§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) this House at its rising on Tuesday 28 July do adjourn till Thursday 30 July and at its rising on Friday 31 July do adjourn till Monday 19 October.
(2) on Friday 31 July, upon a Motion being made by a Minister of the Crown at the conclusion of Government business, That this House do now adjourn, Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the proceedings thereon until the expiration of five hours after their commencement, and
(3) this House shall not adjourn on that day until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Le Marchant.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, a large number of important subjects have been put down to be discussed in the second debate this evening on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I wonder whether it would be possible for you to use any influence, within reason, to persuade hon. Members not to protract this first debate excessively.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is a fair point, because it is easy for those who have spoken to disappear, and those who have taken part in the ballot on the Consolidated Fund Bill may find that their subjects are not reached until about 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock in the morning when they should have been reached much earlier.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)
Perhaps I may comment on that matter, Mr. Speaker, because it echoes a note with me. We must remember that tomorrow is Friday and that the House meets at 9.30 am. That means that the Consolidated Fund Bill proceedings must conclude a little before that time, so we are slightly more limited than on some occasions. We must also remember the weight and importance of the subjects and the length of the list. Therefore, I believe there is something in the hon. Gentleman's point. It may be for the convenience of the House if, after a couple of hours or so, I were to comment on the points that will doubtless be raised in the intervening time. We can then see how matters proceed from there.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I should like to associate myself with what the Leader of the House has said and, indeed, with the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). It would be grossly unfair to many hon. Members, particularly in view of the limited time available to us, if this debate were to be protracted for too long. I believe that two hours would be about right.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
It would not be right to adjourn as proposed without the House taking every opportunity to draw the Government's attention to the dreadful problem of unemployment that afflicts the people of this country.
512 I know that we shall be debating this problem next Monday in the debate on the motion of no confidence, but the situation gets worse by the day, and the prospect of more people becoming unemployed becomes not only a nightmare but a fact of life as each month's figures are released by the Department of Employment. The figures that have just been released show that more than 2.8 million people are jobless. That is a crime against the people of Britain, especially the young.
I want to raise another aspect of unemployment that we may not have been accustomed to take into account in the past. Unemployment is no longer a problem affecting only the untrained and unskilled. It now affects those who are highly trained and highly qualified. This week we read about young doctors who cannot find jobs, and we are, of course, aware of those who have graduated from our universities and colleges with no prospect whatever of obtaining employment. What an indictment that is of the Prime Minister and her policies. She and her Government have brought Britain to this situation.
This week I also read with horror the shock forecast that there could be 7 million jobless in Britain within the next 20 years. That forecast was made by the Remploy chief, Mr. Trevor Owen, who said that ever-rising unemployment was inevitable without a total rethink of our attitude to work. I fear that he may be right, for we are getting no recognition whatever from the Government that their policies are the cause of the escalating unemployment from which we are now suffering. Until there is such recognition and their policies are halted, the rush towards Mr. Owen's forecast will accelerate.
Since the Government came to power, unemployment in Neath has risen from 7 per cent. to 16 per cent. I was told about a week ago that, since the Government came to office, unemployment in Neath had risen by 88.5 per cent., but we now know from recent figures that that level has been passed, because unemployment continues to rise.
In debates in the House and on other occasions elsewhere I have called for a restoration of the special development status of which the Government robbed my constituency. I make no apology for doing so again today, and with even greater urgency than before in the face of the latest figures which show that Neath has the highest unemployment in West Glamorgan. The county includes Port Talbot steelworks, where heavy losses in employment opportunities have been sustained. I wonder when the heartlessness of the Prime Minister and her Government will end.
With that heartless attitude in mind, I turn to another matter. My right hon. and hon. Friends have had raised with us in West Glamorgan, and we in turn have represented to the Government, the issue of casual workers employed on a temporary basis in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Morriston in Swansea. We have tabled an early-day motion, we have questioned and written to Ministers and we have met the Minister of State, Department of Employment, but still those people suffer injustice at the Government's hands.
Those young casual workers were taken on by the DVLC for a period of four weeks, which they were told might be extended to about 20 weeks. They were hit by the Civil Service dispute, suspended without pay for a fortnight, and then given the sack. They have been refused unemployment benefit because it was alleged that they 513 were strikers. The Department refuses to issue to them the necessary form to enable them to obtain supplementary benefit.
One of their number appealed against the Department's decision. We were told that the delay due to that appeal was the reason why the matter could not be dealt with earlier. The appellant had his appeal upheld, but the Department still refused to act, other than in a vindictive manner, since it has now appealed against the tribunal's decision. Those workers are still without money. Will the Leader of the House tell them today how they are expected to live? Is he happy that nothing is being done to end that injustice to them?
There is another matter that should be aired today before we pass the motion. The British Gas Corporation made a profit of £381 million last year. Yet, according to Sir Denis Rooke, the chairman of British Gas, the Government are forcing the corporation to increase its prices by 10 per cent. in October, following a 17 per cent. increase in April. I have received complaints from my constituents about this shocking price increase, which is crippling consumers and which the chairman seems not to believe to be justified.
The Minister for Consumer Affairs was elected to the House in 1970 on the promise by the then leader of her party to cut prices "at a stroke". But the only evidence of a stroke that we have is her reluctance to do anything about price rises—for example, the increase complained of by my constituents and by the chairman of British Gas which is being forced upon us by the Government.
Parliament goes into the Summer Recess in a worse shape than at any time since the end of the war. It is not Parliament that should be going away, but the Prime Minister and her wretched Government.
§ Mr. Chris Patten (Bath)
I do not want to detain the House too long this afternoon, but, if hon. Members will forgive me, I should like to make a case for detaining it for a short time in August. But even under my proposal I am sure that we should be able to rise and let Opposition Members get away to the grouse moors by the twelfth.
My reason for wishing to detain the House is, I am afraid, all too familiar. I should like to deal briefly with the history of the matter. My constituency—I speak as a Bath nationalist—was ripped in the most untimely way from the bosom of Somerset a few years ago in one of the saddest episodes in the history of the Conservative Party and the city of Bath.
By a fortunate chance, we had a Conservative group in charge of the destiny of Avon for the first few years of its life, but that was changed this spring when the local elections in Avon were won by the Labour Party. I want to be entirely fair to the Labour Party in my constituency—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because I am a very fair-minded man. When it campaigned in the local elections, it did not say that it would hold down the rates, nor did it pledge that there would be no increase in the rates. It said that there would be an increase of 1p.
However, within two and a half months of winning the county elections in May, the Labour Party announced that there would be a supplementary rate of 9p. That decision was guillotined through the county council, and hon. Gentlemen will be pleased to know that it was supported at county hall in Bristol by the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Patten
No, the Liberal Party is not represented here today. The proposal was, I suppose, an echo of the old Lib-Lab alliance. I think that the Avon Liberals have the same difficulty as the Croydon Liberals—they have not yet heard that their promiscuous party has got into bed with a new Labour Party.
That supplementary rate this autumn, which I dare say will be followed by another big rate increase next spring, will have a number of obvious effects. The local business and commercial community has made it clear that it is a stab in the back. The Labour Party talks a great deal—and the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) has just done so—about the difficulties of industry in the recession. But we all know that Labour Members largely shed crocodile tears. The problems of industry in my constituency and elsewhere in Avon will be made far worse by the rate increase which it will have to bear.
A well-known crane manufacturer in my constituency will be faced with a bill for £20,000 as a result of that increase. An internationally famous printing company will pay an extra £6,500. A small but very successful valve manufacturer will have a bill for an extra £2,800. The chairman of the chamber of commerce in Bath said that every extra £5,000 on the rates will mean at least one lost job. Another local company has said that it will not be able to take on any apprentices this year because of the supplementary rate. Therefore, the first result of the supplementary rate will be to clobber industry and commerce in my constituency and elsewhere in Avon.
The second group that it will clobber are the single elderly, who will face at least an £18 increase in their rate burdens this winter, yet the Labour and Liberal Parties talk a great deal about their concern for the pensioner. I do not believe that there is anything more unfair or more redistributive than the present domestic rating system. In this case, it is redistributing resources from elderly and single pensioners to members of the National Union of Public Employees and to better-off families. Therefore, the pensioner ratepayer is being hit particularly hard, in addition to industry.
Thirdly, my district council is being hit very hard. That district has had a very good record on rates, having managed to hold them down year after year, and it was even able to cut them this year. However, because of the supplementary rate this autumn, it will be faced, first, with an increased bill of £20,000 on its own properties and, secondly, with the cost of putting out new rate demands and adjusting rate rebates, instalment payments and so on. It will have to take on more staff, and that will cost a great deal more money.
I believe that there is a strong case under the Local Government Act 1972—this was one of its better provisions—for the county council to make a contribution to the city council's costs in carrying through that supplementary rate this autumn.
I know that what is happening in Avon is happening elsewhere. Tonight's edition of The New Standard has a front page article about Mr. Ken Livingstone. Until recently, we had been able to regard him as a figment of the imagination, although now we shall have to start paying for him. The article says:GLC leader Ken Livingstone stunned London council leaders by announcing a 120 per cent. County Hall rate rise just 515 seconds from the end of a meeting. … John O'Grady, moderate Labour leader of Southwark Council, said: … 'The GLC is in a Walt Disney situation'.That is true. There is to be a rise of 120 per cent. in London. We have not yet reached that sort of level in Avon, but some people are working on it.
In those circumstances, it is important that we should consider the future of domestic rating, and, if possible, I should like us to do that in August. I know that that raises important constitutional issues. Some people think that we should do away with domestic rating altogether and should, in effect, make local authorities agencies for the Government. I can see the attractions of that point of view, although I have never taken it.
I believe in local democracy. It is essential for local democracy to have a local revenue base. Therefore, I should like to see us controlling that local revenue base, and the powers of local authorities to levy taxation themselves, through more local democracy rather than less, or through more central control. I believe that there is a very strong case for that, using the precedent of parish councils. Hon. Members will recall that parish councils can levy a certain rate but that if they go beyond that they can do so only with the approval of a parish meeting. I should like to see that principle applied to higher tiers of local authorities.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to accept the same concept of limitation to be applied to taxation increases by the present Government?
§ Mr. Patten
That is what we do in this House. As I mentioned earlier, when this decision was taken in the council chamber in Bristol, it was taken on a guillotine, which, of course, would never be done when discussing a taxation measure in this House.
When a local authority wishes to levy a supplementary rate or to increase rates by more than the going rate of inflation, it should be allowed to do so when it has the approval—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I trust that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) is not reading a newspaper.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
I was just glancing at it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not reading it.
§ Mr. Patten
Perhaps I can go on. It was obviously The Daily Telegraph.
I believe that a local authority should be able to act in that way only when it has the support of a majority voting in a local referendum for such a rate increase. I go one stage further. I would apply the principle which I believe was put forward in the devolution debates in the previous Parliament by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who suggested that that majority must comprise 40 per cent. of those entitled to vote. I believe that that proposal would have a great deal of attraction all round.
First, it would attract members of the Labour Party. After all, we would be reintroducing the principle of referendums. The Labour Government had a very successful referendum—I know the right hon. Member for 516 Deptford (Mr. Silkin) will agree with this—on the European Community in 1975. They then had further successful referendums, for which we were all extremely grateful, on the devolution Bills relating to Wales and Scotland. I am sure that the Labour Party would greatly approve of this proposal because it would introduce more local democracy. Anybody who is in favour of reselection must obviously be in favour of giving the ratepayer a bigger say in local taxation. It would be popular with local industry and with local ratepayers as a whole.
I am tempted to go further and suggest the popular initiative referendum that the Swiss have, in which local taxpayers can, I believe, recall a local authority in certain circumstances. But that is a subject that we can consider another day and debate in another August. For this August, I suggest only that we deal with the scandal of the rating system—a scandal made all the worse by local authorities, such as the Avon county council and the Greater London Council, which are piling burden after burden on industry and ratepayers, even while shedding crocodile tears about the effects of the recession.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I seek to oppose the Adjournment of the House until it has had the opportunity to discuss a most important matter affecting the Attorney-General.
The Attorney-General recently decided to adopt—I understand that that is the correct word—the case of Barrs and others in their legal action against Bethell and others. I put down a question to askwhat considerations he bore in mind when deciding to adopt the case".The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:I gave my consent to relator proceedings in the case of Barrs and others v Bethell and others because only the Attorney-General can sue on behalf of the public for the purpose of preventing public wrongs. The ratepayers in this case did not have sufficient locus standi to bring the action in their own right."— [Official Report, 20 July 1981; Vol. 9, c. 19.]I regard that as a most unsatisfactory reply, partly because it sounds as though the Attorney-General was obliged to say "Yes" to the application by Barrs and others for his approval of their action. That is not so. The Attorney-General has a clear right to decide whether to say "Yes" or "No" in such circumstances, and it is to the House that he is answerable for the exercise of that judgment. That was made clear by the judgment of the House of Lords in the notorious Gouriet case in the previous Parliament.
Therefore, because of the widespread ramifications of this case, the House should examine the considerations which the Attorney-General bore, or should have borne, in mind. To explain those considerations, I shall briefly outline the case.
Barrs and others are three ratepayers in the London borough of Camden, although one of them was not a ratepayer—at least, not to the full extent—until the council took legal action to make him pay. Bethell and others are councillors of the London borough of Camden. In the action it is claimed that those councillors have used their control of the council to follow policies on which they went to the electorate—namely, that there should be no rent increases, in effect, until they are forced by the district auditor, that there should be no cuts in services and that there should be no redundancies in the direct labour department. 517 Bans and others contend that those policies were unreasonable, improper and unlawful. They say that because the policies led to increases in rates, because the council had not acted to maximise the amount of money obtainable under the new rate support grant system and also because the council had defied the Government by bringing a le gal action against the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The nub of the ratepayers' case is that the councillors have a fiduciary duty to them akin to the duty of trustees to the money for which trustees are responsible. Barrs and others went to the High Court. Mr. Justice Warner is quoted in The Times report as saying:Manifestly local authorities were particularly vulnerable to actions by busybodies and cranks".He said that in the circumstances Bans and others had no locus standi in the case, and that they could continue their action only if the Attorney-General agreed to join in it.
The Attorney-General did so. According to newspaper reports, he had previously given Bans and others an undertaking that he would decide whether to join in within 24 hours of the judgment. That seems rather odd. He managed to meet his 24-hour deadline despite the fact that for most of those 24 hours he was in Strasbourg. I should like to know, and I believe that the House ought to know, what considerations were in the Attorney-General's mind when he decided to join in the action.
The affected ratepayers have other remedies. They could go to the district auditor. Not many Opposition Members approve of that office, but none the less it exists, and the district auditor is fully capable of investigating past and present expenditures of local authorities. Indeed, the district auditor is doing so in respect of certain expenditure by the council in question. Another course of action would be for people affected to seek an injunction to prevent the continuation of any current action or inaction by the local authority. It is also open to them to seek judicial review of the administrative actions of the council in respect of both past and current actions.
The expenditure on the court action by Camden council against the Secretary of State for the Environment is being shared with at least five other councils. That action was currently proceeding in the courts when the Attorney-General decided to join in the case. Moreover, the councils needed leave from the High Court to proceed with the original action. It thus seems a little odd that the Attorney-General joined himself in an action that seemed to be in contempt of the decision of the High Court on a case that was already proceeding.
Section 161 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides certain defences for councillors against accusations of illegal expenditure. Those defences are that the person involvedacted reasonably or in the belief that the expenditure was authorised by law.Parliament provided that defence for all councillors faced with an action by the district auditor, or, as I understand it, if anyone were seeking judicial review or an injunction. However, in this case that defence will not apply, and the Attorney-General has put his name to an action which, if successful, will set aside the protections that this House has provided for every elected councillor in the land. The main aspect of that protection is that, if a councillor acts in what he regards as good faith, his action is not challengeable in the courts.
518 This is a most serious matter—a fundamental threat not only to the 30 Camden councillors but to every elected councillor, be he Tory or Labour, throughout England and Wales. Apparently, as a result of the Attorney-General's decision, all of them can look forward to the Attorney-General endorsing and joining in actions by busybodies or cranks who allege that policies which groups of ratepayers do not like are illegal.
I believe that this action by the Attorney-General, which is dependent on public policy, is the result of a political decision which in effect backs up the efforts of the Secretary of State for the Environment to transform the whole nature of English local government. Whereas the Secretary of State for the Environment has at least the merit of bringing his proposals before the House of Commons, the Attorney-General's action may be just as drastic in its effects and has not been debated by the House.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
I am grateful for the opportunity, before we come to a decision on the Adjournment motion, to refer briefly to one important item of unfinished business—the rating system. This matter has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) and by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson). I regret that the rating system remains unreformed. Therefore, I hope that it will not be long before the Government bring forward definite proposals to deal with existing grievances.
There is now a new grievance in many parts a the country—my hon. Friend the Member for Bath referred to it a moment ago—concerning the supplementary rates which are being imposed by certain county councils. The Avon county council, which has a wafer-thin Labour majority, proposes to impose a supplementary rate of 9p. It got this proposal through with the support of the Liberals, and it will take more than £10 million extra out of the pockets of Avon ratepayers this year.
The county council is trying to blame the Government. I find its arguments wholly unconvincing. The county council must accept responsibility for its own policies and not to try to shuffle it off on to someone else. The Conservative leader on the Avon county council —Councillor Mather Bell—has categorically stated that if a Conservative county council had been elected there would have been no supplementary rate this year.
There was no warning during the election campaign of an increase of this magnitude, and it is no wonder that there has been strong opposition to it. Opposition has come from hard-pressed ratepayers, from many of the district councils in the county as well as from county councillors, and from those engaged in industry and commerce who fear that the extra burden will destroy jobs and mean less investment.
This new impost ignores the reality that wealth must be created before it is spent. It is insensitive to economic pressures on individuals and companies, it puts jobs in jeopardy and it makes it more difficult to get down the level of unemployment. It also undermines the strenuous efforts being made in Avon to provide work and training for school leavers.
If this were merely a local issue, it could be left to be settled locally. But it is not. It involves national issues, which are the responsibility of the Government. The biggest council in the country—the GLC—is now run by 519 people whose declared intention is to take on the elected Government at Westminster. I acquit the leaders of the Avon county council of any such intention. I know and respect them. But the combined effect of what the political wild man of the GLC and some other county councillors are doing would be to undermine the economic policy of the national Government, who are sustained by the national Parliament. No Government can stand idly by in such circumstances.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)
My hon. Friend seeks to acquit the Labour leader of Avon county council of an ulterior motive. However, does he agree that it was not until the election victory speech of Councillor Bill Graves that he suggested that there might be a 1p increase in the form of a supplementary rate to meet the additional programme spoken of during the campaign which was I think, 800 per cent. inaccurate? Does he also agree that Councillor Graves suggested to Avon's ratepayers that he would send an explanatory letter with the supplementary rate? If he was so inaccurate during his election campaign, why should Avon ratepayers believe any letter which he may send by way of explanation?
§ Mr. Dean
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. It reinforces the strong sense of grievance which he expressed, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bath expressed and which, no doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) will express if he catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Until comparatively recent times, local government generally accepted that it must work within the economic and expenditure framework laid down by central Government. Indeed, a Labour Secretary of State for the Environment, the late Tony Crosland, referred to the party being over. That phrase reverberated around the shires and county halls. Of course, he was asserting the necessity for central Government to have control over such matters. Until recently, councils have abided by that. However, if this check and balance in our unwritten constitution is to be challenged by Labour councils, the Government have no alternative but to restore the balance.
I do not believe that the powers of central Government to deal with the situation are adequate. There is evidence that existing powers sometimes penalise prudent as well as spendthrift councils. The main weakness is that often the powers can be exercised only when the damage has been done. For example, at present there is no power to stop or to moderate supplementary rate demands.
Therefore, I believe that there are two spheres in which Government action is required, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to comment on them during the debate. The first concerns the intensely irritating situation which results from district councils having to collect and pay for supplementary rate demands imposed by county councils.
I cite one example to illustrate my point—the Woodspring district council, in whose area I happen to be a ratepayer. That council has an exemplary record of good housekeeping and prudent management of other people's money. It has responded to Government calls for economies. Its rate increase has been a modest 3 per cent. a year, on average, since 1974. The cost of collecting the supplementary rate will be £75,000, and it is possible that such additional expenditure could put the council over its 520 expenditure target. If so, will the council be penalised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment? That would be most unjust. It is bad enough that the council should have to collect and pay for an impost with which it disagrees. It would be monstrous if it were penalised for overspending as a consequence. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give an assurance on that matter.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I wonder whether my hon. Friend and the local authority concerned have considered the possibility of including the cost of collecting that supplementary rate in the supplementary rate itself, so that the cost of doing so is passed on to the ratepayers as a complete package deal. I believe that only if that is done will ratepayers realise that it is not only the extra amount but the cost of collection that will cause them hardship.
§ Mr. Dean
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful and constructive suggestion. I shall pass it on to the Avon council.
The second matter on which action is needed concerns control over the rate increases that councils can impose in any one year. I regret the necessity for such control, but we have national democracy as well as local democracy. Therefore, if councils such as the GLC set out to usurp the authority of the elected Government and Parliament, they have only themselves to blame for the consequences.
Facing that situation, the Government should seriously consider putting some limit on rate increases or providing for a local referendum of ratepayers for any proposal beyond that limit. I agree with the suggestion made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can give a clear assurance that the Government are seriously considering action on those lines.
Our supporters are entitled to know that the Government will not allow Labour councils to undermine Government policy which is supported by Parliament. Ratepayers are entitled to protection from councils which attempt to use them as political footballs. Parliament is entitled to know that the Government will deal firmly and fairly with such threats.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate. The issue to which I wish to refer is that of unemployment in South London. I do so because of the disastrous effects of unemployment there. The House will know that, sadly, in the past few weeks, there has been much social unrest in that part of London. Much of it can be attributed to the fact that there are few job opportunities for people of all ages in South London.
This week, the latest unemployment figures have been published. A total of 2,800,000 people are officially out of work, but many others are now on short-time working. They, too, face enormous problems. There was a time when one could travel throughout London from one borough to another and find work. The latest figures show that in the borough of Wandsworth 11,000 people are now out of work. In Lambeth 14,000 people are out of work, and in Merton the figure is 4,500. Those boroughs adjoin the London borough of Wandsworth. In the GLC area, there are now 283,000 out of work.
There was a time in Wandsworth when industry stretched from Nine Elms along the river frontage as far 521 as Putney. Those industries employed hundreds of people. Now, all those industries have virtually disappeared. I am sure that many hon. Members go along that river frontage and see the utter despair in that area which, not so long ago, provided enormous job opportunities not only for local people but for people from surrounding areas who came into the borough to work.
I have asked many questions recently and I find the answers to all of them extremely depressing. I am told that in 1979–80 about 280 firms closed down in London. We rightly talk a great deal about the problems of the young unemployed, but I suggest that problems exist for people of all ages. A person in his early fifties who has possibly never been out of work now often finds, through no fault of his own, that the job in which he has been employed and no doubt looked to continue for the rest of his working life has finished and with it his hopes of finding alternative work.
What concerns me deeply is that we have a Prime Minister and other Ministers who are always telling us what is wrong and what the people must start to do. It sounds wonderful, yet it means nothing. It means nothing when one speaks to people who live in South London—and I cannot believe that they are any different from those who live in North London or in any other part of the country. Despite all the evidence, they do not believe that the Government really understand the basic problems in our areas or are prepared to face those problems.
When I hear the replies to my questions, I have to agree with the views of my constituents.
A week or so ago, I asked the Secretary of State for Employment about the increased number of training centres that he proposed to open in Greater London. The reply from the Under-Secretary was "None." In view of all the unemployment and the enormous social problems that it sadly causes us, that reply only a few days ago is a clear indication of the Government's total lack of concern about the real problems that they must start to face.
Our debate last Thursday did nothing to give hope to people in London. I do not know what hope it will give to the people of Liverpool and Toxteth, or what hope the presence of the Secretary of State for the Environment will give the people of Liverpool and Toxteth. Only time will tell. But I hope that the Government are starting to understand that throughout the country a generation of young people are growing up who have done what they were repeatedly told to do at school—to pay attention, to study and, to lay the basis of an academic career that would ensure they had meaningful jobs once they finished their education They see now that, despite all their attempts to do what they have been told, once they leave school they come into a society that offers them no hope for the future.
Yet we all know—we discuss it here very often—that this is still a country of enormous wealth and a country that still has vast resources. But I cannot understand—and the people cannot understand—how the Government can appear to be content to spend thousands of millions of pounds on keeping people in idleness and unemployment. The Government have to start to convince the people that they are really concerned about the problem and are changing the disastrous policies that sadly they have pursued for so long.
522 I am sure that all London Members, whether they come from South or North London, will find that the issue most raised in correspondence and referred to most often in their surgeries is that of housing. In London, there is an urgent need to improve the present housing stock and to build more houses. Yet house building in London is now virtually at a standstill.
Where is the sense in allowing that to happen when, if the Government and the Department of the Environment allowed the renovation of existing properties or the building of new ones, we should not only provide houses but create enormous job opportunities and valuable spin-off in the provision of equipment needed for the building of those houses? Every hon. Member knows that there will come a time when those houses will have to be built and the existing stock will have to be repaired. The longer we delay, the more problems we shall ultimately face.
We in London—particularly in South London, part of which I represent—are asking the Government how they can possibly fight against the backlash of the events that they know have taken place and allow the situation to continue. The one thing that we in London do not need is reports, surveys and high-powered investigation teams coming into our area to find out what is wrong. Any hon. Member, whether on the Government Benches or on the Labour Benches, could tell the appropriate Minister just what is wrong and what we, as the respective Members of Parliament, say is needed in our areas. I only hope that the Government will start to listen to the cries that they now hear, not only from the Opposition Benches but often also from their own party.
If the Government do not pay attention to the cries for help, those of us who try hard to work with our local authorities and to have a meaningful relationship with our local police authorities—everyone accepts that the local police have a difficult task to perform—will find that our words will count for absolutely nothing. No one will believe us, and people will say "You are the elected Member. Tell us how successful you have been." Sadly, what we have witnessed in South London and in many other parts of the country over the past few weeks will start up again. I do not believe that any of us, whatever party we belong to, can allow that to happen. Whether it does happen will depend on the future policies of the present Government.
Will the Government start to work with the Greater London Council and with the appropriate authorities? Will there be meaningful discussions about how we can create employment in our areas? That will cost money. I heard a comment earlier today about the Secretary of State for the Environment visiting Toxteth with his cheque book closed. If he is to learn anything from his visit to Liverpool, he will quickly learn that that cheque book will have to be opened and some cheques will have to be signed.
Obviously, we must discuss how we shall spend that money, but unless the people of South London and throughout the country hear a response from the Government soon the future problems which, sadly, we may encounter will be the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister, in particular, and also of her Ministers.
That is the test which the Government face. Let us hope that when the Leader of the House winds up the debate he will give hope not only to areas such as my constituency, and not only to South London, but to the entire country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that it was generally agreed that this debate should last for about two hours. If hon. Members speak for more than about eight minutes, some of their colleagues will be disappointed.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I would not normally oppose the motion that we adjourn for the Summer Recess. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had a gruelling time during the past few weeks, and they need a respite. Indeed, the speech we have just heard, delivered with great sincerity and out of a deep concern for the situation in South London, reflected the strain which some hon. Members have had to bear.
There is, however, in my view, a compelling reason why the House should not rise before a clear statement is made by the Government on a matter that affects directly the safety of at least 34,000 of my constituents and also concerns public confidence in the quality of the advice given in this area to Ministers.
I make no apology for raising this matter, because if I remain silent and the House goes into recess for almost three months, there will be no means of compelling a Minister to explain his actions—or, in this case, his inaction—to Parliament, and a danger that could affect the safety of a very large number of people will be allowed to continue.
I shall be as brief as possible, because I wish to respect your request Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is necessary to describe the background to the very serious charge I am making.
On Canvey Island, in my constituency, 34,000 people live next door to the largest concentration of gas, chemical and oil storage installations in the kingdom. I shall not recite the story of our long and bitter struggle to stop the destruction of our environment by the deliberate piling of hazard upon hazard in a confined area, in defiance of the wishes and the objections of the local people and their elected representatives. The House has heard me speak on that subject before. Suffice it for me to say that five years ago our plea seemed to have been heard.
The newly established Health and Safety Executive was asked to investigate the totality of the risks to which our people were exposed. The Health and Safety Executive's report, which was published in 1978, justified our worst fears by identifying a terrifying array of risks to health and safety—each serious enough in itself but compounded by its close proximity to others.
The report showed that the risks from gas, oil and chemical installations already operating in the area were undeniable, unacceptable, and would have to be reduced. These risks embraced the possibility of explosions rupturing storage tanks and causing burning liquids to reach people's homes, spreading fire and destruction en route; of escaping ammonia killing people; and of spillages of liquefied gas giving rise to clouds of flammable mixture that could ignite and explode either over the installations or over the residential area. The report demonstrated all too clearly the fact that in the event of an accidental release of gas, nothing could be done to prevent disaster.
The report dealt too with the possibility of collisions involving tankers carrying hazardous cargoes. Also, for 524 full measure, it drew attention to the complex network of pipes crossing the area carrying liquefied gases and to the possibility of something going wrong with ammunition loading off the eastern tip of Canvey.
The report even revealed a risk that none of us knew existed, namely, the accidental release of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride, which can also kill people. Its most significant finding, however, was that the British Gas methane terminal, which receives 12,000 tons of liquefied natural gas every week and stores vast quantities of both LNG and LPG close to people's homes, constituted one-third of the total potential risk for the whole area.
The report made some suggestions for reducing those risks, not all of which, we have subsequently discovered, were practical. It also reached a conclusion that well-nigh destroyed the credibility of the Health and Safety Executive, namely, that when the HSE's suggested improvements had all been carried out and the level of risk reduced by about half, additional hazards in the form of oil refineries could be safely introduced to the island.
That was in 1978. Since then we have had several narrow escapes. There have been fires on tankers while discharging petrol and naphtha. We have had revealed the appalling neglect of elementary safety precautions at the methane terminal. It is almost unbelievable, but true, that at the very time that the Health and Safety Executive was advising the local authority not to allow, for the sake of safety, any additional planning permissions within a 1 km radius of the terminal, the management inside the terminal was taking risks with fundamental safety precautions. It was not until over a year later that the HSE tumbled to what was happening and served three enforcement notices. In my view, there should have been sackings.
Last summer saw the holding of a long-delayed public inquiry into the totality of the risks that the islanders face. It was presided over by an inspector, General Sir Richard Ward, who brought exceptional qualities of patience and understanding to a very difficult and complex hearing. His report, published in March this year, went right to the heart of the matter—although it has not yet been debated in this House—and for the first time the gravity of our position was exposed to full view. That report concluded, first, that such was the concentration of hazard in the area that no less than ¼ million people over a wide area of South Essex were at some risk.
Secondly, the report concluded that a major spill of LNG, LPG, hydrogen fluoride or ammoniacould kill a great many peopleand thatsuch a disaster would not only totally shock, but would totally undermine the country's confidence in planning and environmental policies where potentially dangerous installations were sited near built-up areas.Thirdly, the report concluded that the risk would remain very great in spite of the improvements that the Health and Safety Executive was determined to achieve, but that even after suggested improvements had been made the people of Canveywere confronted with nearly 10 times the chance of being killed by an accident from the installation than by being killed in a car crash.Fourthly, it was said that the methane terminal had a bad reputation and that there was no confidence that the necessary safety standards would be maintained, that British Gas witnesses were unconvincing, and that consideration should be given to closing down the terminal altogether.
525 No Government could possibly ignore such a report. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment acted with commendable speed. In a statement on 24 March he announced that a full inquiry would be held into the safety of the terminal, pending which decisions on planning permissions in respect of other hazardous industry would be suspended. That was a wise and timely decision that was warmly welcomed by everyone in South-East Essex, including the local authority.
In the meantime, however, British Gas announced its intention to reactivate the liquefied petroleum gas pipeline connecting the terminal with the oil installations to the west of the island, in Thurrock. The House can imagine our consternation in South-East Essex when we learnt that the HSE had advised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment that it saw no reason to oppose this on grounds of safety. That advice, as I shall show, was contradictory, illogical and totally unacceptable to the people of Canvey and to me. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is normally interested in matters connected with the Health and Safety Executive. I am glad to see that I have his sympathy and support.
Incredibly, the disposition of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is to accept that advice, and for the past four months I have been battling with him. The time has now come to reveal to the House what has been happening and to demand a clear statement and firm decision before the House rises.
I make it plain that I am not just expressing an opinion. I base my argument on fact. The HSE report published only three years ago was quite categoric about the dangers of the LPG pipeline, along its entire length. On page 20 it states:A pipeline from the tanks crosses the area. In the opinion of the team, it would be possible for a substantial quantity of LPG to be released from any one of the three refrigerated storage tanks, giving rise to sufficient vapour to form a large cloud of flammable mixture that could ignite and explode, causing casualties in the vicinity of the terminal. While the pipeline from these tanks remains in commission, there is a chance of failure which could cause casualties.Here I should explain that the three storage tanks are on Canvey, and the passage I have quoted makes it quite plain that the danger was and is now on Canvey itself.
On page 27, the report recommends:Since it is no longer in use, the pipeline from the methane terminal containing liquefied petroleum gas could be emptied and taken out of service. This would effectively remove the potential hazard of explosion for those who live near the route of the pipeline".If the pipeline and the three storage tanks were considered a potential danger to people in 1978, when the former was not in use, how can the Health and Safety Executive advise that there will be no risk if it is reactivated now? What has happened in the interval to invalidate what was said in the HSE report? The conclusion is that either the report was wrong in 1978, in which case an explanation is long overdue, or it was right, in which case the advice that is now being given is wrong and should be rejected.
Only this afternoon, no doubt prompted by the fact that I was seeking to raise this matter on the Floor of the House, my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment saw fit to send me a note to answer a point that I raised with him months ago. He argued that the report really meant to say that the danger was only where 526 the pipeline ran close to the homes of people living in Stanford-le-Hope, many miles away to the west of Canvey, and since that section of the pipeline would not be reactivated there was no danger to the people of Canvey. That is complete and utter nonsense, as I have demonstrated.
In fact, a few months ago I pointed out to my hon. and learned Friend that the pipeline also ran close to homes on Canvey, but his advisers chose to fudge the issue by saying that on Canvey people were living further from the pipeline than they actually were. I had the distance checked by the local authority. I told the local authority: "This is what the Department is saying; please measure the distance." This was done. The Minister was wrong. Subsequently, my hon. and learned Friend wrote to me saying that he was sorry that he had been misinformed. What he had not grasped then, and what he has not grasped now, is that the situation on Canvey is such that, pending the outcome of the proposed inquiry into the future of the methane terminal, nobody has any moral right—neither the Government, British Gas., nor anyone else—to add the slightest additional risk to those that my constituents already face.
Since the Government have decided to delay all other planning decisions affecting hazardous industry on Canvey until the proposed inquiry into the closing down of the methane terminal takes place, it would be wholly reasonable not to proceed with the reactivation of the pipeline. Not only is the credibility of the Health and Safety Executive at stake, but also that of the Department of Employment. The HSE has not only contradicted itself but has assumed that no one will notice. It has gravely misjudged us in South-East Essex. This is not a game. It is a deadly serious matter affecting the safety of very many people.
There is, of course, the wider question of whether the blunders that the HSE has committed and seems hell-bent on continuing to commit, where Canvey is concerned, do not reveal a structural weakness in the Health and Safety Commission as well as its executive arm. The House may not know that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act provided for a commission of nine members, but only eight have ever been appointed. It is high time that something was done to shake up this cosy arrangement, possibly by appointing to the vacancy a person who has at heart the interests not primarily of industry or the trade unions but of the public at large and who is a qualified safety expert.
I ask my right hon. Friend to note that the House has never debated the workings of the Health and Safety Commission since its inception. It is high time that it did so. I hasten to add that if this body did not exist, it would have to be created. I do not underestimate the value of the routine work that it has been carrying out over the country as a whole.
For the time being, however, I ask my right hon. Friend to give me an assurance that the Secretary of State for Employment will make a statement about the LPG pipeline before the House rises, and that, in the light of what I have said, he follows the lead already given by the Secretary of State for the Environment in regard to new hazardous undertakings and directs that British Gas does not proceed to reactivate the pipeline before the inquiry has been completed into the future of the terminal. Nothing less than that will satisfy me or my constituents.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
There are three issues on which I feel so strongly that I wish to oppose the Adjournment of the House.
The first is the unemployment in the Northern region in general and in Newcastle upon Tyne, West in particular. The Department of Employment press notice in relation to the most recent unemployment figures shows that there are now 211,900 people fully unemployed in the Northern region, which puts the rate at 13.9 per cent. In Newcastle upon Tyne the rate is 16 per cent. overall—I am not talking about the village in the West Midlands—and in parts of my constituency it is running at 20 per cent.-plus.
Unemployment alone, therefore, would be sufficient reason for us to be in the House on Wednesday for a debate. I have nothing against the Royal Family. I am not anti-monarchist, and anyone who wants to watch the Royal Wedding on television can do so, but there are sufficient of us interested in the problems of our constituencies to be here on Wednesday, instead of having a holiday for the Royal Wedding.
I cannot overstress the fact that in parts of my constituency unemployment is running at 20 per cent.-plus. The position is even worse when one considers long-term sickness, disability and so on. I can think of one or more areas in my constituency where probably 40 per cent. of the people are subsisting on social security—and if anyone believes that living on social security is a luxury, let him apply for the Chiltern Hundreds and try it. It is no fun.
Earlier you called me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was reading a newspaper. I apologised and explained why. Because of the inefficiency of The Journal in Newcastle, the Post Office or the House authorities, I did not get a copy of The Journal until five minutes beforehand. In the "Opinion" column the editor talks about setting an example—and this is the second reason why I oppose the Adjournment of the House. He states:In February 1980, Mr. Reg Prentice, then the Social Security Minister, launched a £3 million campaign against people who fraudulently claim welfare benefits.I abhor anyone fraudulently claiming benefits. However, that exercise required 1,000 extra staff. The article continues:it was believed that about £50 million could be saved.It goes without saying that even in the parts of my constituency where 40 per cent. of the people are living on social security, that was applauded because they deplore people who fraudulently claim social security benefits. The article states:According to recent Government statements, the campaign is already proving more than cost-effective, and the very knowledge of its existence may well have deterred many from 'fiddling'.That is good. The editor went on:How much more serious, however, is tax evasion? According to the Commons Public Accounts Committee, tax evaders cost the Treasury around £4 billion.The Treasury consists of all hon. Members and their constituents—the taxpayers of this country. The article continues:the practice is so widespread that MPs believe there is a real danger of tax evasion becoming socially and morally acceptable".The editor of The Journal in Newcastle underestimates the problem. Tax evasion has been a respectable practice for many years and the higher up the social echelon in the establishment a person is, the more respectable tax evasion 528 becomes. No one should make the mistake of thinking that the lad paying tax on the PAYE system is in the privileged position of being able to engage in the luxury of tax evasion.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he means tax evasion or tax avoidance? Tax avoidance is legitimate and should not be confused with tax evasion.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) wants to draw a distinction between tax avoidance and tax evasion. I do not think that there is much difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. There is nothing especially clever about a man who can employ an expensive tax avoidance consultant to enable him to avoid paying tax. I do not rate him high as a decent member of society. I put him no higher than the man who deliberately sets out to avoid or to evade paying tax.
The article goes on:The Inland Revenue told the committee that they are at present unable to recruit additional investigative staff because of the Government's restrictions on the size of the Civil Service.It is an absolute condemnation of the Government that, because they place a restriction on the size of the staff of the Inland Revenue, the taxpayers are being milked to the tune of £4,000 million a year. It is a damned disgrace.
The editor of The Journal continues:this is one case where extra staff should be employed. As the Committee rightly say, 'It is clear that with the annual tax loss running at some £4 billion, there must be areas where the deployment of additional resources would be likely to produce direct returns of many times the staff costs involved'.The Leader of the House will be doing the House and the nation a service if he asks his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to dispense with the services of the people who sit in cars trying to see whether a woman who is cohabiting with a man is getting a few quid more from social security. Such people should be transferred to the Inland Revenue, to catch some of the big fish. I do not condone the actions of anyone who tries fraudulently to gain £1 a week from social security, but it is damnable that the Government are prepared to recruit staff to harass people who are thought to be wrongly claiming a few pounds a week extra from social security while the Vesteys of this world are evading the payment of millions of pounds in taxation and the Government are not prepared to lift a finger to stop it.
The third issue on which I feel just as strongly is that which I raised on business questions—the safety of gas appliances. I hope that when we debate next week the disgraceful order that is intended to force the British Gas Corporation to divest itself of Wytch Farm, the Leader of the House will ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make a statement on the safety of gas appliances. Because of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply that I received, I intend to pursue this issue on the Adjournment because it should be discussed, if need be next Wednesday.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That will be the hon. Gentleman's opportunity to do it, rather than on a rather short Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Brown
I shall be delighted to discuss it next Wednesday, but the House will be adjourned because of the Royal Wedding. I shall be deprived of the opportunity of discussing the matter then. That is why I insist on discussing it now to seek reasons why the Government will not take my point on board.
529 The decision by the Department of Trade to force the British Gas Corporation to dispose of its showrooms will have grave repercussions throughout the industry. The Minister for Consumer Affairs has been blind to those repercussions, or has sought to fob off the issues with bland reassurances. That is not enough. In the debate on the report she said:No solution that failed to maintain safety … would be acceptable".That might have been reassuring for me if she had not then asserted, on the basis of who knows what evidence:gas appliance installation technology is comparatively low technology ."—[Official Report, 17 June 1981; Vol. 6, c. 1040–45.]I worked for 30 years for the gas industry. The Minister for Consumer Affairs shows that she knows nothing about the British gas industry or any other gas industry in making such a stupid assertion.
§ Mr. Brown
The union tried to nail that point, but, having told the Minister the facts in a letter dated 25 June, it is still today, 23 July, awaiting a reply to that letter. That is the sort of attitude that the Treasury Bench takes to responsible trade unions. A month after a major trade union, the General and Municipal Workers Union, wrote to the Minister, it still has not had the courtesy of a reply. That is scandalous.
Conservative Members seem to share the Minister's hopes that gas safety will be satisfactorily assured in the private sector, dismissing completely the statistics on gas safety as partial evidence presented by the corporation.
It is worth repeating the figures. The ratio of risk of serious damage caused by faulty workmanship between British Gas and other installers is 1: 36. In other words, there is about 36 times more prospect of having one's premises damaged by explosions or otherwise with a private installer than if the installation is carried out by the British Gas Corporation. Given that the majority of gas installations are carried out by British Gas, that is a record which is hard to beat and it cannot be waved away as propaganda or by relying, as the Minister did, on assurances from Dr. King, while ignoring his qualification about adequacy. The Minister did not refer to the requirements of adequacy and she has refused to spell out what they were.
Any number of academics will queue up to say that this or that is adequate. If we put 50 economists in a room we would get 50 views on the economy, and that is true of academics generally.
The Minister recognised that the central heating installation market is potentially the most dangerous, but is the Leader of the House aware that of the 96,000 potentially dangerous installations reported in 1979 a significant proportion were concerned with central heating and the majority of incidents were connected with central heating?
For all the Minister's belief that the Confederation for the Registration of Gas Installers is adequate, when British Gas contracts out to a Corgi dealer it always inspects the completed work. There is no such inspection when the whole job is carried out by private enterprise.
Although the Minister pays lip service to the statutory codes, she seems to be unaware that Corgi states only that its installers are in receipt of the codes and have insurance 530 cover. That does not mean that, as in the case of British Gas, an individual worker is properly trained or can do the job. There are all sorts of cowboys operating in this area.
The private sector cannot maintain the work force required to ensure the full servicing and safety cover that has given the corporation one of the best safety records in the world. British Gas is able to provide that cover only because of its sheer size and the integrity of its operations. The private sector simply could not, and would not, compete when it costs more than £25,000 to train one service engineer. Bland assurances that the corporation could maintain that sort of work load when the primary impulse of the purchase of appliances has been divorced fly in the face of commercial logic.
All that has been put to the Minister for Consumer Affairs. She was obviously not listening when the unions met her on 23 June. They gave her the example of two serious incidents in the Birmingham area arising from private sector installations. Yet it was not until that example was repeated in the ATV programme "Left, Right and Centre" on 20 July that she wrote for details. That is a condemnation of a Minister who is supposed to represent the consumers' interest.
There are serious implications for emergency cover in the Government's decision. British Gas will remain responsible for emergency cover and it will need to retain a significant work force. At present, it has about 31,000 people employed on customer services. They deal with all aspects of customer service work, including installation, servicing and emergency work. Most serious observers do not doubt that emergency work is all that will be left, after a period, as a result of the Government's decision.
In that case, one of two things will happen. Either emergency work will become more expensive, as will regular servicing contracts—they are bound to go skyhigh—or the work will become less efficient. That is in direct contradiction to the report of the same Dr. King whom the Minister prayed in aid. He recognised that an efficient and thorough safety service depends on there being no financial disincentive.
There would be greater cost if the Minister is right when she says that employment implications are not worth bothering about. But not many people believe the Minister. If the Opposition and the unions are right and there are severe employment implications, there will be fewer people who can carry out emergency work. The unions wrote to the Minister on that matter on 1 July.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will allow me to say that taking 20 minutes in a short debate is a selfish abuse of the available time. I have no power to limit the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I hope that he will note what I have said.
§ Mr. Brown
I accept your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I feel as keenly about this issue as other hon. Members may feel about other topics, but I apologise to them for taking so long. I am coming to the end of my remarks.
As I said, the unions wrote to the Minister on 1 July and, again, have had no reply. That is the core of my agony. A major union has consulted the Government and has not had even the courtesy of a reply. That is no way to conduct the government of this country.
Part of the corporation's marketing operation is concerned with testing appliances, not only for efficiency 531 but for safe operation. No one believes that manufacturers will fall below European safety standards—and that will remove some the of worst fears and consequences—but it is unlikely that all the safety testing currently carried out by the corporation will continue when appliances are sold through the private sector.
Does any hon. Member seriously believe that Comet warehouses or Michael Parrish in Newcastle will set up an organisation akin to Watson House for safety testing? The Government's decision, which was taken to appease the worst of Tory doctrinaire bullying, may bring the ordinary member of the public danger, disease and perhaps even death.
I am sorry that I have taken so long, but I feel extremely strongly about this issue. I tried to raise it during business questions and I received an unsatisfactory answer from the Leader of the House. That is why I felt that I had to raise it again.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Since, by agreement of both sides, this is approximately a two-hour debate, I shall call two hon. Members from the Government side in order to hold the balance and make the time more equal.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am reluctant to see the House adjourn for the Summer Recess before the Government make a further statement to confirm their policy against the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport.
I wrote this week to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to express the deep concern of my constituents—a concern which is shared by the constituents of my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Mr. Mellor), Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) and Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway).
The Government have clearly announced that a fifth terminal should not be built at Heathrow, but doubt has been cast on the issue, first by the terms of reference of the forthcoming public inquiry into the Stansted—
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand why you have taken the strictures to delay myself and other Opposition Members from being called, but the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) had his name down on the list, on this very subject, for debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. He took his name off that list. Surely, it is unreasonable that I should have to sit here while he is called to speak.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has raised a fair point of order. I made the appeal earlier so that we could get on to those who had taken part in the ballot for the Consolidated Fund. I supported both Front Benches in their appeal for a short debate. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Jessel
I accept your implied rebuke, Mr. Speaker, and that of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). In practical terms, however, there would have been little chance of being able to speak, in view of the position that I drew in the ballot for the 532 Consolidated Fund—No. 43. Frankly, there was no chance of being reached, so I thought it better to try to catch your eye now. However, I aim to sit down by about five minutes past six.
In view of the terms of reference of the Stansted inquiry and the current campaign of British Airways against Government policy against a fifth terminal, and in order to maintain the confidence of the communities round Heathrow, I felt that a Government statement should be made saying that they intend to stick to that policy, which was clearly stated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence when he was Secretary of State for Trade. On 17 December 1979, announcing the Government's airport policy, he said:We have also given careful consideration to the possibility of constructing a fifth terminal at Heathrow … However, we estimated that it would take at least 12 years to complete such a project, and it would impose added burdens on the surrounding area; these considerations have led us to the view that a fifth terminal should not be provided."—[Official Report, 17 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 36.]Two months later, in the debate on 21 February 1980, he said that it should not be built. That was confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), another Minister in the same Department, in November of last year. There was a package involving a fourth terminal at Heathrow, a fifth terminal not being built, and there being an expansion leading to a third London airport elsewhere. That package announced by the Government reflected the fact that aircraft noise remained a sensitive issue in the communities living round Heathrow.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the lives of people in Ealing, Twickenham and other areas are already gravely damaged by the amount of aircraft noise that they have to suffer and that, if there is any more, as will occur if there is a fifth terminal, life will become insufferable and almost intolerable?
§ Mr. Jessel
I fully agree. I have raised the matter on more than 50 occasions during my 11 years as a Member of Parliament. However, I shall not repeat all that now.
It should be noted that the British Airports Authority, which owns Heathrow airport, is strongly opposed to the construction of a fifth terminal. At least as much attention should be given to the considered opinion of that authority as to that of British Airways.
The Stansted inquiry inspector has been told that he can consider alternatives to Stansted, such as Maplin or a fifth terminal at Heathrow. That causes fears in the area round Heathrow, which I hope are unfounded, and gives the appearance of reopening the airport planning strategy. I hope that the Government will be in a position to confirm that anything that the inspector or anyone else says at the Stansted inquiry will not bind the Government to the basic strategy of airport planning. The word "planning" has two meanings: the basic airport strategy of where one has the airports and, by contrast, the question of planning permission to put up buildings, which is a matter for the Department of the Environment. It has to be looked at in an entirely different sense, and should not imply anything as regards the basic question of where airports should be sited.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. William Waldegrave (Bristol, West)
I join my colleagues from the county of Avon in urging the 533 Government to consider bringing in emergency legislation, and even extending the Session to do so, to deal with the mounting crisis of the rates. My colleagues have ably outlined the situation that exists in Avon.
We all know in our heart of hearts that a fundamental instability exists in the present relationship between local and central Government. People vote against the sitting national Government, but that has nothing to do with what the local parties say in local elections. However, we know perfectly well that that results in an imbalance. For example, in the middle of the last period of the Labour Government, under pressure from external events that Government came near to following a rational economic policy in trying to limit the growth of public spending. Of course, since the Labour Party was in power nationally, it had Conservative local councils to help it in that policy. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), the responsible Minister, told local authorities in 1976 that theywill know that the present economic situation makes it imperative that the Government's plans for public expenditure are not exceeded".—[Official Report, 2 June 1981; Vol. 5, c. 779.]In saying that, the right hon. Gentleman knew that he could count on responsible Conservative councils, because of the vagaries of the electoral system, to help him to do that.
In London we face a total misuse of the local democratic system to try to attack the overall economic policy of the country. This country has no written constitution, and the relationship between local authorities and the Government rests on the exercise of moderation and good sense, as does so much else in Britain. At least in this respect we now see that unwritten constitution coming under extreme pressure.
In Avon the new council has introduced a 9p supplementary rate, which was in no way foreshadowed in the election campaign there. There was talk of greater expenditure, and during the campaign we heard briefly of a 1p rate—
§ Mr. John Silkin
Was the doubling of VAT foreshadowed by the Conservative Party during the general election in 1979?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
It is unusual to be bowled such a slow ball by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). The shift from income taxes to expenditure taxes was at the heart of the Conservative Party's campaign.
I come back to the situation in Avon. We now face a complete smokescreen there. We should have some respect for the council if it said "We have been elected as a high-spending council, and we are therefore putting up the supplementary rate", but that is not what it is saying. It is looking for every smokescreen that it can find. It says that it is the fault of central Government, but that can easily be disproved, because we can demonstrate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has shown, that if the Conservatives had been re-elected in Avon we should not have had to introduce that supplementary rate. The council says that it has to do with changes in the rate support grant, but that is simply not true. Even on the weak basis of local democracy—I believe that people vote in local elections not on local issues but on national issues—the council is trying to disguise the issue behind smokescreens of irrelevance.
We have now reached a point at which rates and the whole relationship between local authorities and the 534 Government are due for radical reform. A large part of the contributors to rates—that is, businesses—have no direct control over them. We see minorities of electorates in mid-term electing councils which then act in ways not foreshadowed in their election campaigns. The whole system has been brought into disrepute.
I fear that there will be nothing for it but to do away with the present system of rates. In the short term, until we are able to do that, we shall have to take action to limit the power to introduce supplementary rates. Such legislation exists in Scotland. I urge the Government to consider taking that action, even to the extent of continuing this Session slightly longer. In counties such as Avon the local CBI, BEAMA, local business men and others have told me that jobs 'will be destroyed at the very moment when Opposition Members, in all their interventions this afternoon, tell us that the creation of employment is more important than anything else.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I shall not talk about rates because we can discuss that during the Consolidated Fund debate. All hon. Members have the chance to do that and I am surprised that they do not intend to take advantage of discussing that matter at 4 o'clock in the morning.
I wish to raise the issue of a constituent, Mr. Arif Tohid, who is in Pentonville prison. One might say that there are many prisoners in Pentonville, but my constituent has been there since February 1980, and that would not be surprising if he had been sentenced to five or six years' imprisonment for committing a crime. In those circumstances, it would not be unreasonable for him to have been there for 17 months. However, Mr. Arif Tohid is not guilty of anything. The only crime that he committed, if crime it be, was to overstay as an immigrant. He is in prison without having had a fair trial and without the normal human relations and rights. He has been incarcerated by the Government since February 1980.
I do not wish to rehearse the arguments and the merits of the case. However, this is my chance to say that the man should be released pending a decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The case has been before that court since August last year. The Government were unable to give a reply to the questions put to them by the court and demanded six or seven weeks delay. It is not my constituent's fault that the matter is taking so long.
I have raised the matter regularly with the Home Office. I do not want to enter into the merits of the argument, but it is ironic that a Select Committee report published today draws attention to the large numbers of people held in prison, and this man is in prison for no reason. The Government have claimed that if they let my constituent out he would disappear again. He did not disappear in the first place. He overstayed, but he was staying with his family, all of whom are in Britain. I have given assurances to the Government that Mr. Arif Tohid will not disappear again—even though he never has disappeared. He has a wife and a baby. At Christmas I asked the Government to let him out just for the holiday, but they would not even do that.
The Government could afford to review the case to see whether the man should be let out of prison. I have had correspondence with the National Association of Prison 535 Visitors. The chairman wrote to me and expressed her concern. A noble Lady is a member of the body and she intends to raise the matter in the other place.
I address myself only to the human rights part of the issue. This man should not be incarcerated in a top security gaol when all that he has done is to be subject to a deportation order simply because he overstayed. It cannot be right that a man should be held in a top security prison for that reason. I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Home Secretary to use his discretion.
The only argument for keeping this man in prison is that he would disappear. I have given assurances that he will not disappear. In accordance with human rights and justice, it must be right that until we receive the European court's decision he should be allowed out to be with his family. We should not leave him locked up when he has done nothing that demands such treatment.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
We should not adjourn for the Summer Recess until we have debated the relationship between the Church and the State in England. Some hon. Members might consider that an abstruse subject, but I believe that it is highly relevant to many of today's problems which I believe are moral and spiritual as much as social and economic.
The relationship has not been mentioned since I touched on the subject in my motion of 10 April, although it was mentioned briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) when we recently debated the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
From the time that Christianity was introduced to England, the Church has played a great part in the nation's affairs. It converted our first great kings to Christianity. Churchmen, being well-educated people, were engaged in the administration of the kingdom. In the Middle Ages it could be said that the Church and the State were one. Even after the Reformation the connection was still close. It was assumed that everybody should be a member of the national Church. I am not, of course, in favour of persecution, but I think that there was something to be said for fining those who did not attend church regularly. Gradually the close connection has weakened over the centuries until now one almost hesitates to say that England is a Christian country. In addition, in recent years, Parliament has delegated some of its functions in ecclesiastical matters to the General Synod.
The questions that arise are "Why has England become so much less Christian, with all the consequences that may follow from that?" and "Would it be to the nation's advantage if control of Church matters were again wholly vested in Parliament?" Such a thought years ago would have horrified me as a loyal Anglican, but having recently seen some of the activities of the General Synod I am beginning to wonder. The Synod seems to be involved in inessential matters such as whether there should or should not be women priests, easier divorce, and even homosexuality and lesbianism, instead of concentrating on and defending the fundamental tenets of Christianity.
This House is at its best when debating ecclesiastical matters. During the recent Prayer Book debate I was much moved by the fact that my colleagues—not only Anglicans but dissenters, papists, Jews and atheists—were helpful and courteous and extremely anxious to do the right thing 536 by the Church and the nation. It was the failure of the Synod and the bishops to support the old Prayer Book which first alerted me to the dangers in the new arrangements. When we heard that the Prayer Book was hardly studied at all in our theological colleges, that sounded an alarm signal. At least it appears that that matter has been put right. Most of us are extremely glad that at the Prince of Wales's forthcoming wedding the marriage service will largely follow the old order of the Book of Common Prayer.
I used to think that the bishops' and Synod's objection to the Prayer Book was only to the old words. Gradually I came to see that it was something more fundamental. They objected to the forthrightness of the Prayer Book and the stating in stark simplicity of the great religious truths. They wished to replace them with the mealy-mouthed phrases of the new services.
That brings me to my next point—the failure of the bishops, not only in the other place but generally, to preach the gospel fearlessly and to proclaim the great historic truths of Christianity. It hurts me to say this because I am a firm believer in the apostolic succession, the order of bishops and the vital importance of having bishops in the second Chamber—which is of crucial importance to our constitution—but, instead of insisting on personal holiness and the higher standards of personal conduct for individual Christians, the bishops seem to be more concerned with promoting vague and general social issues.
It is so much easier to think that reading The Guardian daily and believing that the Brandt report came down from Mount Sinai rather than living a godly life is a passport to Heaven. In an age of permissiveness and materialism, the bishops hesitate to denounce such things. They have made no condemnation of the DHSS and the DES for allowing such organisations as the Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Centre to disseminate what most of us believe is pornography that encourages licentiousness among our schoolchildren.
The Christian ideal of chastity before marriage and fidelity thereafter is seldom heard. The bishops have not protested about the growing proliferation of sex shops in our towns and cities. They are faint patriots. They appear to be almost embarrassed by patriotism or any commendation of our long and glorious history as a nation. They have never even given credit to the English people for their tolerance and forbearance towards so many of the newcomers in our midst. During the recent British Nationality Bill debate in another place, their conduct was deplorable. It took someone as good a Christian and as famous a man as Lord Home of the Hirsel to put matters to right. The bishops' constant over-emphasis on immigrants and immigration and their neglect of the needs of their English flock are affronts to many. I cannot understand why they support missionary work abroad but not, apparently, among the immigrants at home. Their obsession with the Third world, when our home economy is in such a shocking state, is almost bizarre.
At least the Roman Catholic hierarchy and priests do all that they can to maintain the integrity of the family. We do not hear the same from the Anglican bishops. Children are neglected by working mothers who come home tired and give them £5 to get out of the house. They are not condemned. The attitude is that there is something to be had for nothing, and that the State or the boss will pay. That attitude has been encouraged, not condemned, by the 537 Church. Youngsters out of work, unable to keep up the payments on the hire purchase of their television sets, refrigerators or cars, are amazed that the State will not underwrite those personal commitments. The bishops are silent on all those matters.
It took the recent riots to make people realise that this wretched, permissive society, which emerged a generation ago, has finally blown up in our faces. Have the riots been condemned by the bishops of Liverpool and Manchester, or by any other bishops? If so, I have not seen their words quoted. The bishops have not praised the police for their remarkable restraint in the face of such provocation. Not a single rioter was seriously injured, but scores of policemen were hurt. Would any other police force in the world deal in that way with rioters?
We never hear today the words of the Prayer Book which I used to hear every week, namely, that government is for the punishment of wickedness and vice and the maintenance of true religion and virtue. Instead, every sort of excuse is made for rioters and looters. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) said in a recent debate:At present the Church seems to be providing discos and table tennis rather than values or any form of self-discipline.My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), whom I see in the Chamber, has much experience in dealing with youngsters. In the same debate he spoke of the duty of the clergy to get across a stronger set of values to the community. He said:there has been a colossal breakdown of religious education and the teaching of values in schools"—[Official Report, 16 July 1981; Vol. 8, cc. 1460, 1489.]As I said at the beginning of my speech, the crisis in England is not social and economic but moral and spiritual. The old order has gone with the squire and the parson. Certainly the parson has gone as well as the squire. I fear that the Church has failed in Parliament. It has failed with parents and in our schools. Instead, it has concentrated on a wishy-washy social gospel which for all I know might make a manifesto for the Social Democratic Party.
It is so much easier to advocate huge public spending rather than giving charity oneself. That spending is now so colossal that the debts piling up will have to be paid for by our children and grandchildren. The old values of loyalty, love of parents and of country, of discipline and self-restraint are required. The attitude "Have what you want and riot or strike if you don't get it" has not been condemned. The easy-going perils of the permissive society that Mr. Roy Jenkins once called the civilised society—how he must regret that phrase—are responsible not only for many of our ills today in industry and elsewhere but for the recent bloody riots.
Unless the bishops can grasp those points, abandon their old ways arid give a lead in an effort to return to decency and morality, I see little hope for England. If the bishops fail to lead their clergy and flock, even this imperfect House of Commons may have to return to do the job for them. It may sound far-fetched—I hope that it is—but the warning is there to see in the bloodshed and burning buildings of Moss Side and Toxteth.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) was out of the Chamber when I said I had selected his amendment. He may wish to move it now.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I beg to move, to leave out`on Tuesday 28 July do adjourn till Thursday 30 July and at its rising'.I was not in the Chamber when Mr. Speaker said that he had selected my amendment because I was part of a delegation supporting a tough multi-fibre arrangement—which is vital to textile areas such as mine—at a meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade. I do not wish to follow the eccentric philistinism of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who is vaguely amusing except for the underlying implication of racism which is always present in his remarks.
The debate is limited to two hours. That clearly shows the need for additional parliamentary time. I tabled my amendment so that on 29 July the House can debate some of the issues that will be facing not the fabulously wealthy couple who will inundate the nation through the media's concentration on the trivia on that day but the thousands of other young couples who are facing marriage without a home, possibly because of the Government's cuts in housing. Only 30,000 council houses have been built this year, compared with more than 100,000 in the last full year of the Labour Government.
Many youngsters cannot find jobs. They face not a fabulously wealthy existence with a house provided, but difficulty and deprivation because of the Government's policies. I hope that the Royal couple—I send good wishes to all young couples getting married this year, not only that exclusive couple—will have a thought, in the midst of the pomp and circumstance, for the remainder of the nation and those who face enormous difficulties.
I suggest that those are the sort of topics that would be entirely suitable for debate by Parliament on 29 July. In any event, I want more time allocated to Parliament before it rises for the recess. If we sit for that additional day we shall still have a long enough holiday from 31 July to 19 October. Surely that is long enough for Parliament Let there be time to debate the problems of unemployment which, in my constituency—the figures were announced on 9 July—stands at 3,916. That is 12.8 per cent., which is above the United Kingdom level of 11.8 per cent., and also above the regional level of 12.7 per cent.
Despite such figures, the Government are phasing out intermediate area status for Keighley by August 1982. I ask the Minister whether he is prepared to restore full intermediate area status to Keighley before August 1982. When I put that question in a parliamentary question, the Minister replied:While I am always ready to consider evidence of significant long-term change in an area's circumstances relative to the rest of the country on the evidence now available I am satisfied that retention of intermediate area status for Keighley is not at present justified."—[Official Report, 15 July 1981; Vol. 8.]The Keighley travel-to-work area has unemployment that is higher than the national average. Indeed, it is higher than the regional average. However, the Government continue with their absurd economic course of removing the lowest tier of economic assistance when the area is facing economic depredation and diminution. There are 3,916 adults unemployed and nearly 500 of them are youngsters who left school and went on the dole. The prospects are not bright for them.
The achievement of the Conservative Government between May 1979 and June 1981 was to increase 539 unemployment in the Keighley travel-to-work area by 182.7 per cent. The latest figures show that the percentage has increased. There are over 1,000 people in the area aged 45 years and over who are unemployed. What will be the prospect for them on 29 July? As they get on in years, will they have a bright prospect of obtaining jobs? That is not likely under the Government's policies.
At least 150 further redundancies have been notified in the Keighley travel-to-work area. Those redundancies will increase an unemployment level that is already above the regional and national averages. On 14 July there were 1,037 potentially redundant jobs covered in applications that were current under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in the Keighley employment office area in May 1981. In addition to the enormous number who were unemployed in the Keighley area, there were over 1,000 who were supported in work only because of the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, which has been cut by the Government to below the standard that applied when the Labour Government introduced the scheme.
There is an urgent need for debate. The level of unemployment in my constituency is unacceptable. The area is suffering economic hardship. There is a strong case for the retention of full intermediate area status for Keighley. The Government have a case to answer.
We need time to discuss these issues. We should not adjourn the House for such an enormous period. There is a strong case for discussing on 29 July not merely two people who are getting married but all those who face marriage this year, in desperation and difficulty. They face a lack of job opportunities and a life of misery on the dole because of the Government's policies. It is time that we debated these issues and time that the Government faced them.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Under what Standing Order or under what procedure has an agreement been made between the two Front Benches that has the effect of excluding Back Benchers from participating in the debate? You said at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, that an agreement had been reached that had the general assent of the House. It was not my understanding that it had general consent. Does the agreement have force? I understand that the rights of Back Benchers in this debate have never been restricted before. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, where we stand?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman makes his interpretation of what happened earlier and I have made mine. I had the impression that the House was in general agreement that the debate should continue for two hours. There seemed to be a general idea along those lines. There is no Standing Order that can be quoted in this instance. Of course, it is always possible for someone to move, That the Question be now put. We have had a debate which has been as long as earlier debates on the Adjournment motion.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
It is perhaps a matter of regret that the motion had to be moved immediately before the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, which itself 540 will be slightly curtailed because tomorrow the House will meet at 9.30 am. Many hon. Members have spent a considerable amount of time getting their names in the ballot and featured in the list of debates to take place on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. The Leader of the House responded to a suggestion that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and I intervened to agree with the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at one stage one of the few topics selected for the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill had been introduced by me and that I subsequently withdrew it? One of the debates that appears on the list will feature London, and three London Members have spoken in the current debate. If they had not spoken, others who wanted to participate would have been able to do so. As Standing Orders do not apply and as we were not consulted, I see no reason why hon. Members should not continue to pursue the debate even after those on the Front Benches have replied.
§ Mr. Silkin
The Leader of the House is to be congratulated on the way in which he has undertaken an especially difficult job. I thought that it was the general view of the House that we should go into the Summer Recess on 31 July. A mixture of good Chief Whipdom and a certain amount of magic has made it possible. However, the margin is tight. Because of that, I do not propose to make a long speech. My speech will not be as long as some of those which have been made by both Labour and Conservative Back Benchers. I shall do my best to reply briefly.
A number of interesting constituency issues have been raised. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to deal with some of them, if only shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) expressed his worry about the action of the Attorney-General. I believe that the Attorney-General entered the Chamber during the debate. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to respond to my hon. Friend's intervention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) introduced an especially important constituency issue. I do not suppose that the Leader of the House will be able to provide a full answer. However, he may be able to provide some indication.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) raised constituency complaints which I seem to have heard before. They go back over some period. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows the answer by heart.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) spoke on behalf of a number of hon. Members and addressed himself to the problems caused by London airport. I have heard those before, too. I imagine that the Leader of the House will be able to reply to them.
The general theme falls into two different categories. There have been a number of complaints about local government, or rather about the action of newly elected Labour councils that are full, vital and young following a mandate from the people, unlike the rather tired old Government that Conservative Members happen to represent. The complaint that they express is rather curious. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) made the unfortunate point of not having 541 received notice during the election campaign that rates would be increased. I recall the Daily Mail including an article on Labour's "Dirty Dozen". For such an article to appear in that newspaper carries no great blessing on the part of the Conservative Party. There was the "terrible" complaint by the Labour Party during the election campaign that a Conservative Government would double VAT. That was denied as a lie by the Conservative Party at that time.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that it was a scandal that the Conservative Government increased the rate of VAT without saying during the election campaign that that was what they intended to do? The newly elected Avon council has acted in a similar way. Presumably that is a scandal.
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall deal with the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) next. I thought that the hon. Member for Bath preferred to change the whole basis of local government, as all his hon. Friends seem to wish to do. He wanted to change it to a referendum system. He seemed to think that I was in favour of referendums. I have been in favour of only one referendum in my life. I do not like referendums. I was in favour of the referendum of the people of Gibraltar in 1967 when they announced that they wanted to remain British and did not want to go to Spain.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
Am I right in recalling that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of a Cabinet which produced referendums on Scotland, Wales and Europe? The right hon. Gentleman said that he was in favour of democratising the Labour Party. Why is he not in favour of letting ratepayers have a greater say in the affairs of their local councils?
§ Mr. Silkin
I am in favour of letting local ratepayers elect their councils. They appear to have done so—
§ Mr. Silkin
If so, we have had proof recently of what they are feeling about the present Government. I believe that the hon. Lady is on a bad wicket. She must not tempt me or my speech will be even longer.
The important theme was unemployment. That is a doubly important theme because it ties up with the theme about which Conservative Members were talking in an interesting way—namely, that the basis of creating employment is affected by the amount of public spending that it entails. Even under the present Government, just over one-third of public expenditure goes to private industry. Hon. Members should be made aware of that if they are not already aware of it. The more we cut back, the more unemployment there is and the more private enterprise is destroyed. It is time that Conservative Members took that on board.
My hon. Friends the Members for Neath (Mr. Coleman,), Tooting (Mr. Cox), Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) and Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made vital points. Those were points of substance not only in their constituencies but in all constituencies. As I heard the figures that they gave, they could have been talking about my constituency, which has an unemployment rate of 20 542 per cent. In that is all the difficulty, evil and trouble that we now have to face. I should not say "all". That is unfair. There are other factors, too. However, that is one of the greatest factors that we have to face. I accept that many Conservative Members feel as disturbed about unemployment as I do. Where they perhaps differ from my hon. Friends is that they are unwilling, or perhaps unable, to grasp the remedy for unemployment. That remedy is massive State intervention. They will not face the difficulty that sooner or later a Labour Government will have to face with great disadvantages, because the longer that remedy is delayed the worse unemployment will become.
I promised faithfully not to speak as long as other hon. Members. I shall not break that promise. Despite what hon. Members have said and despite the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, I do not believe that hon. Members really want to oppose the Adjournment of the House. Even the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) does not really want to spend a long, hot summer pursuing all the bishops in the country.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)
There is no doubt that a number of the subjects that have been raised have been balloted for on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill and could be raised later. The House might wish a Select Committee to consider that matter in due course.
The important issue of unemployment can be raised under the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. I agree with the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) that that is a most important issue. It was raised by the hon. Members for Neath (Mr. Coleman), Tooting (Mr. Cox), Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) and Keighley (Mr. Cryer). There is no doubt that it is raising the greatest anxiety at the moment. The only remedy proposed is to throw more money at the problem. I believe that that is too facile a solution. I have no doubt that more resources will go in that direction, but by itself I do not believe that that is enough.
We must understand the causes of the problem and consider carefully the true remedies. The basic causes are not our policies. They are not even mainly the world recession, although that is an important factor. The deep causes are low productivity and overmanning, which, in relation to our competitors, have been excessive, coupled with poor industrial relations—although I know that they vary from industry to industry—and many restrictive practices, which some other countries have been able to reduce. Today there are many obstacles in the way of employers taking on more people.
I do not want to dwell on the issue at length, but it is important that it should be seen in the round. To tackle it and to create real jobs, we want the recession to end, but we must also look at the new industries and the new opportunities for making things at competitive prices which British people and people abroad want to buy.
The Government have already taken a number of initiatives, particularly in relation to youth unemployment, which, among all our problems, is the most worrying. We are giving early consideration to yet further opportunities and ways in which we can help the young unemployed.
543 With regard to the problems in the inner cities, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is on a special mission in Liverpool which will be relevant to all cities. However, we must join with industry in looking for the right, best and appropriate opportunities to create the new jobs which will keep people in work in the future. We delude ourselves if we say that it is just a matter of spending more money. I am sure that more resources and money come into it, but, by itself, that is too facile a view.
I share the anxiety of the House about that problem. I am sure that during the recess we shall continue to be anxious and that we shall return to the subject after the recess. It is fair to remind the House that the Government have provided two days in their own time for debate on the subject.The Opposition have provided time for debates. We shall return to that subject, amongst others, on Monday next. Therefore, I believe that it is fair to say that the House has devoted an appropriate amount of time to what is currently our greatest difficulty.
Three of my hon. Friends representing seats in Avon raised the important matter of rates, particularly supplementary rates and people's anguish about them. There is no doubt that that is an unfair system. A number of years ago my party committed itself to altering the rating system. It was an election commitment in 1974 to do so in the lifetime of a Parliament. However, in 1978 we were so concerned by the state of the economy that we had to say that we did not believe that it would be possible to fulfil that objective in the lifetime of one Parliament, although we were still keen to do so.
That is still the position. However, because of the circumstances and pressures being brought upon the domestic ratepayer and industry in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) and others of my hon. Friends, we are at present actively considering the whole question of rating. We are doing so in two parts. First, we are asking what we can do to alleviate the position in the short run, and, secondly, we are preparing to begin in the autumn another substantial public debate on what are the most attractive, or least unattractive, alternatives to the rating system.
Although I cannot answer the specific questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), I assure him that the points raised are in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is taking the lead in considering the whole matter.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) that I do not think it is practical to legislate on the subject of rating this Session. Obviously, we have work to do next week, and there will not be adequate time during the overspill period to complete consideration of any such legislation. However, we are keeping in mind the possibility of legislating next Session. We wish to make the most rapid progress that we can, because the British people feel that this is an unfair method of raising money. Consequently we want to find a better method as soon as we can.
Almost all the points that were raised will come up in the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill later this evening. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) and others spoke about the case of Barrs and others and the response that we have 544 received from the Attorney-General. My right hon. and learned Friend will be present tonight to respond to that debate, which I believe is the ninth order of priority. At this stage, I can say very little more.
I am aware of the essence of the history of the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I do not pretend to be aware of it in detail, but I share his view that safety is a deadly serious matter. I undertake to consult with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before the House rises. My hon. Friend will know that I cannot commit my right hon. Friend to make a statement before the House rises. However, I am prepared to raise the matter with him to see whether any progress can be made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is due to initiate the seventeenth debate this evening, and as it is slightly more doubtful that that debate will be reached I should like to reply now. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have on a number of occasions said that a fifth terminal at Heathrow should not be provided. That remains our policy. However, it is open to the objectors in the Stansted inquiry to suggest alternative sites for airport development if they still wish, and there is nothing to stop British Airways on that occasion arguing in favour of a fifth terminal.
I cannot pretend to be aware of the details of the case raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), but I am quite prepared to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or the Law Officers, whoever is appropriate, to review that case. I know enough about it to say that options are open to the person concerned. I do not know the details, but I am prepared to convey to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The House enjoyed the characteristic speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). His was a fitting speech with which to deal in concluding my reply to the debate. We might, with advantage, contemplate during the recess what my hon. Friend said—indeed, contemplate Church affairs, ecclesiastical matters and even his strictures on the clergy. I remember that about 20 years ago a Conservative Member had his name picked out of the hat first for Private Members' motions, and chose as his subject the state of the Church of England. My hon. Friend might, with advantage, repeat that next Session if his name comes out of the hat first. At any rate, he made an agreeable speech.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) for what he said. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Keighley would like us to sit on Wednesday. The House will be open to him, and perhaps he will still come even if the rest of us are not present. That is up to him. I do not have the slightest doubt that it is the wish of the House not to sit on Wednesday 29 July. The good wishes of the whole House, which some of us conveyed to the Royal Family today, go out to the Royal Family on the great event that will take place on Wednesday.
I hope that the House feels that the proposal tabled by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the Summer Recess can be agreed to.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Gentleman, which I shall do, let me say as courteously as I can that I do not think it is in the interests of the House if hon. Members 545 who have been drawn low in the ballot withdraw their motion and make the speech they would have made in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate during the debate on the Summer Adjournment. I honestly believe that that is not in the spirit in which we usually practise our affairs.
§ Mr. Lyon
I hope that your remarks, Mr. Speaker, were not directed at me, because I do not wish to raise any such Adjournment subject. I want to talk about Operation Countryman and, in particular, about the case of Mr. John Campbell.
Before doing so, I enter a protest about the procedures that we have followed today and the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) disappeared as soon as he got the consensus of the House that this debate would be limited to two hours. Obviously, my hon. Friend did not want to speak, but I do not see why we should be restricted in that way. I appreciate that I shall not be privileged with a reply by the Leader of the House to the point that I wish to raise, but I want to put it on the record so that the Home Secretary can see it.
I again protest that this is not the way in which to change the procedures of the House. If there is a need to change our procedures, the matter should be considered properly by the Select Committee and put before the House.
The point I wish to raise arises from two matters that have occurred in the past week. Therefore, I have had no opportunity to raise it before. It relates to the Operation Countryman investigation by outside police officers into alleged corruption in the Metropolitan Police. At the time that it was going on, I asked the Home Secretary, as the police authority for the metropolitan area of London, to undertake that the investigation would be given absolute priority and that there would be no possibility of internal obstruction from the Metropolitan Police. He gave such an undertaking.
On Monday night a "World in Action" film made it perfectly clear that the man in charge of the operation, the chief constable of Dorset, seemed to deny that the Metropolitan Police had not intervened in the Operation Countryman inquiry. As a result of a statement he made later in the week, it was perfectly clear that that was what he intended to say in the "World in Action" programme. In other words, a serious investigation into corruption in the largest police force in the country was made impossible by the non-co-operation of senior officers, backed by the Metropolitan Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner.
There could be nothing more serious at the present time, when we are talking about the effectiveness of the police in our inner cities, than that there should be corruption at the highest level of the Metropolitan Police, which cannot be dealt with effectively because of internal obstruction.
I illustrate the nature of the malady that arises by referring to a particular case that completed its appearance before the courts only this week. A man called John Campbell has campaigned for many years about the nature of vice and corruption in the Shepherd Market area of London. On a number of occasions, and in considerable detail, he has complained that the corruption and vice in that area is aided by police officers from the local 546 police station. He has made that complaint on so many occasions to the investigation branch of the Metropolitan Police that he was reluctant to make any further complaint to it.
Mr. Campbell therefore came to me about 18 months ago and told me of the facts of the case, which has recently reached court. Four women arrived outside his premises in the early hours of the morning and banged on his door. When he went to the door, he discovered that they were prostitutes who had objected to his campaign. They tried to force their way into the house, but he beat them back with a brolly. They then complained to the police that he had assaulted them and that they simply wished to go to his restaurant.
The complaint brought two police officers to Mr. Campbell's premises. At the door, he was asked for his explanation. He explained that the women were being offensive and that he was defending himself against their attack. Nevertheless, he was arrested. Due to his past experience of the Metropolitan Police, however, he had had the perspicacity to conceal upon his person a tape recorder which recorded the conversation between him and the police.
In due course, Mr. Campbell was charged with assault upon the women. The police officers tendered written evidence in order to commit him to trial. The statements were a lie. They did not contain the defence that he had put, which was in the tape recording, and they included assertions which he had never made and which could have been interpreted as admissions of guilt.
Mr. Campbell came to see me, bringing with him the tape recording and the written statements and asked me what he should do. I told him that if he went to the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General would say that there might be an explanation from the police and that would have to be tried. If it went to the Attorney-General and found its way back to the police, they might change their story. I said that I could take it to the investigation branch of the Metropolitan Police. He said that he did not trust them because he had made complaints before and had then been harassed by Vine Street police and he thought that that would happen again.
I therefore said to Mr. Campbell that the only way I could see was for him to go to Operation Countryman, which was currently investigating corruption in the police. I called in the senior officers in the Operation Countryman investigation and put to them in general terms the nature of the complaint. This was just after their remit had been reduced by the Home Secretary because of complaints from the Metropolitan Commissioner that the investigation was going on endlessly, and they asked me whether I knew that they could investigate only three allegations of corruption and could not take this matter on. I said that I did not know that. They said that the complaint would have to be taken to the Commissioner. I said that I could not do that because the man in question did not trust the internal investigations of the Metropolitan Police and would not allow me to pass it on. They said that in that case they would have to indicate the nature of the complaint to the Metropolitan Commissioner. I received a letter from the Deputy Commissioner asking for the full nature of the complaint, but I was not able to transmit it.
After that, the man went for trial. When the evidence was heard, the judge was so horrified at the differences between the police evidence and the tape recording that he threw the case out at the end of the prosecution case and 547 awarded the man costs, which amounted to about £18,000. If the man had not had the means to sustain himself up to that moment, he would not have been able to get justice.
If that is the position in the most important police area of this country, it is an appalling disgrace which the House should remedy, because the Home Secretary is the police authority for London and is accountable only to the House. Yet the House will rise next Friday without our having the opportunity to raise the matter with the Home Secretary or to debate the outcome of this disgraceful operation.
The Metropolitan Police have now got beyond any kind of control. They are not controlled by the Home Office or by the Home Secretary. They are a law unto themselves. Because they were recently commanded by Sir Robert Mark, who had great gifts as a presenter of their case, they have been able to acquire a standing in public opinion which is belied by the internal history of the Metropolitan Police. Unless they are brought under control, there will be a recurrence not only of corruption but of the bad policing which in my view has more to do with the riots in Brixton and in some of our inner cities than anything that the bishops have done, as suggested by the hon Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). This issue must therefore be debated at an early moment before the House rises for the recess.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 14, Noes 125.
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Richardson, Jo|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Dobson, Frank||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)|
|George, Bruce||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|McKelvey, William||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Mr. Robert C. Brown and|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. Bob Cryer.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)|
|Alexander, Richard||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Ancram, Michael||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Atkins, Robert(Preston N)||Colvin, Michael|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E)||Corrie, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Costain, Sir Albert|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Dean, Paul (North Somerset)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dover, Denshore|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Brinton, Tim||Durant, Tony|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Dykes, Hugh|
|Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)||Eggar, Tim|
|Buck, Antony||Eyre, Reginald|
|Budgen, Nick||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Butcher, John||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Fox, Marcus|
|Chapman, Sydney||Freud, Clement|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Onslow, Cranley|
|Goodhew, Victor||Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Gow, Ian||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Greenway, Harry||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Rathbone, Tim|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hawkins, Paul||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Heddle, John||Rossi, Hugh|
|Henderson, Barry||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Silvester, Fred|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Sims, Roger|
|Hurd, Hon Douglas||Speller, Tony|
|Jessel, Toby||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Sproat, Iain|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Stainton, Keith|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Steen, Anthony|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Lee, John||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|MacGregor, John||Tebbit, Norman|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Major, John||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Thompson, Donald|
|Mates, Michael||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Mather, Carol||Trippier, David|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||Wakeham, John|
|Mellor, David||Walker, B. (Perth)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wall, Patrick|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Waller, Gary|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Watson, John|
|Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Wheeler, John|
|Moate, Roger||Wickenden, Keith|
|Molyneaux, James||Wolfson, Mark|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Myles, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Neale, Gerrard||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton|
|Neubert, Michael||and Mr. John Cope.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
(1) this House at its rising on Tuesday 28 July do adjourn till Thursday 30 July and at its rising on Friday 31 July do adjourn till Monday 19 October,
(2) on Friday 31 July, upon a Motion being made by a Minister of the Crown at the conclusion of Government business, That this House do now adjourn, Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the proceedings thereon until the expiration of five hours after their commencement, and
(3) this House shall not adjourn on that day until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.