hope that, before the House goes into recess, the Government will take time to discuss this serious situation.
Between 1971 and 1979, a total of 35,982 birds died of marine pollution. That is about 10 a day. But during that period there were only 17 successful prosecutions for pollution by ships at sea, and the average fine imposed on marine polluters totalled only £700.
The House will probably be aware that about six months ago the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds published its findings into the effects of 1557 marine pollution on birds. At about the same time as the society was publishing its report, 2,000 birds were found dead in the Mersey estuary. Some of the birds were scarcely recognisable. They were encased in oil, contaminated by unidentifiable chemicals, heaped together, and some still alive making valiant but futile attempt to decontaminate their plumage.
The Secretary of State for the Environment was requested by me and other hon. Members to hold a public inquiry. He promised an investigation. Ultimately, several possible sources of the pollution were located, but the Secretary of State was unable to say for sure who were the culprits. The Department of the Environment promised to do its best to stop it happening again.
It is now 70 years since the first recorded case of oil pollution on our beaches where birds were found to have died, and it happens again and again. In 1907, the "Thomas W. Lawson" sank off the Isles of Scilly. Oil from her tanks fouled the shores of Annet, and sea birds died. By 1922, it was not accidental but deliberate discharge of contaminated waste into the sea that led to Parliament passing the Navigable Waters Act. That made it an offence to pollute Britain's territorial waters, but it did very little to alleviate the problem, because most of the pollution was being carried on outside our three-mile limit, and outside that limit it was still legal to discharge pollutants.
It was not until 1954 that the international community was able to reach agreement on the need to take concerted action to prevent pollution at sea. The recommendations of the convention for the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil came into force in 1958, and there were subsequent amendments and a further convention in 1973.
At the 1973 convention, it was declared:certainly by the end of the decade we expect the complete elimination of intentional marine pollution by oil… and the minimisation of accidental spills.That objective has not been achieved, and the convention has revised, its 1980 target. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says that it is unlikely that, on the basis of present progress, marine pollu- 1558 tion will be eliminated by the end of the century.
If the House does not take action, there will continue to be serious levels of contamination and death amongst our bird life. The figures published by the Royal society show that between 1971 and 1979 there were 88 major incidents involving 50 or more birds in British waters. For instance, 24,700 auks, including guillemots, razorbills, puffins and black guillemots, died; 2,331 sea ducks, including eider, scotter, long-tailed ducks, scaup and goldeneye, died; 1,318 gulls, 592 gannet, 966 shag and cormorant died. In all, a total of 35,982 died in those eight years alone, and many more will not have been accounted for. In stark figures, that means that in Britain 10 birds die every day from the effects of pollution.
Since December 1977, oil specimens have been collected from birds for detailed examination. Crude oils and fuels together comprise more than 80 per cent. of all specimens examined. The majority were specificaly identified as cargo tank residues, yet the level of fines and successful prosecutions is derisory. Between 1971 and 1979, the number of successful prosecutions of ships at sea totalled only 77, and the average fine was about £700.
Penalties under the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971 allow for a fine of £50,000 on summary conviction and an unlimited fine on indictment, yet in the 17 recorded cases, the fine was a mere £700 on average. As it is well known among those who commit these offences that even the existing laws are not being properly enforced by the authorities, they do not pose a serious challenge to the law breakers, and the present levels of fines are not serious deterrents. Indeed, many would argue that they are laughable.
Therefore, I call on the Government to urge the adoption of a six-point plan which I hope they will consider before the House goes into recess. First, there should be more international co-operation in attacking marine pollution and, in particular, the early ratification and implementation of the 1973 MARPOL Convention.
Secondly, there should be British acceptance of the recommendations of the international union for the conservation of nature and natural resources 1978 on 1559 the protection and management of the marine environment. Thirdly, there should be the extension of the limit of territorial seas to at least 12 miles, to enable better protection of coastal and natural resources. Fourthly, the Prevention of Oil Pollution Act 1971 should be amended to increase fines.
Fifthly, there should be legislation to establish a compensation scheme for un-attributable oil spills which affect local or national interests; to impose fines rather than the revocation of licences where spillage results from offshore exploration; to introduce the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation's prohibited areas provisions around, for example, the Shetland Islands, where unique concentrations of wild life are at risk; and to ensure that operators applying for oil production licences undertake environmental impact studies on the potential effects of their activities on marine life.
Sixthly, the Department of Trade should take drastic steps to improve the level of law enforcement at sea, including the arrest of ships, as is done in pursuance of fisheries legislation, and a declaration of sea lanes around the United Kingdom, particularly those close to sea bird concentrations and holiday beaches, with round-the-clock patrols to detect and apprehend polluters.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn
Would the hon. Gentleman include as a seventh objective the responsibility of the Department of the Environment to ensure that water authorities keep clear estuaries of rivers, because it is known that some of the discharges by manufacturing industry, directly or indirectly, cause some of the pollution to which he has drawn attention?
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing that matter to the attention of the House. Indeed, the water authorities should take action to stop the dumping of sludge, which takes place in the Mersey Estuary, because they are amongst the worst offenders in creating pollution in that way.
I urge the Government to consider this matter before the House goes into recess. Otherwise, our green and pleasant land will become a very green and poisoned land.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I shall try to please my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by being brief and by not asking that the House do not adjourn for one week. I ask my right hon. Friend for another week, because I think that in that period both the Government and the Opposition would benefit greatly, and that they would return with some fresh ideas.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I would agree with that remark as far as it applies to the Opposition Benches.
Before I suggest what that time should be used for, I should like to pay tribute to our colleagues from Ulster. We have heard some horrifying stories. Very rarely do we hear any tribute to the Members themselves, whose job of representing Ulster constituencies must be terrifying. Not being in such a situation myself, I should like to pay a personal tribute to them in view of what they must put up with.
I ask that the extra time be used by the Opposition partly in having a weekend at their leader's farm, and perhaps finding a new leader and thinking up some fresh ideas, instead of attacking us for the state of affairs which they have produced by their profligate expenditure over the last five years, whereby the interest on the money borrowed, on the national debt increase, would pay for another health service.
The extra time could be used also by the Cabinet, whose members might have a weekend at Chequers during which, I suggest, they promise, at least among themselves, that they will never again have a year of legislation such as this one. I think that that will appeal to the Leader of the House.
Secondly, I suggest that the Lord Privy Seal or whoever speaks about the European Community puts over to the House and to the country the fact that we are all too quick to criticise the European Community, but that we are members of it. Like many of us in the House who fought in a war, I believe wholeheartedly that the one great benefit that the European Community has brought about is an end of wars where they have started before, between France and Germany. The European Community can bring 1561 benefits to foreign policy, and we ought to emphasise that.
Mentioning a concern to my constituency, I have to say that we must not forget that the common agricultural policy, although perhaps not run as perfectly as it should be, is the insurance of the whole of our agricultural community at home—farmers, farm workers and landowners—and that without the CAP they would have no insurance for their future.
I hope that the Leader of the House will bear those two points in mind.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Before the House adjourns for Whitsuntide, and since there seems no chance whatever of a debate upon the plight of the fishing industry, I should like to call the attention of the House, particularly that of the Leader of the House—whom I do not think is listening—
§ Mr. Johnson
I call attention not only to the sad plight of our fishing industry but to the constantly accelerating pace of its decline, and hence the urgency of the matter. I have with me a telegram from one of the firms in Hull which I should like to quote to the Leader of the House to illustrate what is happening:For your information, one of our senior executives has just returned from Cuxhaven and Bremerhaven and he informs us that the deep water vessels operating or laid up in those ports are to receive subsidies totalling 60 million marks from the Federal Government during 1980. We cannot survive against such heavily subsidised competition and unless H.M. Government take immediate steps to remedy the present situation, J. Marr and Son's entire fleet of 25 fishing vessels will cease to operate.This is happening to firm after firm—Torn Boyd and Co. Ltd., for example, and many others which I could cite. Therefore, I am warning the Leader of the House that, if matters in Hull do not change, we shall be liquidated.
The Hull Vessel Owners Association has gone into voluntary liquidation as an association looking after the dock; and firms are left as units, fishing if and when they possibly can. People in Hull are feeling 1562 the worst malaise that one can possibly imagine. They think that everyone's hand is against them. They get hammers striking them week after week. They do not know which way to turn.
We must be fair about this. We have taken our case into the boudoirs of No. 10, after a meeting with the Prime Minister in the mayor's parlour in the Guildhall in Hull, where the lord mayor looked after us. I shall not go over past events. Although the Leader of the House is not a fishing man, he knows our difficulties. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food knows them even better.
Basically, there are two difficulties which must be overcome. One of them is the matter of the EEC and its quotas. These are completely unfair. I need not go into details about that. We ask that, at the June meeting of EEC fishery Ministers, our case be put not only with expertise and knowledge but with determination—which the Prime Minister has shown on numerous occasions.
Fishing has always been the Cinderella alongside agriculture. We have often asked for a Minister of fishing but have never got one. Even under a Labour Government we have never got a Minister such as the Norwegians have, among others, to look after fishing affairs. We have been a Cinderella for decades. However, we now think that we have found a fairy godmother. When we met the Prime Minister, we found that she was not only knowledgeable but sympathetic. Therefore, I appeal to the Leader of the House to convey my thoughts— more than my thoughts, my beliefs—to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Agriculture to illustrate how we feel in Hull.
The pace of acceleration of the decline is meaningful to the nth degree. I am indebted to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), because he made half of my speech for me. As many other hon. Members must have done, he saw a television film about Hull and the condition of the port, which included Hull skippers who went—on behalf of the Government, I suppose—to investigate the conditions of cheating. That was the term used by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, but that is a polite term. Deceit, subterfuge and lies surround us in the EEC with our so-called partners, the French in particular. 1563 But the Granada film made all this out. Those who saw it cannot but be appalled by the unfair and dirty competition that we constantly face about our shores.
That is why the matter is so urgent and that is why I am now pleading—I do not often plead—on behalf of my constituents in Hull, and people beyond Hull. Other ports such as Fleetwood and Grimsby may be suffering in similar fashion, but not to the same extent as Hull. If this state of affairs continues, we shall be finished in less than 12 months.
Cod wars or not, last year we landed in Hull only 11,000 tons with our own boats. We are dependent upon our past enemies—so-called—upon the Icelanders, who landed 144 vessels in our port last year and kept the fish market going.
That is the position, and that is why I now make this appeal. I hope that I have convinced the Leader of the House, who is very perceptive in these matters, about the urgency, which is continually accelerating and doubling up on itself. I ask him to convey all this to the Minister of Agriculture and to tell him to do his best at the June meeting. My belief is that his best will not be good enough. We have too many enemies in the EEC fishing world. Perhaps we shall not get what we want. What will happen to my people in Hull between June and September? J. Marr and Son, Tom Boyd and other firms will cease their fishing operations. They are all apprehensive, We have many enemies. We now seek help from high places.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I am glad that I caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and since I have sat here since 2.30 pm I have rapidly concluded that it is in my own interests as well as those of other hon. Members if I am as brief as possible. Before supporting the motion, I should like to ask for some reassurance about the problems facing the greatest industry in Britain, whether measured in terms of manpower or output. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know that I refer to the construction industry.
It is worth recalling some of the basic statistics. More than 1¼ million people are engaged in the construction industry. That represents almost 5 per cent. of the 1564 total working population of the United Kingdom. In comparison, that is more than four times the number of those engaged full-time in the agriculture industry. However, I recognise that agriculture is also important. If one adds to that figure the hundreds of thousands of those who produce materials, manufacture equipment and provide services to the construction industry, one finds that almost one in 10 of the total working population is directly or indirectly engaged in the construction industry.
In spite of the recent recession, last year's total output reached the colossal amount of about £19,000 million. That figure is well over twice the gross output of the agriculture industry. Indeed, agricultural output was estimated at £7,250 million. The former figures are very high and conceal the fact that there has been a decline in real output since 1973. The construction industry now regards 1973 as its golden year, and, since then, a continuing recession has taken place under successive Governments.
The construction industry has two particular worries. It fears that the recession will continue, with plans for a greater decline. Secondly, there is a high level of unemployment in the industry. The latest figures show that 196,000 construction workers are registered unemployed. Although that figure is not as high as it was in 1978, it represents about 13.6 per cent. of the total number of registered unemployed. That means that the rate of unemployment in the construction industry is three times higher than the national average, at a time when the national figure is high.
Not all is doom and gloom. There has been some buoyancy, and the repairs and maintenance sector has boomed. Nevertheless, the figures and trends are exceedingly worrying. I recognise that there is a political problem. The voice of the construction industry is not heard in this Chamber as often as it should be. The reason is quite simple. Construction workers are evenly spread over the United Kingdom. There are no construction seats in Parliament, as there are farming, car industry and mining seats, waiting to be won and lost at the drop of an electoral threat or promise. The construction industry is important. The Government should pay more attention to it.
1565 At both national and local levels, the Government are the construction industry's largest clients. Although we may argue about the level of public sector capital projects, it is essential that the industry should know where it stands. It is essential for it to have a smooth flow of work. It is a long-term investment industry that needs to know what level to plan for. As its largest client, the Government should be more forthcoming about their plans and designs. I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that the House is given some reassurance—perhaps in the form of a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment—and that a debate will take place on this subject, if not before we adjourn for the Whitsun Recess, shortly after we return.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
After my participation in last night's debate on Iran, some of my colleagues may think that I should do the decent thing and take Trappist vows, at least until November. However, before adjourning, we should do our best to clear up a mystery. Did the Government know that American forces used the base at Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, during their military operation into Iran? I also wish to refer to the related issue of the Downing Street blocking of parliamentary questions.
You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that I have been raising this issue for some time. I thank you for your courtesies last week. My interest in Diego Garcia is not of recent origin, nor does it follow simply on the heels of a headline. On 12 November 1970, I asked the former Prime Minister what discussions he had had with President Nixon about a joint United Kingdom—United States base at Diego Garcia. Mr. Maudling replied:I have been asked to reply.The details of my right hon. Friend's exchanges wiih President Nixon are confidential." —[Official Report, 12 November 1970; Vol. 806, c. 255.]On 15 December 1970, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), then Prime Minister, replied to a question that I had asked. He said:I am now able to state that in accordance with the terms of the United States-United Kingdom Exchange of Notes of December, 1566 1966, published in April, 1967 (Cmnd. 3231) Her Majesty's Government have agreed to the construction by the United States Government of a limited naval communciations facility on Diega Garcia atoll in the Chagos Archipelago. The United Kingdom will assist in its manning. It will provide communications support to United States and United Kingdom ships and aircraft in the Indian Ocean."—[Official Report, 15 December 1970; Vol. 806 c. 327.]On 16 December 1970, I raised this issue under Standing Order No. 9. It was not allowed by the former Speaker, the then Mr. Selwyn Lloyd. I pointed out that:the decision represents a new turn in British defence policy by facilitating and introducing a static United States military presence in the Indian Ocean for the first time."—[Official Report, 16 December 1970; Vol. 806 c. 1371.]It is relevant to note some of the terms of the Exchange of Notes. They are:(1) The Territory shall remain under United Kingdom sovereignty …(3) ConsultationBoth Governments shall consult periodically on joint objectives, policies and activities in the area. As regards the use of the facility in normal circumstances, the Commanding Officer and the Officer in Charge of the United Kingdom Service element shall inform each other of intended movements of ships and aircraft. In other circumstances the use of the facility shall be a matter for the joint decision of the two Governments.According to a report in The Times, which has never been refuted and which has been endorsed by conversations with people who might be expected to know, Diego Garcia was used during the buildup of the American military mission to Iran. If the Government wish to refute that Diego Garcia was used—I gave the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's office warning of this—I should be happy to accept that refutation. The Government had many opportunities to make such a refutation, but no refutation has been forthcoming.
There are two possibilities. The first possibility is that the Government knew. The second possibility is that they did not. Either way, serious issues are involved. If they knew, why did the Secretary of State for Defence reply to a question that I put to him on 28 April as follows:I shall continue with my speech because there is a great deal that I want to say in a debate covering the whole range of this ubject. I do not know the answer to his question ".—[Official Report, 28 April 1980; Vol. 983, c. 997.]That referred to a direct question which I put during the defence debate when I 1567 raised the matter of Diego Garcia. Indeed, the Secretary of State in a written reply of Friday, 2 May, when asked about personnel said:These personnel are permanently stationed at Diego Garcia, and they include eight radio operators and communications engineers."— [Official Report, 2 May 1980; Vol 983, c. 697.]If the Government did not know, why did the radio engineers not report the facts of the matter?
For the sake of greater accuracy, my hon. Friends the Members for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and I wrote to the Prime Minister on 29 April and said:Dear Prime Minister, You will recollect that we raised the Diego Garcia issue in relation to its use by an American Task Force and C141s with you and your Ministers. Could you tell us the date and time when you first knew that Diego Garcia was being used by Americans in support of their operation to the Iranian desert?We got a courteous reply on 1 May which did not answer the question. It said:In accordance with the terms of the 1976 Agreement on the support facility in Diego Garcia, the US Commanding Officer has kept the Officer in charge of the UK element informed of movements of ships and aircraft. The UK Officer in charge has reported them regularly.That does not answer the direct question that we put to the Prime Minister.
If the Government did not know, the matter is even more serious. If the Prime Minister only learnt for the first time on the radio on the Friday morning that British territory had been used for a military operation without the British Government knowing, delicate and fundamental issues are involved concerning the House's relationship with Downing Street and the arbitrary block of parliamentary questions by diktat of the Prime Minister.
To be fair, this Prime Minister has been very good about not transferring parliamentary questions of substance, and her actions in relation to Diego Garcia are out of character with her attitude to parliamentary questions. That, too, is possibly a cause for suspicion, that suspicion being that Downing Street accepts questions that are considered convenient, and blocks inconvenient questions. I believe that there was a block on a question that I tabled on 14 May 1568 which was due to be answered today. The question to the Lord Privy Seal was:At what point he or Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington was informed to the United States' intention to use the Anglo-American bases at Diego Garcia for the purpose of making possible the American military expedition to the Iranian Desert.That question was tabled, but was ruled out of order on the grounds that questions would not be answered—although it is legitimate to raise the matter in debate—about movements from allied bases. However, I tabled the following question for Friday 9 May to the Secretary of State for Defence:Whether he will list the route and stopping points used by Hercules aircraft carrying vehicles for the Cambodian relief operation, listing the dates on which it stopped at Cyprus.That question was accepted by the Table Office and remains on the Order Paper. How is it that, since Cyprus is an allied base, this innocent question stands, while the less innocent question of Diego Garcia falls? Is there one rule for what are arguably British bases and another for what could be called Anglo-American bases? If so, it would be a service to the House to make this point explicit before we go further into discussions on the siting of the cruise missiles in East Anglia.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of the Diego Garcia episode. Yesterday, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence:If he will clarify the precise powers of Her Majesty's Government over the release of cruise missiles based in East Anglia, in relation to the powers of the United States Government, specifying whether, in the calamitous circumstances of a nuclear war, arrangements have been made for consultation with the Americans on the use of cruise missiles in the few minutes available; and whether Her Majesty's Government will have at every stage of any nuclear confrontation, the inalienable, unqualified and unconditional right of veto over their use.I was referred by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the RAF to an answer that the Secretary of State had given to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). In my supplementary question I asked:In that reply there was a reference to joint decision. Does 'joint decision' in that context mean dual key control of the missiles?The Under-Secretary replied " No ". 1569 This raises very fundamental and urgent issues in relation to the Anglo-American relationship. If a Prime Minister resorts to a blocking device simply for the overriding reason of our relations with other countries, I personally do not complain too much. But it can hardly be said by a Prime Minister who has authorised sanctions against Iran that she does not want foreknowledge of the use of British territory to embarrass our relations with the Iranians. If that was what she was concerned about, she would not be calling for sanctions.
In all conscience, I have taken up enough time of the House in the last 24 hours. But there is an urgent issue here of precisely what is meant by " joint decision ", affecting not only the direct question of Diego Garcia, but also its consequences for cruise missiles based in East Anglia.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I wish to raise two subjects of great public concern which should be brought to the attention of the House and perhaps debated before the Whitsun Recess.
First, there is a question of great and growing injustice of which a democratic Government must take increasing note and do something about, namely, the subject of the rates. I say " injustice " because, in a parliamentary answer that I received today, I discovered that one-quarter of ratepayers were too poor to pay income tax, whereas one-quarter of income taxpayers, who are relatively rich compared with those who do not pay income tax, do not pay any rates. It is probable that those income taxpayers are using a far greater proportion of local authority services than those ratepayers who are not paying income tax. That demonstrates, beyond peradventure, the injustice of the present situation.
I should like to concentrate on water and sewerage charges. I am sure that we all have within our constituencies several 80-year-old widows who are living in relatively large houses in which they once lived with their husbands, since deceased, and children, since departed to other parts of the country. These elderly ladies do not use a great deal of water— I do not suppose that they have many 1570 baths every day. Some of them may even be constipated, and I doubt whether they use the sewers to anything like the same extent as a smaller house up the road with four adults living in it. Yet the situation is such that these elderly widows are required, in many cases, to pay up to £3 a week for water and sewerage. When they write to me, I get in touch with the local water authority to ask what can be done about it. I get an almost impertinent answer, that if these elderly people wish they can pay a capital charge and have a meter installed. This would make very little difference in the overall amount that they would have to pay.
The provision of water and sewerage services throughout the country costs £1,600 million. That is a lot of money. If we are not to raise this through the current water and sewerage rates, we must raise it in some other way. There is an argument that it should be raised through water and sewerage rates because the people who are raising the money would be the people providing the service and therefore they would be more responsive. However, I think that that construction is something of a joke. Very few people would look upon the water authorities as being responsive to public opinion at present. I would prefer therefore, that this money was raised in different ways.
The Government are rightly in favour of increasing work incentives and are worried about the " Why work? " syndrome. It would be improper to increase income tax to pay for the charge. However, I understand from Treasury statistics that 1 per cent. VAT would raise £800 million. If VAT were increased by 2 per cent., the income would cover the entire water and sewerage services in the country. One per cent. only would cover the cost to the domestic ratepayer. The Government are concerned about the retail price index. However, if it is correctly constructed, whether the money is raised through VAT or through water and sewerage charges makes no difference. The Government should consider the charge I have suggested in detail.
Another matter of great concern to the country—although I sometimes wonder whether the concern is reflected in this House—is immigration. A basic right of a country and its people is to decide who should be its citizens and 1571 live within its borders. Again using Government statistics, for every 1,000 births to white mothers in 1975–76, there were 78 births to coloured mothers. Three years later, in 1978–79 that latter figure had increased to 93. We also know that for every 100 white births there is one further coloured birth from mothers born in this country. Therefore, for every 10 white babies, one coloured baby is now born in this country. I do not say that there is anything wrong with that, but it is a fact that we should note. This proportion is increasing, and the probability is that by the end of the century the proportion will be one in seven.
That population in time will reproduce itself throughout the country. In 50 to 70 years' time, the coloured population in Great Britain will be equivalent in size to the entire population of Greater London. Colour may not have a lot to do with it, but they will be people who, in the main, have different cultures, backgrounds and, to some extent, loyalties. I do not complain about it, but it is a factor to be taken into account.
To the figures that I have posed, despite the recent immigration rules, we have to add the incoming population from other parts of the world of people of different cultures and backgrounds. That number is sufficient every two years to populate a new parliamentary constituency, as I said yesterday. Figures from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that the current population of Great Britain will have doubled by the end of the century. Hon. Gentlemen will suggest that I am wrong to say this, that it will stir up racial prejudice, and that to do so is appalling and racist. I have no personal prejudice, but the people of this country are interested and concerned.
The measures that we have so far introduced will not affect those predictions. Despite the honourably made commitments of past Governments, I ask the Government to seek alternative policies. Unpleasant though they will undoubtedly be, and offence though they undoubtedly will cause, we must consider policies that will have an impact on those figures.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
I should love to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for North- 1572 ampton, North (Mr. Marlow), particularly with regard to water, because his Government are responsible for the increased charges. However, I have promised my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) that I shall not be long.
I notice that a professional journalist will reply from the Labour Benches and I believe a semi-professional journalist from the Government Benches. That is interesting, because I can see no professional journalists in the Press Gallery. I do not know whether they are obeying press laws and having the day off. That too, is interesting, as the press has been saying that people should turn up for work. Members of the press attack hon. Members on silly and futile grounds such as subsidised food, which the press also has, or yellow socks or a pink shirt. It is a pity that they are not here to listen to the debate.
I have two or three serious points to raise. For 25 years, which is a long time, I have tried to institute security measures in the Palace of Westminster. Unfortunately, it took the death of an hon. Member before security was tightened up. For 36 years, I have been trying to institute fire drill in the Palace of Westminster. No one in the Palace knows what to do in the event of fire. We have visitors, including children, in the Palace. To my knowledge, there has never been a fire drill. I have heard a whisper that at long last we have made progress. We should all know what to do in the event of a fire, especially in view of recent incendiary bombs. Not one hon. Member does. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure during the Whitsun Recess that a proper fire drill is devised and that everyone is aware of it.
Secondly, the law courts will also recess for Whitsun. Today, in another place, the Lord Chancellor castigated workers for taking a day off. That is quite right. However, higher legal charges result because the law courts and the entire legal fraternity have long holidays. The Ronan Point incident occurred many years ago, and it has only just been resolved, with millions of pounds involved. Will the Leader of the House consider in the recess whether we could speed up the judicial system, where fabulous fees are paid for long-drawn-out processes?
1573 My third point concerns the transfer of nuclear waste. Secrecy on overseas bases has been mentioned, but it is even more difficult to find out what is happening with the dangerous nuclear waste that travels through my constituency and all the industrial areas of London. There is also no security. I took a mock-up bazooka on to Stratford station at midnight. We asked the railway people when the trucks were coming through. They told us. We took photographs, and had the opportunity to do any damage that we chose. That is still going on.
I do not know whether it is true, but I have heard that Queen Mary college has established in my constituency an experimental nuclear reactor.
Are the safety precautions sufficient to protect us? We could be vulnerable to terrorist attack, and we have just had the Iranian embassy incident. I do not want to see those chaps blowing the nuclear waste bottles sky high. Thousands upon thousands of people would then lose their lives, and we should be nuclearised for 150 years. [Interruption.] It is not a laughing matter. It is serious. I should like the Leader of the House to consider that during the recess.
Last and most important of all, the House cannot recess without paying tribute to West Ham and Arsenal. About 100,000 Londoners and people throughout the country and from other parts of the world met at Wembley. There was no trouble, and not one spectator was arrested. We pay tribute to them. The Scots should not laugh. They are not so good. I am pleased that West Ham won, but I hope that tonight Arsenal will get some consolation with a thundering victory in Brussels. But God bless West Ham!
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I shall be brief, though I am happy to congratulate my hon Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) on Saturday's victory. I am pleased to see that he is still in such good spirits about it, and I am sure that that will continue.
The Leader of the House has the duty of replying to all the points that have been raised. I have selected a few not because I think that the others are not important but because I should like to 1574 hear the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the matters that I intend to raise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) raised the question of people who had been on strike not receiving unemployment benefit that would have been paid if the strike had not occurred. That appears to be a peculiar situation, and I cannot see that a concession on the matter would involve considerable repercussions. Even if the Leader of the House cannot reply today, I hope that he will ask the Secretary of State for Employment to make an early statement and to see whether the problem can be overcome. It should not be left in the form in which it was left by the last letter from the Department of Employment.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) put an awkward question about Diego Garcia which will continue to be put until the Government decide to answer it. It will not be sensible for them to continue to dodge, postpone or avoid the question. It will not go away. We all know that my hon. Friend will not go away. He will come back with the question and will go on putting it. It is a legitimate question which cannot be shrouded in the claim of military secrecy. After all, the operation was supposed to be not a military operation but a different sort of operation. We may have different views about whether that distinction can be drawn, but the House is entitled to a full statement from the Defence Minister or the Prime Minister.
The Government will find it better to come openly to the House to give us the truth. The matter will be probed persistently, and the implications that my hon. Friend put to the House are serious. If we are to have collaboration with the United States on the use of bases, such questions will occur in the future. I urge the Government to choose a proper time to make a statement to the House. Some of us may think that the proper time was the debate on the defence White Paper, but that opportunity was not taken, and there should be an early Government statement.
Two or three Conservative Members have referred to the promises, pledges, indications, or hints—call them what you will, Mr. Deputy Speaker—about the future of the rating system. The hon. 1575 Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) opened the subject in his usual expert manner and he was followed by others, and we all appreciated what was said on that subject.
When references were made to pledges, manifesto undertakings or mandates, all that the Leader of the House could say was that it was a recondite question. I am sure that what he meant was " Don't be such damned fools as to think that you will get an answer from me on that point." That is not satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman gave the impression that once the electorate had flooded to the polls to vote down the proposition of doing away with the rates, that was wiped from the slate and would not reappear.
Obviously the right hon. Gentleman has not been as careful a student of the speeches of the Secretary of State for the Environment as have some of his hon. Friends. I do not blame him for that. The right hon. Gentleman shows his usual discretion. We have all been interested in the speeches of the Secretary of State for the Environment. None of us expects a simple answer to that recondite question today, but I am sure that we should have it some time, even if it means having to listen to another speech by the Secretary of State.
If the time had been available I should like to have raised on my own account the Granada case which I mentioned at Question Time a week ago. That is an important matter for the freedom of the press. In a sense, the case is still sub judice, and I therefore do not ask for an immediate Government statement. However, if by any offchance the verdict of Lord Denning and his associates is upheld by the higher court, the Government should take action, because otherwise some of the journalists concerned will say that they will not reveal their sources.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but the case is sub judice and he ought not to be talking about it.
§ Mr. Foot
I can make what I am saying exactly relevant to the debate. Indeed, if I may be so presumptuous as to say so, my remarks may be even more rele- 1576 vant than some of the other speeches in the debate.
I am not asking the Leader of the House to reply on the merits of the case. All that I ask for is tn undertaking that, when the judgment is delivered the Government will come to the House at an early date and state their view on the situation. That is good advice in the interests of the Government and of the freedom of the press and in order to ensure that we do not have a long interval in which the question is debated and argued about.
I am not seeking to trespass on the rights of the courts. The matter is going to appeal, but, if there is any possibility of the verdict being upheld, extremely serious consequences will be involved and I indicate to the Government that they should be prepared to take action immediately.
A number of my hon. Friends have raised matters of great significance that we cannot settle in this sort of debate. The most important subject, which was raised by the hon. Member for Leek and a number of my hon. Friends, is the appalling economic situation that the country faces. We are going deeper and deeper into the worst recession since the end of the war. Far from relieving the recession, most of the measures being taken by the Government are deepening it further. No one should be under any misunderstanding. Up and down the country, inflation is getting worse. The Conservative Government were supposed to be solving it, but almost every measure that they have taken has made it worse. That applies across the whole field of unemployment. There is not one hon. Member from the great industrial areas who could not repeat the same story that I would relate from my own constituency. The crisis is getting deeper week by week and month by month. All the major actions of the Government are making the crisis more formidable.
People throughout the country are protesting on this day of action. Hon. Members should make no mistake. The protest will grow from one end of the country to the other until the Government either make up their mind to change course or choose to face the electorate and get thrown out. Confronted with a 20 per cent. inflation rate and with unemployment heading for the 2 million mark, 1577 the Government should have a little humility in appearing before the country and the House of Commons. There will be other opportunities to debate these matters. I say only that Conservative Members should perhaps show a little modesty. When they have got the inflation and unemployment figures down to the figures that existed when they took office, they may have some right to talk.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
This has been a wide-ranging debate covering a number of topics. I have a certain sense of déjà vu in approaching the debate. It seems that only the other day we had an equally wide-ranging debate on an even wider range of topics.
I take seriously the words of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) about unemployment. To have a situation permanently in which people are denied the right to work is intolerable. The Government are seeking to tackle the root causes of rising unemployment. We have to face the fact that we are dealing with a world recession, partly due to the renewed upsurge in world oil prices and factors that are outside the control of this country or this Government. We have also to go through a period of bringing public expenditure under control again. We have had to take crucial decisions on the economy and on industries in trouble —decisions which had been postponed for too long.
We are getting to grips with those problems. We are also getting to grips with the root problem that lies at the base of rising unemployment—making United Kingdom industry competitive. This becomes ever more vital at a time of contracting world trade. While the Government are well aware of the difficulties that are being felt in various parts of the country, particularly in Wales, we are determined to continue our course, sure in the knowledge that this is the only way to put the economy on a sound basis. That is the ultimate answer to questions of unemployment.
With regard to Wales itself, we are concentrating regional assistance on areas of greatest need so that it is more effective. The particular difficulties fac- 1578 ing the Welsh economy are recognised by the fact that under present proposals 94 per cent. of the working population will continue to be covered by assisted area status after 1982.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) for taking our debate back to the basic problems of our society, which, in my view, are not economic but moral. I welcome warmly what he had to say about the need for a responsible society and the need to strengthen the institution of the family by our social and financial policies. We have done that. I cite one example. The increase in child benefit in November of 75p will benefit over 13 million children in 7 million families. The cost in 1980–81 will be £160 million, bringing total expenditure on child benefits to more than £3,000 million a year. Of course, we would all like to do more, but we cannot do more until the economy is once more fully productive and competitive. We can all feel compassion, but unless that compassion is based on a sound economy it is nothing more than a sentiment It can, indeed, become a self-indulgence.
The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton) brought our attention to the specific problem of Scottish unemployment. The answer to these problems, in the long term, must be the creation of a more favourable economic climate and the pursuit of the principles of economic policy that the Government have laid down. His criticisms of Mr. Ian MacGregor are becoming somewhat stale. The hon. Gentleman, I think, rather overstated them. The point about the appointment of Mr. MacGregor is that he is the right man for the steel industry. It is important to get that industry fully competitive in an increasingly difficult world market. His remarks on Mr. MacGregor's age seem singularly inappropriate in view of the hon. Gentleman's proximity to his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). When I look at the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, it seems to me that Mr. Ian MacGregor is almost a teenager.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) about the need to reduce polution from petrol and his suggestion that a filter should be added to new 1579 vehicles. The pollution of the air by lead fumes from petrol is a great and increasing problem in our cities. I see that the highest concentration of lead pollution in the whole country—the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will be interested to know—is in Heath Street, Hampstead. I have nothing against Hampstead. I used to live there myself in the days when I was an intellectual. I gave that up when I became Leader of the House.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will deal with this matter in a reply to my hon. Friend.
We are also considering suggestions from outside bodies on ways to strengthen the present law on drinking and driving. My right hon. Friend will make a statement as soon as possible.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) raised the question of overcrowded prisons in general and the particular difficulties of Strange-ways prison. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recognised, our prisons are chronically overcrowded and the prison services operate under severe strain. In his statement of 30 April my right hon. Friend gave an indication of the measures that the Government will take.
Manchester's problems are severe, but the problems throughout the United Kingdom caused by overcrowding are also severe. Prisons have always come low in Governments' priorities for capital expenditure, but the measures that my right hon. Friend outlined will do something to alleviate that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) raised a number of interesting questions which were of a more or less academic kind but which aroused a certain response and vitality in the extinct or semi-extinct volcanoes on the Opposition Benches. There were several rumbles at that point. It will hardly surprise my hon. Friend if I tell him that it is not the Government's intention to introduce an incomes policy, for the very good reason that, while such policies work for a time, in the end they break down and cause greater troubles than those that they were designed to remedy.
The proposed abolition of the domestic rating system was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks). It aroused an interesting consti- 1580 tutional discussion on the exact status of the mandate, a discussion to which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made a characteristic contribution. It was not particularly enlightening, because it missed the point of the distinction that I was making—that the commitment in our 1974 manifesto was a very precise one which was not repeated in the 1979 manifesto. Neverthless, he will be relieved to hear that those manifestos are easily reconcilable with one another.
The long-term aim remains to abolish the domestic rating system, but we cannot do everything at once. As we made clear in the 1979 manifesto, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has studied, the reduction of income tax must take priority over the abolition of the domestic rating system. That is all that I have to say on the subject. For any further study, I refer hon. Members to the collected speeches of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have not read them recently, but I recommend them to hon. Members without reserve.
We share the concern of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) about unemployment in Liverpool and Merseyside. It is one of the worsthit areas of the country. The hon. Gentleman mentioned small industries and small businesses. We believe that the measures that we are putting forward for small industries and small businesses will be a practical and major contribution towards the alleviation of the unemployment problem. May I say how glad we are to see the hon. Gentleman in his place today? He is his usual courageous and resilient self.
I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who brought us back again, as he always does in his speeches, to basic principles. I very much agreed with what he said. [Interruption.] It may be eccentric, but my hon. Friend was speaking the truth.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)
The right hon. Gentleman misheard me. I said " Back to the eighteenth century."
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is a fairly eccentric remark to come from that source, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes 1581 to go back to the eighteenth century, God-speed and farewall.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the foundations of our morality in this country are the Christian foundations, the foundations of the Judaeo-Christian traditions. I am sympathetic to what my hon. Friend said about sex education, or what too often masquerades as sex education. It is important that people should be properly instructed, but it is vital that it should be done in a family context. While schools undoubtedly have a part to play, they should always take into account that they are there in the place of parents, that they represent parents, that their duties and responsibilities derive from parents and that therefore they should make every effort to bring parents into this type of education rather than phasing them out. Therefore, I believe that what my hon. Friend said was of great utility.
Sometimes my hon. Friend arouses a certain amount of mirth among Labour hon. Members, but I am sure that he has the inner resources to repell such superficial reactions to words which, whenever he speaks, are of profound truth, and by which the House is enlightened. We should be much poorer without them.
I turn to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), who subjected a speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to a certain amount of exegesis. The more the hon. Gentleman spoke about my right hon. Friend's speech, the truer seemed to me the contents of that speech. Although I do not think that that was the intent that animated his remarks, that was the effect that the hon. Gentleman had on me.
Of course it is no policy of this Government to have high mortgage rates. We deplore them, but we must recognise that we are in a world of high interest rates. We hope that as soon as possible interest rates in general will come down, and the mortgage rates with them.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) made some remarks about the march in Lewisham. There is a fundamental distinction between the right to hold a public meeting and the right to march. I think that the right to hold 1582 a public meeting should not be infringed or limited, but I do not think that the right to march is in the same category. When one enters that area, one must consider factors other than freedom of expression. One must think of people's social susceptibilities, the social make-up of a given area and the provocative intent that may be behind such demonstrations. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman in the difficulties that he has had in his constituency.
We have issued a Green Paper, which is a contribution to the discussion. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will welcome views from the hon. Gentleman and others on the difficult issues involved. When those views have been received and considered, we shall be in a position to inform the House of the Government's conclusions, and we shall carefully consider the need for a debate.
I became increasingly nervous as the hon. Gentleman spoke about his second point, the question of MIND. I became even more nervous when I heard the contrary view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), and my nervosity reached a high point with the speech of the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). But that is a reaction I frequently experience when listening to his speeches. At that point, the whole issue was ruled out of order by Mr. Speaker who had returned to the Chair.
That particular controversy was fascinating, but it is obviously a fascinating minefield. During the debate there were present in the House my hon. Friend the Minister for Health and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. They were present throughout the speeches that were made, and I think that that is an indication of their concern about the problems of mental health. I have no doubt that they will—my hon. Friend the Minister for Health has just returned to the Chamber—give serious attention to this issue and to the views expressed. I hope that those remarks will also suffice to satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham. I was extremely impressed by the cogency of the arguments expressed on both sides, but it would need a Solomon to give a judgment upon the issue.
1583 My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) expressed concern about fisheries policy. The Government are determined to achieve a satisfactory settlement of the revised common fisheries policy which fully reflects the needs of the industry. The same concern for the fishing industry was expressed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson). I was deeply impressed by the force and sincerity of his remarks about the threat to our fishing fleet. I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that the Government are in close touch with the fishing industry and are well aware of the considerable difficulty that certain sectors of the industry have been facing. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have announced a package of financial aid for the fishing fleet worth £3 million.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that the Prime Minister is knowledgeable about the industry and sympathetic to its needs. I shall take the opportunity to bring the remarks of the hon. Gentleman to her attention on the eve of the continued negotiations about our Common Market policy. I am sure that his views will have the greatest effect in those negotiations.
§ Mr. James Johnson
Does the Leader of the House fully appreciate that Hull is unique? It is the only distant water port. We are the only port in this predicament. That was the point I wished to get across. Aberdeen is Aberdeen and Lowestoft is Lowestoft. Hull will be finished completely, whereas the others have something else to fall back on.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That point has been made cogently by the hon. Gentleman, and I will convey it to the knowledgeable and sympathetic Prime Minister. I hope that she will be even more knowledgeable and sympathetic as a result.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) raised the problems of the construction industry. I shall convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
I turn back to the most important contributions made by the various hon. Members from Northern Ireland and in 1584 particular the speech of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and that of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). In this House we tend, all too easily, to forget the strains and sufferings to which the people of Ulster are continually subjected. It is good to be reminded of that in these debates when hon. Members raise the matters that they consider most important. I can only say that the Government are determined to continue their struggle against the IRA and, although the IRA, unfortunately, maintains the capability to murder and destroy property, the campaign of the security forces to suppress terrorism through the law continues unabated. There have been a number of important arrests, finds of arms, ammunition and explosives in recent weeks. The most significant of these was the capture of an M60 machine gun in Belfast on 2 May. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present for part of the discussion. We shall continue our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) raised the issue of unemployment benefit, and it was also mentioned by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Under a long-standing rule, a claim for unemployment benefit by a person declared redundant whose employment has not been terminated when a trade dispute begins is treated in the same way as a claim from other workers who lose their employment because of a trade dispute. Where it is imposed, disqualification for unemployment benefit continues until the end of the stoppage unless the claimant obtains other employment in the meantime.
We have no plans to change that rule, but I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the particular case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in order to see whether my right hon. Friend can be of assistance in this matter.
I listened with interest to the remarks about the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the problem of marine pollution. Those points were raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton). This is a matter of concern to many, and the Government will continue to pay close attention to practical measures aimed at reducing the 1585 number of shipping accidents and preventing oil pollution. We shall continue to develop existing arrangements for dealing with oil spills.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) for suggesting that we should have a further week's holiday. I would be happy to get back to the position, which I regard as normal, where the Whitsun Recess was two weeks. That has recently gone by the board. That would be a welcome restoration, and I hope that in the next Session we may be able to move once more in that direction. However, I cannot give a more definite undertaking than that.
I listened, once again, to the speech of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about Diego Garcia. He deploys his arguments with great force and conviction but, alas, I am afraid that I can add nothing to the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 29 April and, indeed, by Mr. Speaker on 1 May. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman—as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—that the right people with whom to pursue his point are the Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker; not myself as Leader of the House.
In relation to water rates I have sympathy with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). The water industry is considering various new and modified methods of assessment.
The views of my hon. Friend on immigration are understood. The important principle is that which was annunciated by the Prime Minister in reply to a question. She said that every citizen born within the kingdom is entitled to equal rights and respect before the law. We are determined to ensure that that principle is upheld.
The hon. Member for Newham, Northwest Mr. Lewis) asked about two important matters—fire drill and the transport of explosive flasks. I have never taken part in a fire drill. I believe that plans are being made to hold one in September. As I do not intend to be here in September, I shall be unable to 1586 take part in it. I hope that the hon. Member's anxieties will be allayed. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the appropriate authority in the House.
The transport of explosive flasks is being examined. I understand that the Secretary of State is satisfied with security measures and that the risks are minimal.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newham, North-West on West Ham's victory. He will be surprised to hear that I am a West Ham supporter. I was particularly pleased with the result and delighted at the peaceful celebrations. It set a magnificent example to the rest of the country and proved that people can enjoy celebrations which express feelings of delight while respecting the right of others to go about their own business free of disturbance.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
Has the Leader of the House considered the possibility of changing his career and joining the diplomatic service?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I imagine that that is a kind remark. I take everything as a compliment unless I am being knocked down, when that attitude is more difficult. My words might be diplomatic but they are meant sincerely.
While I am in a diplomatic mood, may I say a word to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale about press privilege? I do not wish to go into the case, which is sub judice, but I heard the right hon. Gentleman's broadcast on the subject on " The World at One ". In so far as that broadcast related to the position of the press and the importance of its right to safeguard sources, I entirely agree with every word that the right hon. Gentleman said. I congratulate him on avoiding being trapped into a false position by Mr. Robin Day. It was an unequal contest. Poor Mr. Day was so much out of his depth that he seemed like an amateur dealing with a professional.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 23 May, do adjourn till Monday 2 June.