Motion made and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday 16 April do adjourn till Monday 27 April and at its rising on Friday 1 May do adjourn till Tuesday 5 May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 16 April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Thompson.]
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
Before agreeing to the motion for the Adjournment of the House for Easter and May Day I wish to draw the attention of Ministers to matters that affect my constituency. First, there is the threatened closure of the Rheola rolling mill at Resolven, in my constituency. It will be recalled that I sought to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on 23 March last so that the House might discuss the threatened closure of that plant by British Aluminium.
The announcement of the closure decision took everyone by surprise. It was announced to the work force at about 2 pm on Friday 20 March. In its announcement, the company said that it intended to close the Rheola mill at the end of June 1981 because the company's rolled products division had suffered a sharp decline in sales and profit margins due to the United Kingdom recession and international competition, which it said had been intensified by exchange rate movements. As a result, it said, the company's rolling mills at Falkirk, in Stirlingshire and at Rheola were seriously underloaded, and the Rheola factory, the smaller of the two, was particularly hard hit, despite the co-operation of the employees, which had improved the efficiency of that plant.
The decision means that 500 employees at Rheola will lose their jobs. Of course, other jobs in the company will be lost at Falkirk and at the head office in Twickenham. A total of 700 jobs will be lost.
In Neath, as a result of the loss of jobs, unemployment will undoubtedly rise to over 20 per cent. That is not acceptable to the area or to the employees at Rheola. The workers are determined to fight the closure, and the decision is backed by their own trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union, their fellow workers at Falkirk, the Wales TUC and miners' lodges in and around the area. The closure is being resisted, because too many knocks have been sustained (luring the past two years, and not to make a stand now would be to ignore the serious situation in my constituency and the area as a whole.
A lobby is taking place this afternoon involving transport workers. Some workers are coming from my area because of a decision taken by the National Bus Company, through its South Wales subsidiary, the South-Wales Transport Company, to close the bus depot in Neath. That, too, will add to unemployment in my constituency.
We have been deprived of our special development status by the Government. When the Government came to office, unemployment in my constituency was about 7 per cent. Now it has more than doubled. The West Glamorgan county council calculated that the percentage of unemployment in the Neath travel-to-work area will reach 20 per cent. by the summer, and the closure of Rheola will guarantee that figure. It will be not just a calculation but a fact of life.
When I met the workers at the factory last Friday week they told me that they had evidence that the British 689 Aluminium Company was importing from Italy aluminium circles, which are used in the making of kitchen utensils, and are used also by the motor industry. Those items are being produced at Rheola. It is odd that a company should import products that could be manufactured in this country, thus ensuring jobs, while running a campaign with the slogan "Buy British Aluminium by British Aluminium".
I hope that I can be assured that the allegations made by the work force will be fully investigated by the Minister who is responsible. I hope, too, that the development status of the Neath travel-to-work area will be brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Industry and Wales. We must have our special status returned to us now because circumstances in the area are going from bad to worse.
I conclude with this warning. If Rheola is allowed to close there will be bitterness that could affect a much wider area in Wales. I do not utter this warning irresponsibly; I utter it because I am very well aware of the mood of people in the area. If Rheola closes it will not be long before aluminium production in Britain goes the same way.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
It is now well over a month since the Prime Minister, in Belfast, made one of the most important and helpful statements—so far as statements go—that have been made in respect of Northern Ireland for a long time. Her undertaking was that it was the Government's intention to bring the price of electricity in Northern Ireland more closely into line with that on the mainland and, having done so, to keep it there.
It is hardly believable—certainly it is a cause of great puzzlement to the people of Northern Ireland—that more than four weeks have elapsed without any indication appearing about what precisely the Government have in mind and the future rates which might be expected to prevail in the supply of electricity. It would be regarded as difficult to understand if this House adjourned for the recess without the i's having been dotted and the t's crossed on the Prime Minister's statement. I hope that the fact that the Northern Ireland Office and, I believe, the Leader of the House have been given notice that this topic would be raised today will ensure that the information which is urgently needed is forthcoming.
There have been some sounds of the fluttering in a dovecote from inside the Northern Ireland Office, but no more, except an indication, welcome though it was, that the cost of carrying out the undertaking would not fall within the present parameters of intended Government expenditure in Northern Ireland but would represent a net addition.
I am sure that it will be clear to the Leader of the House that businesses—not only those which are struggling to survive in Northern Ireland but those elsewhere which may be contemplating commencing operations in Northern Ireland—regard the prospective cost of electricity as a vital and in some cases a crucial factor. It is little short of cruelty to withhold from Northern Ireland and from those most directly affected the basis of making that estimate.
I will not enter into the method whereby it is proposed that the Government's objective, as announced by the Prime Minister, should be achieved. What is most 690 essential and most urgent is to know what and when, rather than why and how. Nevertheless, it is perhaps worth putting on record again what my hon. Friends and I have stressed before, namely, that to provide a straight subsidy year in and year out for the purpose of holding down prices would be the least satisfactory of the options which are available. We trust that the Government are considering seriously more satisfactory methods of achieving the intention which the Prime Minister expressed.
A more satisfactory method, obviously, would be the integration of the financing of electricity production and supply in Northern Ireland with that in Great Britain as a whole. After all, there is considerable internal subsidy inside the supply of electricity in Great Britain. But the fact of it and the quantity of it are not thrown up into stark relief either by a Prime Ministerial statement or by a separate entry—as it might be if it were a mere subsidy—in the Estimates for that part of the United Kingdom. It would be all to the advantage—and it would give a much greater sense of confidence if it were by an allocation of costs within the electricity industry of the United Kingdom as a whole—if the desired result were obtained.
Standing upon that proposition, it is obvious that more logical and practical still would be the physical linking of electricity production and supply in Northern Ireland with that of the rest of Great Britain. It is, after all, in the last resort artificial and, if artificial, inherently unstable that the approximation of charges in Northern Ireland should be achieved merely by an ad hoc financial operation.
There is no reason why the linking of electricity production and supply in Northern Ireland to that in the rest of the United Kingdom should not bring with it economies—and economies felt not only in the Province but on the mainland. That is far and away the most important matter which I want to bring to the attention of the Leader of the House. I emphasise again the practical urgency, and the urgency in the context of employment and unemployment, of the earlist possible statement and, if possible, a precise statement before the House rises for the recess.
But there is a linked matter to which it may be permissible to refer—the kindred source of energy, namely, gas. I can illustrate the urgency of a decision here from circumstances—they are in the domestic sphere—in my constituency.
In one of the towns in my constituency there is a housing estate belonging to the Housing Executive where the heating and energy are supplied by gas. Not surprisingly, the tenants have found this so intolerably expensive and uneconomic that the Housing Executive had a scheme on the stocks to replace the gas supply to those houses by solid fuel heating. That has been held up, much to the dismay of the tenants, the reason being—it is not a reason with which I can, in isolation, quarrel—that the Housing Executive is waiting to know what is the future of the gas supply in that town and in Northern Ireland as a whole.
The Government may have been under a misapprehension that when they made their thumbs-down announcement in July 1979, soon—perhaps too soon—after coming into office, they had settled the matter of the future supply of gas in Northern Ireland. The debate, which has continued not merely unabated but in an increasingly lively manner since then, must have shown them that they were mistaken. Now, ironically enough, it 691 is the Government's own decision to include the supply of gas in Northern Ireland among the topics rumoured to be under discussion in the ill-fated inter-governmental studies which followed from the Dublin talks of last December which has made gas supply in Northern Ireland once again a directly live issue.
Clearly, it is unreasonable to expect the Housing Executive or anyone else—be it a private or a public corporation or industry which depends for its operations at present upon the use of gas—to live in this state of suspended animation, not knowing whether Northern Ireland is finally to dispose of—I was about to say by euthanasia, but it will hardly be a process painless enough to be so described—its existing gas industry or whether that industry is, as we believe both essential and in the long run inevitable, to be replaced by a supply of natural gas which would put Northern Ireland in many respects upon a level and competitive footing with the rest of the kingdom.
Here again, lack of information and the length of time taken to review what an increasing number of people regard as a mistaken decision of 1979 is having a direct and visibly harmful effect upon the maintenance and the stimulation of industry and employment in Northern Ireland.
I thought for a moment that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) wished to intervene. It is simply the natural impatience of Leicester while Down, South is carrying on. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that other parts of the United Kingdom will have their innings in a few minutes, if not seconds.
I cannot say that the time scale of urgency in this matter of the gas supply is quite on a level with that of the matter of electricity costs. The statement should not have been made—we are all glad that it was made by the Prime Minister—if the Government were not ready promptly to follow it up with firm information. That could be, and I hope will be, forthcoming this afternoon. Not long behind it there should be firm information about the intentions of the Government in regard to the competitive or alternative source of energy, natural gas. I hope that this afternoon the Leader of the House has been provided by the Northern Ireland Office with a little more than the formulae used too frequently already in the past four weeks.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Before we adjourn for the Easter Recess I should like to draw to the attention of the House some of the problems associated with commuting. I should perhaps admit to having indulging in the pastime myself between Westminster and my constituency, and I therefore declare an interest. I should like to make it clear that although a number of my comments have general application to that endangered species, the captive commuter, I intend to draw largely on the experiences of the many people from my constituency who daily travel to London and sometimes manage to return.
The Government are to be congratulated on having referred the subject of London and South-East commuter services to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. This gave the travelling public the opportunity for a full investigation to be made of what seems to many to be so much dependence placed by so many commuters on so few services. I also congratulate British Rail on the initiative that it launched last year with its publication "Towards a 692 Commuters' Charter". This, as was to be expected, led to considerable debate, which should be of great benefit to the rail users themselves. Both initiatives have produced publications that have the additional value of keeping the carriage-incarcerated commuter fully occupied on his travels.
I should like to quote two conclusions from the commission's report which are particularly worrying. First, it says:The quality of service in terms of punctuality and level of cancellation is currently below that offered in 1974.Secondly, it says:Performance in general falls well short of the standard suggested in the Board's publication 'Towards a Commuters' Charter' in punctuality, cancellations and cleanliness'It comes as no surprise to say that many of my London-bound commuters find these statements alarming, although not unexpected. It comes as no surprise, equally, to say that they regard these as the most disturbing of the findings of the report. Travelling to work is a necessary evil, and one that it is to be hoped can be achieved with the minimum of inconvenience. The public, paying both as rail users and through taxation, have a right to expect a certain level of standard to be achieved at reasonable cost. Indeed, the commission's report suggests thatThe Board should consult customers to ascertain the value they place on changes in loading, reliability and frequency of service relative to fare levels."'I am certain that my local commuters would concur with that view.
The last of my quotations from the "Good Book" is the observation:We find that to some extent the Board could reduce their costs by improved efficiency without reducing the quality of the service which they provide. To some extent also, the quality of the service provided could be improved without any increase of the Board's costs".I am equally certain that my local commuters have a sneaking feeling that this has been the case for a long time past. The quality of service need not be strained.
The actual cost of purchasing a season ticket is, naturally enough, a contentious subject, made all the more so for travellers living in Welwyn and Hatfield, because they have to suffer what are termed "above average" fares created by above-average increases. This appears to be in consequence of the electrification of the service giving rise to the gloriously entitled Great Northern Electrics. Glorious though their new station in life—if one may dare use such a phrase—may be, their reliability has been accepted by British Rail as being most unsatisfactory, because of rolling stock design problems compounded to some extent by train crew shortages. It is a poor exchange for hard-earned extra cash, as seen by my constituents.
I know, however, that British Rail Eastern Region is very much aware of the difficulties that are being encountered and is determined to do all that it can to alleviate the situation. Once more, the value-for-money concern is inevitably in local people's minds.
I should like to make a special plea to the Leader of the House to give urgent consideration, once again, to the concept of tax relief on commuter fares, perhaps linked to season tickets. It could be simple to administer—the old ticket being submitted as proof—and an effective help to the hard-pressed rail traveller. For many families, travel to work is almost as essential as a roof over one's head. Tax relief on mortgage interest is, thankfully, in existence. Commuter relief awaits to be born.
693 We are all made aware that this is the age of the train. Sometimes, on a windswept rainy platform, with the clock ticking remorselessly on and no sign of approaching lights down the track in the gathering gloom, one is entitled to wonder whether it is not more of a case of being "aged by the train".
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
This motion is being discussed much earlier than usual. It seems strange, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition remarked last week, that we should be debating the motion today, 10 days before the House rises. That is not, however, my reason now for addressing the House. Certain issues could, of course, arise within the next week when hon. Members will have been deprived of raising them on the motion for the Easter Recess. I hope that on future occasions the motion will be discussed during the week when it is proposed that the House should rise.
We shall go into recess with continued rising unemployment and all indications showing that the economic position will become even worse. The Budget has been debated. I do not think that there can be any doubt that events will prove the Opposition right. The effect of the Budget will be to produce even higher unemployment, more deflation and more hardship and misery for the people whom we represent.
I intervene in this debate principally to refer to the situation in Poland. I believe that Opposition Members can speak with clean hands. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have always opposed intervention and agression. I have opposed such action by British Governments and I have opposed other Western intervention on numerous occasions, so I cannot be accused of being a hypocrite when I speak against Russian intervention. That cannot be said of hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, who are at times willing to condone aggression by Western Powers, such as the United States' action in Vietnam, but set up a hue and cry when similar action is taken by the Soviet Union.
The situation in Poland is alarming. I do not believe that the Russian leaders wish to use force, although they have clearly considered intervention since the events of last summer. However, there is now a greater possibility of armed intervention than at any time since last summer. Intervention and aggression against an independent State would be totally without justification. I cannot emphasise too much that whatever the trouble, difficulty and crisis, they are for the Polish people to resolve. No outside Power should intervene with force. An invasion would be a tragedy for the Polish people. Many interventions have occurred in the country's history—some, tragically, in this century. Armed intervention, as in Czechoslovakia in 1968, would leave a legacy of fear and hatred.
We may need to debate the matter before the House rises, because an invasion of Poland would do immense harm to the possibility of improving East-West relations. It would escalate tension between the East and West, especially in Europe, and make more remote the negotiation of an agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States in the strategic arms limitation talks. The Russia leaders should bear in mind that an intervention in 694 the next few days or weeks would be a godsend to the Western cold-war warriors, who do not want relations to improve.
I have always believed that the United States must learn not to intervene. Labour Members have protested bitterly many times about the way that the United States acted not only in South-East Asia but in Latin America, which it looks on as its own back yard. The United States has no moral right to intervene in Latin America, and the Soviet Union has no right to intervene in Eastern Europe, as it did in Hungary in 1956 or, 12 years later, in Czechoslovakia.
The situaton in Poland is serious. I hope that the Soviet Union, too, will realise that there is no justification for armed intervention. The Poles should be allowed to resolve their own difficulties.
§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The House should not rise for the Easter Recess until the Government make a statement on a regional policy for Northern Ireland to combat unemployment, which now stands over 100,000, including 6,000 school leavers.
Ministers and officials all too often talk in terms that mean nothing to people out of work. Bureaucrats juggle with statistics, definitions and concepts that do not give hope to the unemployed. They do so either out of ignorance of the reality of unemployment or deliberately to cloud the harrowing consequences of Government policy. The dreadful jargon of the social scientist deprives debate on unemployment of true feeling, humanity and charity.
The matter is urgent, and the Government should make a statement before the Easter Recess. The Ulster people are suffering from the consequences of terrorism. They need all the support that they can get, but they are treated by the Government as mere cyphers. They are not graphs and statistics; they are human beings. When people have no work, wages or hope, and especially when they are young, immature and relatively defenceless, they need all the help that we can give. With unemployment at over 100,000 it is scandalous that the Government are still not ready to offer hope to the unemployed, some of whom are out of work for the first time in their lives.
About 6,000 school leavers are out of work, and their future is uncertain, bleak and uninviting. A young person leaves school full of hope, enterprise and idealism, and it is sad that all that the Government can offer is a place in the dole queue. It is not good enough. The House should not rise until the Government make a statement announcing a regional policy for the Province to attack the scourge of unemployment.
Last month in Northern Ireland there were only 66 vacancies for young people, compared with 165 12 months ago. That is an indictment of the Government, considering that the Province has a population of 1½ million. The vacancies were snapped up, and, with the state of the order books in Ulster, no more jobs are likely to be available for a while. Welfare workers fear more family breakdowns, delinquency and violence.
The Government's policies are not doing much to provide young people in the Province with useful and interesting occupations. They must offer hope. Will they consider extending two schemes that can provide more opportunities for the young? The job release scheme attracted only 1,050 applicants for early retirement. Retirement should be encouraged at an age younger than 695 64 for men and 55 for women, which would significantly increase the number of applicants and so provide more jobs. The short-time working compensation scheme has saved about 20,000 jobs. With 100,000 unemployed, a part-time job is preferable to no job, and that scheme should also be extended.
There is a third way in which the Government could help. There are many others, but I mention just three. The vast cuts of £13 million a year ago, following two other serious cuts in housing finance, have so starved the Housing Executive that it is now building far fewer houses than it should and thus failing to provide the homes that are desperately needed in Northern Ireland. The Government should provide that money so that housing may be provided, particularly for young families. Jobs would then be available for those in the construction industry who are out of work. Only a week ago I spoke to a young man who had served one and a half years of his apprenticeship. He has now lost his job, because the building firm by which he was employed has no orders. That firm would be able to employ him and many others if the Government put money into the building industry rather than paid people to queue for the dole.
I wish to deal briefly with two further matters. The young people of Ulster already suffer from the consequences of the Government's economic policy and the high level of unemployment, but they also suffer in another way. They suffer from the religious apartheid in education, which has existed for far too long, as a result of which Protestant and Roman Catholic children are divided during their most formative years. It is ludicrous for the Government to say that they wish young people to get to know one another when they continue to justify a religious ghetto mentality in education.
A week ago the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland spoke of the value of shared holidays for young people, which the Government were prepared to finance, but the value of such schemes will be limited and of short duration, because when the boys and girls come back from the holidays very few of them will get together again. The money invested is therefore of little use in ending the religious divide in the Province. The real answer is for the Government to have the courage to decide that taxpayers' money shall not be used to support segregated education, which divides the community. The future of Ulster largely depends upon changes that we make now to eliminate sectarianism wherever it is found. It is entrenched in education and it must be rooted out, certainly with the abolition of the three teacher training colleges.
Finally, before the House rises for the Easter Recess the Government should make a statement about the Anglo-Eire study group. It is possible that the discussions at present taking place pose a threat to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in the long term. The Government's silence means that people in Northern Ireland are afraid of the consequences of those talks. Certainly, the Eire Prime Minister and his Ministers interpret the talks as a means to achieve a united Ireland in five or 10 years. Indeed, Mr. Haughey is prepared to abandon Eire's neutrality in horse trading with the United Kingdom.
The day may not be far off when Eire will abandon neutrality to play a more active role in Europe in return for something from the United Kingdom and the Common Market. I believe that Northern Ireland may well be 696 traded, as Mr. Churchill was prepared to abandon it during the last war. It would be disastrous if, as a result of the present negotiations, cruise missiles were sited in the island of Ireland when the people of these islands should be working for a nuclear-free Europe.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
Before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess we should consider, briefly if necessary, the insidious effects of unemployment and other factors on good race relations in this country. I hope that the Leader of the House will take this opportunity to provide some reassurance. Unfortunately, when people are unemployed and suffering deprivation they are far less likely to accept differences of opinion and differences between people than they are when economic conditions are more favourable. As unemployment grows and deprivation increases, and people become more unsettled and ill at ease, they become less inclined to accept the democratic process which is the basis of all our freedoms. In those circumstances, one would hope that the Government would be trying hard to set at rest the anxieties of minority communities. Unfortunately, that is not occurring.
The march and rally of Asian people yesterday was forthright in its condemnation of Government policy. I use the term "Asian people" advisedly. It would be wrong to call them immigrants, as many of them were born in this country. They are citizens of this country, they are entitled to the same treatment as anybody else, and they object fiercely to any legislation which creates differences between our citizens.
In addition to the unease created by the present unemployment and economic disaster, there is acute anxiety created by a series of developments which greatly increase the worries of citizens who consider that it is a fundamental job of the Government to ensure that they enjoy the same rights as anyone else in this country. When those rights are attacked and outbreaks of Fascism or racism occur, they expect the courts to come to their aid. Those of us who were present at Question Time earlier today were saddened by the statistics that the Attorney-General gave showing the great difficulty of bringing the few prosecutions that are brought and by hearing the problems that he explained in obtaining convictions.
None of this helps to provide a settled atmosphere in which people can continue to work together for happy community relations. In the city of Leicester, part of which I am privileged to represent, we have a very large, good-natured Asian community, which has built itself into the structure of our society as an admirable family community, law-abiding and kindly. It looks after its old people and is willing to do jobs that others are not prepared to do. It is scarcely surprising that that community is anxious about the developments to which I have referred.
In Leicester there is a growing realisation of the dangers that the downturn in the economy and the upturn in unemployment bring. For example, when an unpleasant and dangerous organisation called the New National Front recently decided to hold one of its provocative marches through our city the chief constable called for it to be banned. I am pleased to take this opportunity to congratulate him on taking that step.
Unfortunately, however, that is not the end of the matter. I wonder whether the attention of the Leader of the House has been drawn to the remarkably full and 697 courageous exposé in today's Daily Mirror of a new organisation which, alas, has its headquarters in Leicester, in what is alleged to be an illegal drinking club. It is headed by a former National Front figure of some stature. The organisation is made up of people devoted to Nazism, racism and Fascism and to the creation of hatred in a city which is notable for good will.
At present minority communities of all kinds are showing a cool, sensible and intelligent appraisal of the dangers. They are not demonstrating alarm. They retain their faith in the democratic system, the police and the courts. The Government should carefully consider how that attitude can be built upon and helped in a time which is becoming increasingly difficult for people who are concerned in so many ways with the maintenance of good relations between the many communities in this land.
Before we adjourn, a related matter should also be considered by the Government—the good relations and clear understanding of Britain's policies which have for so long been fostered by the BBC World Service. That service has contributed to the great understanding which many of our citizens, including the majority of hon. Members, have been privileged to obtain because, as a bonus by-product of the service, we have been able to listen to the broadcasts, particularly at times in the night when there is seldom an alternative to music that enchants our children but drives us to distraction.
The notification that the service is to be restricted abroad should strike dismay into the minds of anyone who is concerned with the perpetuation of that picture of Britain which was built up during the war and which the BBC World Service has magnificently preserved since. People who benefit from the service will be equally upset that a new transmitter will beam signals further and faster across parts of Europe but narrow the beam so that it is kept away from many parts of the United Kingdom.
I ask the Leader of the House to give both those matters his attention. It would be sad for the House and for us all if either situation deteriorated before the House resumed.
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney)
Before the recess the House should discuss the continuing charitable status of the so-called Moonies, or Unification Church. The House should also consider the operation of the Charities Act in the light of the recent statements by the Charity Commissioners, their understanding of the law regulating charities, and their power to remove from the register of charities such organisations as the Unification Church and the Sun Myung Moon Foundation, its associated body.
I raise the topic, heartened by the fact that within 48 hours of a motion being tabled calling forthwith for the ending of the charitable status of the organisations it was signed by no fewer than 140 hon. Members. I hope that more will sign.
Last Tuesday in the High Court the longest libel action on record ended. At the end of six months of careful consideration before a highly experienced High Court judge, the jury took what was, in the context of a six months' trial—and, from the Moonies' view—a derisory amount of time—only five hours—to find that the Daily Mail was fully entitled and truthful when it set out a horrific picture of the cult's activities.
698 I do not propose to rehearse the details of the allegations against the organisation. I am satisfied that any commonsense person who follows events will have had the opportunity to consider the evidence against the sect published by a wide range of newspapers, including The Times, which also faces an action for libel but which I hope will not now be pursued.
Evidence has also come from the other side of the Atlantic. Each body that has had occasion to investigate the sect's activities has come to the same conclusion—that its activities are evil and contrary to the public interest. Evidence shows not merely that the sect is damaging to vulnerable individuals but that, through the tentacles of its operation, it poses something of a threat to organised society.
The matter was considered by a high-powered committee appointed by the House of Representatives, and the Fraser report contained a scathing indictment of that cult's activities in America. All the evidence available suggests that the same is true of the cult's activities here.
We have reached a point at which I fear that the House may have to become embroiled in the issue. My purpose is to argue that it should not be so. It is so only because of a particularly obtuse statement by the Charity Commissioners, issued with unseemly haste following the verdict by the jury on Tuesday.
I have two propositions. First, I believe that the Charity Commission is wrong to say that it does not have legal powers fully to investigate the activities of the sect and thereafter, if what was said at the trial is true, to remove it from the register of charities or, peremptorily and without recourse to further investigation, to remove it from the register. In refusing to do that it is acting in ignorance of its true powers in such a way as to call into question the effectiveness of that body as the guardian of a status that should not be abused. It is a scandal that that status is being abused by the cult.
Secondly, if it is true that the 1960 Act does not give the Charity Commission power properly to investigate such matters and to come to the conclusion that I suggest it should come to, the House should take an early opportunity fully to investigate the law. We must ensure that we draft a more cogent statute, which enables a body of commissioners, properly instructed and properly intending to carry out that purpose, to take the action that any man in the street believes to be appropriate.
What did the Charity Commission say? It issued a statement on 3 April saying that it had carefully considered the rider by the jury in the recent Daily Mail caseto the effect that the Unification Church should cease to have charitable status because it is a political organisation.The statement said that the Commission haspower under the Charities Act 1960 to remove a charity from the Register of Charities on the ground that it no longer appears to the Commissioners to be a charity.It set out details of the two registered charities—The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity and the Sun Myung Moon Foundation—and their alleged aims and objects. The commissioners stated:After careful consideration the Commissioners remain of the opinion, in the light of the information available to them, that these objects are exclusively charitable in law and that the two institutions have not ceased to be charities. Accordingly, there are no proper grounds on which they can be removed from the Register.The statement went on to dilate on the question of political activities. Finally, it stated: 699Concern has been expressed about another aspect of the alleged activities of the Unification Church, namely, the complaints that impressionable young people are 'brainwashed', and that they leave their homes and are subjected to a harsh regime, and in some cases make over property. It is argued that this cannot be for the good of the community, and must be contrary to public policy, and that the advancement of a religion involved in such methods should not be a charitable purpose. However, this is not a question that can be finally determined by the Commissioners. It is one for the High Court or for legislation by Parliament.If that were an accurate statement of the law, the law in that respect would be an ass. However, that is not the law. I have arranged a meeting for 11 o'clock tomorrow morning with the chief commissioner in an attempt to persuade him that his view of the law is wrong. I shall take up a few moments of the time of the House to persuade hon. Members that the commissioners' view of the law is wrong.
While it is fair to say that the chief commissioner has accepted with proper speed the request of a group of colleagues and myself to see him, I am not encouraged about his attitude to the matter, as a result of some interviews that have been relayed on the radio today. It appears that he is saying that those of us who have criticised him do not understand the law. By one or two off-the-cuff remarks he appears to be implying that this is yet another instance of publicity-crazed Members of Parliament and lurid newspapers getting together to denounce a body, namely, the Charity Commission, which is carrying out a responsible job according to the guidelines in the statute.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I wish to strengthen the hon. Gentleman's resolve at his meeting with Mr. Fitzgerald tomorrow morning. A Select Committee, of which I am one of the few remaining members, investigated the Charity Commission in 1974. I do not know whether we were publicity-crazed. The Select Committee was disappointed with the attitude of the Charity Commission towards its responsibility in law to charities. If the hon. Member were to be critical of the Charity Commission he would only be reflecting the views of a Committee of the House.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I am familiar with the Committee's 1975 report. Recent events have established how unfortunate it is that earlier action was not taken on that report. We might have been spared having to raise the matter now. I should make it clear that the chief commissioner did not use the phrase "publicity-crazed MPs", but the implication was clear to me and would have been clear to anyone listening to the broadcast.
I am encouraged that my view of the law is right. No sooner had I arrived back at my office, having done the broadcast to which I referred, than I was telephoned by a senior member of the Chancery Bar regularly practising in charity matters. He was at pains to describe his distress at the complacency and inaccurancy of what the chief commissioner said about his powers. He said that he believed that my view of the law was right, as does The Times in an interesting leading article today.
Therefore, the Charity Commission, in taking its present stance, opposes not only a large number of hon. Members but a virtually unanimous view throughout Fleet Street that it is not acting as it is entitled. Added to those voices should be the voice of Mr. Hugh Francis, QC, a distinguished lawyer, who was responsible for carrying 700 out the last investigation that the commission ordered, under section 6 of the Act, into the activities of the Exclusive Brethren. In the Daily Mail today he expressed considerable surprise at the way in which the commission had acted.
Mr. Francis said:I should have thought this matter is worthy of investigation and I am surprised that they haven't been struck off the register. I don't believe the very fact that the object of the organisation is religious necessarily means that it is a charity. In order to be a charity you have to carry out your purpose in a manner which is beneficial to the community.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those of us who live near Stanton Fitzwarren, which is near my constituency of Swindon, have had firsthand experience of this sect? We have been unhappy and have been in touch with the Charity Commission and the Treasury over the years, but without any good result. I hope that the commission realises that hon. Members are concerned about that organisation. Something ought to be done about it, as such different treatment was meted out to the Exclusive Brethren, which was investigated in depth. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he has much support in the matter.
§ Mr. Mellor
I know that if other parliamentary duties had permitted the hon. Gentleman would have wished to meet the chief commissioner tomorrow. I shall pass on his views to the commissioner. The hon. Gentleman has considerable knowledge of what the cult gets up to.
I shall consider what the Charity Commission said and where I believe that it is wrong. I challenge its use of the phrase "after careful consideration". It issued the statement after a mere 72 hours. What did it do within that 72-hour period? Did it review all the evidence given in the trial which led to the jury's forthright verdict? What did it consider, and how much investigating did it carry out?
Yesterday, one of the commissioners told the press that the talks had been "short—but not hurried". Reading between the lines, that suggests that the most peremptory consideration was given to the matter. Nothing that could be called an investigation, in any decent use of the English language, was carried out. That is dereliction of duly by the commission.
The commission also said that the objects of the charity were exclusively charitable in law, as if that were the end of the matter. I adopt the line of argument advanced by Mr. Francis, the distinguished lawyer to whom I referred. I have read the Act with care and the relevant section several times over. There is nothing in the Act that says that the commission is restricted, in its view on the matter, to the aims and objects set out. It would be nonsense if it were.
As the Daily Mail rightly says in its leading article today, a Satanic cult, provided that it dressed up its ambitions in the right phraseology and apparently was religious, and provided that its aims and objects were to promote a religion, albeit a religion that would be repugnant to almost everyone, would qualify as a charity. Is that what the House intended when the Act was put on to the statute book, or is it what the law is? The Charity Commission is wrong to say that only the aims and objects matter. I shall later quote from the statute to show why that is wrong.
701 The commission then dealt with brainwashing. I am glad to note that that aspect of the matter is to be taken up by the Department of Health and Social Security. The commission said that:It is argued that this cannot be for the good of the community, and must be contrary to public policy, and that the advancement of a religion involved in such methods should not be a charitable purpose.When considering that passage in the commission's statement, The Times said:Here the commissioners come to the heart of the matter, and suddenly they fade away. It is not … a question that can be finally determined by them: it is one for the High Court or for legislation.The Times takes issue with that interpretation, and so do I.
I shall quote briefly from the 1960 Act in support of my argument. Section 4(3) says:Any institution which no longer appears to the Commissioners to be a charity shall be removed from the register".The Act then gave reasons why a charity might have been removed—for example, a change of purpose, or the fact that the charity had ceased to exist. The remainder of the clause does not in any way modify the absolute power of the commission to remove an institution that no longer appears to be a charity. That is the basis for what The Times, Mr. Hugh Francis and I say. Without more, and merely having received the verdict of the jury and having seen, as common-sense people, how carefully the court considered those matters, the commission could have removed both organisations from the register of charities. It could have said that if those organisations dissented from what had been done they could go to the Chancery Division and prove that it was wrong. One rather hopes that this organisation would have been good enough to recognise that another visit to the British courts would not be in its interests or the interests of anyone else.
But let us say that the Charity Commission took the view "Yes, there is a prima facie case for concern about the allegations of brainwashing and the rest of it, but we would like to know more." Then one turns to the power that the commissioners have under section 6—and a very wide power it is. There may be some hon. Members present who can recall the debates when the Act was passed into law in 1960. I have reread the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill and there is no question but that the House thought at that time that section 6 gave to the commissioners the widest powers to institute wide-ranging inquiries into any aspect of a charity's work that they saw fit to investigate.
Section 6(1) says:The Commissioners may from time to time institute inquiries with regard to charities or a particular charity or class of charities, either generally or for particular purposes".There could be no wider power than that.
Subsection (2) provides:The Commissioners may either conduct such an inquiry themselves or appoint a person to conduct it and make a report to them.That is a wide power to do as they see fit in terms of appointing a commission of inquiry.
Subsection (3) goes into detail as to how the commission can institute the inquiry. It says that it canrequire any person … to furnish accounts"—702 that would be particularly useful in the case of these charities, having regard to the vast sums of money that seem to flow into their coffers, some £1.8 million last year—and statements in writingand further, that the inquiry canrequire any person … to attend at a specified time and place and give evidence or produce documents in his custody or control which relate to any matter in question at the inquiry"—that is, it can require any fellow citizens to appear before it.
Subsection (4) strengthens that power by saying:For the purposes of any such inquiry evidence may be taken on oath".I do not know what the commission expected Parliament to do. How could Parliament reasonably have given it a more all-embracing power, if it thinks that there is something wrong with a charity, to investigate it?
The saddest thing about the lamentable way in which the commission has conducted itself in this matter is that the commissoners are convicted out of their own mouths. One has only to contrast what they have done in this matter with what they did a few years ago, when the question of the charitable status of the Exclusive Brethren arose. I have before me a press notice issued by the Charity Commission on 11 May 1976 in which the commission sets out impeccably the law as I, The Times and many other people see it. The commissioners say:It is an overriding requirement of every charity that its purposes must be for the public benefit. There is a presumption that a trust for the advancement of religion is charitable, but it is a presumption which can be rebutted.That is a succinct statement of common sense, because we all know that it is not good enough for a charity or any body just to describe itself in glowing term; its actions must live up to its words. As a statement of law, it is simplicity itself and clarity itself, and it is absolutely right.
The commissioners go on to say why they invited Mr. Hugh Francis to look into the Exclusive Brethren. They say:The purpose of the inquiry was to obtain evidence of the doctrines and practices of the Exclusive Brethren, including any separate sub-divisions of the sect and to advise whether any of the said doctrines and/or practices were contrary to public policy and, if so, whether they were so contrary to public policy as to render the trusts non-charitable.It is clear what the commission is saying there. It is saying that it can look at the way in which a body is operating in practice and, regardless of what is said in its objects, it can, if it is so minded and if it is persuaded by the way in which the charity is conducting itself that it is not in the public interest, remove that charity from the register. If it was right in 1976 to take that view, why is it so wrong to take that view today?
That is why, although the consequence may be that I obtain publicity for saying so and would therefore appear publicity-crazed, I say that the Charity Commission is failing in its public duty in taking the stance that it is taking over this issue, and that it should do more. It should either peremptorily remove this organisation from the lists, as of now, or announce an inquiry with a reputable QC to conduct it. He would need to do no more than merely consider the evidence as it was given in the libel trial, because there one has an inquiry before the High Court into the activities of the sect.
I do not want to weary the House, but I should like to make one other point which arises directly from what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) was 703 saying.It is true that this matter was looked at in 1975. A number of my colleagues, including the hon. Member for Lewisham, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) have kept an interest in the matter. One man who kept an interest in the matter is no longer with us—driven into retirement, some say, not least because of the harassment that he received from the Moonies. That is Paul Rose, who will be remembered with affection by many who knew him in the House and by those of us who did not know him here but knew him as a practising barrister.
Mr. Rose raised this issue several years ago, in words which can only be called prophetic in relation to the present debacle concerning the Charity Commissioners. In 1977, he said in the House that the Charity Commissionerrefuses to consider the interlocking matrix of organisations which take advantage of the charitable status of the parent charity, the Sung Myung Moon Foundation, and the other charity and which promote political propaganda. He takes no cognisance of the pattern of fraudulent collecting and the convictions for collecting without permits … He is blissfully content to ignore the heart-rending letters of parents and families torn apart by their activities".He went on to say that the Charity Commissioner had wider powers than he admitted to. He claimed that no one had bothered to examine the Moonies' source of finance and the relationship between the charitable and commercial aspects of the cult. He said that Moon's British followers were paying for their leader's luxurious lifestylethrough the benevolence of the Charity Commissioner, who has eyes but will not see."[Official Report, 23 February 1977; Vol. 926, c. 1587–90.]How well that ties in with what has been happening in the last few days, and the revelation in a newspaper today of a brand-new Rolls-Royce, costing £50,000, locked away in a garage in premises owed by the cult merely in case the Reverend Moon himself should try to descend on these shores, and—even more relevantly—be allowed in by the Home Secretary, which one hopes he would not be. That is the charitable purpose for which people go out in the streets and collect money, although many of them are dunned, by a quite different description, into contributing.
Therefore, even at this eleventh hour, I hope that the Charity Commissioners will have the good sense and wisdom to change their mind on this issue. I believe that if the commissioners did so they would have the broad support not only of those who have studied this matter closely but of anyone who is concerned that charities should be an important part of our life and should not be abused, degraded and brought into disrepute by the activities of such bodies. If the Charity Commissioner does not change his mind, we would be very wrong to let the matter lie where it does, as we did six years ago, because assuredly it will not go away; assuredly there are other bodies, equally unattractive, which are climbing on to the back of the Moonies' kind of organisation and being registered.
These religious cults are already an unnatractive disease in America. They are spreading across the Atlantic to us. This House would be very foolish if it did not take firm steps to make sure that, even though in a free society people must be free to disseminate matters, even if they are nonsense, they should not do so hiding behind the cloak of respectability of a charity and at the public expense, bringing in vast sums of money which should, 704 in truth, be taxed, just as all of us are taxed, and which at present, owing to the turpitude of the commissioners, is going untaxed.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) brought the subject of the Moonies to the attention of the House. As he said, the cult of the Moonies has exercised our minds for some time, but without result. I wish him well in his attempts to bring their activities into the open and to ensure that they are not granted charitable status. They are probably not entitled to it. Although l cannot join him tomorrow morning when he visits the Charity Commissioners, I should be happy to render him any assistance that he might require in the course of his campaign.
A great thing about the House is that it enables individuals to seek redress. I shall oppose the Adjournment of the House—both for the Easter Recess and for May Day—until a constituent of mine has received redress. It may seem a small matter but it is important to me and it is certainly important to my constituent. He was arrested and put in a cell for 19 hours for a peccadillo. My constituent, Mr. Malcolm Hancock, had the temerity to turn right at a "no right turn" sign. He was caught, taken before the court and fined £20. As was his right, as a Britisher, he thought that the penalty was inordinately great. I do not know whether I or other hon. Members agree, but he thought so. He decided to protest, not by refusing to pay the fine—he was prepared to accept the court's judgment—but by making a small gesture.
Mr. Hancock wrote out a cheque on a piece of toilet paper. It was a very reasonable piece of toilet paper. It took the ink and the cheque was legible and legally drawn. However, the clerk of Swindon magistrates' court would seem to be a mountebank of the worst order. He decided not to accept it. My constituent sought advice from his solicitor, who said that the cheque was legally drawn and that there was nothing wrong with it. The solicitor said that anyone could draw a cheque on anything. My constituent also contacted his bank manager, who said that he would honour the cheque.
In those circumstances, Mr. Hancock decided to send the cheque back to the court. When he returned the cheque he told the clerk of the court of the advice that he had received from his solicitor and from his bank manager. He heard nothing more about it until he received a summons to appear for non-payment of fine. The summons stated that if he had paid the fine he could ignore the notice. As Mr. Hancock had heard nothing from the court about his cheque—which was properly drawn and which would be honoured by his bank manager—he decided that he had paid and that the matter was at an end.
The matter was not at an end. Not long afterwards a couple of policemen arrived at his house, arrested him and took him to the cells. They kept him there for 19 hours. Mr. Hancock suffered the indignity of being arrested in front of his neighbours and of being incarcerated. He had his freedom removed for 19 hours simply because he had turned right at a "no right turn" sign. He was imprisoned for nothing, because he had paid the penalty.
I was greatly perturbed by the case. Justice should be tempered by mercy and administered with wisdom. The clerk of the court obviously lacked wisdom. If he had any sense, he would have accepted the cheque, paid it into the bank and drawn the money on behalf of Her Majesty. My 705 constituent came to see me about this issue. I decided that I should write to the Lord Chancellor and to the Home Secretary asking that the matter by investigated and put right. I believed that a grave injustice had been done to my constituent.
I have not yet heard from the Home Secretary. He is taking quite a long time to reply and I imagine that he is undertaking an in-depth inquiry into the actions taken by the clerk of the court. I wrote a most respectful letter to the Lord Chancellor. I did not even say that I should be obliged if he investigated the matter. Like Uriah Heap, I said that I should be grateful if he would investigate the matter. However, he wrote me a letter that made all sorts of suggestions against my constituent. He even suggested that my constituent had insulted Her Majesty. But Mr. Hancock is the most ardent royalist. The letter also said that the incident might teach my constituent that the manners of a gentleman are not incompatible with a sense of humour. I had not expected such a comment from the Lord Chancellor. I have replied and I do not intend to reply further.
I regret that Her Majesty has been brought into this issue. She has not only a sense of humour but the wisdom to ensure that such incidents do not result in subjects being arrested and incarcerated for 19 hours. She has too much wisdom for that. In addition, Her Majesty has good business sense and knows that when any form of money is offered it should be accepted with alacrity and placed in the bank or spent on a good cause. I am concerned about the way in which my constituent was treated by an intolerant and oppressive clerk of the court. That employee of the court took a decision that led my constituent to suffer indignity. It should be made clear to the clerk of the court that he acted unwisely and that he should not do so again. He should not act in an intolerant and oppressive fashion against those who pay their fines, even if they do so in a way that he had not expected. It has to be made clear that he has no right to stand on his dignity because, by so doing, he may undermine the dignity of the court which he serves and of which he is not the master.
I hope that by bringing this matter to the attention of the House we shall get more circumspect actions by the clerk to the Swindon magistrates' court and that it will be made clear to him that Parliament does not approve of his oppressive attitude.
§ 5 pm
§ Sir Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
It is a pity that the House is to adjourn for Easter without a proper debate on the matter raised by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) or on that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor).
I invite the attention of the House to a different matter. I suggest that it is wrong that the House should adjourn for the Easter Recess without having a debate on immigration and its related subjects. It is becoming the forbidden subject. I do not remember when we had the last debate on immigration in Government time or, indeed, on a Supply day. Occasionally, the matter is raised by hon. Members on one side or the other, but it is usually on special and almost adventitious occasions such as Adjournment debates or on the Consolidated Fund Bill at about 4 o'clock in the morning.
706 I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that avoidance of the subject should continue no further. Views on this matter differ considerably. Today we heard the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) give his opinion about race relations and the conduct of people in regard to immigration. I do not agree with much of what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, but that is beside the point. We should express our views on immigration and race relations legislation and practice instead of being subjected to this conspiracy of silence. The public, who feel strongly about this subject, are bound to feel that Parliament is not representing their anxieties or currents of opinion.
The strength of public opinion on the matter arises from manifest and recorded facts. This is not the time to record them. This is more the time to say that they should be debated before the House rises for the Easter Recess. My right hon. Friend should bear in mind the state of affairs revealed by the Registrar General's statistics. He should reflect on the startling increase in the immigrant or immigrant-descended population, its concentration in certain areas and the consequences which flow from that concentration. We saw one of the consequences yesterday, when 10,000 people of apparently Asiatic extraction took part in a procession through the centre of London. A few weeks ago there was an alarming procession which was brought about by a feeling of indignation about a fire incident in South London. There have been other such demonstrations. My right hon. Friend must therefore realise that a great deal of suppressed feeling is not being given expression in Parliament.
The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys tells us that in the whole of the Greater London area, including the residential suburbs which used to be in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent and Middlesex, one birth in every three is to a mother not born in any part of the United Kingdom. When such figures are revealed, who can say that Parliament is entitled to ignore the matter indefinitely? One-third of all births is not necessarily to coloured immigrants but to immigrants or immigrant-descended mothers, whether white, Asiatic or black, not born in the United Kingdom. We should also bear in mind that children born to mothers who were born in the United Kingdom but whose parents came here as immigrants go on the other side of the statistics. Therefore, we are talking of one-third of all births, representing a change inside one generation. Figures for certain parts of London are much higher. In Westminster the figure is about 63 per cent.—two births out of three. In Kensington and Chelsea the figure is about 65 per cent. That represents a staggering rate of change in our population.
The House has not directed its attention to this matter for months—indeed, almost years. It is almost beyond belief that we adjourn for the Summer, Easter, Whitsun and Christmas Recesses without talking about this subject. I know why no one wants to talk about it. It is because it has drifted on for 25 or perhaps 30 years and it has always been awkward. No one has wanted to do anything about it. We can take action on this subject only by being discriminatory. Only by discriminating between X and Y can we do anything about it.
One of the oddities of our generation is that "discrimination" has become a bad word. It used to be a good word. I have often said that discrimination is the characteristic of life—animal, vegetable or whatever. Life is discrimination. Without discrimination, there is no life. 707 We cannot do anything significant in almost any sphere of human affairs except by discriminating. If we are concerned about the rate of change in our population we can slow it down, stop it or reverse it only by what can be called discriminatory action. Because that word has been lost, as it were, to a particular school of thought, nothing is done.
In the end, we reach the point where only minorities have any rights in this country. Nothing is being done and nothing will be done unless the House compels it, because it is too awkward to think of what should be done.
Immigration and the natural increase in the immigrant-descended population are increasing the coloured population of this country by about 110,000 a year. The white indigenous population is declining by about 110,000 a year, taking one year with another. I am using real, not imaginary, statistics. If nothing is done the result will be calculable. Nothing will be done unless Parliament has the courage to face the problem, to discuss it and to decide what should be done, how much we accept and how much we do not accept. That is why I make the brief protest that, yet again, Parliament will adjourn for the Easter Recess without a debate on this vital subject.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) will perhaps forgive me if I do not pursue the issue of New Commonwealth immigration. That is not because I lack respect for the importance of his arguments but because the debate is traditionally varied in the relative importance of the subjects raised. If I try to assess where my subject falls between Commonwealth immigration on the one hand and the perils of paying one's fines by cheques written on toilet paper on the other I place it somewhere in the broad middle of that spectrum. It is the Civil Service dispute.
For at least 500,000 people today the best news will be that the civil servants have decided not to strike over the Easter holidays. Those people will be travelling through Britain's airports or seaports at that time. They will be relieved to hear that decision. The decision is well-advised, because nothing is more likely to make enemies and influence people against what is already an unpopular cause than a further bout of the spiteful sport of disrupting travel arrangements on bank holiday weekends.
We are told that the dispute is about an offer of 7 per cent. made by the Government to the Civil Service. In all the circumstances, that offer is entirely reasonable. We are told that in the past two years civil servants have, on average, enjoyed an increase in remuneration of 50 per cent. To add a further 7 per cent., making a total of 57 per cent., is a substantial increase, whatever the initial salary or wage received at the beginning of that time.
When everyone in public and private industry business and commerce is being asked to exercise restraint and to accept, at the most, single-figure settlements, it is correct for the civil servants also to take that view in the best interests of the country and their own reputation as loyal servants of the Crown. Civil servants enjoy considerable job security—far greater than is enjoyed by those who were made redundant in recent months by private industry. In return for that security and the many perquisites, especially index-linked pensions—something that makes many angry, because they have not a hope in 1,000 years 708 of such a provision for their retirement—the Civil Service might be advised to settle gracefully, as so many others have had and will have to do.
Comparability, as an issue in the dispute, is a matter which must be raised again by the Government in the negotiations. That concept has been more observed in the breach than in the implementation in recent years. There is a certain inconsistency in the Government's commitment to priority for the creation of wealth that they are persisting with the idea that conditions in the public service should be comparable in every way with the conditions of those who create the wealth to pay for the public service. Surely, if we are to give the necessary priority, that must imply that those whose welfare depends upon the wealth created by others must give higher priority to those who created the wealth in the first place. Without wealth there can be no welfare. That sums it up in a few words.
The dispute has raised suggestions about the need for "no strike" agreements for key workers in essential industries. It is clear from the nature of the strike action that the time is ripe for serious consideration of that. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be reassured that I am not raising the issue solely with him. I have raised it at Question Time with the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of State, Civil Service Department. All have been fairly robust in their response to the idea. But all that the Minister of State would say was that the matter was not excluded from the negotiations but that the unions did not wish it to be considered, or did not give the idea any approval. I do not think that that is good enough.
The dispute has, for the first time, raised the issue of the traditional loyalty of our public servants to the nation's interests. If those loyalties are in question, now is the correct time to broach the issue whether "no strike" agreements should be built into the conditions of employment for the relatively few people in the public service who can greatly damage the nation's interests. A few are able to push the Government's economic strategy off course or to reduce the nation's defence capability. if they wish. It can be argued that in a democratic society we must depend on restraint and, ultimately, on consent. That is true, but we are reaching the point where those leading the Civil Service unions have decided that they will pull out all the stops in a highly selective, sophisticated strike action which concentrates on those few pressure points where a limited number of people can do the most damage.
We have seen a handful of people involved in action—only three are said to be out at Portland naval base, and nine at the Ministry of Defence pay computer. Those are the small numbers who have the power that in the past the House has sought to redress because an imbalance of power in society is where tyranny begins. We cannot accept the tyranny of people well placed by the use of computers to throw the switches and disrupt the country's life day by day and do lasting damage.
Less than two years ago a dispute in the billing services of the Post Office caused problems with the borrowing requirement. That involved about £100 million. We are now told that up to one-quarter of the Government's revenue in the past month may have been lost by the civil servants' action. The unions will claim that it was more, but that will probably be bluff.
In The Sunday Times yesterday it was reported that the limited nature of the action meant that of those called out 709 each individual was able to affect the Government's revenues by as much as £800,000. That is putting a figure on the power of one individual to influence economic events.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to assure me that the lesson is not lost on the Government. Although it may not be diplomatic or appropriate to pursue that as part of the current negotiations, it will be recognised that the issue will not go away. It will become increasingly important. The Government give ample scope for further introduction of computers. It is a matter of grave indictment that we have not made further progress in Government and with the unions in bringing computers into activities that are crying out for that application. PAYE is one example.
The more we go over to computers, the more individuals will have the power to disrupt our daily life and the Government's business. In the last week we have seen a dramatic example of how one man with his finger on the button can influence the world. The officer carrying the bag with the code that could mean atomic annihilation was separated from the presidential finger by the would-be assassin's bullets last Monday. The President was separated from the code for half an hour and by a mile. One hesitates to think what might have happened in that half an hour had there been an attempt by the Soviet Union to start a world war. That should bring home to us that we must come to terms not just with computers but with computer personnel.
I am not encouraged by the Government's reaction, represented by seven or eight perfunctory paragraphs in the Green Paper on trade union immunities. Those milk and water sentiments suggest that the issue will be put aside and left to gather dust. Is that the way to respond to the commitment in our manifesto:In consultation with the unions, we will … seek to conclude no-strike agreementswith key workers in essential industries?
Of course there are difficulties in identifying those who would be subject to such agreements. The number could be limited and there are precedents in the Armed Forces, who cannot strike in law, and among merchant seamen, who may not go on strike while at sea. A similar situation is developing in our civil life and I hope that efforts will be made to negotiate no-strike agreements.
If the dispute is not settled this week it is likely to continue through the Easter Recess and perhaps even past the May Day bank holiday. I hope that the Government will give the matter serious attention and will lay their cards on the table, even if the unions do not seem prepared to play the hand at this stage.
Faced with the evident intention of civil servants to disrupt life and to make things as difficult as possible for democratic government, we surely have a right to insist that no-strike agreements should be on the agenda. I look to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and his colleagues to make progress on the commitment in our manifesto.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) down the route that he sought to take us, but I remind him that his Government were elected on a 710 platform of free collective bargaining, to which many of us took great exception, because we realised that they would not implement it, and indeed they have not done so. Much of the exception taken by civil servants has been to the fact that the Government have sought to withdraw from their commitment and have introduced cash limits which are causing such discomfort to so many.
I oppose the Adjournment and wish to speak on a matter similar to that raised by the hon. Member for Romford, concerning the Government's commitment to spend money in areas of great concern to our people.
If hon. Members left the Chamber and walked into the Central Lobby or into the streets of Westminster they would find many thousands of trade unionists who have come from all parts of the United Kingdom to express their view that our transport industry is being subjected to heavy pressure, which is damaging the transport infrastructure.
The delegations have come not so much to press the need for higher wages—that is the Conservatives' traditional interpretation of the role played by trade unions—as to take a far more important role in referring the public and Parliament to the need for changes that have a direct bearing on trade union members and on the public services that they provide.
The transport workers who are lobbying hon. Members draw attention to the fact that in the past one and a half years £204 million has been taken out of the Government's transport budget and that a further £220 million is to be withdrawn over the next two years. They also point out that only 29 per cent. of British Rail's budget is met by the public purse, whereas 39 per cent. of Germany's railway budget is supported by the State and that the figures are 44 per cent. in Holland, 45 per cent. in France, 50 per cent. in Belgium and 68 per cent. in Italy.
By refusing to support British Rail with adequate finance the Government are damaging the infrastructure by forcing up fares, with the result that travellers can no longer afford to use that vital public service. That is the reason for thousands of trade unionists being at Westminster today. They are drawing attention to the considerable damage to BR's infrastructure.
Those workers say that they are supported by the chief inspector of railways, who has drawn the attention of Parliament to the fact that safety standards of British Rail are endangered. The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) drew attention during the Budget debate to the need for a massive public expenditure programme and proposed a major investment in British Rail's electrification programme. The right hon. Gentleman is supported by the review body, which has assembled an immense amount of information to justify early investment in electrification.
The right hon. Gentleman is also supported by the Railway Industry Association, which says that there would be a considerable export spin-off of orders worth perhaps £250 million if Britain set up a shop window of what is possible in an electrification programme. The right hon. Gentleman, or perhaps his hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), also supported the idea of developing the Channel tunnel programme, which is supported by the Transport Select Committee, which has pointed out that the spin-off to the British construction industry would be considerable and would provide the vital jobs that the trade unionists lobbying hon. Members are demanding from the Government.
711 The trade unionists also request an examination of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report, which suggested that additional Government money should be fed into London commuter services, not only to protect jobs but to provide additional services for London commuters.
I have a constituency interest that would benefit from increased expenditure. It would be ill-advised for the House to go into recess before decisions are taken and recommendations made about Government commitments in the matters to which I wish to refer.
The Leyland-National plant in my constituency produces the Titan bus, which was previously made at the Park Royal plant of British Leyland in London. The Workington factory has also undertaken the construction of the new rail bus, which is to replace the diesel multiple units that are in operation throughout the United Kingdom. Many of the DMUs are between 17 and 20 years old; they are out of date and due for renewal
I asked the Secretary of State for Transport what action he intended to take to ensure that essential branch lines in rural areas throughout the United Kingdom should continue and he replied that he was not prepared to see substantial cuts in the rail passenger network. He added:I am glad to see that the board is now looking at new ways of reducing costs on rural branch lines. I am now discussing with it a demonstration project for developing and proving low-cost operating techniques, including the running of lightweight rolling stock, on a rural line."—[Official Report, 11 February 1981; Vol. 998, c. 369.]That lightweight rolling stock is the rail buses that are to be produced at the Leyland-National plant in Workington. Before we go into recess the Government should decide to bring forward major orders for the plant to help it during a particularly difficult period.
Unemployment in my constituency is due to accelerate dramatically over the next few weeks so we look to public expenditure, in the absence of consumer demand, as the only way of creating conditions in which people can be put back to work.
I wish to refer to rural lines in Cumbria as a whole, because British Rail's regional representatives recently invited Cumbria Members to a luncheon in London. During that meeting it was drawn to our attention that track, signalling and rolling stock maintenance in Cumbria stood at £13 million in arrears and that total expenditure last year was only £400,000. That is the measure of the problem in one small locality. It is a problem that stems from the unwillingness and inability of the Government to create a sufficient investment programme for British Rail.
The implications of the Transport Act 1980 have caused problems in rural areas. The effects of the Act are feeding through the system. It is incumbent on the House to review the operation of the Act in rural areas before we go into recess and to establish the considerable damage that is being done to bus transport networks throughout the United Kingdom. These are matters that are referred to regularly in correspondence to my right hon. Friends and they must be referred to in correspondence to Conservative hon. Members. I hope that the Government will take fully into account the vital needs of the British transport industry before they seek to adjourn the House.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I intend briefly to raise two or three issues. Before taking up those issues, I refer to part of the speech of my hon. and learned 712 Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell). He talked about calculable effects—I am not sure whether he was talking about immigration or births—but did not calculate what the effects would be on the population. If we have the debate for which my hon. and learned Friend asked I hope that the Government will produce long-term figures and not merely births for this year.
I give notice that I shall raise in the House the plan to expel pensioners, or those of near pensionable age, from council houses in which they have lived for many years while supporting elderly members of their family—for example, caring for a mother of 99 years of age. Having done that, their reward from the community is to be told that they must leave the house in which they have lived for perhaps over 40 years. I shall raise the matter i n the House but I shall bring it especially to the notice of the local council in Greenwich.
I turn to two of the issues that I wish to raise briefly. First, the debate is in part about whether the House should take May Day as a holiday. I renew my plea that the so-called May Day should be changed. It will not have escaped the notice of the House that from 1979 to 1999 May Day will not fall on a Monday except in two years—1989 and 1995. On two occasions May Day will not fall on the Monday on which we normally take our day off.
We should get rid of this day off, move it back a week or move it closer to January, so that there are four weeks between the so-called early May holiday and the Whit sun holiday. It seems ludicrous that except for the years when Easter falls remarkably late we should have a holiday in May.
I hope that it will be possible to have discussions between those who have an interest—namely. the Government and the Labour Party, which introduced the May Day holiday—on whether it is possible to have the May Day holiday in the week before the one in which we have learnt to have it. I recognise that May Day means a lot to the Labour movement and to those who knew that there was a holiday on or about May Day in earlier years. It seems that it would be to the convenience of both the House and the country if we had the holiday a week earlier. If we had it a week earlier—I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield is not in the Chamber—it would fall nearer to St. George's Day, which means a great deal to some parts of the United Kingdom, although not necessarily to all
The second issue that I wish to raise, which is far more important to the country generally, takes account of the fact that many trade union conferences are held over Easter and during that time of year generally. It is clear that members of trade unions and many others have a great interest in reducing the rate of inflation. It is clear that there is an association between the level of pay settlements and what happens in the rest of the economy, irrespective of the Government's monetary stance.
It is not my intention to say anything about monetarism or monetary policy. I merely say that we all have a common interest in the consequence of pay settlements being discussed rationally. That applies to specific industries and to the combined effect of pay settlements throughout the United Kingdom. I have noticed no motions at trade union conferences that argue for a general reduction in pay claims or the desirability of getting lower pay settlements. If we have average pay increases of 10 per cent. during the current year we shall be in a worse 713 position, given the Government's monetary stance, than if we had settled for an average of 5 per cent. or even 0 per cent.
We have a trade union movement, a Trades Union Congress and a Government that are opposed to an incomes policy. However, that does not mean that we can all chase pay claims without any regard for the effect that the settlements will have on our jobs or on the jobs of others. If we ignore the consequences of pay settlements generally, it will be necessary for central changes to take place in the rest of the economy. That will follow if the Government do not give way on their monetary strategy. I hope that members of the Government will be joined by members of political parties in talking about the importance of trying to generate at least an understanding within trade union conferences of the combined effect of their intentions.
We have all known from the days of Keynes and others about the difference between investment intentions and what actually happens. The same applies to pay intentions. I hope very much for the sake of jobs in Britian—
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the Government's incomes policy is undoubtedly high unemployment. It is the same policy as the one that was operated in the 1930s. How can he explain how many low-paid workers—for example, those in the textile industry—have been made redundant? No one can argue that they have priced themselves out of their jobs.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) will link his remarks to the Adjournment of the House and will not engage in a broad economic debate.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I do not intend to respond to the intervention of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). It was not related to my argument. This is one of our few opportunities to make a plea, to engage the interest of the Front Benches and try to persuade the country to recognise the importance of getting the unions to debate and realise the consequences of their actions.
I recognise that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and I do not always have the same views on what Members of Parliament should be paid. I hope that he will not disagree with me too strongly. Members of Parliament are likely to vote themselves a pay increase of 6 per cent. in the summer, on the ground of setting an example. Surely it would be more sensible if we set the example earlier in the pay round. Even if the increase came into effect in June or July we could discuss a motion a long time before June, preferably at the beginning of the pay round, and set our change in salary for three, six or nine months ahead. In that way we would be able to set an example rather than follow behind.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I have found the debate of unusual interest, as I looked upon it as a test of whether, despite what successive Governments have done, we should have Adjournment debates of this nature immediately before Consolidated Fund Bill debates. I have come to the conclusion that we should not. We 714 cannot blame those hon. Members who, seeing that they are likely to have their Consolidated Fund Bill debates late at night or early the next morning, decide that that inconvenience may be circumvented by talking about the subject in a debate such as this. Other speakers will tend to say "There are hours ahead of us, so we can speak at length in this Adjournment debate".
Today's debate has shown that many constructive speeches—and some destructive speeches—can be made in a relatively short time. Today there have been 12 speeches in just over two hours, and all of them, whether or not one agreed with them, were very interesting.
The most important and topical matter was that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—the question of Poland and the possibility of Soviet intervention in that unhappy country. When Soviet troops entered Czechoslovakia in 1968 the House was in recess, and it was recalled. I hope that the Leader of the House will bear that thought in mind if there should be, as I hope there will not be, another intervention.
I was not so much in sympathy with the interesting point made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell), that we have not sufficiently debated the question of immigrants or the immigrant-descended population. Short of spontaneous generation somewhere in these islands thousands of years ago, I should have thought that virtually everyone in the history of the United Kingdom was an immigrant-descended person. You, Mr. Speaker, and, I understand, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, may be termed English immigrants at least, as both of you hail from the Principality. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley), who so eloquently discussed May Day, got the wrong patron saint. It is not St. George but St. David who is the hon. and learned Gentleman's patron saint.
§ Sir Ronald Bell
May I correct the right hon. Gentleman? I am of purely Scottish descent, although it is true, Mr. Speaker, that you and I had a geographical conjunction early in our careers.
§ Mr. Silkin
Yes, but I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman first saw the light of day in Cardiff, so he has two immigrant-descended processes in his background. The Scottish part makes him immigrant-descended in Wales, and as he was born in Wales that makes him immigrant-descended in England. The hon. and learned Gentleman's fears about lack of debate on the subject can easily be allayed by his taking part in Report stage debates on the British Nationality Bill, when all these matters will certainly be discussed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) raised an interesting question about one of his constituents, inevitably putting those of us who were fond of reading A. P. Herbert's "Misleading Cases" in mind of the milk-white cow that was presented to the Inland Revenue in full payment. I believe that the cow was properly endorsed, as I am sure the cheque that my hon. Friend quoted was properly endorsed. No doubt the Leader of the House will take my hon. Friend's just worries to heart and reply to him.
An interesting point about the Moonies was made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). I am sure that the Leader of the House will have something to say about it. The definition of charitable trusts and what is a religion 715 for the purposes of charities has plagued us and our ancestors since the days of Queen Elizabeth I, in whose time the original definition of a charity was established.
The other matters raised in the debate fell into two basic camps, apart from the skirting of the two by the hon. Members for Romford (Mr. Neubert) in his reference to the Civil Service dispute. The two themes were the Government's intervention in the nationalised industries and the question of unemployment. If one asks the Prime Minister to carry out her undertaking about the price of electricity in Northern Ireland, that means Government intervention. I believe that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was right, particularly in regard to a Province that is suffering more desperately than any other part on the United Kingdom, but the Government will have to intervene.
The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) talked about the plight of commuters. In reality, he was talking about the Government's intervening, which I believe to be right. It is interesting that both he and the right hon. Gentleman are asking for Government money, in the last resort. I know that the right hon. Gentleman says that the matter can be dealt with by a mere allocation, but suppose it cannot; suppose that it can be done only by the expenditure of taxpayers' money. To my mind, it will still be right to do it.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I understand that is is likely that that is how it will be done. What I was suggesting was that there were much better and more reliable ways of doing it, by integrating the electricity industry in Northern Ireland with that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Silkin
I understood what the right hon. Gentleman said. I merely said that "in the last resort" he would go for fairness rather than any other means.
The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield said that in order to bring about fairness we should make commuters' fares tax-deductible. In other words, the taxpayers should subsidise the commuter. The hon. Gentleman said that, after all, the taxpayer subsidised, at any rate to a certain degree, those who bought houses on a mortgage. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it would be better if the taxpayer subsidised the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) quoted the subsidy of British Rail, which is what we are talking about in Welwyn and Hatfield. In the United Kingdom the railways receive 29 per cent. of their revenue from the public purse, compared with 60 per cent. in Italy and various figures in between for Germany, Belgium and France. Those figures show clearly the way in which we should be going.
All the other speeches came down, in one way or another, to the question of unemployment. In Great Britain there is the terrifying figure of 20 per cent. in the Principality. I do not know what the figure is in Northern Ireland, but it is certainly the worst in the United Kingdom, and one that we should be ashamed of. When we see what is happening in that unhappy part of our country, we cannot blame—rather, perhaps we can blame, but we can at least understand how it arises—people who, given that degree of unemployment and despair, tend to take the gun into their hands, when they should be dealing with the matter in other ways. [Interruption.] I did not say that one should sympathise, but one can understand.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I said that the incursion into Northern Ireland of individuals who are determined to change the political status of that part of the United Kingdom by violence had nothing to do with unemployment.
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not dispute that. That is not what I was saying. I was saying that such unemployment and despair are bound to encourage those who seek extreme solutions to problems that might not otherwise exist.
I come back to what is happening in Great Britain and to what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner). He said that the outbreak of racial violence and insults was allied to a great extent to unemployment and the lack of Government aid to those areas where unemployment was highest. I am not saying that it is the only factor, or that it is the only factor in Ulster, but it is a factor. The right hon. Member for Down, South and I lived through and served against a monstrous tyranny which grew up 45 years ago because there was so much unemployment that men resorted to extreme methods. We spent much of our youth trying to stop that tyranny.
§ Mr. Powell
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman treats the matter so seriously, but I must point out that violence in Northern Ireland progressively diminished during the years in which unemployment increased
§ Mr. Silkin
No doubt that is an important issue, but I repeat that unemployment and bad conditions encourage those who use or want to use extreme measures. From that I shall not resile.
This important debate has shown why the House should not adjourn for the Easter Recess. We all know, of course, that it will adjourn, but we also know that the problems will still be there when we return after Easter and that the country requires them to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. More than half of those who have spoken in this debate have spoken about unemployment and the economic difficulties that need to be solved.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House rightly criticised the then Labour Government when, during the debate on the motion for the Easter Adjournment in 1978 he spoke about the high unemployment that existed at that time. He now represents a Government under whom unemployment has nearly doubled since that time. It is now up to him and his Government to see that unemployment comes down as quickly as possible.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)
I thank the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) for what he said in his opening remarks about the nature of this debate and the way in which a dozen or so right hon. and hon. Members have in a short time presented important issues. He said that he thought it right not to have the debate before the Consolidated Fund Bill.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) talked about the timing of the debate, being about 10 (lays before the recess. In my view, the motion ought to be taken at the time and on the day that is most convenient to the business of the House during the two weeks before the recess begins. In the light of the business that I have 717 announced and that we expect to take place next week, I believe that this is the best time. No principle is involved here. It could have been next Wednesday, Thursday or Monday.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North—like the right hon. Member for Deptford—thought that what was happening in Poland was the most startling and significant event affecting the world. He said that the Russians would not wish to use force if they could avoid it. I am sure that he is right. He spoke about the harm that could be done to East-West relations, and I agree with him. Her Majesty's Government have emphasised in statements, and in concert with our European partners, that Poland must be allowed to resolve her problems without outside interference of any kind. It has been stressed at every appropriate opportunity that any intervention would have grave consequences. All of us in the Community have said that. We have also shown sympathy for Poland's plight. We have provided interim help in the form of new export credits for the purchase of food and we have assisted in debt repayment. We hope, none the less, that there will be no invasion and no attempt by anyone to interfere with events in that country.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, unemployment was the anxiety most frequent mentioned in the debate. High unemployment has many causes. This debate is not the place in which to analyse its causes, but unemployment has been caused—in part, at least—by the worst world recession that we have had for 50 years. I do not say that that justifies it, but it is a major contributory factor to the increase in unemployment. The root causes are the deep-seated low productivity and poor labour relations that successive Governments since the war have tried to combat. In the face of the worst world slump that there has been for a long time, the British economy has been at a greater disadvantage than many other economies.
The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), who opened the debate, was the first to draw attention to a particular closure and its effect on his constituency. I assure him that we are acutely conscious of the serious consequences of that closure—if it takes place—to employment in that area. I understand the impact that it will have on Neath and the surrounding area. There is no doubt that the cause is the unacceptably large financial loss of the mill. The decision to close is the decision of a private company, and it is not one in which the Government are involved, although the Department of Industry was told about it.
We have told the company that if a way can be found to re-establish the plant on a sound basis we shall be happy to assist in whatever way we can. However, any selective assistance could relate only to a programme of new investment aimed at safeguarding or expanding employment. I repeat that we are acutely conscious of the effect of the closure and that we shall help in any way that we can.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke about the serious unemployment in Northern Ireland. Unemployment there is perhaps worse than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It is a serious problem, added to all the other worries that affect the Province. New jobs can be established only in a stable and viable economy, and it is the Government's objective to follow policies that will have that result.
718 We have sought and will continue to seek new investment for Northern Ireland, whether from home or overseas, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the mind of the Government, and especially in the minds of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Employment the needs of Northern Ireland are extremely important.
I mention the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who is not now in his place. He referred to some of the social consequences of unemployment, which again are very much in our minds. He stressed the fact that good race relations could conceivably be put in jeopardy if we were not very careful. The desirable aim of achieving good, sound and easy race relations is the objective that all Governments wish to follow, and we are no exception. We are committed to a society in which all individuals, whatever their race or creed, have equal rights and equal opportunities. Members of the ethnic minorities who are born here and who have settled here have as much right as anyone else to live here peacefully. Britain is their home. I assure the hon and learned Gentleman that we have this problem very much in mind.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Sir R. Bell) raised the matter of immigration, which is a subject related to race relations. He complained that the House had not had a substantial debate on this subject for a long time. He made the very fair point that the different views held about it and its different aspects should find expression in the House. He mentioned the report of the Registrar-General and other aspects of the subject. He made a very strong case for a debate, and I shall take it on board as a request from him.
Over the years there have been a great many debates, although I agree that there has not been a substantial one lately. But there will be opportunities for one limited aspect of the subject to be debated during the Report stage of the British Nationality Bill. I should not like to hold out any undue hope of a debate in the near future, because that would be misleading my hon. and learned Friend. However, I thought that he made a very strong case, and I shall take it on board for the future.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised two matters of importance to Northern Ireland. I say at the outset that I am grateful to him for giving me notice of his intention to refer to them. He spoke of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the supply of electricity in Northern Ireland and said quite fairly and truly that, since that statement, nothing had been heard. He pointed out the urgent need for a decision and an announcement about how this would be done, what was to be done, and when it was to be done.
One of my right hon. Friends—I think it was the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—hopes to make a detailed announcement before the end of this month. If that proves to be the case, it will have been approximately two months from the time that the announcement was made. Whereas one would always hope to achieve a more rapid response, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that that is a reasonable response. The matter is being attended to and prepared for as urgently as possible. I think that that is the earliest time when we can give a detailed statement.
As for the right hon. Gentleman's own comments about how the Government's objective might be achieved, I assure him that I shall pass them on to my right hon. Friend 719 the Secretary of State while he is considering the methods to be used. If we can get this statement by the end of this month I hope that that will allay the uncertainty at the earliest possible moment.
The right hon. Member for Down, South then referred to gas supplies and the announcement made in 1979 by the Government that we would not provide funds for building a natural gas pipeline from Scotland to Northern Ireland. The draft order empowers the Department of Commerce to set up a scheme to aid consumers to convert their appliances to other fuels. The right hon. Gentleman was correct when he pointed out that, since then the possibility has arisen that natural gas might be supplied from the Republic of Ireland. That possiblity is being followed up as a matter of urgency. However, in view of the uncertainty surrounding this option the Government are continuing to plan on the basis that the gas industry in Northern Ireland will be run down. That does not answer the right hon. Gentleman's point, but a further definitive statement about it will be made as soon as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman may like to know that for planning purposes the Government are not assuming that the possibility of a supply from the Republic will not be pursued. If, in the end, it turns out to be a viable, sensible plan of action, there will have to be a change. But the uncertainty about it justifies us in approaching it in the spirit that we are adopting towards it.
Then we had two matters about British Rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) spoke about commuters. Commuters in his part of the world, which I know fairly well, are, in terms of service and comfort, probably better served than are many other commuters, even if they have to pay a little more. Obviously I cannot make any comment about tax relief on fares, or the alternative suggested by the right hon. Member for Deptford, but I shall see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is seized of the remarks of my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member and considers them. I think that it is unlikely, just after a Budget, that such a change would be contemplated, but my hon. Friend's point is noted.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is one of those Opposition Members who wanted more and more money to subsidise British Rail, and I think that the right hon. Member for Deptford gave some support to his hon. Friend in that regard. Taxpayers feel that they are probably paying enough taxes at the moment. I am not sure whether they want to find any more money. However that may be, it is fair to point out that this Government have done rather well by British Railways. We have adjusted the board's external financial limits for 1980–81 and 1981–82 to take account of its worsening business position due to the recession. We have provided that assistance, and we have maintained the board's investment ceiling at the same level, in real terms, as that judged adequate by the last Government.
At the moment the important question of the infrastructure is very much a live issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. It is under active consideration, and in due course a statement about it will be made to the House. It is all very well to say how easy it would be to provide this industry or that industry with more money; the question is how it is to be provided. The Government have provided more finance for the nationalised industries than they would have liked to provide. We have done so because of our belief that those 720 decisions were in the best interests of the country and in the best interests of the economy, private and public. In the circumstances of the recession, they were unavoidable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) raised, in a particularly interesting speech, the subject of the Moonies, their charitable status and their activities. He expressed opinions about them that drew much support from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend will not expect me to answer his points now. I am not competent to do so. All that I can say is that this case and all the circumstances and details surrounding it will receive a great deal of attention inside the House and outside it, from lawyers and all kinds of bodies. There is no doubt that what has been revealed by the case has caused a great deal of anxiety. My hon. Friend made a useful and important contribution to the consideration of those issues.
I do not wish to be drawn far into the problems of an individual constituent of the hon. Member for Swinclon (Mr. Stoddart). I notice that this triviality—it does not seem like that to the hon. Gentleman's constituent. but it must be admitted to be a small matter—has been elevated to a high level, and I have no doubt that in due course my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will reply to the hon. Gentleman about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) talked about the Civil Service strike and the desirability of negotiating no-strike agreements. He rightly drew attention to the importance of the work of civil servants and assured me that this issue would not go away. I agree with him. The subject of no-strike agreements is not excluded from any discussions about future pay arrangements, which is at the heart of the negotiations now taking place with the Civil Service unions. Obviously, no-strike agreements raise substantial issues. However, they are not excluded from the discussions. We are anxious to pursue the possibilities and to discuss the subject with the trade union side.
The offer of 7 per cent. is, in the Government's view, reasonable, more especially following the increases that civil servants have rightly received in the last two years. They had been affected by the previous Government's pay policy. There were adjustments to be made. We did our best to make them. In the light of all the circumstances, some of which have been mentioned, the Government believe that the offer is reasonable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) also raised the importance of restraint in pay claims. He referred to the issue of the pay of hon. Members and how the timing might be adjusted. I am doubtful whether that proposal would be practical, but I shall consider the possibilities. Getting inflation down is fundamental to the aims of the Government and, indeed, to the economic needs of the country. Unless we can get back to a time of sound money, the future is bleak. In the end, this is one of the fundamental necessities for creating real jobs. The Government will continue that campaign.
This has been an interesting debate. All the points raised have been important. It is right, however, that the House should pass the motion. The recess is the normal length of the Easter Recess. It comes at the end of the longest term that most hon. Members, I think, will have experienced, being the combination of a rather early return after Christmas and a late Easter. Fourteen weeks will have elapsed. Although the problems will not go away I believe that a pause for a period of 10 days will be acceptable to the House. I do not think that I can do 721 anything about the date of the May Day bank holiday. Whenever it falls, the House of Commons will probably not have any great enthusiasm for meeting on that occasion. I am, therefore, sure that it is also right that we should agree not to meet on Monday 4 May. With those remarks and assurances, so far as I have been able to give them, I ask the House to approve the motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday 16 April do adjourn till Monday 27 April and at its rising on Friday 1 May do adjourn till Tuesday 5 May and that this House shall not adjourn on Thursday 16 April until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.